Thursday, September 2

Season Two, Episode Three: The Freak Show

So... are all men freaks? No, you say? You have perfectly normal, charming friends/relatives/significant others who are at one and the same time not freaks and yet definitely male? Huh. You seem very sure about that--that equating maleness with freakishness is laughable and overly simplistic. The women of SATC, however... they are not so sure. Why not, you ask? Let us see.

Carrie has gone on a series of increasingly bizarre and awful first dates (one of which takes place amid the bookstalls outside The Strand bookstore--which, let's face it, is worth enduring any number of bad dates for), and is beginning to lose faith in the non-freakishness of mankind. (Using that word in the only way which it ought to be used, of course--otherwise, in almost all other cases, get ready to hop abroad the Humankind Express!) Just when she has come to suspect that all men are, indeed, freaks, sitting alone in a park one day, Carrie meets Ben, who is witty, tweedy, bespectacled, frickin' adorable, and reading a big fat book when she meets him, oh my God, make it stop. Allow me to note before we proceed that the only encounters I have had while sitting alone in a park have been with 1) potentially rabid squirrels who a) kept following me from bench to bench because they hoped I was carrying peanuts in my purse, or b) kept following me from bench to bench because they wished to infect my vulnerable flesh with the terrible disease which they carried within their putrid fangs, 2) small children who have used my skirt as a napkin/trash receptacle, and, once, notably, 3) a man who called me the '"Devil's whore" when he saw I was reading a book about the pro-choice movement. (I'd rather be his whore than your anything, sir.) But to continue.

Carrie begins to date Ben, and he seems simply wonderful. (The man even has one of those jackets with suede patches over the elbows, for Pete’s sake--at this point, the writers are officially trying to kill me.) But... can he really be that wonderful? Surely, there must be something wrong with him...? (Miranda: "If a man is over 30 and still single, there's something wrong with him. It's Darwinian, they're being weeded out for propagating the species.") Seized with panic, Carrie ransacks his apartment looking for evidence of deviant behavior (which I thought we'd already covered was a bad. Idea.), eventually getting caught by him trying to break into a locked box with a nail file. Yikes. Ben promptly dumps her, and Carrie reflects that it's not just men who are freaks--everyone, regardless of gender, has unattractive insecurities and irrational fears and is quite capable of acting more than a little bit loopy in the pursuit of love. (And trying to break into a locked box with a nail file definitely equals more than a little bit loopy.)

What of the other ladies? Not much going on with Miranda, Carrie tries to set her up with one of Ben's friends, who Miranda dismisses as a freak because he hasn't left Manhattan in ten years. Also, he does not like cats. (Personally, I can see the Remaining-in-Manhattan-Perpetually-and-Eternally-Thing, but not the Not-Liking-Cats-Thing. Next!) Samantha decides to get some plastic surgery after being told by a date that she looks 40, and having a massive meltdown because of said comment. She loves the first procedure she has done, and is itching to have more--her plastic surgeon is, unsurprisingly, delighted by this desire and proposes all kinds of other surgeries, happily marking up Sam's entire body with a red marker to point out all the "flaws" he can "fix." Seeing her body carved up in said fashion freaks Samantha out, and promptly stops her from going down The Path to a Thousand Plastic Surgeries. Good choice.

Charlotte has the most lively plotline, in that she finds herself dating a gent who, though he had been baptized "Mitchell" by his mother, has since been dubbed "Mr. Pussy" by women not his mother. (One hopes.) He has earned this nickname... pretty much in the way you might expect, through significant dexterity and unparalleled eagerness to go down on women. (Perhaps Mitch was the inspiration for the bloke in "Because He Liked to Look at It"?) Charlotte is, predictably, enthralled by him, and hopes to turn her Quality Time with Mr. P into Everlasting Love. Since she's never even had a proper conversation with the guy, her friends have their doubts. (Samantha: "You don't fall in love with Mr. Pussy. You enjoy him, and then you set him free!") In the end, Charlotte does indeed set Mr. P free, in part because she concedes her friends' point that she would like a relationship with a bloke she can actually talk to, and in part because she is severely creeped out by the hyper-sexualized way that he eats figs in restaurants. Ah, such a common cause for break-ups, that one!

