Monday, January 31

Season Four, Episode Three: Defining Moments

The Summary:

Ah, providing definitions for things, let us attempt it!

So in the wake of their two disastrous attempts to make things work as a couple, and their one lurid extra-marital affair, Carrie and Big have now set up shop as friends. Ah, what could possibly go wrong there? Nothing, Carrie insists to her friends--she's learned her lesson, and is now quite capable of enjoying Big's company without wanting to enjoy his company, if you catch my drift.

Her friends are skeptical about Carrie's ability to make mere friendship with Big work, and, of course, they are quite right to be so. Big extends an open invitation to Carrie to turn their straightforward friendship into a friendship with benefits any ol' time she likes (an invitation which Carrie sensibly refuses, but which does not stop Big from waggling his eyebrows suggestively at her every time the subject of sex is mentioned. Ah, maturity!) Big also queers Carrie's pitch during her incipient flirtation with a charming (and hat-wearing--gotta love the gents in hats!) musician, Ray, acting more like he's Carrie's boyfriend than her friend whilst in Ray's presence. I see.

Witnessing Big's proprietary behavior towards Carrie, Samantha tells him to back the heck off (or words to that effect), and leave Carrie alone if he can't manage to just be her chaste and platonic buddy (which, it seems, he cannot.) Soooo... Big actually does back off (miracle of miracles), leaving Carrie free to proceed with her flirtation with Ray unimpeded. Excellent, I am always in favor of Musical Gents with Hats over Toxic (and Hatless) Ex-Boyfriends!

And what of the other ladies, you inquire? Miranda's plotline is the dopiest, so let me get that out of the way first--so Miranda is dating Doug, who appalls her one day by peeing in front of her. (Into the appropriate receptacle in the appropriate room in the house, I hasten to add--he is possessed of some Emily Post-approved manners.) Teased by her friends about being too prissy and rigid re: her personal boundaries re: Bathroom Etiquette (and everything else, for that matter), Miranda decides to try to loosen up when it comes to her notions of Proper Bathroom Behavior. This, of course, has predictably disastrous results, as Doug subsequently feels free to do EVERYTHING bathroom-related in front of her/with the door open. And I mean... EVERYTHING. Said conduct leads Miranda to show Doug the door, and to close it firmly behind him. Buh-bye, Doug! Good luck being inappropriate (and kind of icky) in other ladies' abodes/bathrooms!

Charlotte, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out what the heck is going on with her and Trey--the sexual part of their marriage is now officially up and running (in coatrooms, bathrooms, elevators, movie theaters, parties, you name it, all over town--the moral of the story--don't invite the MacDougals over for dinner just now!)... but that's pretty much the only part of their marriage that is. Trey has yet to invite Charlotte back into their marital home (for sex or anything else), and Charlotte is haunted by not knowing what the heck any of their Very Public Intimacies mean, or where they are leading her. (Charlotte: "Is he my boyfriend, or my lover? Or my ex-husband whom I occasionally have sex with in coatrooms???") She finally snaps (after Trey seeks to initiate intimacies in a cab two blocks from his/their old apartment, refusing to entertain the idea of actually going there for said intimacies) and suggests trying to rekindle their Marital Sex Life in their Marital Home/Bed. Despite the grim specter of impotence and sexual frustration which haunts said bed, Trey agrees to give this a shot. Charlotte is relieved. So, I imagine, is the cab driver. After all, not even the biggest of big tips can wipe away some memories...

And finally, we have Samantha. Charlotte's art gallery hosts a show by Brazilian artist Maria. At said show, Maria and Samantha meet, hit it off, and start spending time together. Maria tests the waters to see if Sam might be interested in transforming their friendship into a romance, to find those waters initially quite inhospitable--knowing that Maria is looking for a relationship, Sam tells her that she's not a relationship person, and suggests that they remain just friends instead. Maria acquiesces to this friendship proposal, but eventually has to concede that she's not capable of just being Sam's platonic friend (Big: please observe Maria's behavior, and do thee likewise), and bids her adieu. Attracted to and reluctant to lose Maria, Sam refuses to accept said adieu, deciding to risk getting involved in an actual relationship. If you are thinking to yourself that this is all going to end in tears... I cannot say that you are mistaken!

The Analysis:

LGBT Folks Watch:
Maria, of course, is a lesbian. (We also briefly see one of her ex-girlfriends, who has a couple of lines, but otherwise flits into the episode only to flit out again.) Maria is conventionally beautiful and feminine in her dress, makeup, etc... as pretty much all of the lesbian characters in the show have been, to date. Even though the show didn't exist yet, we are clearly in an L Word-esque type space here, when it comes to representations of lesbian women--i.e., all present are passport-carrying members of the Land of Normative Female Attractiveness and Fashion-Magazine-Cover-Esque Self-Presentation. [Insert inevitable allusion to "lipstick lesbians" here.]

Which inexorably leads us to the same kinds of debates which swirled around The L Word--is that a good thing (breaking away from long-standing, pernicious stereotypes of lesbian women as "ugly") or a bad thing (representing only one type of lesbian femininity/beauty, to the exclusion of all others?) Hmmmm. Tricky. Perhaps if we had more than approx. three lesbian characters in the entire series, the show might have had the opportunity to depict a more diverse group of lesbian women in more diverse ways? Maybe? Possibly?? Potentially???

People of Color Watch: Maria, of course, is also Brazilian, as the show wastes no opportunity to remind us. (Helloooooo, salsa music playing whenever she is around!) And Maria's immersion in the Land of Fiery Ethnic Ladyhood--it shall only grow deeper as we move forward...

Much as I Dislike Seeing Big with Carrie, I Am Nonetheless Pleased That... Watch:
Annoying as it is to once again have the writers throw us into the "will Carrie be dopey enough to get back together with Big?" toxic whirlpool, I do nonetheless enjoy one conversation that they have during their Ambiguous Friendship, in which they agree that people need to dress up more, and that we need to bring back fun, sadly extinct/dying-out loopy accessory items such as the watch fob. Well, look at that. I agree with Big about something! Will wonders never cease?

Beautiful Women Involved with Ordinary-Looking Gents, Part 8,745 Watch: I feel like a broken record here--but I will not blame myself for said broken-record-ness, no, indeed! If the SATC folks wouldn't keep pulling the same danged tricks on me, then I wouldn't have to keep saying the same danged things! Ah, blame-displacement. What a pleasure and a comfort thou always art!

So Doug, whom Miranda dates in this episode, is a pleasant but ordinary-looking bloke (a little pudgy, balding, bespectacled, etc.) On the one hand--nice to see a pleasant but ordinary-looking bloke as a romantic interest here... Sam's endless, indistinguishable string of Men's Health cover models... gets a bit tedious. Hooray for indicating that a man who doesn't look like an Olympic swimmer might actually be an intriguing romantic prospect! On the other hand--it's kind of a bummer that when we do have a not-conventionally-gorgeous bloke in the show, he's involved in scatological comedy plot, rather taken seriously as a truly dateable gent. On the third hand--(pretending that I have one)--I am once again annoyed by the pairing of the conventionally-beautiful Miranda with a not-conventionally-beautiful man. Ah, stunning women relentlessly being paired with non-stunning men in our popular entertainment! Shall I ever tire of it? Answer: yes, I shall--and I have. Please make it stop.

A Heterosexual Lady Becoming Romantically Involved with Another Lady... Not Yet Being Presented Massively Terribly! Watch: I must confess to you that I feel kind of haunted by the dark things which I (in my prescient, "I have already watched the entire series numerous times" wisdom) know are coming down the pike in the Samantha-Maria story line, so I keep wanting to say negative things about this episode re: how it handles Sam romancing a lady. But then I pull myself back from the Cassandra/Chicken Little brink, and remind myself that the sky is not yet falling--miracle of miracles, I think things actually look pretty good here! (Hastening to add the caveat: in this one specific, discrete episode.) If this episode was the only one in the "Sam dates a lady" vein, I would have actually been quite pleased with how they handle things. (It isn't, but of course, but let's pretend for one brief, shining moment that it is... let us breathe deep amidst the Fumes of Delusion!)

