Wednesday, November 10

Season Three, Episode Eight: The Big Time

[Blogger's note: Just so you know, I haven't been dilly-dallying over writing this blog post because it heavily features Big (oh, Big, my bete noire, the perpetual headache hovering around my poor, besieged, um, head), but rather because I have been spending more time than anyone ought to of late in Grading Hell. Oh, Grading Hell. Why did Dante never write of your terrors?

ANYWAY. Just wanted to clear that up/whine about grading. And so--onwards!]

The Summary: Oh, times which are big, let us contemplate them!

Okay, so, it seems like everywhere Carrie goes these days, she runs into Big. A Big who is darkly, ambiguously flirtatious, and makes vague, portentous statements about the potential unsoundness of his marriage. A Big who is clearly and visibly displeased to hear that Carrie is dating a man whom she finds, in her words, "perfect." A Big who (in an act of un-Big-like directness) leaves her a voicemail, telling her that he can't stop thinking about her. [Slumps forward over keyboard, afraid to go on.]

And what is Carrie's reaction to all of this Big Activity, you ask? An uncomfortable (for her, and also for we humble viewers--perhaps especially for we humble viewers) mishmash of feelings. She clearly wishes both to do the obviously sensible thing (tell his potentially adulterous self where he, and all of his dark flirtation, can go), and to do the patently unsensible thing (and hear his potentially adulterous, darkly flirtatious self out.) Her feelings, they are complex. My feelings, they are less so. ("Dear Big: Go boil your head. Best regards, Holly.")

So when we leave Carrie at the end of the episode, we leave her rather in peril--wishing to be uncomplicatedly happy with the charming (and totally single/available) Aidan, but with a complicated undertow of feeling pulling her back towards the rather less charming (and not at all single) Big. Alcohol--she may need some. Alcohol--I shall definitely need some.

And what of the other ladies, whose heartstrings are mercifully not intertwined with those of would-be adulterous cads? Let us see. Charlotte has officially begun dating Trey, her knight-in-shining armor from our last episode. Trey is all of the things which Charlotte has ever hoped for in a swain--namely, is handsome, blue-blooded, well-mannered, and rich. [Blogger thinks to self that self cannot stand to give yet another lecture to Ms. York about the raging shallowness of her current "Things I Am Looking For In A Fella" List, and so does not bother.]

Charlotte is quite convinced that Trey is The One. Charlotte is quite convinced that she is In Love. Her friends... are rather less convinced, on both fronts. [Carrie: "You've known him for two weeks. You can know his e-mail address, you cannot know he is The One."]

Quite certain, despite her friends' skepticism, that this is in fact Some Day, and that her Prince has officially come, Charlotte is taking a good solid page out of The Rules playbook, and is steadfastly refusing to sleep with Trey. This has nothing to do with an Aidan-esque, "I would like to know you better ere becoming your lov-ah" attitude, or with a genuine desire on Charlotte's part to not sleep with Trey just yet, but rather because, you see, you cannot sleep with a gent too quickly, lest he cease to respect you/come to think of you as too slutttty to one day be his blushing, white-veil-draped bride. Good to know! Moving on!

Let us venture towards The Land of Miranda next. I wish that it were a happier land, for all our sakes, but I fear that it is not. For it transpires that Miranda and Steve are having Major Problems. (But... Miranda was so darned happy doing his laundry but one short episode ago!) Steve wants them to have a baby. As in... now. Since they've only been living together for two months, and Miranda is up for partner at her firm at this precise moment in time, she feels that this is a bad idea. She conveys this to Steve. Steve... is sulky.

Said sulkiness leads Miranda to feel like she already has a baby in her house--and not the cute kind whom you can buy cupcake-shaped hats for, either, but rather the less cute "I am thirty-four years old, but am still going to sulk and give you the silent treatment, rather than rationally talk to you about what's bothering me" kind. Soooo, to recap: Steve is not happy, because Miranda turned him down re: the immediate baby-making. Miranda is not happy, because of Steve's immature behavior, not only re: the immediate baby-making, but also re: life in general. (Miranda to Steve: "I cannot be in charge all the time--we're supposed to be equals, partners!")

