Hello, my friends. I hope that you have some strong meds on stand-by, as this episode... seems positively designed to cause headaches. I know that you are brave and valiant individuals, however--and so, into the breach let us march!
So Carrie is pretty darned happy with Aidan. He is a delightful bloke, treats her with respect and consideration, makes her laugh, all that good stuff. Carrie, happy with a nice man? Surely, this cannot last. And indeed, it does not. As we know from our last episode, Big is once again prowling on the periphery of Carrie's life, making ambiguous noises about his Marital Discontent. Except in this episode, these noises get much less ambiguous, in that--1) a drunken Big tells Carrie that his marriage is a failure, and that he's consequently planning on leaving his wife of seven months (Big to Carrie: "If you know anyone who's interested..."), and 2) a hungover Big calls Carrie the day after this drunken assertion to say that he would leave his wife, but that getting divorced would be way too expensive for him (classy as ever, sir!)
Carrie is furious, disgusted, and quite convinced that this most recent example of despicable behavior on Big's part has finally gotten him out of her system, once and for all. But... of course, it hasn't. Having rented a hotel room to write in while Aidan is stripping the floors in her apartment (more proof of 1) Aidan's niceness, and 2) the writers' cracked-out delusions of what freelance writers can afford to do and not do--go to a coffee shop to write, woman, it's a little cheaper than renting a bloody hotel room), Carrie is followed to said hotel by Big. They have a rather heated discussion in which Big proclaims that he doesn't really know what he wants or what he's doing, but that he misses Carrie, knows his marriage was a mistake... ahhhh, and that he loves Carrie, as well. I see.
Carrie is furious, disgusted... yet quite thunderstruck by Big dropping The L Word. While her brain and her common sense inform her that this is just another chapter in the never-ending "Big=Bad News/Destroyer of Home, Hearth, and Happiness" saga, her heart and her flesh... are rather more susceptible. And so... she sleeps with him. (If you had just gone to Starbucks like I told you to, none of this would have happened, missy! Unless coffee shops in New York are waaaay more permissive than the ones in Pennsylvania...?)
JEEPERS. Okay, so, what else is going on this episode? Sam's plot line provides the most vivid contrast, so let's start there. Sam is dating Adam, a gent who has, she declares to the ladies, "the funkiest tasting spunk." (Apparently, it is a mix between rotten asparagus and Clorox. Delightful.) Never one to accept defeat, Sam tries to tackle the problem by getting Adam to eat a healthier diet, in the hopes that this will resolve the Asparagus-and-Clorox-Issue. Turns out, it doesn't. When she addresses the Taste Issue with Adam directly, he refuses to believe that anything which he himself has created could be so revolting. So Sam makes a deal with him (I cannot believe that I am about to type this, but I must)--sample your own essences, and tell me what you think of their delicate flavor, or say buh-bye to oral sex forever. And so... sample his essences he does. Appreciating the game spirit which this gesture reveals, Sam nonetheless eventually concludes that she cannot be with an Asparagus-and-Clorox-Tasting-Gent long-term. And so... buh-bye, Adam! Buh-bye, plot line which, although rather icky to recap for y'all, at least made me forget about the Carrie-Big Mess for a minute!
Miranda and Steve, meanwhile, are in the final throes of their break-up. He's still sleeping on her couch, as he can't find anywhere else to live. Miranda, in the spirit of "just because we're no longer together doesn't mean that I don't want you to be happy and thrive elsewhere, and also, I really do want you off my couch" helps him to look for a new apartment. He finds one--but not before he has started seeing other ladies, whose voicemails start popping up on Miranda's home phone. (Oh, the days before widespread cell phone use, how cruel they could be!) Delightful.
They finally part ways quite cordially, with some tears, well wishes, and promises to keep in touch. A grown-up break-up, well done, y'all. (Though, Steve, giving your new ladies Miranda's home phone number, seriously? Did you hit your head and become Big for a second? Because that is some high-grade thoughtlessness there!) Buh-bye, Steve! For the moment, anyway...
Charlotte, meanwhile, is still dating Trey, and is quite firmly convinced that he is about to propose to her. Even though... they barely know each other. (Miranda: "You've just met, I've had pairs of pantyhose longer.") She meets his mother, the hair-bow-wearing, chain-smoking, old-money-possessing Bunny (I hope that's a nickname, but one never knows...), and sees that Bunny pretty much has Trey under her thumb--she gently makes a suggestion, Trey instantly acquiesces to said suggestion, whatever it may be. Some women might find this "my mother can quite effortlessly control me" thing unsettling, but Charlotte is delighted, for it shows that Trey is amenable to feminine influence. Ummmm, goody?
One night at dinner, Charlotte (in approved Bunny style) gently suggests to Trey that they get married. Trey (in patented Trey fashion) instantly acquiesces to said suggestion, saying "All right-y." The tradition-loving Charlotte is, of course, not delighted to be engaged, but rather appalled by how said engagement happened. Trey wasn't the proposer, he was the propose-ee! He wasn't the asker, he was the ask-ee! (Carrie: "Who cares about those stupid rules?" Charlotte: "I do!") Brooding over this for awhile, Charlotte decides that she will just invent a new and improved engagement story, in which Trey proposes to her in front of Tiffany's. Ummm... all right-y!