In a show which has all too often in the past reaffirmed the unshakable, unchangeable, immovable boundaries between The Gays and The Straights, it's kind of nice to see the writers introducing the idea that sexual desire and romantic attraction might actually be a little messier--a smidge more fluid and ambiguous--than those absolute categories allow for. Would it have been more revolutionary if they played out such a story line with the more relatable Carrie, Miranda, or Charlotte, rather than the self-proclaimed "tri-sexual--I'll try anything once" Samantha? Sure. But still, showing Sam as a straight woman facing an unexpected attraction to another woman, and taking that attraction seriously (and not being panicked by it)... not too shabby.

I'll also give the writers points here for making it clear that Sam (who is clearly drawn to Maria) turns her down initially, not because of homosexual panic, but because she wants to spare Maria's feelings... she's not interested in a monogamous relationship (or really, in any relationship at all), and since Maria clearly is, Sam doesn't want to see her get hurt. This... only seems reasonable! Sam subsequently deciding that Maria is worth risking entering into an actual relationship for, despite her general aversion to commitment, is also handled quite nicely here, I think... the writers suggest that it's a worthwhile risk for Sam to go outside of her comfort zone by venturing to mix sex with emotions (and sacrificing bucket loads of heterosexual privilege in the process) for the sake of someone she is genuinely interested in, and excited about. It all starts off so nicely, with such complexity and thoughtfulness! Ah, if only I could tell you that it stayed that way... but... nope! Down the drain... prepare yourself to go there.

Next Up...?: "What's Sex Got to Do With It?" Weeeeelllll, in a show called "Sex and the City"--I would imagine... quite a bit! And turns out... I'm not wrong about that. Join me anon, as we watch Sam plunge into her relationship with Maria, Carrie into dating the be-hatted Ray (have I mentioned I am a big fan of men in retro hats? No?), Charlotte into continued Marriage Renegotiation, and Miranda into... eating cake out of the garbage. Fantastic.

Friday, January 28

Season Four, Episode Two: The Real Me

The Summary:

Ah, female self-esteem. Let us plunge into its depths, let us contemplate its mysteries!

So Carrie has been asked by her friend (Very Special Guest Star Margaret Cho--yay! Openly feminist celebrities!) Lynn to be part of a fashion show called New York Style, which will feature a festive mix of models and "real" New Yorkers. (Because models clearly... are fake people.) Carrie anguishes over whether or not to do it--how can she, since she is not as flawlessly beautiful as Actual Models? Won't people judge her for being delusional enough to think that she belongs on a runway?? Will they not mock and analyze her every flaw??? Neuroses.

Happily, a combination of 1) her friends giving her a good slap upside the head about said neuroses, and 2) learning that Dolce and Gabbana picked her to model their clothes and that she gets to keep said clothes after the show induces Carrie to accept this model-y invitation. Excellent!

Of course, Carrie does not leave her neuroses behind when she jumps into the Modeling Life--she still frets about her lack of perfect beauty, the absurdity of her moving within the world of high fashion, and so on, and so forth. However, there are perks--she begins a flirtation with a fashion photographer, Paul (which ultimately goes nowhere, but is nonetheless pleasant, as he is pleasing to the eye, and pleasingly tells Carrie that vitality and personality, not perfection of face or form, are the essence of beauty--good Paul!), and gets to hang out at Dolce and Gabbana with a designer played by Alan Cumming (whom others might adore primarily because of Cabaret or his brief but lively stint on The L Word, but who stole my heart in Emma. He does "pompous British twit in a frock coat" to perfection, that one.) Good times!

On the night of the fashion show itself... things start out a bit rough, as Carrie learns 1) that instead of the pretty floral dress which she thought that she'd be wearing, she will in fact be prancing down the runaway in naught but a jacket and jeweled panties... I see, and 2) that the other "real people" in the show include such non-model-y, non-conventional-beauty-ish types as Fran Lebowitz and Ed Koch. (You should be honored to join any group in which Fran Frickin' Lebowitz is a member, missy! Show some respect!) However, with a little help from Kevyn Aucoin and Heidi Klum, Carrie snaps out of her "ahhhh, showing imperfect body in public! Being grouped with Frank Rich! The horror!" type anxieties, starts strutting down the runway with her head held high... and then trips over her own high heels, becoming (as Stanford puts it) "fashion roadkill." Yeouch.

However, she picks herself up, dusts herself off, and finishes the show to triumphant applause. (Carrie: "Because when real people fall down in life, they get right back up, and keep walking." As opposed to what fake people do, I suppose... but whatever, we know what she means!) Yay for courage in the face of error, acceptance of imperfection, and free sparkly undergarments from D&G! Good things all 'round!

The other ladies, too, are struggling with self-acceptance in this episode (sadly without Alan Cumming or sparkly designer undergarments by their side/on their persons to facilitate the process... drat. But I suppose one cannot have everything!) Miranda is flummoxed by a guy at her gym coming up to her one day (when she is bathed in sweat and wearing a vile old gray T-shirt) to tell her that he "thinks she's very sexy." How can it be that someone finds her sexy, Miranda wonders? How can it be that someone finds her appealing when she is not all dolled up, Miranda speculates?

Sigh. I feel like I just went through all this (oh right, because I just did), but 1) watching a character played by Cynthia Frickin' Nixon wonder how anyone could find her attractive... more than a little irritating, and 2) sad to, once again, see Miranda incredulous and crammed with self-doubt when a guy whom she considers "out of her league" notices her. (Head... please allow me to reintroduce you to Desk.)

It will not surprise you to learn that this seemingly pleasant turn of events (a bloke whom Miranda thinks is attractive is attracted to her, in turn! And thinks that her athleticism is appealing, to boot!) naturally ends in disaster. Alas, it all starts out so well... Miranda and this gent go out a couple of times... and it's nice! And Miranda's confidence is up, because the gent keeps telling her that she's sexy, and she's starting to think that he just might be right. Doesn't sound so bad, no? Ah, but alas, gentle reader. Of course it's bad. As soon as she voices something of her new-found confidence to the gent, talking about how she is happy with her life, self, and accomplishments ... he shuts down and doesn't want anything more to do with her. I see. [Head and Desk further their reacquaintance by making a violent connection.]

Inspired by Carrie's bravery on the runway (post-Fashion-Roadkill-Debacle) Miranda actually asks the guy (who has stopped calling her) what went wrong, and he says that he lost interest because she seemed "a little full of herself." [Blogger feels urge to tear out hair, but decides that to actually do so would be too painful, and refrains.] I'm sure that will help build up Miranda's confidence in herself just dandily! [Blogger tugs gently, but non-damagingly, at hair, just to relieve her feelings a bit.]

Charlotte, meanwhile, has vulvodynia. Yeouch. Poor Charlotte! In real life, of course, vulvodynia is a serious, debilitating, and tricky-to-treat disease... in the SATC verse, however, it is merely a means to an end, designed to lead us to the revelation that Charlotte thinks her genitals are "ugly," and has never looked at herself Down There properly, because of this distaste for the whole Lady Parts region. (An emergency performance of "The Vagina Workshop" in the MacDougal household seems called for, stat!)

After her friends encourage her to sit down with a hand mirror and actually get acquainted with all things South of the Border, Charlotte eventually takes a deep breath and does so... and is enraptured and amazed by what she sees. Yay for no longer hating one's own body! Yay for increased comfort and familiarity with one's own personal physical terrain! Yay for a miraculous and sudden cure from a condition which in real life often lasts for long periods of time/indefinitely!

