Monday, November 22

Season Three, Episode Ten: All or Nothing

Hello, dear friends! How I have missed you! (Whether or not you have missed me is another question, and one which I will not embarrass you by asking you to answer.) It is truly wretched and unacceptable for me to have been radio silent all last week--how dare I? Alas, I have come to the point in the semester where I feel as though I am drowning in a veritable sea of grading and academic labors--my youngsters have book reviews due, paper proposals due... it does not end.

But--let us put Grading Madness to the side for the moment, and turn to Adulterous Madness, instead. For though Carrie, unlike me, is free from the grading which now haunts all of my waking hours, at least I, unlike Carrie, am free from adulterous enmeshment with a married cad. I'll take piles of papers over emotional self-destruction any day! And so... let us proceed!

The Summary:

All right, so, delaying the pain no longer--let's talk Carrie and Big--The Affair.

So, as you may recall from 2007, or whenever it was that I last posted (it feels a veritable AGE), in our last episode, Carrie caused me to develop an ulcer by sleeping with Big. Big, who is, of course, married to another (one) and a world-class blighter of Carrie's life (two). [Head makes violent contact with desk.] Carrie cannot stop thinking about said Big-Sleeping-With, both in an appalled "Mercy, what have I done?" sort of way, and in a shamefacedly delighted "Mercy, but I did enjoy what I did" sort of way. I don't know about you, but I scent danger in the air...

Carrie confides in Sam about her illicit luvvvvv (assuming, quite wisely, I think, that the Big-Detesting Miranda and the About-To-Be-Wed Charlotte might not react to news of her Big-Flavored Assignation positively), asking Sam what's wrong with her, how could she have done such a dreadful thing, etc. Carrie is clearly looking for someone to give her a good slap upside the head (ooooh, pick me, pick me!), and firmly point out to her the profound unwiseness of taking a stroll down Affair Boulevard with Big. Alas, sadly for her (and for us) Sam is not the right person for this particular job (Carrie: "Don't you want to judge me, just a little?" Sam: "Not my style.") Now, I am usually a big fan of the non-judgmental-ness, but for Pete's sake, Sam, now would be a nice time to judge/to take Carrie by the shoulders and shake her till her teeth rattle.

Left to her own devices, Carrie does all in her power to forget about the Big-Sleeping-With--files her articles, defrosts her fridge, organizes her shoes... but to no avail. She still has Big on the brain. [Blogger's note: With all due respect to freelance writers, whom I know in real life are overworked and underpaid, I cannot help but think that this is where not having the seemingly endless leisure time which our fictional free-lancer appears to have might have been useful. I suspect that most of us would have to actually schedule time to obsess about our pending slide into adultery, rather than try to distract ourselves from it by idly moving our shoes from one part of our closets to another.]

ANYWAY. Carrie calls Big. [Hand smartly slaps forehead.] She insists that they need to rationally discuss what happened between them... which quickly translates into "sleep together again." [Forehead connects painfully with wall.] As Carrie embarks on The Affair Proper, Aidan declares his love for her. (Not while she's actually in flagrante with Big, obviously, that would be... awkward.) Of course he does. Carrie responds to this declaration with a corresponding assertion of affection--less, it seems, because she genuinely does love him, and more because she feels guilllllty about the fact that she is two-timing him with her morally-questionable ex.

Things quickly start to go pear-shaped in Affair Land (are we shocked?), with Big calling Carrie while Aidan is at her apartment, acting jealous, threatening to leave his wife, and causing Carrie to lose Aidan's dog. (Only temporarily, happily, the pooch makes his way home safe and sound, in the end--fear not, animal lovers!) Carrie ends the episode tearfully vowing to herself that she will end the affair pronto, because she finally seems to be aware that conducting said affair seems likely to end in heartbreak and disaster, not only for herself and Big, but also for innocent parties Aidan and Natasha. Yeah, we'll see how that goes.

