Saturday, February 26

BOCS Takes to the Road/Takes a Brief Hiatus

Dear Friends:

So do you remember waaaaaay back last summer, when I suddenly fell off the face of earth to go to a festive American studies conference in Australia? No? Seriously, why should you. I wouldn't remember it myself, apart from all the very happy memories which I have from said trip/the absurd neck pillow adorned with koalas which I purchased in the airport for my voyage home. (So silly, but so comfy!)

Alas, something similar is about to happen, and I am about to go radio silent until deep into next month (tears, violins) as I prepare for, and then head off to, a conference about feminist cultural activism in sunny York, England. A fortunate being--I most certainly am one.

And if you recall (and again, why should you--I only recall because this is my feed store, so I'm responsible for remembering all the stuff about the, um, feed), I'll be presenting about feminists who blog about pop culture--such excitement! It's never too late to fill out my festive questionnaire, and/or to contact me directly (at backoncarriesstoop@gmail.com) with any and all thoughts about this project... if you have musings about feminist pop culture blogging... my, but I should like to hear them!

In the meantime... I shall surely miss you gravely! When we return, however, we shall happily return in style--we have sooooo much fun stuff to tackle, including one of my very favorite episodes of all time, in which abortion is actually discussed in a quasi-plausible, grown-up way, as if it were something experienced by one-third of American women, and as such a legitimate topic for discussion! Will wonders never cease???

Wednesday, February 16

Season Four, Episode Ten: Belles of Balls

The Summary:

Ah, testicle-themed puns! Let us wince at them!

So in this episode, Carrie is wondering whether "men are just women with balls." (Remind me how much she gets paid for writing her column, again?) That is to say, she's wondering if popular culture is mistaken, when it alleges that women and men are radically different beings, who have radically different perspectives on things, and lead radically different emotional lives. Young Miss Carrie Bradshaw questioning the notion of innate, unchanging, and absolute gender difference? [Blogger pauses to mistily wipe away a tear.] Our little girl is growing up, my friends. Golly. It just happens so darned fast. It feels like it was only yesterday when she was spewing some rubbish about how men were a different species from women, altogether. Ah, memories!

As she muses over this issue, Carrie also faces something of a personal crisis. It turns out that Big's new movie star girlfriend has unceremoniously dumped him (good. call. lady.), and he is completely heartbroken. He desperately needs to talk to Carrie about his break-up/to cry on her shoulder about said break-up, since... she's really his only friend. (Sad. Or it would be, if this wasn't Big whom we were talking about. As it is... no mercy, my friends! No. Mercy.) He consequently asks if he can come up to see her... at Aidan's country house. As in Aidan, whom he cuckolded... with Carrie. Keep it classy, Big! Keep being quite mind-numbingly stupid when it comes to Big, Carrie!

Because Carrie tells Big that he can, indeed, come up to see her (head, desk, surely you know what to do by now?). Aidan, unsurprisingly, is ticked. Already intensely disliking Big's persistent presence in Carrie's life, he dislikes yet more strongly the idea of having Big be a guest in his home. This... only seems reasonable!

A guest Big nonetheless is, however--he gets totally blotto whilst at Aidan's abode, and ends up having to stay overnight. (Greeeeeat. Just the relaxing weekend Aidan had in mind, I'm sure!) Carrie insists to Big that he make friends (???) with Aidan--said friendship attempt, naturally, resulting in Big and Aidan fighting in the mud. (As the dear robots of the late, lamented MST3K used to say: "A little something for the ladies.")

Carrie tells them to stop acting ridiculous (Carrie, yelling at Aidan and Big as they fight: "Stop it! You're middle-aged!"), and... stop they do. And they even manage to have a pleasant chat, post-fight. (Not sure I'd want to have any kind of chat, pleasant or otherwise, with the person who had had an affair with my beloved, meself, but... whatever! This isn't really about me, now, is it?)

Meanwhile, Miranda is also dealing with her erstwhile significant other... Steve is recovering well from his treatment for testicular cancer (yay!), but is still feeling rather wretched (boo.) Not feeling wretched in the physical sense (remember this is Fantasy Land, where aggressive cancer treatment has effects similar to having an unpleasant cold--a couple of days of ickiness, and poof! You're healed!), but wretched in the emotional sense. Steve, you see, had to have one of his testicles removed, and as such, feels like less of a man. [Head and Desk look at each other warily, and decide that one violent connection per episode is enough.]

Miranda tries all in her power to coax Steve out of this line of thinking/depression ("Seriously, Steve, I've been to the area, and I wouldn't know if you had one, or four")--she suggests soothing books for him to read, listens to him rant about his testicular woes, goes with him to scary doctors who want to sell him fake testicles (yiiiiikes)... but in the end, learning that his primary anxiety about losing a testicle is that no woman will ever want to sleep with him again... she sleeps with him (again.) Of course she does. I can't see that having any unforeseen consequences at. All.

Charlotte is not dealing with a former amour in this episode, but rather with her current amour... frustrated that she's not pregnant after months of trying, Charlotte asks Trey to have his sperm tested. Having only recently grappled with Impotence Issues, Trey is generally defensive, angry, and unpleasant about the very idea that anything else could potentially be wrong with his Gentlemanly Area. Charlotte talks him out of his neuroses, however (Charlotte to Trey: "I'm sure you have very strong, Scottish sperm"), and they go ahead with the testing. Turns out... she was right! (About the "strong" part, anyway... not sure if they tested for the "Scottish" part. Perhaps this costs extra?)

And what of Samantha, you ask? Well, she is angling for a new job. (A subplot that is about work, and not luvvvv? Can it be true?) Turns out, hotel magnate and general muckety-muck Richard Wright is looking for a new P.R. person. Sam wishes to be that new P.R. person. And Richard acknowledges that she's the best person for the job... but initially refuses to hire her, because Samantha had previously had a fling with one of his other employees, and he reckoned it would all be too messy to have her and said erstwhile fling in the same general area.