And finally, we have Samantha, who is having nude photographs of herself taken. Of course she is. Not to impress any gents, she assures her friends, but so that she'll be able to look at said snaps later in life, and revel in the prime of her beauty once she is elderly (and as such, of course, no longer "hot.") Whatever floats your boat, Samantha J., just keep said snaps out of the living room/other public spaces, hmmmm?

There is, of course, a dark side to Sam's "I wish to savor and appreciate my own loveliness" narrative here--said dark side being how Sam actually defines, and seeks to attain, said loveliness. Namely... by not eating that much. (When she and the ladies go out, she has hot water with lemon. Yum, so filling!) Eventually Sam realizes that this is perhaps not the healthiest course of action, and that she'd actually rather be, you know, alive and eat real food, than maintain her "perfect" body. And so she starts to eat properly again. Yay, food! Let's never fight again, I hate when we are parted, even for a short period of time.

And there is actually a Stanford plotline in this episode, as well, imagine that! Of course, it is about Stanford wading deep into the waters of the Dating Humiliation Pool... what else could it possibly be?

So Stanford is lamenting his lack of recent romantic luck to Carrie, and Carrie and Charlotte decide that they need to find a nice guy to fix him up with immediately, if not sooner. Since Charlotte's wedding stylist Anthony seems to be the only other gay gent whom Charlotte knows, she decides that the commitment-averse, "I only like guys who are stunningly beautiful" Anthony would be a perfect match for the serious-boyfriend-seeking, bespectacled Stanford. Oh dear.

Turns out, of course, that it is not a perfect match--Anthony takes one look at Stanford, decides that he's not good-looking enough for him, and leaves, and Stanford (unsurprisingly) decides that he's not too keen on Anthony, either. (Stanford: "I've been rejected by someone I wasn't interested in. I hate when that happens.") Sorry, Stanford! Maybe try to be a smidge less ragingly shallow in future, Anthony!

The Analysis:

LGBT Folks Watch:
Fashion show guru Lynn's omnipresent (and silent) companion, Damian, is gay. Seems like a nice gent, wears festive sunglasses... hard to know anything else about him, however, since he is silent as the grave--mute as the tomb--quiet as a mouse--and other cliches about people who don't say much. And then of course, we have Stanford and Anthony--Anthony being portrayed as the height of "he doesn't go to the gym as much as me, and is therefore totally unsuitable as a romantic prospect" image-obsessed shallowness, and Stanford as Tragic Dating Victim and Staunch Support/Sidekick to Carrie, as per usual. The late, great makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin also makes a cameo in the episode--gets a few lines, diffuses some of his considerable charm, works some serious makeup magic on Carrie's eyes, and then disappears. Rest in peace, sir.

People of Color Watch: Silent Damian is Asian-American, as is Lynn. Lynn (unlike her unspeaking companion) plays a pretty significant role in the episode--she's represented as rather loopy, but also as both a talented professional and an interesting person... imagine that! An Asian-American woman in SATC who is neither a dragon lady nor a Madame Butterfly-wannabe! Shocking! Of course, she disappears after this episode, never to be seen again... but fun having her around while it lasted. Buh-bye, Margaret Cho! Write more feminist books, please!

Actors Appearing Twice in the Series--I Will Catch You When You Attempt It, Casting Directors, Watch
: I suspect SATC must have been a real boon for New York-based actors during its run--I would be pleased to think so, anyway... nice to think of talented thespians picking up an episode or two of SATC here and there in between doing Shakespeare Off-Broadway, and portraying serial killers on Law and Order.

Once again, the casting directors have slipped in an actor who had appeared earlier in the series in a different part--ha ha! Thought I wouldn't notice, did you, SATC peeps? That was your first mistake! My capacity to notice uninteresting details is boundless--boundless, I tell you! So, the guy who plays Carrie's passing flirtation Paul also played one of Big's sleazy friends way back in Season One. Glad to know that he's cleaned up his act a bit since then--from slimy playboy to thoughtful photographer. Better to go from A to B, then from B to A, I reckon!

Vulvodynia, Serious Illness or Subject for Jokes: A Discussion:

Serious Illness: Well, I will say that I appreciate a high-profile show like SATC even bringing up vulvodynia as a topic of discussion, since loads of people don't even know it exists, but lots of women suffer from it. So... that part of it is good, anyway.

Subject for Jokes: Ha HA, hilarious. Charlotte actually has to keep a journal of her symptoms for her doctor! What could be funnier than a lady documenting painful physical symptoms taking place in her Lady Area? Ah, what a rich vein for humor it is.

Serious Illness: Weeeellll, I was going to mention that... I'm actually not so fond of the way that this episode brings up vulvodynia, but then makes it purely a source of comedy for the other ladies to tease Charlotte about, and also treats it like it's no more serious than a yeast infection--keep a journal for a few weeks, look at yourself in a hand mirror, and poof! You're cured! Not sure it's that simple, in real life. Maybe there was a way that they could have mentioned the disease without making it seem both trivial and amusing?

Subject for Jokes: [Wiping away tears from its eyes, as it has been laughing so hard.] Stop, stop, you're killing me--I mean, Charlotte actually has to go on mood elevators to try to cope with the problem. Her vagina is depressed. It's HILARIOUS. I cannot think of any part of this whole thing that isn't funny.

Serious Illness: Weeeeelllll, is there a difference between seeing the absurdity and humor in the necessary indignities of illness and its treatment, and mocking that illness altogether, and making it seem fundamentally unserious and silly?

Subject for Jokes: [Sides still shaking with suppressed laughter]: Ummmmm--nope, don't think so.

Serious Illness: [Leaves some pamphlets about vulvodynia on the table, in the vain hope that Subject for Jokes might read them, and walks out.]

Ladies: Do Not Be Self-Doubting--But Also, Do Not Be Self-Confident Watch: Pooooor Miranda. Charlotte may have vulvodynia, and Carrie may have fallen flat on her face on a runway, but Miranda is once again in the throes of Self-Doubting and Self-Denigrating. As I have discussed before--I am not really a fan of this self-denigration!

And to the show's credit, I don't think that it is, either--the writers represent Miranda's consternation at being seen as sexy as patently absurd, and show Carrie giving her a good slap upside the head about her bafflement and disbelief--of course Miranda is sexy, and deserves to be recognized as such.

Altogether, I think that the episode does a nice job of emphasizing the fact that Miranda's doubts and inaccuracies about her own attractiveness are absurd, while also noting that it's entirely natural that she should nonetheless be riddled with them--living in a world in which the standards of what female "sexiness" are are decidedly unrealistic, distorted, and unattainable, it's not surprising that lots of women (including the otherwise meticulously analytical and skeptical Miranda) would have drunk some of this particular KoolAid, and be haunted by the fear that they are somehow not (and never will be) "enough" in the Beauty and Sexiness department.

The only thing about the Miranda plotline that sticks in my craw here is that Miranda loses the guy in this episode, not for being insufficiently confident, but rather for being too confident. Le sigh. He is totally into her when she is blushingly, self-deprecatingly denying his assertions that she's sexy--but as soon as she starts to believe it herself, and to talk about her confidence and her happiness in herself... he loses interest. Oh dear. This could be a simple case of "well--then said guy is a jerk!", but I think that the episode actually suggests that it's Miranda who is at "fault" here--that she let his praise go to her head, and that's that a bad thing. Modesty, ladies! Let that forever be your watchword and your guide!

So, in sum--I will give one point to this episode for realistically and sympathetically representing Miranda's doubts about her own attractiveness and self-worth, and take one point away for the episode suggesting that feeling too confident in her own attractiveness and self-worth is problematic. Which, of course, leaves us with a score of... precisely zero. Ah well. Better that than being in the minus ranges, I suppose! We must thank heavens for small mercies!