They have a huuuuge fight, which culminates in Miranda breaking up with him. Sadness. Not that I enjoyed watching Miranda going into raptures about how amazing it was to wash Steve's undergarments (what pleasure in life could be deeper or richer, after all?), but those crazy kids genuinely seemed happy together. Bummer! Additionally, Steve is actually nice, and goodness knows, nice men are in short supply in this here series. Ah well. Buh-bye, Steve! Or should I say... au revoir?

Samantha is also having rather a rough time of it, it transpires. (What an episode of Doom and Gloom this is turning out to be!) So Sam's period is late, and she is worried that her last period was, well, her last period--as in, on this earth, and that she has officially entered menopause. She... is not so pleased by this development. (Sam: "I'm day-old bread, my time is up!")

Sunk in despair about her alleged day-old-bread-ness, Samantha accepts a date with Len, a creepy guy in her building whom she had always rejected before, not because he is creepy, but because she considered him too over-the-hill for her. (Even though... they are clearly not that far apart in age?) Continuing her dark slide into the Slough of Despond, Sam ends up sleeping with Len--at which point, lo and behold, her period returns!... all over Len's quite sickeningly expensive sheets. Sam is delighted! Len is disgusted! (So am I--not about the menstrual blood, that, I'm familiar with--but with how much Len spent on his sheets. Such a ludicrous outlay of capital for mere bedding? Now that is icky.)

The fact that she is still a menstruating lady, rather than a menopausal one, means that All Is Right With The Universe, according to Sam. Suddenly, she feels herself restored to youth! Vitality! A lack of need to despairingly sleep with creeps she does not actually like! And so--buh-bye, Slough of Despond! Buh-bye, Len! Buh-bye, Len's ridiculously overpriced bedclothes! Hello, LunaPads/Diva Cup/Menstrual Product of Your Choice! (Too many exclamation points there, but I cannot help it!)

The Analysis:

Please Take Note: All Women Want Is Love, All Men Want Is Sex
Watch: So this episode made me think of nothing so much as that god-awful poster for that god-awful movie The Ugly Truth, which features stick figures of a man and a woman, with a cartoon of a heart drawn on the woman, you know, where all of our hearts, regardless of our gender, actually are, and the same heart cartoon drawn on the man, smack-dab in the middle of his gentlemanly area. Ah, suggesting that men think and feel with their penises! What a refreshing, charming, and original notion it is! Except, wait, nope, sorry, it's not actually any of those things, now, is it?

I am put in mind of this distasteful idea here because of the way that the Charlotte-Trey plot line wraps up in this episode. Trey (after TWO WEEKS, mind you) declares his love for Charlotte--to which declaration, Charlotte, of course, eagerly responds with a corresponding assertion of her love for him. (Two. Weeks. Here. People.) After this mutual declaration of affection, Carrie informs us, "That night, Charlotte got everything she wanted. Trey got a hand job." Delightful.

Please pull out your omnipresent notepads and scribble down the following: "Women are only interested in romantic love. Men are primarily interested in sexual gratification." Because, of course, throughout the episode, Trey has been angling for greater physical intimacies, and Charlotte, for greater emotional intimacies. Because that doesn't in any way play into any lazy stereotypes which I can think of, about women's and men's priorities in life! Blurrrrg.

"Men Are Like Cabs": Yet Another Heapin' Helpin' of Gender Essentialism Watch: So if the whole "women: seek love, men: seek sex" thing didn't annoy you enough, with its charmless oversimplifications of women's and men's desires and aspirations, you will be pleased to know that there is yet more annoying gender essentialism on hand in this episode, in the form of a conversation which the ladies have about how men are like cabs. (Yes, really.)

So, Miranda asserts that men are like cabs in that they "turn their light on" when they're ready to settle down and have a family. (Before that, they just drive around picking up women, without truly being available. Get it? Picking up? Available?? Cab metaphors???) Once their "commitment light" is on, however, they pick up the first appealing lady whom they see to be their passenger/wife/mother of their children. Sounds... romantic!

Miranda affirms that while it takes a long time for men to "light up" with the, um, cab flame of domesticity, most women have been lit with it "pretty much since birth." Please take up your notebook and pen yet again, writing the following words down, to be memorialized for the ages: "Men... delay making a commitment to a woman/family life/domesticity as long as possible. Interested in settling down into domestic life only after any and all possible wild oats have been sown. Women... eager to make a commitment to a man/family life/domesticity as soon as possible. In fact, wish to do same from the time they are wee tots." [Blogger places fingers to temples, in the vain hopes of massaging the pain away.]