Sam makes a rather nice speech about how her sexual past/behavior should have no bearing on her professional life, and that if she were a man, she's quite sure that it wouldn't. This speech impresses Richard so much that he elects to hire her, after all. Well done, Mr. W! (Please file away for future reference the piece of information that said Mr. W is very attractive--so when I said that this plotline was about work, rather than about luvvvv... yeah, I might not have been telling the whole truth about that...)

The Analysis:

"I'm a Bad Wife, I Got Chinese!": Ladies and Their Domestic Responsibilities, How Dare They Slack Off at Them For Even One Day Watch: So Charlotte uses the above phrase about her procurement of Chinese takeout, rather than her construction of an entire meal from scratch, when Trey comes home from work one night. Please take up your omnipresent pad and pen, and scrawl down the following: "Part of good wifehood: consistently preparing homemade meals for your spouse. Failure to do so... falls under the category of 'bad' wifehood." PLEASE.

"Men Don't Talk, They Fight": Male Fighting as a Source of Humor Rather than Womanly Swooning Watch: So I absolutely detest the Twilight series--I find the whole "as a 17-year-old girl, my only dream in life is to be with my patronizing, creepily controlling 100+-year-old boyfriend forever and ever and ever (because he is so prettttty), and have as many sparkly babies of his as I can squeeze out, as soon as possible. College, what? Having an independent identity apart from being My Boyfriend's Gal? Ummm... not interested!" wildly distasteful. (And that's leaving out the "Native Americans are wild, violent beasts! Female sexuality needs to be contained within marriage! Having a baby when you're 18 is super-easy and fun, because said baby will soon be able to read your mind and speak in complete sentences!" stuff... I could go on for days, but I shall spare you.)

ANYWAY, I bring Twilight up at all because I was thinking of it during the whole Aidan-Big fight scene... as we all know (whether we wish to or not... K. Stew and R. Patz... they cannot be escaped!), Twilight relentlessly fetishizes its heroine's two would-be beloveds fighting over her... their battling over who will win her maidenly heart and virginal flesh takes up loooong stretches of those looong books, as she flutters on the sidelines, waiting to see which of her potential gents will emerge triumphant. (Passivity, thy name is Bella Swan. What a great role model you are for the young women of the future, Ms. S. Keep up the good work! By which I mean... do nothing of any interest whatsoever!)

Given this not un-isolated "having two boys fight over you is totally awesome, and one of the proudest achievements of which a straight lady can boast" strain which runs throughout our pop culture, I am amused to see Carrie treating Aidan and Big's fight, not as titillating or romantic, but rather as absurd. She's not swooning on the sidelines, waiting to see which gent will come up trumps, but rather rolling her eyes and yelling at them to stop. She doesn't want to be the prize in any manly contest--she wants Aidan and Big to stop their nonsense, and leave her to drink her tea in peace. Well done, Bradshaw, that's the first sensible thing you've done all episode!

Gender Difference... Is Not Absolute! Hurrah! Watch: So as you have already gathered from my summary, for once in our lives, this episode muses over the alleged vast differences between men and women... and concludes that they are not actually so vast, after all. Halle-bloody-lujah! Carrie concludes in the end that though there are still things about men which she'll never understand (i.e., how Aidan and Big can be wrestling in the mud one minute, and chatting amicably the next... which I admit is a mystery), that women and men actually share more in common as human beings than our "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus" culture allows for. Wahoo! I'm ready to file that sucker under "P" for "Progress"!

Annoying Language About Men and Masculinity Watch: Which is not to say that I don't find things in this episode to bug me because, gentle reader... of course I do. You knew that I would!

Thing That Bugs Me In The Way This Episode Talks About Manliness #1: When Trey is telling Charlotte about a confrontation which he'd had at work, she (totally unironically) says, "Good, honey, good--sometimes they just need to hear it from a man." I'm sorry, that retching you just heard? That would be me, seeking to hold down my excellent breakfast in the face of such "as a man, it is your job to be authoritarian and stern, and as a lady, it is my job to admire said stern authoritarianism" malarkey. She couldn't have said "sometimes they just need to hear it from someone who knows what the heck they're talking about"? Or "from someone who's not afraid to stand up to them"? Nope. Has to be from a man, my mistake! [Blogger does all in her power to keep her previously-consumed oatmeal right where it belongs...]

Thing That Bugs Me In The Way This Episode Talks About Manliness #2: At the end of the episode, Carrie informs us that Richard finally chooses to hire Samantha because he"admired her balls." Puh-leeeeze. He couldn't have admired her courage, her chutzpah, her eloquence? Nope, has to be the balls which she notably.... does not have! Equating gutsiness with testicles... how I do tire of it.

Thing That Bugs Me In The Way This Episode Talks About Manliness #3: After Carrie runs her whole (admittedly totally nutty) "I want Aidan and Big to be friends!" plan by the ladies (seriously, what were you thinking, missy?), Samantha says, "Men don't talk, they fight. It's all that crazy testerone--God bless it." For the love of Pete, Jones, don't be undoing all of our good "gender difference is not innate, biological, and unchanging" work here! I would like to suggest that men do talk, and that testosterone is not some bizarre potion which explains all male aggression. Could it be that culture plays some role in discouraging male emotional expressiveness, and glorifying male violence...? It seems not, my mistake!

Raging Double Standards 'Twixt Women and Men in the Workplace Watch: Having taken some points away from this episode for all of this headache-making language about all things manly, I will restore some (you can't say that I'm not generous, now, can you? Well, you can, actually, and with some justification... though I still hope that you won't...) for some interesting discussions about persistent double standards when it comes women, sex, and emotions in the workplace.

As I noted in my summary, Sam has a nice little moment in the sun here (helping to make up for her "testosterone makes men crazzzzy" crack), calling Richard out for refusing to hire her because of a sexual relationship which she'd had in the past. She notes that if she were a gent, she very much doubts that her sexual history would have played any role in Richard's hiring decisions whatsoever... and to his credit, he acknowledges the truth of that statement, and eventually decides not to let it stop him from hiring Samantha, either. Good, good, good!