Body Positivity, Comfort in One's Own Body, Rethinking The Body and Beauty, Other Things Having To Do With Words That Begin with "B" and End In "Y" Watch: Ah, things I like about how this episode handles issues surrounding women's struggles to love and accept their bodies, let me count the ways:

1) Charlotte looking at her vagina in a hand mirror, and not being repulsed by what she sees, but rather delighted and fascinated. Excellent, Betty Dodson and Eve Ensler would be so proud! Having previously internalized the message that her genitals were ugly, and that she was better off knowing nothing about them and their various shenanigans, she actually overcomes such notions here, and achieves a new level of comfort with, and appreciation of, herself. Yay for not finding one's own body repulsive and distasteful!

2) Sam deciding that feeding her body is more important than rigidly controlling how it looks. I do indeed quite like the Sam plotline here, with Samantha overcoming her obsession with looking "perfect" in favor of actually, you know, eating solid food. Perhaps it is a little facile to show her going from "I will only eat steamed vegetables!" to "Bring on the carbs!" in the space of one episode... but still, I think that it works pretty well here. By the end of the episode, Sam is more focused on how she feels than how she looks, and though this by no means, well, means that her struggles with beauty culture and body image are over, it still seems like she has achieved some measure of inner peace here. I'll take it!

3) Carrie loosening her grip on her obsession with perfection and beauty a bit. Throughout the episode, Carrie (always one to throw herself head first into her Obsession of the Moment), is fixated on the notion of "models as perfect, and self as too short, too awkward, etc." Nice to see her let go of those "if I do not look like Heidi Klum, then I must be a hideous, inferior monster" notions a little--in part because of Paul smacking her upside the head for thinking that beauty=unblemished and static perfection. He makes quite a nice little speech about how it's people's flaws, complications, and imperfections which actually make them beautiful. Awwwww.

Next Up...?: "Defining Moments," in which Charlotte continues to try to figure out what the Sam Hill is happening in her marriage (good luck with that!), Sam finds herself attracted to a "fiery" Brazilian artist, who also happens to be a lady (I can't see any stereotypes about either lesbians or Hispanic women coming out of that one), Carrie tries to be friends with Big (greeeeeeat idea, brillllliant), and Miranda is cruising for humiliation of various kinds (because what else could she possibly be cruising for?)

Friday, January 21

Season Four, Episode One: The Agony and the 'Ex'-Tacy

The Summary:

Ah, Season Four! How you did sneak up on me!

I will tell you now, dear readers, that Season Four might well be my favorite season of them all... but fret not, I still find loads of things about it deeply problematic. You're never in less than reliably cantankerous, crabby, and critical hands here at BOCS, I promise you!

All right, so, we start off Season Four in festive party mode... festive engagement party mode, to be precise. The ladies attend the engagement party of some mutual friends, and said attendance/party sparks off some Thoughtful Musings on their parts about marriage, singlehood, no longer being in the first flush of one's dewy youth and still unpaired off, whether or not there is such a thing as (as the engaged couple ardently proclaims themselves to be) "soulmates," etc. (As Carrie inquires, in what becomes the episode's central question, "soulmates: reality, or torture device?")

In addition to reflecting on the Soulmate Question, Carrie is also contemplating her 35th birthday, which is almost upon her. She's... not too happy about the advent of said birthday! This lack of happiness is not diminished when the 35th birthday party which her friends seek to throw her results (through a series of mischances) in Carrie sitting in a restaurant all alone, feeling all alone--not just in the eatery, specifically, but also in the universe, generally. (Carrie, to the ladies, in the aftermath of Disastrous Would-Be Party: "I am 35, and alone..... I hate myself a little for saying this, but it felt really sad, not to have a man in my life who cares about me. No special guy to wish me a happy birthday--no goddamned soulmate. And I don't even know if I believe in soulmates.") Sorrow.

But then again... perhaps not such sorrow. Charlotte suggests to the other ladies that "maybe we could be each other's soulmates, and then maybe we could just let men be these great, nice guys to have fun with." Yup, you heard me right, that was Mrs. Charlotte MacDougal suggesting a revamp of the Soulmate Model. (But I thought she wrote the original Soulmate Model???) The ladies conclude this sounds like a plan, and then eat some ice cream. All's well that ends well, I s'pose!

Oh, and before I move on from Carrie, I am compelled to mention that Big is also present in this episode--Carrie invites him to her birthday party. He doesn't show up to that, but does show up at her stoop (doesn't he know I'm the one who has dibs on going back there?) with champagne, and some birthday balloons. They talk about soulmates, and both conclude that Love is a Mystery, and neither of them has a clue about it. They enjoy the champagne, though, and one another's company in a pleasant, friendly way which does not seem poised to result in me wishing to kill myself. So... I'll take it!

All right, so, what of the other ladies? I'll start with Sam, as her plotline is the one which I find the most numbingly uninteresting. She spies a beautiful priest one day (as one will), lusts after him in heart, and subsequently tries to tempt him into breaking his vows. But... no dice. Vows stay kept, Sam goes away empty-handed. Ms. Jones, have we learned nothing from your previous lusting after celibate holy men in Season One? It seems not!

Charlotte, meanwhile, is trying to figure things out with Trey. Should they get back together? Should they get divorced?? Is he her soulmate??? Charlotte doesn't know, on any of these fronts. Confusion--it reigns supreme. The only thing she is sure of is that when their last would-be tryst ends with something in the premature ejaculation vein happening on one of her pretty dresses, that she is displeased. Me too, the dress does not deserve such things!

Miranda's dresses, happily, are going unmolested, but this does not mean that she does not have some frustrations of her very own, because, of course she does--said frustrations centering on her compulsion to put on a little comedy routine about her disastrous dating life whenever an engaged or married acquaintance asks her about whether or not she herself is yet hitched (or ever likely to become so.) (Miranda, explaining this modus operandi to Carrie: "Society views single people our age as sad and pathetic... and so I go on the offensive and make them laugh. Just trying to avoid the Pity Party.")

But when she bumps into her married friend Shelia on the street one day, she doesn't feel like launching into her usual "ah, amusing, single me, what with my Bridget-Jones-like half-humiliating, half-entertaining romantic mishaps!" comedy routine. When Shelia reassures her that her One and Only Soulmate is definitely still out there, Miranda doesn't launch into her usual jokes on the subject, but instead unamusingly begs to differ. (Miranda: "Maybe, maybe not...I'm not sure I believe all that. Maybe there isn't someone for everyone.")

Having thus sufficiently harshed her friend's Love Buzz, Miranda then realizes that it's not just single people of a certain age who feel sensitive about not hitting the social ideal of "spouse, kids, picket fence"... whilst they are chatting, the childless-by-choice Shelia launches into a would-be comedic monologue about why she and her husband aren't having youngsters, even though everyone expects them to. Miranda (and we, the humble viewers) cannot help but be struck by the fact that this spiel sounds not at all unlike Miranda's would-be comedic monologues about her persistent single state. Ah, social pressures! They fall both on the partnered and single alike, it seems! Thanks for being even-handed, there, pressures!

The Analysis:

LGBT Folks Watch
: We hear Stanford's voice on Carrie's answering machine, apologizing for not being able to make Disaster Birthday Party--but that's about it. All right, Season Four is off to a raring start!

Insignificant, But to Me Necessary, Note About Capes: So in this episode, Carrie wears a succession of truly gorgeous vintage capes (which the costume designer Pat Field tracked down in thrift stores, bless her heart) with which I am unambiguously in love. I myself just purchased a gray wool cape for $6.00 from a thrift store, meself, and am unambiguously in love with that, as well. I'm a soft touch, me, I'll give my heart away to anything which is swirly, vintage, and CHEAP.