The Analysis:

The Good: I appreciate the fact that, for once, this episode begins with a gross oversimplification about the Great Differences Between Men and Women/The Massive Divide Between Men and Women, and complicates it more and more as the episode progresses. (Rather than the ever-popular "Over the course of the episode, let us move ever closer to suggesting that we just need to shrug at any relationship problems because that's just how men are--whatever "that" happens to be in this specific instance.) By the end of the episode, Carrie's had the epiphany that all people of all genders (okay, she's definitely limiting the genders to two here, but still!) are complicated individuals, blends of both the charming and the wacky, who make mistakes when it comes to the tricky business of interacting with other, complicated individuals possessed of their very own charms and wackinesses. So... yay! It's not that men are messed up, specifically, it's that we're all messed up, generally! Hooray!

The Good, Part Two: I also like the fact that this episode tackles questions of aging, our cultural obsession with youth, and plastic surgery in some interesting ways. Not in perfect ways, I'll grant you, but still--interesting ways, nonetheless. Sam (who, Carrie informs us, "had celebrated her 35th birthday for as long as anybody could remember") has clearly internalized the idea that age=bad. She can't look 40, because to be 40 is to be "old," and to be "old," for a woman, is to lose value—specifically, to lose one's status as a sexually desirable woman. (Let us not forget the recent survey which proclaimed 31 as the peak year of women's attractiveness and desirability. Darn it, only two years left before I crumble into dust, unheeded and unmourned!) By the end of the episode, Sam is standing in front of a mirror with a plastic surgeon's red lines all over her face and her body, crying, because all those red lines have turned her into a "freak." I rather like this moment (not because of the tears, poor Samantha!), because it suggests that it's not women's bodies themselves which are freakish and out-of-whack, but rather a culture which demands that women maintain a demented and damaging standard of "perfection," and a medical establishment which happily profits from said drive towards "perfection.” Excellent.

Of course, the fact that throughout the episode, Kim Cattrall's body is on display, in all of its able-bodied, impeccably-exercised, smooth-skinned, free-from-cellulite-or any discernible-marks-or-flaws-whatsoever-ness, rather undercuts this message "It's perfectly okay to be 40... provided that you look like Kim Cattrall." Yeah... maybe not so feasible for all of us who are not, in fact, Kim Cattrall?

The Bad/The Ugly: (I had to combine the bad with the ugly because I couldn't even come up with two things I thought were massively problematic about this episode, isn't that something?)

But what I do find bad/ugly, I do, indeed, not care for--when the ladies are interrogating Charlotte about her connection with Mr. Pussy, and trying to point out to her that she can't so much legitimately proclaim her love for a man whose tongue, in her presence, has been dedicated not to soul-baring speech but rather almost exclusively to... [insert discreet pause here.] "Do you even talk?" Miranda demands. "Do you even fuck?" Samantha snaps. Now, the talking thing, I will grant you. Charlotte is looking for a serious relationship--Charlotte should, therefore, be with someone she can actually talk to. Point to Miranda!

But Samantha... Samantha I will not give a point to. Because she's suggesting here that fucking is as serious a barometer for monitoring the reality and depth of a relationship as talking is... but I ask you, is this necessarily true? If Mr. Pussy turned out to be a man of wit, compassion, generosity, fascination (rather than just an odd little bloke with a salacious way of consuming a fig), would it matter what kind of sex he and Charlotte did (or didn't) have? Sam's comment seems to suggest that it would--that there is a kind of hierarchy in terms of what kind of sex does or does not "count" as meaningful--and surprise surprise, penetrative, penis-in-vagina sex is at the top of said hierarchy. (It wins so many medals, I swear it must bribe the judges.) As always, I am unfond of such "drawing lines in the sand" type messages--i.e., "Your relationship is not real because you 'only' have oral sex." Sweet cracker sandwich, woman, their relationship is not real because she knows nothing about the guy and cares less--what they do or don't do in the Boudoir of Mr. Pussy, I think, is quite beside that particular point.

Next Up...?: "They Shoot Single People, Don't They?", an episode which focuses on singlehood, the bashing of single folk, and nasty magazine covers which portray female singlehood as a fate worse than death. (Is it too late to hope that they get Susan Faludi to be a special guest star and talk about that Newsweek article from the '80s, which claimed that a single woman over 40 was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than get married? Because... love that sucker!)

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