The ladies also have an interesting discussion about perceptions of the womenfolk and their lady feelings in professional settings, with Samantha and Miranda noting the shocking fact that if a man is visibly angry about a professional issue, this can be seen as a positive--he's passionate and engaged!--whereas for a woman, it is most often seen as a negative--she's crazy and out of control! Huh, you don't say! Next you'll tell me that a woman will be seen as being a bitch, where a man behaving in the same way will be seen as assertive! Elementary stuff, perhaps, but still... nice to see the ladies calling this particular spade a spade here...

Notable Quotables:
Samantha, fuming over Richard's refusal to hire her because of her possession of a female body, complete with lady parts: "What does he think I'm going to do, get my period and ruin his empire?"

Next Up...?: "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda," in which we actually have some quite complex, interesting, and realistic discussions about abortion. Can it be true??? Perhaps I ought to pinch myself, to ensure that I am indeed awake... [Long pause.] Yeouch! Yup, that one stung... interesting discussions about abortion it is, then! I dream not!

Monday, February 14

Season Four, Episode Nine: Sex and the Country

The Summary:

I feel like I have been starting every episode summary in recent weeks with "Carrie and Aidan are pretty happy together in this episode! EXCEPT..." Sorry to sound like a broken record here, mes amies, but... Carrie and Aidan are pretty happy together in this episode! EXCEPT... there is some trouble over how their leisure time ought to spent. Aidan has a rustic country cottage out in the wilds of Suffern, New York, and he lovvvves it. Carrie (a self-described "bonafide city girl") goes there with him one weekend, and she hatttttes it.

Her dilemma then becomes, of course, does she tell him that she hates it, and refuse to spend her weekends there? Or does she paste a fake smile on her face and allow herself to be dragged to the country on a regular basis, because Aidan is her fella, and a lady ought to defer to her fella's preferences? I leave it to you to guess which option Mistress Charlotte MacDougal advocates. (Hint: Do what your man wants at all times, ladies, or you shall lose him--and serve you right, you willful minxes!)

All of this makes Carrie muse about when, in relationships, "the art of compromise becomes compromising." She follows the Charlotte M. Model of Relationship Behavior for awhile, pretending to Aidan that she loves spending lots of time in the country--but eventually she snaps, and tells him the truth. So in the end, they compromise--sometimes, they'll spend their weekends in the country (as Aidan prefers) and sometimes, they won't (as Carrie prefers.) This... only seems reasonable!

Oh, and since it actually will have some significance for our next episode, I must also tell you that, at some point along the line, Carrie has dinner with Big, who is apparently now dating a fancy-pants movie star. He wants to tell Carrie alllll the salacious details about their trysts. (Why...?) Carrie, unsurprisingly, does not want to hear all the salacious details about their trysts! She consequently leaves their dinner feeling distinctly irritated both by Big's movie-star-dating, and by his salacious-detail-recounting. Ah, clearly remaining friends with Big was a great. Idea.

Meanwhile, in the lives of the other ladies... Sam's plotline in this episode is totally dull. Carrie drags her to Aidan's house one weekend, where Sam beds one of Aidan's attractive neighbors. I am SHOCKED. Oh, I'm sorry, I meant BORED, I am BORED.

Miranda, fresh from losing her mom in our last episode, has yet more Difficult Things to face in this episode... Steve has just discovered that he has testicular cancer. (Heap those coals of fire on poor Miranda's head, writers! And Steve's, too, for that matter. Well, not his head, exactly, I suppose...) Listening to Steve talk about how his diagnosis is "no big deal" and describing his doctor in ways which make it clear that he is something less than competent, Miranda snaps and yells at him to take this seriously, to realize that he might die, and to get himself to a good doctor, stat. (Nice that we live in Fantasy New York/United States in the SATC verse, in which self-employed bar-owner Steve seems to have excellent health insurance, which will enable him to switch doctors and go see a top-notch cancer specialist, at will. Ah, Fantasy World. How I wish that I lived there, too!)

Miranda worries that she's been waaaay too bitchy and harsh with Steve (since she makes him cry a little, after yelling at him that he could diiiiie)--but Steve later thanks her for giving him a swift slap upside the head, and encouraging him to seek out a proper doctor and proper treatment. And so, we leave the episode with Steve seemingly on the road to recovery. Phew! Let's go easy on the deaths and the traumas, shall we, writers?

Charlotte, meanwhile, is busy (as Carrie's voiceover informs us) "ovulating and decorating." Having gotten her and Trey's apartment into suitably dazzling shape, Charlotte has thrown herself headfirst into researching the heck out of how best to conceive, what kinds of fertility-enhancing techniques a lady seeking to become enceinte can use, etc.

She keeps a meticulous calendar documenting her menstrual cycle, buys herself a handy-dandy gizmo which beeps to tell her when she's ovulating... she is prepared. Unfortunately for her, her nifty-beeping-ovulation-gizmo is due to next, well, beep when she and Trey are visiting his mother, Bunny, at her country estate. (Charlotte: "I guess we'll just have to have sex at your mother's." Trey: "Sex in Connecticut? Well... there's a first time for everything.")

Charlotte is a bit put off of marital friskiness/potential baby-making activities, however, when she happens across Bunny and Trey having a long chat... in the bathroom... while Trey is taking a bath. Again, I say, cree. Py.

Charlotte later notes to Trey that "that is not proper parent-child bath time behavior past the age of five! Even four, in some cases!" She tells him she has noooo interest in becoming a creepy-pants, quasi-incestuous mother of the Bunny variety. Trey reassures her that he knows she'd never follow Bunny's Model of Motherhood, since he was actually raised, not by his mother (whom he barely ever saw), but rather by a nanny. Charlotte is reassured by this answer. I am not, because this still does not seem to resolve the whole "mother watching grown son bathe" issue... but... as long as you're happy, Mrs. MacDougal The Younger!