Charlotte Actually Taking Charge of Her Own Life, Rather Than Waiting For Someone To Take Charge of It For Her--Excellent! Watch: In her continuing efforts to try to make sense of her relationship with Trey (what is it? what does it meeeean?), Charlotte... actually stands up for herself, and works to take control of the situation, eventually asking Trey to stop calling her, to give herself some space to figure out what she wants and needs--and then she'll call him when she's ready to talk. Wow. The Charlotte of Season One would have dismissed this as radical, unladylike behavior of the worst possible description, and fainted away in horror at the very thought of doing such a thing. But the Charlotte of Season Four actually feels comfortable directly articulating what she wants and needs to the gent in her life, and not letting him be the only one to make decisions about the future of their relationship. Nicely done, Mrs. M!

Masturbation, Treating It as Normal! Amazing! Watch: So you may recall that in Season One, the hapless Charlotte gets so much addicted to the solitary vice that Miranda and Carrie literally have to stage an intervention, and take her favorite vibrator away. (Of course, I am told that this kind of thing is a very common occurrence.) In my discussion of said episode, I noted that I found it more than little unsettling that the show thus neatly played into some rather distasteful stereotypes about female masturbation--it is a sad and pathetic substitute for a man! It turns ladies into crazy recluses!, etc.

Imagine, then, how pleased I am to see masturbation treated as... something normal and unremarkable in this episode. At one point, all four ladies discuss it (as part of their discussion of Sam's sighing over her Forbidden Priest, naturally, about which whole storyline... yawn, I don't care), with Charlotte taking part in this conversation in a way which makes it clear that she and the solitary vice are not strangers. And yet... she does not seem to have turned into the madwoman in the attic! Amazing!

Having Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda all talk about masturbation as though it was just a normal part of their sexual lives rather warms the cockles of my icy spinster's heart, since these three are the relatable, non-outrageous, (and in Charlotte's case) even conservative characters in the series. The fact that Samantha talks about it quite a bit (and that Sam and masturbation often feature in the episodes' comedic subplots) I find less useful, as she's always the outlier, the boundary pusher, the hypersexual one... but to have the three "normal" ladies talking about masturbation in tones which one could not find in a nineteenth-century tract written by members of the purity movement ("It will deform a ladies' very SOUL!", etc.)--I call that progress!

"Are You Telling Me You Didn't See Those 'Don't Worry, You'll Find Someone' Looks?": Discussing Singlehood and Soulmates in Some Nifty Ways Watch: I'm not going to pull any punches here, my friends, I will tell you quite candidly, up front and without prompting, that I love this episode. Yes, the Sam plotline bores me to tears, and I feel badly for Charlotte, getting her dresses ruined by her persistently headache-making spouse, but besides that--I think there are many festive things on display here, most of which have to do with musings about singlehood, marriage, soulmate-hood, and social pressures and perceptions of all these things. Oh, Season Four, Episode One, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1) Questioning tidy, conventional romantic narratives. The lass whose engagement party the ladies attend fits the tidy, conventional romance narrative to a T (or seems to do so, anyway)--as she tells all the women there, the instant she met her husband-to-be, she knew he was perfect, that he was the One, that her search for a spouse was over, and that all was right with the universe. She and her hubby-to-be seem genuinely happy, and mazel tov to them--but the episode isn't really interested in them, which in and of itself, I find rather pleasant--the neat and tidy search for love, which ended with the glitzy engagement party does not interest the writers too terribly much... it's the messier, more ambiguous things happening in our heroines' lives which intrigue them, and bless them for that.

As they do throughout the series, in this episode the writers are concerned with circling absolute declarations like that of the Engaged Lass (about the perfection of love, the instantaneousness of recognizing it, the indisputable existence of your one, true soulmate, etc.) with rings upon rings of question marks. They suggest that maybe things aren't quite so simple--Charlotte loves Trey, but that doesn't make their love perfect, or her absolutely certain that he's her soulmate. Carrie believes in love, but isn't sure that she believes in (as Charlotte puts it) "that one perfect person who's out there to complete you." Throughout the episode, all four women (okay, three--Sam is too occupied chasing her priest--good luck with that, Jones!) poke holes in the tidy "Now that I have found my one true love, my life is paradise!" narrative offered by the Engaged Lass at the beginning of the episode. And that kind of makes me love them.

2) Questioning the idea that a single lass is one lost half of an as-of-yet-incomplete whole. In talking about soulmates, Charlotte and Miranda (not perhaps entirely shockingly) disagree about that notion. Charlotte says there has to be that someone out there who makes you complete, an idea which Miranda rejects ("And, what, if you don't find him, you're incomplete? It's so dangerous.... you're still looking outside yourself, and saying you're not enough.")

Ultimately, this seems to be the perspective which the writers expect us to agree with--Charlotte gets her "perfect soulmate who completes you" idea rattled quite a bit over the course of the episode, as she continues to face imperfections from and struggles in her dealings with Trey... he's her husband, and she loves him, yet he doesn't seem to be giving her that sense of completion and perfection which the soulmate ideal promises... enough to make a gal think, now, ain't it? I do appreciate the writers actively questioning the ever-popular "you complete me" narrative here. Good times.

3) Raising the possibility of friends, and not just romantic partners, as soulmates. I do also find Charlotte's speech about she and her friends being one another's soulmates rather touching here, as well. It's a neat way of summarizing one of the ideas that has been front and center in the series from the beginning--the concept that your friends will offer you unconditional love and support no matter what--that they will be a constant, no matter what else in your life may shift. Nifty to see the show once again putting that bright spotlight on female friendship, and noting that it (as well as male romantic partners/spouses) can be a central core of women's emotional lives. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg would just eat that up!

Stigma Against Female Childlessness: Let Us Acknowledge It! Watch: It is a small thing, really, but I also do enjoy the little "lightbulb over Miranda's head" moment towards the end of the episode, where she realizes that it's not just ladies who are single who face social pressure and disapproval for failing to conform to the "ideal" life model. The anxiety which her friend Shelia clearly feels about "explaining" her persistent childless state is very much like the anxiety which Miranda herself feels to "explain" her persistent single state--coincidence? The episode suggests not. From what Shelia says, it's clear that neither she nor her husband wants kids, but that she nonetheless feels the need to explain and justify this fact, in part by making self-deprecating jokes about it. Nice to see the episode showing these two women suffering from a case of what the series will later call the "should"s--Miranda is 35, she should be married! Shelia has been married for five years, she should have kids! Is that what they actually want? Ummmmm, who cares? Get crackin', ladies!!!

Notable Quotables: Miranda to Carrie, as they're leaving the engagement party: "We were the only single people in there." Carrie: "Miranda, we're the only single people anywhere."

Next Up...?:
"The Real Me" featuring Margaret Cho as a special guest star, and musings about female beauty and self-worth aplenty. Excellent!

Wednesday, January 19

Introducing... Season Four

Season Four... It Begins: Can it be that we are already up to Season Four??? It seems that it can. Amazing. What, you inquire of me, do we have to look forward to (and to dread) in this, the fourth season of SATC? Well--let us see, shall we?

Look Forward To:

1) Some quite interesting stuff about motherhood. Goody! They dipped their toe into the Mother Waters way back in Season One (in some quite interesting ways, I thought)--and they are moving beyond toe-dipping, in Season Four... we are WADING in the world of motherhood, mes amies, wading, I tell you!

2) A quite interesting episode about abortion. Goody! Because they need to redeem themselves a bit from their "let us pretend that abortion does not exist as an alternative when we discuss unplanned pregnancy" malarkey, which they fannied about with in Season One. Not okay, SATC peeps. Not. Okay.

3) Some quite interesting stuff about marriage and commitment. Unlike the first movie, which, sigh, literally has a fifteen minute montage of Carrie swirling around in really, really expensive designer wedding dresses (I like pretty dresses as much as the next dress-fancying lass, but seriously. Make. It. Stop.), Season Four actually does some really neat musing about the complexities of marriage and commitment (beyond "ooooh, white dresses are so pretttty!" Ummm, yes, they are, but is there anything more complicated to say about the institution of marriage, and women's relationship to it? It seems not. My mistake!)

