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.

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