The Analysis:

"A Squirrel is Just a Rat with a Cuter Outfit!": Squirrel-Themed Subplot Watch: This has nothing to do with feminist analysis whatsoever, but one of the things that Carrie detests about Aidan's country house is that he's tamed a local squirrel to the point where said squirrel feels comfortable coming and going from said house at will. (Rabies, Mr. Shaw--rabies.) Talk of squirrels and the sight of squirrels recurs throughout this episode, which always makes me think about one of my dear friends, who is the proud creator of what she calls the "Squirrel Spotting Game" where the goal is to (you guessed it) spot as many squirrels as possible. She always beats me when we play said game, by the way. Too bad that we can't visit the fictional Aidan's fictional house, because then I might have a fighting chance!

Ladies, Please Oblige Your Men, Part 9,657 Watch:
Can you tell that I don't actually have that much to say about this episode? Because... I really don't! I enjoy it, but I don't find it particularly noteworthy, when it comes to either Feminist Griping or Feminist Praising. Sam sleeping with a random, generically hot guy whom we never see again... dull. Charlotte continuing her efforts to become pregnant... not presented in a way which offends or troubles me. Miranda trying to help Steve through testicular cancer... makes me sad for him, and glad that she is such a good (if also sometimes scary and yelling) friend.

The only feminist-y thing I have to say about this episode is about Charlotte's whole "Of course you should pretend to like whatever Aidan likes, regardless of your actual feelings!" malarkey. I am happy to report that this episode does, indeed, present such advice as malarkey. (Well done, episode!) Carrie seeks to follow Charlotte's counsel, at first, but quickly realizes that actually being honest and negotiating with Aidan works out much better. Honest communication working out better than inherently unsustainable deceit? You shock me.

After Carrie and Aidan talk candidly about their feelings re: the country retreat, they negotiate a compromise in which they will divide their time between the city and the country in a much more egalitarian manner. Yay! I love egalitarian manners!

Next Up...?: "Belles of Balls" (will the writers' Pun Terror never end???), in which Carrie asks the immortal question "Are men just women with balls?" I'll make it easy for you, Bradshaw--no, they're not. There, I could have spared you the whole episode right there! Except... I'm glad that I didn't, because it's nice to see our young Ms. Bradshaw questioning the reality of a biological, absolute, and unchanging divide between the sexes... this feels like progress, anyway!

Friday, February 11

Season Four, Episode Eight: My Motherboard, My Self

The Summary:

Ah, painful computer-themed puns! Let us wallow in them!

So, the big, sad news of the episode is that Miranda's mother has died. Alas. This might pack more of an emotional punch if we had heard anything about Miranda's mother, or Miranda's relationship with her, in the show prior to this... which we have not. The writers (I know, from listening to the DVD commentaries... see, listening to them was time well wasted!) deliberately cut the ladies' families out of the show, choosing to focus instead exclusively on the family which they have created for themselves, with one another. (Fair enough, but it takes some of the emotional potency out of scenarios like Miranda losing her mom, writers, just so you know!)

Anyway--even though we get the sense that Miranda wasn't terribly close to her mother, we still have mourning--grief--sorrow. Those three things pretty much cover Miranda's plotline in this episode--grieving for her mother, and coming to terms with her death. (Cynthia Nixon often had the most scope to show off her comic chops in SATC--but lo and behold, she's also quite the powerful dramatic actress--she shows us Miranda navigating the shock and trauma of loss with complexity and nuance. Well done, Cynthia N.! Pleasure to see you flexing your dramatic acting muscles, rather than digging through the garbage, for a change!)

In addition to having to deal with her grief, Miranda also has to put up with her married siblings insisting that she walk with them down the aisle at the funeral... because heaven forefend that she should walk down the aisle solo, as an obviously single woman. THE HORROR. On the day of the funeral itself, however, Carrie does not leave Miranda to the mercy of her rather unpleasant-seeming siblings, but rather jumps up and walks with the sobbing Miranda down the aisle herself. Yay, friendship and support. And boo, crying and sad things.

What else is happening in this episode, you ask, in addition to Quality Time at Funerals? Well, Carrie is happily settling into her life of couplehood with Aidan (again), experiencing a veritable landslide of contentment. (Which you, sage reader, will know means that she is necessarily and inevitably headed for a fall here--a reality of which Ms. Bradshaw seems blissfully ignorant. Oh, blissful ignorance! What a help and a comfort thou always art!) She begins the episode by musing about why women sometimes seem to find couplehood difficult and resist it, when it is clearly so effortlessly easy and unfailingly delightful. Seriously, Bradshaw, that's like being in a horror movie and saying "Mercy, but it is nice being all vulnerable and naked and alone in my shower! La la la, so glad that I am totally safe!" Leaning. Into. The. Punch.

And the punch, of course, is not slow to arrive. Carrie's computer crashes, and she, correspondingly, has a meltdown of her own. Aidan tries to help her--going with her to the computer repair place, buying her a new computer when her old one seems beyond repair... but these very efforts to help set Carrie's teeth on edge. She feels invaded, taken over, and scared of both being offered, and of becoming dependent on, Aidan's support. (You're regretting writing all that stuff about how moving from singlehood to couplehood is seamless and totally un-fussy and mussy now, aren't you, Carrie B.? I rather thought so.)

In the end, they work/talk it out. Carrie tells Aidan that she's "been taking care of herself for a long time," and is scared about becoming too reliant on his help because... what if things go awry? What if they break up? How will she handle getting used to having his support, if there is a possibility that said support will ever be withdrawn? He kind of shrugs and says they'll just have to take it one step at a time--true, things might fall apart, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't take the risk of coming to depend on and support one another. Carrie agrees. This... only seems reasonable! Loves the new computer, by the way, Mistress B.--so pretty!

Charlotte, in the meantime... doesn't have much going on in this episode. She primarily spends her time chiding Sam for failing to reach out to Miranda (about which, more anon), and making arrangements for the funeral. She talks to the florist in Philly (where the funeral is to be held) at length about the flower arrangement which the ladies are sending to the church. Said arrangement turns out to be quite the disaster, alas (Carrie: "Well, I guess now we know what $500 worth of glitter looks like." Indeed.)