Dread:

1) Some truly embarrassing Miranda plotlines. Of course there are. The writers... they love to humiliate our Ms. Hobbes. Sigh. She even EATS CAKE OUT OF THE GARBAGE at one point. Lovely.

2) Some quite uncomfortable, simplistic, and insulting musings about lesbian women and relationships. Of course there are. One of our four leading ladies (I leave it to you to guess which one--cough, Samantha, cough) finds herself attracted to another woman, and thus, of course, a) instantly concludes that she's a lesbian (naturally, I've never heard of it being possible to be attracted to both women and men at the same time...? Of desires and romantic interests which stray outside the gay/straight binary...? Surely not!), and b) makes some truly wince-inducing conclusions about what it's like to be romantically involved with the womenfolk. Hint: women=hyper-emotional bitches. Especially if they are "fiery" Latinas. [Blogger prepares self to put on her crash helmet.]

Next Up...?: The very first episode of Season Four, entitled "The Agony and the 'Ex'-tasy." If you have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that Big is the "ex" invoked in the above pun... then I cannot fault the pit of your stomach for its insights and acumen! Le sigh. HOWEVER, we also get to go to an engagement party, which to my mind is just about as festive as heading off to a wedding, in the SATC verse. Goody!

Monday, January 17

In the Final Analysis... Taking Stock of Season Three

Welcome, dear friends! And so, now that we have made our way through all eighteen (!) episodes of Season Three, let us 1) take a moment to pat ourselves on the back for having come so far and done so much, 2) take a moment to muse and reflect over Season Three--what it means, what it was, what it did, what it didn't do, the headaches it caused me/us, etc., and 3) take a moment to recharge our collective batteries before we head onto Season Four (which also boasts eighteen episodes, if you can believe such a thing!)

All right, so--judgment time! One of my very favorite times of all! Surely, it is not Christmas, but rather Judgment, Time which is the most wonderful time of the year!

People of Color Watch: So, as you may recall--or actually, as I am sure you do not recall, as I did not recall, myself--and if I did not recall, no reason why you should recall--Season Two had ten characters of color total, with five of these counting (in your humble blogger's opinion--and who else's opinion do you have to rely on, on this here blog?) as actual characters--i.e., possessing names, personalities, some relation to the plot, etc. And in Season Three we had... nineteen characters of color, five of whom I would say were actual characters. Huh! It felt for a minute there like we made progress! But then... clearly, we did not. My mistake!

Because, alas, as was the case in both Seasons 1 and 2, we still find ourselves, in Season 3, in Lily-White NYC, where very few of the people whom we even see (let alone whom we hear, or get to know in any meaningful way) are people of color. Perhaps... this is not entirely reflective of reality? Perhaps... this is rather distasteful? I'm going to go with yes, on both fronts!

I wish I could say Season Three represented a break-through of some kind on this front--that, for the first time, we had a complex, engaging, fully realized character of color present here. But... nope. We don't. The ladies' lovers are white. Their colleagues are white. Their friends are white. Sigh. Perhaps we can hope for better in Season 4...? [Blogger silently mouths "NOPE" to herself as she types.]

LGBT Folks Watch: But ah, your cheery self says (bless your sunny nature), surely things are better on the LGBT front? Surely, we have some happy news to report there? It cannot be all doom and gloom, now, can it? Oh, gentle reader. You know how I hate to disappoint you. And yet disappoint you, I fear that I must.

In Season Two, we had eight LGBT characters, five of whom I counted as being actual characters (and yes, that does include our good friend Stanford Blatch.) In Season Three, I count... seven LGBT characters, all of whom I would say are actual characters, in the sense of being integral to the episode, given names, given at least the dim outline of a personality, etc.

But before you break out the champagne... may I urge you to save it for a yet more festive occasion, such as the winning of the lottery, the birth of a child, or the christening of a ship? Because the LGBT folks who are here... do not, I think, get treated too terribly well. We have just recently discussed the three transwomen in Episode 18, and how they are represented as shrill, vulgar, hypersexual harpies. (A victory for women everywhere, to be sure!) And if you push your memory back to the early days of Season 3 (ah, they were a more innocent time!), you will recall the truly horrendous ways in which the show treated the bisexual Sean and his friends, depicting them as flighty, indecisive, callow, and immature? (Oh, those wacky, wacky bis! If only they would get their act together and realize that you are either gay or straight, period, exclamation point. Get your hand out of my hetero cookie jar, greedies, and just admit that you're gay already! Geez.)

By representing its most prominent LGBT characters as bizarre freaks for our "normal"
leading ladies to contemplate with bemusement (at best) and distaste (at worst), the show reinforces heteronormativity like there's no tomorrow, while also making a valiant effort to claim that they are in fact "cutting-edge" and "progressive." Nope. Sorry. If that's what the best thing you have to sell, writers, then I ain't buyin'!

And before you say it, yes, I am aware that there is always Stanford. And Stanford is witty, charming, delightful, and undeniably gay. BUT (you knew there would be one), he is also primarily present as window-dressing--Stanford is a silent witness to Charlotte's wedding! Stanford appears on screen for five minutes in an episode in which he otherwise plays no part whatsoever!, etc. Just having Stanford kind of generally around without properly making him a major character... still doesn't cut much ice with me, my friends.

And on the rare occasions when Stanford and his dating life are central to an episode... his romatic escapades are presented exactly the way that Charlotte or Miranda's (non-serious) romantic misadventures are--that is, as a source of rather painful, often humilating comedy. Stanford tries to get fixed-up with a guy who's not interested in him! Stanford's boyfriend turns out to be a weirdly obsessive doll collector!, etc. I guess the writers are equal opportunity humiliators, because Charlotte and Miranda have a lot of similar wince-inducing plotlines over the course of the series (maybe that's a good thing...? The equality of pain...?)... however, we haven't yet seen Stanford and his relationships presented in a non-comedic, "ah, let us laugh through the pain/at his pain" kind of way. But... perhaps one day we will? [Blogger silently mouths "YUP" to herself, as she types.]

Victories! (From the perspective of your humble blogger, that is--your list may be entirely different from mine. Not to worry, it's a free country! But... it's also my blog.)

Victory #1: ADULTERY. Not that I would call adultery itself a victory, mind you, but I do rather like the way that this season handles adultery, infidelity, etc. You may recall me rather vociferously complaining earlier in the series that the show just didn't seem to take cheatin' too terribly seriously--in several plotlines, it got played for laughs in a way which I found distinctly icky. (Always being careful to distinguish between those who cheat, and those who are consensually non-monogamous, polyamorous, what have you--live long and prosper, my poly friends! I find you distasteful, cheaters!)

Carrie and Big's affair is treated in a quite complex, interesting way throughout the season, which I must say gladdened my heart. We can see quite clearly what lead Ms. Bradshaw down the Affair Path, and even feel sympathetic towards her as she strolls along said path, picking poisoned daisies as she goes... but the series happily avoids diving into The Bridges of Madison County School of Adulterous Storytelling, in which everyone learns, grows, and is a better person for having cheated on their significant other. Ummmm, nope, don't think so! The Carrie/Big Affair is shown, not to be a charming interlude which can later be looked back on with nostalgic delight, but rather as a huge, wretched mess, with majorly unpleasant reprecussions for everyone involved. It doesn't demonize Carrie, or even Big (that's my job--boo, hiss! Down with Big!), but it also doesn't shy away from the fundamental ugliness of the situation. Excellent!