Gentlemen, How They Despise Ladies Who Are Too "Fast" Watch: There are times, when I am watching SATC, when I feel as though I have fallen through the looking glass, and am immersed, not in a TV show from the 2000s, but a very confusing and contradictory guide to sex and dating from the 1920s. "Be sexy all the time! Lure your man in with your wily feminine wiles! Slap on that red lipstick, raise those hemlines to the roof! You exude sex. Heck, you are sex. But while you're busy doing that, please also keep in mind that if you let your fella take "excessive liberties" with you (this being the 1920s, we can't spell out exactly what that means, but use your imaginations), he will think you are a dirty, dirty tramp who deserves neither his love nor his respect--and he will be quite right to do so.") Ah, mental whiplash and headache-making mixed messages, we meet again. How are you, old friends?

I find such guidebooks distasteful (if also super fun to read--so much festive flapper slang!), much as I find Charlotte's "I want Trey to respect and value me as a person, therefore I need to curtail physical intimacies with him, regardless of my own desires in the matter" attitude distasteful. And to think, we were doing such good work with the slut-shaming but a few short episodes ago! Oh, back-sliding. How frequently we seem to engage in it.

"I'm a Little Older Than You": The Horrors of Female Aging--OH, THE HORRORS--Watch:
In addition to some irritating slut-shaming and some charmless gender essentialism, this episode is also worth noting, I feel, for its "nothing on God's green earth could be worse than being a woman and going through menopause, spare me the bleak horror of it all" discourse.

Samantha clearly feels that her sexual desirability, and indeed, the survival of her very sexuality itself, is contingent on her not getting older/entering menopause. Do menopausal and post-menopausal women experience physical changes which impact and in some cases fundamentally change their sex lives? Sure. Are older women relentlessly defined in our culture as less desirable than younger women? Absolutely. But does this mean that once a lady ceases getting visits from The Menses Fairy that she actually is "day-old bread," who has nothing left to look forward to on the romance-and-sex front than dull encounters with creepy blokes like Len? I'm going to go with... no, no, it doesn't.

I think that this episode rather loses its balance on the tightrope here, in its discussion about female aging. I don't think that there's anything wrong with showing that Sam is anxious about becoming older, and has been impacted by the relentless negative representations of older women as hopelessly unattractive and distinctly un-sexy which she's been subjected to, living in this wacky sexist and ageist culture of ours. We are all of us human, and living in a culture which calls women "cougars" for dating men five years their junior, but doesn't blink an eye at men dating lasses twenty years their junior--which starts pushing hair dye onto the ladies after their first gray hair, but calls men who have gray hair "distinguished," and so forth and so on, into infinity, surely does leave some scars.

It's buying into the distinctly unpleasant system which gives us those very scars which I find troubling. Sam's response here is not so much "so, the world thinks that I am undesirable since I've passed the age of 40/will soon stop menstruating/have refused to remain perpetually 22, now, does it? Well, then, bugger the world," as it is "ahhhh, the world is right, the world is right! Without my youth, I am nothing! Please come back, period, I'll buy you, um, whatever it is that periods like, if you do! Pretty please, with sugar on top???"

I realize that it is not easy for any of us to single-handedly take on a media and a culture which constantly tell us that we can't possibly be desirable or valuable or likable if we're not [fill in the blank: young, thin, white, able-bodied, "pretty," and so on, and so forth, into infinity.] But I'd have liked to have seen a little more push-back against the whole "for women, aging=unending nightmare of unwantedness and undesirability" attitude here, and a little less "phew, Sam got her period back, so therefore she can still legitimately be seen as sexy, and have a satisfying sex life" malarkey. Happily, the show actually gets better with age, when it comes to reflecting on women and aging. Coincidence??? I think not.

Next Up...?:
Return to me anon, and we shall discuss our next episode, "Easy Come, Easy Go." Since said episode features a drunken Big, and lengthy discussions on Sam's part about the undesirable taste of her latest gentleman's gentlemanly essences, I, for one, doubt there will be anything "easy" about it...

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