Other than that, we learn that having left the paid workforce and becoming a full-time homemaker has left Charlotte with more time to make gourmet sandwiches. Great, glad to know that the show's take on what full-time homemakerhood entails is off to a roaring start!

In the wake of hearing about Miranda's mother's death, Sam, in the meantime, finds herself unable to reach out to Miranda with expressions of sympathy. She avoids calling her, is dying (if you will forgive me the choice of words) to get out of going to the funeral, etc. This severe emotional repression and avoidance, unsurprisingly, is impacting the rest of her life, as well--she finds herself unable to have an orgasm, try though she might. (And rest assured--try she most certainly does.)

In the end (perhaps not entirely shockingly) it turns out that what Samantha really needs is not to track her down her elusive orgasm, but rather to grapple with Miranda's loss, and to help Miranda get through her grief. To that end, she goes with the other ladies to the funeral, and there finally cries, and tells Miranda how sorry she is. Hmmm. I guess that's as happy of an ending which we can expect from an episode about Sad Things!

The Analysis:

"Well, I'm Not Going To Find My Orgasm in This Town": Unnecessarily Slamming Philly Watch
: So when the ladies travel to Philly for the funeral, they find themselves distinctly unimpressed. Philly seems provincial and uninteresting to them, and Philly men distinctly unattractive and hick-like. (Hint: mullets are involved.) Now, I know that the show was written by New Yorkers, and that there is something of a New York vs. Philly thing--but that's no excuse for thus lazily (and inaccurately) slamming Philadelphia here. I grew up in north Jersey, so NYC will always be "the city" for me... but that doesn't mean that Philly is not an amazing, dynamic, cosmopolitan metropolis, worthy of both our affection and respect. Go to the Reading Terminal Market and try their vegan cheesesteaks, and then tell me that going to Philly is a waste of time! I defy you!

People of Color Watch: The snarky gent to whom Carrie initially takes her computer to for repair is of Indian descent... he is also Aasif Bloody Mandvi, which makes me happy. He only has a bit part in this episode, and a mere handful of lines, but he manages to make even these few lines quite entertaining and delightful. Heart you, Mr. M! Wish we'd bumped into each other at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Inspire Fear!

Yay, Nice Exes/Nice Gents Watch: Steve ends up going to Miranda's mom's funeral, even though she hadn't asked him to. As I type the words, I realize that this could potentially be seen as creepy and intrusive, but since they've stayed friends since their break-up, it instead seems quite sweet and supportive to me. Given the veritable parade of horrible men with whom Miranda has been entangled over the course of the series to date, it's nice to see someone as, well, nice as Steve being part of her life, and being a true and caring friend to her. Yay, Steve! Yay, niceness!

"You May Not Like It, But This Is How I Deal with Things": Couplehood As Not Entirely Uncomplicated, WHO KNEW, Watch: I also quite like the ongoing negotiations between Carrie and Aidan in this episode, about what their relationship is going to look like, and how they're going to figure out how to live their lives as a couple. I appreciate that the episode begins with Carrie in full-on Conventional Romantic Comedy Mode--she's back with the man she loves, and everything is therefore perrrrrfect. She doesn't know why she ever thought that relationships could sometimes be tricky, because clearly, once you're with the right guy, at the right time--they're not! Good to know!

Bless the writers' hearts, no sooner do they place Carrie in these Fluffy Dream Clouds of Romantic Perfection than they yank her out of them. [Off of them? Whatever, you know what I mean.] Do she and Aidan love each other? Yup. Are they really happy together? Yup. Does that mean that there are no snags or complexities in their relationship? Nope!

Carrie is used to, as she says, taking care of herself and handling things in her own way, and it feels really odd and uncomfortable for her to suddenly have someone at her elbow, offering suggestions about how she can best deal with a situation, and trying to help her out of all of her various crises by getting actively involved in them. Carrie is both freaked out by the prospect of coming to rely on Aidan for support and protective of her independence, and I appreciate the writers showing her grappling with all of this, rather than just happily accepting Aidan's gift of a pretty new computer with a smile and effortlessly moving on.

By the end of the episode, Carrie is learning to accept the innate scariness of coming to depend on a fellow complex and fallible human being (with no guarantees of permanence, in this ever-changing and changeable world in which we appear to live), and Aidan learning to back off a little, and not feel the need to sweep in and "rescue" Carrie with shiny new computers at the first hint of trouble. Excellent, yay for lessons learned, and for progress made!

"When I RSVP to A Party, I Make It A Point to Come": Delusional Fantasies About Female Sexuality or Realistic Representations Of Same--A Discussion:

Delusional Fantasies: This episode has a lot to recommend it, I must say.

Realistic Representations: Agreed!

Delusional [temporarily non-plussed]: Wait, wait... you agree? You agree with me?

Realistic [cheerfully]: Yup.

Delusional: But... we're natural antagonists! We're not supposed to agree! About anything!

Realistic [still cheerfully, despite Delusional's refusal to be similarly cheerful and obliging]: Well, I'm sorry if you find that upsetting, but I do agree with you... this episode is pretty darned good!

Delusional [talking to Realistic like it is a five-year-old]: Ummm... but you do remember the part where Samantha tells the ladies (as she's discussing her consternation about her AWOL Orgasms) that she can always come through penetrative, partnered sex?

Realistic [looking like a rather sinister smiley face poster]: Yup!

Delusional: [silently looks at Realistic like Realistic has officially lost the few remaining marbles which it had had left.]

Realistic [responding to this silent, implied criticism/implication of loopiness]: Well, see, that statement (which is totally ridiculous, but I don't want to get into that, "natural antagonists" or no) is followed up by both Charlotte and Carrie noting that this is totally not the case for them... that they actually don't have orgasms every single time they have sex with a gent, without fail, and that that... is normal!

Delusional: Huh. They do, don't they?

Realistic [almost maniacal in its persistent cheerfulness by this point]: Yup! I mean, Samantha is not meant to represent "real" women in the show, so much--she's always the sexually wacky one, so I don't think her assertion that she is the Consistent Orgasm Queen does much damage here. Carrie and Charlotte contradicting her, and offering examples of their own, rather more representative experiences of not always being able to come from the whole "penis in vagina, rinse and repeat" thing... I think actually works here! Yayyyyyy, me!