Victory #2: MARRIAGE. I also quite like what this season does with its considerations of marriage--while feeling suitably sorry that things didn't work out a wee bit better for Charlotte York MacDougal this time around. Poor Charlotte. She's been a punching bag for the writers since Season One, and when she escapes the loonballs of the single world, it is only to confront one loonball, in the shape of her spouse. Alas!

However. I do think that there's something more interesting than "just how disastrous can we make Charlotte's life this season? Oooh, I'll bet we can do better than we did in Season Two. Sorry, worse, I meant worse--we can do worse than we did in Season Two! Buckle up, Charlotte!" evil designing/cackling on the part of the writers here. As I've said before, I think they do a nice job of respecting Charlotte's heartfelt desire to find a life partner, get hitched, and have youngsters, while also raising major red flags about her "It is better for me to marry someone than no one, even if I know nothing about said someone! MARRIAGE. NOW. Additionally, I would prefer that my future spouse be rich" attitude.

Charlotte has, from the beginning, been the character who has the most straightforwardly traditional view of love and matrimony in the series--the "find a handsome, wealthy prince to take care of you, and he will ride you off into the Sunset of Happiness Forever" narrative clearly holds a lot of appeal for her. And to the writers' credit, they're finally starting to unpack her attachment to that ideal (and the damage which that attachment might do to her) in a more substantial way.

Charlotte marries Trey, in large part, because he is handsome, aristocratic, and monied. (Ah, shallowness. What a faithful friend and stand-by thou art!) So on paper, Trey is perfect, according to Charlotte's standards. But of course, it turns out that her fairy-tale wedding to a seemingly fairy-tale prince is not quite the fairy-tale she had aspired to and hoped for. Funny how that turns out.

And it's kind of nice to see marriage be the beginning, and not the end, of a heroine's journey and growth--Charlotte thought that as soon as she became a "Mrs.," everything would click into place, and her life would be perfect. Turns out... it's not that simple! And having watched waaaaay too many bad romantic comedies on planes (don't judge, I don't watch horror movies, war movies, or children's movies--and that cuts down your pool a goodish bit when you're trapped at 30,000 feet and too jet-lagged to read, and too crabby to sleep), even this relatively tame subversion... still feels pretty festive to me! Yay, marriage narratives which are not tidy, simplistic, and stereotypical!

Defeats! (You knew I would save the worst for last, didn't you? Do we not know each other at all by now?)

Nothing I am about to say will surprise you--in addition to the dismal showing of characters who are not white as paper, and the unpleasant representations of the bi and trans folks, my number one defeat is... the usual suspect, lazy stereotyping about gender, and proclamations of "what men and women are really like." I. Hate. Those. Not to say that this season is an unmitigated failure in that regard, there were a few flashes of light in the darkness... however, for the most part, we once again face facile declarations about Women, Men, and the Vast Biological Divide which separates them. Charlotte is a lady, and as such is bad at math, and sexually passive! Miranda is reluctant to make an immediate commitment to her boyfriend, and is therefore more like a man than a woman! Sam is very much in charge of her career and her firm, and as such is "the man of the office"! And so on, and so forth. Blurrrg. Pleeeeease make it stop.

So in The End, Season Three... Better than Seasons One and Two? Worse? Same?? What???: Speaking purely as myself (I do not know how to speak as anyone else, purely or impurely), I will say that I like Season Three best of all the seasons so far. Yes, I thought the episodes in L.A. were dreary. Yes, I was sad when they sent Roger Stirling away so precipitously. (Bring him baaaaaack. Why did he have to gooooo?) But I think the series is starting to grow up--starting to tackle some more serious themes, and to do so in a more thoughtful way (something which will only accelerate come Season Four, goody, goody...)

I also think Season Three packs one heck of a narrative punch--yes, both Charlotte's marriage and Carrie's affair are like express trains headed straight to Wrecks-ville--but danged if I could look away from either mangled-mess-waiting-to-happen. I also think that the season handles the story of Miranda and Steve quite nicely--two grown-ups who can't make a romantic relationship work, but who muddle through trying to stay friends in the aftermath, anyway. Yay, complexity! Yay, maturity!

But enough of Season Three. What awaits us in Season Four, you ask? When we've already had marriage, adultery, and the Playboy Mansion, where is there to go from here??? Ah, many intriguing places, my friends, many intriguing places, indeed... return to me on Wednesday, and we shall consider what awaits us in Season Four (we have made it half way through, mes amis! Half. Way. Through. Unless you count the movies which [shudder] for the moment, I am being kind to myself, and doing my best to forget that I shall have to confront, in the end... let us whistle on the way to our doom!)

Friday, January 14

Season Three, Episode Eighteen: Cock A Doodle Do!

The Summary:

I hate this episode title. Just thought I'd get that out of the way now.

But what of the episode itself, you ask? What's happening there? Well, Carrie is facing two main issues--the first is being that the vets on her block have put roosters on their roof, and said roosters are waking her up at the crack of dawn every bloody morning. (Who among us has not faced a similar situation, I ask you?) Annoyed by this, Carrie initially decides that she'll still put up with it, so as to allow the roosters to enjoy fresh air and freedom. But she subsequently decides that she actually can't handle their racket, and asks the vets to move the roosters into the basement of their building... which they do. This is supposed to be symbolic of... something (the nature of freedom? the difficulties of making peace with our neighbors? the benefits of an outdoorsy life?) but I'm not quite sure what. I don't think the writers are quite sure what, either, to be honest. I think they threw the roosters in here primarily so that they'd have the chance to make numerous "cock" puns. And on that score, at least... mission accomplished!

Carrie's second issue is more significant, in that Big has gotten in touch with her, as he wishes to see her, and talk over The Affair and its aftermath. (What could possibly go wrong there?) Carrie decides that she will, indeed, meet him, which precipitates a huuuuuge fight with Miranda (while they are at a thrift store, no less--lower your voices, ladies, we must not upset the bargains!) Miranda, not unreasonably, thinks that this is a massively bad idea, as Carrie seeing Big... tends to lead to Very Bad Things. Things take an ugly turn when Miranda accuses Carrie of being "pathetic and needy" when it comes to Big (ding ding ding, I do believe we have a winner!), and Carrie counter-accuses Miranda of being excessively judgmental, and having "thrown Steve away." Yiiiiikes.

But all's well that ends well, in the, well, end. Carrie and Miranda make up, and though Carrie does indeed meet and talk to Big, Very Bad Things (for once) do not happen. They talk about the affair, how stupid they both were to engage in something so destructive and damaging, muse on the fundamental disorder and chaos of life... and then Carrie leaves. Big (in typically suggestive Big fashion) says she's welcome to stay... but she does not, realizing that Big as Romantic Prospect/Sexual Partner=Very Bad News. Progress! [Blogger to self, ominously, under breath: "For now, anyway...."]

And speaking of Miranda... in addition to fighting with Carrie, Miranda is obsessed with the idea that the woman who works at her favorite Chinese restaurant is laughing at her, for ordering the same take-out food every week. (Yes... seriously.) She realizes in the end, however, that this is silly (thank you), and that the woman could care less about Miranda and her dining habits.

In addition to this fighting/Big-meeting/Chinese takeout madness, Miranda and Carrie also (gosh, their plotlines just go on and on, don't they?) bump into Steve and Aidan, and learn that both gents have new girlfriends. (And Aidan also has a madly unflattering new goatee, which--yuuuuck.) Carrie and Miranda are appalled that they are both still obsessed with what went wrong in those relationships, while their exes have (seemingly effortlessly) already moved onto new ladies. Are men just fundamentally less obsessive about matters of the heart than women? (Bloggers' verdict: than women in general--no. Than these particular women--yes!)

Miranda later bumps into Steve AGAIN (you would think Manhattan was the size of Little Tinysville, Indiana, population 362, the way this show carries on), and they have a pleasant, friendly conversation, in which Steve reassures Miranda that she didn't "throw him away," and they chat amicably about his new girlfriend. Hooray for showing the potential which exes have to act like grown-ups, and even to be friends! Excellent!

