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!)


  1. I so completely love this blog. I have such a similarly complicated relationship with SATC and it's so nice to read such interesting analysis from someone who has taken the time to actually rewatch the episodes, something I cannot bring myself to do! Enjoyed all of the last posts about season 4 and this summary one. Thanks!

  2. Thanks so much for your kind words and for reading, Caeli! I'm actually tremendously enjoying rewatching the series... despite the pain inflicted by some of the episodes. And much more interesting stuff lies ahead in Season Four, as you know... thanks again for the comment!