Delusional [edging away from Realistic, while trying to seem like it is not doing so, because Realistic's fixed smile is now starting to seem more than a little creepy]: I guess that's a legitimate point.... yeah, you've totally convinced me! Yay, you! Ummmm, Team Realistic!

Realistic [still smiling, but now using a rather unpleasant tone]: And don't you forget it, sparky.

Notable Quotables:

Sam to Carrie, on her disappearing orgasm crisis: "I lost my orgasm."
Carrie: "In the cab?!?"

Charlotte, on the incredibly garish, hideous flower arrangement which the florist ends up sending on the ladies' behalf to the funeral: "Those flowers were supposed to say 'We're so sorry, we love you,' not 'You're dead, let's disco.' "

Next Up...?:
"Sex and the Country," which features, well... you might just be able to guess from the title, now, mightn't you? I think that you might!

Wednesday, February 9

Season Four, Episode Seven: Time and Punishment

The Summary:

Ah, times which are punishing, let us reflect upon them!

So Carrie and Aidan are back together! Yay, Aidan, who is nice! Except... sorry, scratch that, turns out, Aidan isn't actually being so nice. (Bummer.) He's actually being quite nasty, in an indirect, passive-aggressive sort of way--a snide comment here, an openly flirting with his pretty co-worker Shayna in front of Carrie there... not too pleasant!

The reason behind said unpleasantness is not too terribly difficult to discern--he is still clutching heaps upon heaps of anger to his breast re: Carrie's previous affair-with-Big-whilst-last-dating him. (Said anger not being helped by Big leaving a message on Carrie's answering machine whilst she and Aidan are in the midst of an Intimate Moment. The word "awkward"... invented for just such a scenario, methinks!)

After Aidan keeps scaling up the "I will deny that anything is bothering me, deny that I'm mad at you, refuse to talk about my obvious pissed-off-ness, while all the while acting increasingly unpleasant and disrespectful" behavior, to the point where he and Carrie have a big ol' fight, in which 1) he tells her that he never wants her to see or speak to Big again, 2) she refuses to agree to this, saying that Big will always be a (platonic) part of her life, and that her continuing to see him is non-negotiable, and 3) she begs Aidan to properly, genuinely forgive her for The Affair. As in begs, and begs, and begs. (The scene goes on for, like, an hour.)

Aidan finally relents, and Carrie makes her peace with the fact that though their relationship will always have that rather unpleasant scar at its heart, the wound which lies beneath said scar is finally, properly starting to heal. And Aidan is actually being nice again! Thank you, I get confused when Aidan is being mean. It's like if Mr. Rogers had suddenly started dropping the f bomb a lot, and carrying a switchblade. Unsettling.

Meanwhile, Miranda has put her back out training for the marathon, and ends up in the grip of a back spasm, naked on her bathroom floor. (Yeouch.) She calls Carrie for help, and Carrie (not realizing the magnitude of the crisis) sends Aidan over in her stead, while she rushes off to a meeting. Miranda is humiliated by Aidan seeing her dans le buff, but Aidan is all kind reassurance and chivalrous averting-of-the-eyes. (At least he's still being nice to someone in this episode.) He gets Miranda safely off to the doctor, and into a neck brace. Said neck brace (and telling Carrie off for sending her boyfriend over, rather than performing her Best Friend-ly Duties herself) helps Miranda to feel much better. Excellent!

Samantha, in the meantime, is dating a gent whom she met in a taxi (as one will)--all is going well there, until he reproaches her for not keeping her pubic hair in sufficiently tidy, well, trim. Sam is furious that 1) he would have the nerve to say such a thing in the first place, and 2) there is such a massive pubic/body hair double standard between the ladies and the gents--his pubic hair is allowed to freely run riot, whereas she is expected to keep in her own in meticulous order at all times. Unjust, I say, unjust!

She reproaches said gent with said disgruntlements, and he ends up offering to let her shave his Gentlemanly Area as a means of recompense. And so... she does. All right, then! One small step for body hair equality, one giant leap for... um... well, no one, really. But still, it's something.

Charlotte, meanwhile, has decided to quit her job to become a full-time homemaker, and soon (she hopes) stay-at-home mom. Her friends greet this news with bafflement... is she sure? Doesn't she love her job? She does, Charlotte declares, but she's ready to do something different-- i.e., throw herself headfirst into full-time wife- and motherhood.

The path to said full-time wife and motherhood is not an easy one, however. Charlotte has a big ol' fight with Miranda (whom she feels is judging her for leaving the paid workforce), feels rather scared and ambivalent about leaving a profession which she does, indeed, love, and faces the unpleasant task of finding a new young lass to replace her. In the end, however, Charlotte leaves her beloved gallery behind feeling quite happy, having found a bright (and very Charlotte-esque) young woman to take on her job, and feeling eager to tackle the next phase of her life. That's all very well and good for you, Mrs. M, but I always liked the episodes set in your gallery! The art was so pretttty.

The Analysis:

Red Flags, Perhaps Aidan Is Right to Notice Them Watch
: This really has nothing whatsoever to do with feminist-y things, but I nonetheless feel compelled to tell you that it struck me with particular force re-watching this episode that that Aidan... is no fool. The show represents his desire to get Big out of Carrie's life once and for all as rather distasteful jealousy, and unpleasant insecurity and possessiveness... but I must say, I think that he's onto something here. (Granted, I know that he's onto something here, since I've already seen the entire bloody series and both ghastly movies--cheater! But still.) When your girlfriend insists that the man whom she cheated on you with will always be part of her life, no matter what... perhaps this is, indeed, a cause for concern? The episode seems to say that it's not, and Carrie is quite convinced that it's not... Aidan, however, is dubious about that. As am I. Dark seeds, they are already being planted in this seemingly pleasant garden!