And what of the other ladies, you inquire? Well, Charlotte is throwing herself head first into Bride and Wedding Madness--some parts of which she loves (i.e., getting to pick out ludricrously expensive wedding china at Bergdorf's), some of which.... not so much (i.e., having to negotiate the terms of her pre-nup with Trey's mother.) Because, it turns out, 1) Trey won't marry her without a pre-nup, and 2) Trey's mother Bunny is the one who sets the terms of said pre-nup, with Trey washing his hands of it entirely. (Once again, from the peanut gallery, I note.. the whole "my mother pretty much runs my life, and I quite like it that way" thing... red flag, Ms. York!)

Charlotte wisely has the lawyerly Miranda review said pre-nup, and learns from her that she'll "only" get $500,000 after a few years of marriage (HA), and will get a set sum of money for every son that she bears... but no money whatsoever for any daughters. Charming! Charlotte is most troubled, not by this whole-sale devaluing of female children, but rather by the fact that she is "only" worth $500,000. (Again I say--HA.) She is terrified to negotiate with Bunny about these financial terms (Charlotte: "Negotiate??? I can't even buy stuff on sale!"), but swallows hard and does so anyway--threatening Bunny that she'll back out of the marriage unless the pre-nup bumps her net worth up to a cool million. (How... romantic?) Bunny backs down, the pre-nup is signed, and Charlotte is once again restored to perfect happiness. [Blogger mutters bitterly under breath, to self: "Glad that this whole mess of a story line made someone happy, anyway, 'cuz it sure as sugar wasn't me."]

All right, so--onto Miranda. Miranda's plot line bores me almost to the point of tears, but does not, at least, make me want to smash things, as Carrie's and Charlotte's do, so... progress! Miranda meets George, who works at her law firm's Chicago branch, while he's in New York on business. They hit it off. After George returns to Chicago, they start having phone sex. Which goes swimmingly, until Miranda discovers that she is one of George's many phone sex partners. And so, she breaks off contact with his multi-phone-sex-partner-having self. [Blogger struggles to keep eyes open and remain upright, so uninterested is she.]

Sam, meanwhile, has the flu. As in, a really bad flu. During the course of said really bad flu, she tries to get one of her gentlemen conquests to come and help her out with some manly household tasks which have arisen during her illness (i.e., her curtain rod has come unsprung. And her female friends couldn't help her with this because...?) Finding that none of the men she's recently slept with is at all interested in helping her through her illness, a teary Sam laments to Carrie that being a single woman sucks, that a lady's life is meaningless unless she has a man who loves her, and that she is all aloooone. (Carrie: "We are not alone, we have each other." Thank you, Queen Adultery, nice to see you're still doing some good around here.) Happily, once Sam recovers, she puts all of her "as a single woman, my life is a bleak pit of bleakness, because only a man's love could give meaning to my life!" talk behind her, and blames her expression of said sentiments on the severity of her illness, and her heavy-duty medication. All right, then!

The Analysis:

Piece of Trivia Which I Feel Compelled to Shove Down Your Throat Against Your Will
Watch: So, when Big shows up on Carrie's block and starts a huge fight about the future of their affair, said huge fight scene was shot on a street in the Village where one of my very dear friends actually lives. Neat, huh? I mean, not to you, why should you care, but I was all "I have so been on that street. I so recognize those awnings" when I saw it. It made me feel PDS (Pretty Darned Special), I can tell you.

So It Appears We Are Actually Taking Adultery Seriously for Once, Thank Goodness For That, Watch: So I have ranted on this blog before about how darned much the show's often cavalier attitude towards cheating has irked me. Non-monogamy and open relationships or marriages? Mazel tov, enjoy yourselves, consenting adults, who candidly make respectful decisions about their emotional, romantic, and sexual lives. My blessings upon you.

But sneaking-behind-people's-backs cheating? Quite different, and quite distasteful. I like it not. And it's kind of nice to see the show taking the very real human costs of such behavior seriously, for once, rather than writing another "my, what an amusing lark adultery is, tee hee!" type story. The writers make it clear from the very beginning that by cheating on the sweet Aidan (and being complicit in Big's cheating on the harmless Natasha), Carrie is wading into very dark and deep waters, indeed, and that her cheating is doomed to wound and damage, not only herself, but all parties involved, however innocent they might be.