Okay, I think we can now safely move onto Charlotte and Samantha and their shenanigans... phew! So, Charlotte, as we know, has separated from Trey, moved back into her old apartment, the whole nine yards. She proclaims that she has sworn off men, is done with romance and sex and love, etc., etc. Ummmm-hmmmm, I totally believe her! Except... I don't, at all, and I am quite right not to do so. Trey comes to her apartment in the middle of the night one night, tells her he can't stop thinking about her since she left him, and they sleep together. As in, actually sleep together... all of Trey's issues when it comes to Bedroom Matters seem to be magically gone! Nice how that works out.

If this was your typical romantic comedy, I reckon things would stop there--Trey finally realized what he'd lost in Charlotte, and miraculously gets his act together both emotionally and sexually, and now they can live Happily Forever After. But the show does something a little more interesting and complicated with this scenario... neither Charlotte nor Trey is sure of what their next step should be here. Do they want to try to get back together? Do they want to be married--to each other, one, or at all, two? They don't know! And so, we don't know! Nobody knows! UNCERTAINTY. And there Season Three leaves us, with Charlotte poised somewhere between singlehood and married-ness...

Samantha, meanwhile... sigh. This is the most painful plot line of the lot, which might be why I saved it for last--delay the pain as long as possible. So, the street on which Sam lives is also a street on which three trans sex workers (Destiny, Chyna, and Jo by name) pick up their clients. This trio is rowdy. Said rowdiness distresses Sam not a little--she wants a quiet life, a quiet neighborhood! So she gets into an increasingly unpleasant feud with the three women, which finally results in a detente after Sam throws a party for them. (???) This might not sound too horrendous on the surface, but trust me... it is. There is enough talk of "half-men, half women" to choke a horse/make your humble blogger want to hide under the covers until the horror has passed.

The Analysis:

People of Color Watch:
The three trans sex workers whom Sam battles with in this episode are all African-American, and (as we shall see)... they are not represented too terribly positively! Two of the women whom Miranda interacts with at the Chinese restaurant which she goes to/freaks out about are (perhaps not entirely shockingly) Asian. They both have very few lines, very minimal parts to play in the episode, and relentlessly get referred to as "the Chinese take-out lady," and similar. If I have learned nothing else from SATC, I have at least learned that that all Asian women are either a) dragon ladies, or b) work in Chinese restaurants. Good to know!

Marriage: Some Actually Not Entirely Uninteresting Reflections About It, Yay! Watch: First, to the good stuff. Because soon enough, we're going to have to dive into the Sam plot line and let me assure you... that is alllll bad stuff. Okay, so, discussions of marriage. I think this episode actually does some neat stuff in thinking about marriage and our society's ideas about/pressures surrounding it here--goody!

As Charlotte laments to her friends about her newly separated state, she declares that "the only thing worse than being 34 and single is being 34 and divorced!" To which Miranda quickly replies that actually, being 34 and trapped in a miserable marriage is worse than either of those things... a sensible perspective which I think that we, as viewers, are actually supposed to agree with. (Excellent!) Perhaps being happy (whether that happiness comes through being married, partnered, single, whatever) is more important than avoiding the "stigma" of not being married/being divorced--a shocking concept! And... one point to Ms. Hobbes.

Charlotte and Trey also have a pretty interesting conversation about their marriage specifically, and about marriage generally, in the wake of their tryst--Charlotte asks Trey why he agreed to marry her in the first place, if he wasn't sure that he was really the marrying kind/interested in being married, and (in addition to noting that she is a splendid and wondrous person--nice touch, sir), says "I thought it was time--I'm of a certain age--people expect you to get married," to which Charlotte replies "Sounds familiar..." Eureka! An acknowledgment that our society pressures both heterosexual women and men to get married! Can it be true???

I surely do appreciate seeing Trey note that, though he'd been perfectly happy as a single 40-something gent, he nonetheless felt considerable pressure to marry, just because he was at (or even past) the age at which he was expected to be paired off by his family, his friends, and the world in general. And said expectations, of course, had the unfortunate effect of prompting him to actually get married, even though he didn't think that he was suited for, or inclined towards, the married state. Nice to see the writers highlighting the fact that our society's notions that singlehood past a certain age is undesirable (at best) and unacceptable (at worst)... can have some adverse consequences! And nice to see Charlotte and Trey actually talking about this stuff--maybe if Trey had opened up this line of communication at the beginning of the season, we all could have been spared all of the grisly Miseries of the MacDougal Marriage stuff?

"Chicks with Dicks": Wince-Inducing Discussions of Trans Women, Sex Workers, and Humanity in General Watch
: So the stuff between Sam and Destiny, Chyna, and Jo in this episode... is a little unpleasant. How is it unpleasant? Well, dear readers, let us count the ways:

1) All four SATC women clearly regard these three women as amusing (at best) and icky (at worst.) When Sam helpfully provides her own definition of a "transsexual": "chicks with dicks--boobs on top, balls down below," Miranda says, "I don't see the appeal there." Because goodness knows, the most important thing here is what you do and do not find "appealing," Ms. Hobbes. (That point I gave you before? Taking it away now! So there!) Showing our four, cisgendered female leads talking about these women and their bodies as though they are absurd (at best) and distasteful (at worst) plays into some rather unpleasant attitudes and ideas about trans women and their bodies as "unnatural" and "disgusting" which I find it truly unpleasant to see on display here.

2) The show also definitely plays Destiny, Chyna, and Jo's sex work for laughs here--Sam amuses the other three ladies by recounting their conversations about their clients, which Carrie and Miranda meet with uproarious laughter (and Charlotte hears in appalled silence, naturally.) Given the fact that numerous trans women (especially trans women of color) turn to sex work because of their difficulties accessing other types of employment, and that they face a disproportionately high rate of sexual assault and abuse while doing that work, I find that this whole "ha ha, how amusing these ladies are, with their dirty mouths and their amusing sexual practices" angle here a little distasteful. Maybe Destiny, Chyna, and Jo freely chose to become sex workers, and enjoy their work. But given the realities of systematic discrimination against trans women, the high levels of poverty among trans women, and the fact that these three women are shown working on a street corner being harassed by cops... my tendency is to doubt it.

3) And just to pile it on, the episode also engages in some truly (say it all together with me now) unpleasant gender essentialism, as well. Because goodness knows, the best way to respond to trans people, and questions about the inherent untidiness and fluidity of gender identity, is to staunchly insist that the gender binary is REAL and UNSHAKABLE, dammit! I defy you to even attempt to shake it!

So Sam is initially able to have pleasant dealings with Destiny, Chyna, and Jo because (as Carrie's voice-over notes) "Samantha always knew how to get her way with men--even if they were half women." I see. Please pick up your ever-present notebooks, and scrawl down the following important concepts: "A person cannot truly be transgendered. Similarly, a person cannot transition from being a man to being a woman, or define themselves as being a woman, while still in any way being biologically male. If you are a transgendered woman who has not yet had/does not intend to have bottom surgery, then you are not trans nor a woman, but rather 'half man, half woman.' " How useful this is to know!

Similarly, things eventually go wrong between Sam and these three women because... they are "half women" after all, and as such (I'll bet you can guess!)... really bitchy! Seriously, women. Even when they are not "real" women, they still cause lots of trouble with their bitchy, bitchy ways, am I right? [Blogger goes to lie down, to dream of a world in which the only trans characters in the series were not represented in such a simplistic, reductive, negative, and distasteful way. Oh, sweet, sweet dreams...]

Next Up...?: Coming up on Monday, we take stock of Season Three--what were its highs? What were its lows? Why did that whole "wearing giant flower pins on one's shirt" fad actually take off, when it is so inherently loopy, impractical, and potentially fire-causing???