Women of Pallor, Let Us Celebrate Them Watch
: And while I am already off on a not-really-strictly feminist tangent, may I note how much I appreciate the extreme paleness of Cynthia Nixon/Miranda? In her scene on the bath mat, she is indeed quite, quite naked, and we can see her verrrry pale skin pretty much in its entirety. I am sure that many viewers appreciate this scene for a variety of reasons--I take delight in it because I myself am possessed of a "blank sheet of white, white paper" skin tone, and enjoy seeing the Pale Ladies represented in our popular media. Naturally pallid white women not tanned within an inch of their lives, unite! (This also explains why I enjoyed The Kids Are All Right as much as I did--fine performances and all that, but the highlight for me was Julianne Moore's skin tone--she's practically translucent, she's so pale in that film. It makes me feel soooo much better about never having set foot in a tanning salon, it really does.)

Talking About Pubic Hair, And Noting That Our Notions of What Ladies' Should Look Are Kinda Messed-Up Watch: Once again in this episode, the series tackles the ever-popular issue of pubic hair, and how unfair it is that women are expected to be meticulously shaved, waxed, plucked, tweezed, and generally what-have-youed Down Under, whereas no such exacting standards are applied to the menfolk. (Or at least... not to the straight menfolk.) I appreciate the episode pointing out that this is unjust. I appreciate the episode noting that it is inappropriate for gentlemen to nastily criticize the ladies they are with for being "untidy" in their nether regions. Appreciation--it reigns supreme!

"I Choose My Choice, I Choose My Choice!": Discussions About Ladies, Domesticity, and Work Watch: The big news here, of course, is not Carrie's romantic complications, Miranda's pallor, or Sam's bikini line, but rather Charlotte's decision to leave the paid workforce in favor of becoming a full-time homemaker. I think there is both good and bad in how they handle this story line here--on the whole, I think that they do a pretty nuanced, interesting job of teasing out the complexities of both her decision-making process and how her friends react to it--but not unflawed, my friends, never unflawed! I will always find something to criticize, unless it involves Carrie wearing vintage capes or Miranda worshiping Jon Stewart. In such things... I can see naught but good.

Let us turn to the good in their Women and Work discussion first, shall we? Start things off on a positive note, for once?

Good Thing #1: I appreciate that they show that Charlotte herself has some complicated feelings about this decision. She's been in the paid workforce her whole adult life, and feels some apprehensions about leaving it. She also genuinely and truly loves her job, and feels some sadness and pain about leaving it behind. Good, good, good, I would have winced a wince heard (or seen, I guess?) around the world if she had skipped out of the gallery light as air, without any twinges of self-doubt or ambiguity about leaving behind her salary and her beloved art world. The show doesn't represent her decision as easy and simple, but rather as complex and difficult, which I give them points for.

Good Thing #2: I also appreciate the fact that the writers show Charlotte facing anxieties both from within (what will it be like, to not have a paycheck of her own? What will it be like, to leave behind the career that she's built over the course of a decade?) and from without. Her friends' reactions to her announcement that she plans to become a full-time homemaker are, if not actually hostile, then certainly perplexed. They cannot understand why Charlotte is making this move away from the paid workforce, and are, while ultimately supportive, nonetheless also still baffled.

Charlotte also faces incredulity from the girl she hires to replace her--when she tells said girl that she's leaving her job because she hopes to soon be a stay-at-home mom, the girl looks totally blank. Charlotte then hastens to invent a lie about philanthropic work which she'll also be doing, just to make her decision look "better" in this lass' eyes.

This compulsion which Charlotte feels--to invent some "real" work to justify herself to her replacement--says something interesting, I think, about how domestic work and child-rearing continue to be perceived in our culture. Though there's a lot of lip service paid to mothering as "the most important job of all," etc., when it comes down to brass tracks, there's actually not that much respect accorded to either domestic labor or child care. I'll hear traces of this in things that my students say, sometimes--in statements like, "Well, my mother didn't have a real job until my sisters and I were in high school..." Ummm... didn't she? Isn't running a household and raising children a "real" job? It seems not, my mistake! There's a persistent devaluing of the unpaid labor which women do in their homes, and a tendency to define it as "not-work" which I find rather distasteful. (Spend a week managing a household and caring for toddlers and then get back to me about what does and does not constitute a "real" job, oh ye innocent 19-year-olds!)

Good Thing #3: I also like the fact that, when Charlotte initially tells the ladies about quitting her job, Samantha warns her that getting back into such a position again will be very difficult for her. This falls under the heading of Grim Reality, but nice to see it recognized as reality, nonetheless. For all the talk of creating "on ramps" and "off ramps" for professional women taking time outside the paid workforce to raise families, depressing study after depressing study shows that it remains very tricky for women to re-enter the professional world (especially in an ever-evolving profession like Charlotte's, in the art scene, which does not take kindly to gaps in The Resume) after taking time out of it to have children. This... is unpleasant... but still, glad to have said unpleasantness noted! Oh, and could we please get on that, and make the blithe assumption that women can leave and return to the workforce at will, you know, actually true? That would be super!

And now... onto the Bad Stuff!

Bad Thing #1: When Miranda is at home recuperating from her back injury, Carrie's voiceover informs us that she was learning the joys of "cooking, and not working." Oh my goodness, were you not just listening to me talk about how domestic work is work? Work you enjoy, it may be, but still cooking. Is. Work. If it's something that you would have to pay someone else to do for you, it. Is. Work.

Bad Thing #2: A little red flag goes up here, in that when Charlotte first tells the ladies about quitting her job, she uses the phrase "Well, Trey suggested..." Ah. Perhaps that is a cause for concern--pointing to a sense that part of the impetus for Charlotte leaving her job was coming, not from her, but rather from her spouse? Charlotte had just been telling her friends about how she was running around like a crazy person running their house and working at the same time, and that "Trey suggested... " She leaves the sentence unfinished (in large part because Miranda jumps in with "Trey suggested?!?", complete with indignant question marks), but the implication is, he suggested that she leave the gallery to focus full-time on their home. Weeeelll, there is a little unpleasant undercurrent of "it is clearly Charlotte's responsibility to do all the home stuff, and not Trey's" which is less than ideal here. Put that one in the Bad column!

