When we we first introduced to the high-hair sporting, straw-in-a-soda-can drinking Donna LaDonna (Chloe Bridges) on The CW's The Carrie Diaries, she seemed to be the quintessential '80s villain. She sauntered around the high school halls making eyes at the cute boys and making side-eyes at Carrie (AnnaSophia Robb) when Carrie caught the eye of the guy Donna liked. But The Carrie Diaries isn't actually an '80s movie, so the more we got to know its characters, the more we realized there was more than met the eye to everyone, just perhaps Donna most of all.
Donna was supposed to appear the villain at first glance, but as episodes evolved, so did she. Donna isn't a one-note character who's out to steal your boyfriend or shove you against a locker for not being cool enough. Her dry wit and her insane self-confidence may make others a bit uncomfortable at times, but that is probably because by witnessing Donna in all her esteem, they are forced to recognize and confront their own more childlike insecurities. Donna went from being the character that it seemed like we should love to hate to the one the others should aspire to be.
The Carrie Diaries' creator and executive producer Amy B. Harris put it best:
"She never lies, and she's never duplicitous. She's just brutally honest, and she wants what she wants. So even in the second episode where she hands Sebastian back his coat and says 'Thanks for keeping me warm,' that's the truth. If someone wants to take it one way or another, that's their problem! She was somebody who wanted Sebastian, and she felt Carrie was in the way, so Carrie had to go," Harris said.
"We were really looking at her as 'Okay, she'll be our villain; there's always that one person that you hate.' And what we realized was that in high school those relationships are changing constantly. Your best friend kisses your boyfriend and you're no longer speaking, and then somebody else who went through it with you or had that happen to them relates to it. When we initially started talking about Donna kind of taking on Maggie and started dating Walt, we suddenly thought about 'Okay, is she evil? Does she do terrible things?' And what we realized was she would immediately know what Maggie didn't know was Walt's gay. Because if he's not attracted to her, he's not attracted to women. She's that confident. And then once we got there we started realizing 'Oh she could be a great confidante for Walt.' Once that played out, we realized that was the reality of people: they're not just a villain; they're not just your best friend; things get complicated."
What was it, exactly, that put Carrie and Donna in opposite cliques at the start of this show or even the start of their high school experience? At that young age, undoubtedly petty things like proximity and superficial things like 'You like Jansport backpacks and had a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper in elementary school!? Oh my God, me too!!' go into the decision. We are shoved onto a playground or into a classroom with thirty other kids who only have the same year of birth and zip code in common with us, and we buddy up somewhat arbitrarily at first. Then the parents often become friends-- or at least they'd intervene enough to set up play dates-- and it's easy to stay latched onto the same kids year after year, classroom after classroom, because there is safety and comfort in numbers. There can also be safety and comfort in not trusting those who aren't in your inner circle simply because they aren't in your inner circle. But that doesn't mean the Donnas of this world are inherently mean girls, and once this Donna proved herself to actually be quiet sensitive, intuitive, therefore intelligent, and later completely trustworthy, she was someone with whom we wanted to spend more time.
From her earliest introduction, Donna also seemed like a cracked door into the more sassy and self-confident grown up world in which Carrie seemed eager to play but had a long way to go towards finding herself and the place where she truly fit. Since the show is called The Carrie Diaries and centered on Carrie herself, it was easy in the beginning to identify with the titular character's meeker attitude and wide-eyed innocence and therefore be kind of taken aback or at least off-guard by someone like Donna who came off as too worldly for some small town high school. The Carrie Diaries is a coming of age story for someone who has been very sheltered growing up in WASPy Connecticut, where it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that Carrie had been taught to paint on a smile to get through the rough stuff, to keep her emotions to herself, and to play the demure, angelic young girl more akin to Mayberry than Manhattan. It makes sense that someone like that would be wary of the someone as open and blunt as Donna. But the world needs more young women as open and blunt as Donna. In fact, it needs more people like her in general-- gender aside. It would be a better place if high schools were populated by Donnas-- people who don't care what you think because they already know they're awesome-- people who are strong enough not to be pushed around but smart and secure enough to know that pushing others around is pointless, too. People don't play games, who don't kowtow to what others want to hear, who don't worry about conforming to standards at all. People who know what they want and are setting out to get it. People who own who and what they are and simply by doing that inspire others to do the same.