And while of course I would prefer not to see Pain and Doom descending on all of these peeps' heads (okay... except for Big, I'm totally cool with that--heap on those coals, writers/gods of vengeance!) I'm glad to see the writers taking this whole mess seriously. Give yourself an appropriate number of cookies, writers!

Ah, Let Us Once Again Conflate Massive Economic Privilege with Female Self-Assertion and Empowerment Watch: So, as you may have already gathered, I find the Charlotte plot line here totally irritating. Now, I am aware that this here show of ours focuses on characters who are rich--or who are, at the very least, far more economically privileged than the majority of the American public/than we humble plebs in the audience. And watching these ladies' relentless conspicuous consumption and careless erasure of their class privilege (i.e., Carrie is forever lamenting how "poor" she is, all the while living in a nice apartment in a great neighborhood in one of the most expensive bloody cities in the world, and buying designer clothes and shoes--she cries poor when she, say, can't afford a fabulous dress--boo frickin' hoo, Marie Antoinette, my heart bleeds for you) is certainly irritating in and of itself.

But when it comes to matters of the pocket book, I am most troubled by the writers' (not uncommon) conflation of "female independence and self-assertion" with "buckets and buckets of shining cash." Because the writers clearly intend Charlotte's "I am demanding a million dollars in my pre-nup" plot to be a triumphant narrative,which is all about Charlotte learning to be brave, and stand up for herself. Now, I am all for being brave and standing up for yourself, but forgive me for being troubled by the fact that all of Charlotte's discussions of "what she's worth" here boil down to how much she is worth... financially. According to terms determined by her husband-to-be's family, and contingent on her making a success of wifehood (again, on their terms), no less. Yeouch.

If Charlotte was making a bid for a raise or pay equity at work, then I could buy this "more money equals more female empowerment" notion. But Lily Ledbetter Ms. York is not, and I find it hard to celebrate her "victory" of getting more cash out of her future mother-in-law, while not in any way challenging the fundamental assumptions behind this rather nasty pre-nup. (Which of course includes the idea that sons and heirs are worthy of cash, but daughters and non-heirs are not, for the love of Pete, people. Is this seventeenth-century France??? Because if so, I would at least like a fabulous wig to compensate for the whole-sale devaluation of girl children here.)

"The Choices Are Endless": Ah, How Nice to Know that Women Are Totally Emancipated! Woooo! Watch: So Carrie makes a little speech in this episode which I find deeply annoying in large part, I suspect, because similar sentiments are expressed with alarming frequency by my students who (charming people though they are) seem firmly convinced that we live in an age of total gender parity, and that the ladies of today have noooo barriers whatsoever standing between them and full and equal participation in all parts of American society/the world in general. How nice for we womenfolk! Oh, wait, I forgot... that is actually total balderdash. Sexism lives, mes amies, as your intelligent selves are all too painfully aware.

Carrie, by contrast, intelligent woman though she is... does not seem so aware of this fact. Here's her leetle post-feminist speech, for your amusement/bemusement: "Since birth, modern women have been told that we can do and be anything we want--be an astronaut, the head of an Internet company, a stay-at-home mom... there aren't any rules anymore, and the choices are endless.... But is it possible we've become so spoiled by choices we've become unable to make one?"

All right, so, let Cranky Feminist have at this sucker. Cranky Feminist sayz:

1) First--CF sourly points to the class privilege implicit in these statements about "modern women." Do all girls and women have access to the kind of education and training which would make becoming, say, an astronaut possible? CF says--no! That's kinda contingent on having the economic wherewithal to go to college, grad school, and so on, and so forth. (Let alone have the fundamental encouragement to excel in math and the sciences...)

Do all women have the option to become stay-at-home moms and full-time homemakers, outside of the paid workforce, if they wish to do so? CF says... no! That, too, is contingent on having the economic resources to survive as a family on one income... and that is also assuming that all mothers have partners who can prove said income in the first place, which... is not so much the case!