Watching Carrie Get Sucked Back Into the Toxic Whirlpool of Big Madness YET AGAIN Watch: Ah, so here we are again, watching Carrie do something quite self-destructive, by re-entangling herself with a quite reliably destructive gent (and cheating on her quite reliably charming boyfriend in the process, of course--thus placing a rancid cherry on top of this already unpleasant-tasting sundae.) It seems to me that we have before us a classic Wuthering Heights type situation--in Gent A, we have a man who is kindly, thoughtful, considerate--an altogether lovely and delightful individual. In Gent B, by contrast, we have a sulky sociopath, who likes to string up dogs in his spare time. Which of these gents ought our heroine to be devoted to, and compelled by? I suspect most of us would go with Gent A, appreciating his kindliness, and lack of tendency to hang small animals from trees. However, which of these gents is our heroine devoted to, and compelled by? Alas, it does seem to be Gent B, who although emphatically mad, bad, and dangerous to know, possesses a capacity to strike to the core of our heroine's heart in a way which Gent A does not. Heathcliff may be a thoroughly nasty piece of goods (it still baffles me that he is held up as a romantic hero in the popular imagination--he's a rapist who kills small animals, people), and Big an immature, commitment-phobic twerp... but our heroines love them. Oh, hearts. Why must you lead us in such unsettling and unwise directions?
"I Can't Do That, That's Gay": Ah, Panic About Being Tainted By Gayness, How Pervasive Thou Art: So when Sam makes her "drink of the poisoned well from which I have been made to drink, or else" offer to Adam, he protests that he can't possibly sample his own gentlemanly essences, because to do so would be "gay." Ah, watching a straight man panic about his heterosexuality being in any way questioned or challenged! What a pleasure it always is! Since this anxiety is presented as quite ludicrous by the writers, I think this moment is less troubling than it is yet more sorry proof of the rather pervasive "for me to be seen as gay would clearly be the worst thing ever" attitude on the part of some straight gents. I can think of lots of reasons to not want to sample one's own bodily fluids, but fear of being perceived gay for doing so... not one of them!
"There Was No Ring, No Kneeling, No Nothing": Depressingly Unromantic Wedding Proposals Watch: I will agree with Charlotte here that her engagement story is a wildly unromantic and depressing one, but less for the reasons which she herself outlines (that everything is out of whack because she should have been the one to be asked, not the one to do the asking--oh, the gender disorder!) and more because she barely knows the man whom she is proposing to, and because he seems to accept her proposal with the same casual, unemotional calm which most of us would reserve for assenting to take a stick of gum. Trouble. Ahead. There. My. Friends.
On the plus side, I think the episode does happily side with Carrie, with her whole "who cares who proposes to who, as long as all parties concerned actually want to marry each other" attitude. And also on the plus side, I think that the episode does throw up lots of red flags when it comes to the Charlotte-Trey engagement--the writers are clearly sympathetic to Charlotte's desire to find the right man, fall in love, and get hitched, but they also represent her "I need to get engaged now, because I have an age-appropriate, in-many-ways-suitable man in my line of sight, and I must be in love, because he's... you know... nice... from what I've been able to gather so far..." attitude as a definite problem. Good writers. Give yourself a firm pat on the back.
Wait, We Are Actually Questioning Gender Essentialism Here, Seriously? Is It My Birthday Or What??? Watch: I cannot believe that I am about to type these happy words, but this episode actually takes a trite, cliched, oversimplified idea about gender difference and questions it. [Raises fist in a gesture indicative of victory.] Carrie begins the episode by thinking about how our society accepts the truism that men think logically and women emotionally, musing that maybe it's not "that cut and dried." Halle-bloody-lu-jah, in the therapy business, I do believe that they call that a break-through. A stereotype about gender difference actually buries the complex truths about how all of us, regardless of our gender, think, feel, and react to people, situations, and the world--and Carrie has just acknowledged this. YES. SUCCESS. [To self, ominously, under breath... for now, anyway.]
Notable Quotables: Miranda, on the different ways in which she and Steve are perceived in the wake of their break-up: "A thirty-four-year-old guy with no money and no place to live, because he's single, he's a catch. But a thirty-four-year-old woman with a job and a great home, because she's single, is considered tragic."
Samantha, cutting through Miranda's "I really do want the best for Steve, even though he is dating other women while still sleeping on my couch" protests: "Oh, please, there's always a contest with an ex, it's called 'Who'll Die Miserable.' "
Next Up...?: "All Or Nothing," in which the Carrie-Big affair continues, as does my desire to step on a rusty nail, get tetanus, and end my pain, once and for all. And we also have some very festive discussions to unpack, about how modern women have unlimited choice and opportunities in their lives, and how there are no more barriers to female independence, success, or self-determination anymore. How nice to know! I'm glad to hear that my sense that our culture is still very much a sexist and hierarchical is totally off-base! Hooray!