So far: Carrie's-Delusional-Assertions-About-the-Limitlessness-of-Women's Choices-in-Modern Society: 0. Cranky Feminist: 2. [CF smiles like the proverbial cat-who-has-found-the cream, and cracks her knuckles--she is just getting started.]

2) Next up: Cranky Feminist vs. Carrie's-Declaration-That-The-Ladies-Have-Endless-Choices-And-Live-In-A-World-Without-Gendered-Restrictions-Or-Rules. [CF can barely speak, because she is doubled over in half-hysterical laughter at this one, with tears (partly from the laughter, but mainly from the pain) streaming down her face.]

So... do we, in fact, live in a world in which women have nothing but choices, choices, choices, and there aren't any rules about proper gender roles and behavior anymore? CF... thinks that this one is so patently ridiculous that it almost isn't worth refuting, but nonetheless states the obvious and says... no! Let's see. Do women have full, equal access to any profession they choose? Nope. Do women still face gender-specific discrimination and harrassment in the workplace in particular, and in the public sphere in general? Yup. Are women who have male partners, and who have children, still expected to accept primary responsibility for domestic labor and child care in their homes and families? You bet your sweet bippy. [CF thinks that she could go on in this vein forever, but settles for the new score--Carrie's-Delusions-About-Post-Feminism: o; CF: 3, and moves on.]

3) And finally... have all of the choices which all women now (ostensibly) have universal and complete access to made them flighty, indecisive, and unable to settle on anything, or commit to anyone? (Which seems to me/Cranky Feminist to sail perilously close to the "Sigh, life was soooo much better before feminism made women's lives so complicated" argument. Yeah, take me back to the good old pre-feminist days--how much I would have enjoyed having to marry in order to secure my economic survival, and having little to no ability to determine my own reproductive future. Those were the days!)

CF says... no! The only thing that Carrie is right about here is that women in the early 21st century do, indeed, have waaaaay more choices about their lives and how they want to lead them than their mothers or grandmothers did. But having more rights, opportunities, and choices--does not, CF/I would contend, turn women into indecisive flibbertigibbets, but rather gives them more scope to build independent lives for themselves, of their own choosing. And I/Cranky Feminist... am hard-pressed to see the downside there.

And so... our final score: Carrie's-Post-Feminist-Loopiness: 0. Cranky Feminist: 4. Woooooo! U.S.A! U.S.A.! [Ignores reader grumbling that the contest hardly seems fair, when the judge of the contest is also a participant in it. Heck, the process may have been corrupt, but the conclusions... they are still sound.]

Maybe Singlehood Is Not A Horror and A Curse, After All, Watch: In the Samantha plot line, I think that the writers do rather a nice job of digging themselves a rather unpleasant anti-singlehood trench, but then nimbly hopping out of it, back onto solid, pro-singlehood ground. [Blogger wonders to self if trench metaphor works, or if it is too reminiscent of trench warfare. Shrugs, makes a note to re-read All Quiet on the Western Front again soon, and moves on.] Because of course, when ill, Sam spouts every anti-singlehood cliche in the book: all single women are tragically alone in life! All single women's lives are devoid of meaning, because they lack a man's love! (Because of course... all single women are straight. Good to know!)

Happily, Carrie (although acting totally insane in this episode otherwise, please make it stop), is the Voice of Reason here, noting that Sam will never be alone, because she has the love and support of her friends. Awwwww. And once no longer on heavy-duty meds, Sam too recants her "marriage is the only route to happiness for the ladies, why is my life such a hollow lie???" malarkey. Excellent. Nicely done, writers, maintaining your "sure, loving and being loved by a good man is swell, but it is just possible for the heterosexual ladies to also have swell lives even sans said good man" stance here. I tip my hat to you.

Next Up...?:
"Running with Scissors," in which the ladies engage in various kinds of profoundly unsound and unwise behavior--I know, like we haven't seen enough of that lately. For the love of Pete, people, do I have to send you reminder cards reading "Please refrain from marrying strangers who are controlled by their domineering mothers" and "Please do cease and desist engaging in any and all adultery which might be filling your days at the moment" or what???

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