Bad Thing #3: The most significant bad thing of them all! That being the completely, radically unexamined privilege which underlies Charlotte's ability to leave her job in the first place. Her husband is a fancy-pants doctor, from a seriously wealthy family, and her leaving the paid workforce is clearly not any cause for economic concern or worry. Making the decision to go down to one income... not something which many couples, especially couples who are planning on becoming parents, can afford to do. (And for many who do do so, it's with the expectation that every single purchase will have to be considered, and every penny will have to count... not with the expectation that they can embark on, say, a lavish home re-decoration plan, which Charlotte notes is to be her first project.)

The episode handily erases this reality, however, having Charlotte frame her decision purely as a "choice," which the "women's movement" fought for her to have. Well... sure, but that's only one slice out of this delicious pie which we call feminism. [Blogger reflects to self that using pie metaphors has the unhelpful side effect of making self crave actual, rather than metaphorical, pie. Yummmm. Piiiiiie.] Framing "choice" purely along the lines of what white, middle- and upper-class women can choose to do (because of the significant privileges which both their race and their class give them) distorts what "choice" really means, and disguises the persistent reality that gender, race, and class inequities significantly constrict what "choices" many women can actually make in their lives.

So in sum... totally behind the notion of you building the life and future that you want, Charlotte M., but as you do so, please be aware that we do not (as you imply) live in a world of infinite choices, and that we over here in the "women's movement" (no one has called it that since 1980, by the way, just so you know) would appreciate you using some of your significant economic clout and cultural capital to ensure that all women can make the kinds of decisions about your life which you are now making. Thanks, much appreciated!

Next Up...?: "My Motherboard, My Self," in which a wide variety of dramatic and significant things happen, but I am unable to properly concentrate on any of them, because Aasif Mandvi (now of The Daily Show, then of bit parts in shows like SATC)... has a bit part. And is hilarious. And I heart him.

Monday, February 7

Season Four, Episode Six: Baby, Talk is Cheap

The Summary:

Ah, talk which is relatively inexpensive, let us contemplate it! And babies of various sorts and descriptions, let us muse over them!

So Carrie, as we know from our last episode, wants to get back together with Aidan. She e-mails him. He does not respond. She then calls him and sets up an awkward kind-of-but-not-really double "date" with her, Miranda, Aidan, and Steve. Unsurprisingly... this proves to be really uncomfortable! At the end of said quasi-date, Carrie tells Aidan that she wants to get back together. He refuses--he's happy to be friends, but that's it. But then he kind-of-but-not-really kisses her, inspiring Carrie to stalk him back to his apartment (Carrie, justifying this course of action to Miranda: "His words said no, but his kiss said yes." Miranda: "That's the defense invoked by date rapists.")

At said apartment, he tells her to go away and leave him alone, that she broke his heart, and so on and so forth--causing her to flee back to her apartment in tears, where Aidan subsequently follows her. (These people are making me dizzy with all this gadding about.) They then sleep together, Carrie tells him that she loves him, and he... leaves. (Again I say--awk-ward.) He returns the next day, however, to say that they should give couplehood another shot. All right-y, then!

Miranda, meanwhile, is dating someone new--a gent whom we know only as "Marathon Man," since she meets him whilst training to (appropriately enough) run the NYC marathon. (Clean your minds out with soap if you thought that that nickname might have had a different source... though come to think of it, the ladies do actually give it the expected dirty connotation when they discuss him, so... never mind!) All is well with Marathon Man (ah, never referring to this gent by his actual name, how un-demeaning it is!), except that during the course of one of their trysts, he bestows what Miranda later dubs "tuckus lingus" upon her. I see.

She kind of enjoys this, but is also kind of creeped out by it... and becomes more creeped out when he indicates that he would like her to reciprocate said practice. Miranda declines to do so. And... that's pretty much the last we see of Mr. Marathon Man. Buh-bye, M.M.! Good luck with the marathon! Hope that the next lass you date actually addresses you by your actual name!

Samantha's subplot: kind of boring. She has taken to wearing fake nipples around town (as one will) in the hopes that said nipples will attract some masculine attention. They do, and she begins seeing Warren, Financial Muckety-Muck and Nipple Enthusiast. Turns out, Warren enjoys using baby talk during Intimate Moments. Samantha... finds this wildly unappealing, and tells him so. At which point, he dumps her. All right, then! Buh-bye, Warren! Buh-bye, fake nipples! Best of luck in all of your future, nipply-endeavors!

Charlotte and Trey, in the meantime, are starting to talk about getting pregnant. They are super, super excited about this, until they have their friends Tricia and Cliff (who have three young youngsters) over for dinner, with said youngsters in tow. Said youngsters, predictably, behave like total, raging monsters, and Tricia and Cliff do nothing but snap at the kids and at one another. Charlotte and Trey are a little put off by this--will having children mean that they'll have such ungovernable young people permanently at their dinner table? Will having children mean that they'll become as tired and cranky as Tricia and Cliff clearly are? In the end, they decide that it will not... their children will, of course, be lovely, and they will remain happy and in love, even amidst the demands of parenthood. And so... the Quest to Become Pregnant begins!

The Analysis:

People of Color Watch
: Charlotte and Carrie attend an African dance class, which is lead by an African-American instructor. She has a few lines, mainly encouraging her students to dance, dance, dance, which Charlotte does enthusiastically, and Carrie does not do at all.

It does not in any way increase the diversity of the show, but on a totally unrelated tangent, I will note that I enjoy watching Carrie in exercise classes throughout the series--while Sarah Jessica Parker clearly engages in an insane exercise regimen to maintain her wee little frame, Carrie is consistently shown to be indifferent to physical fitness--she goes to dance and aerobics classes with her friends, but she's always lounging back on the mat, chewing gum, and gossiping, rather than participating. This kind of makes me love her.

Charlotte, Actually Discussing An "Alternative" Sexual Practice in Tones Not of Disgust? Really? Watch
: I am enjoy this episode in part because, during the ladies' discussion of "tuckus lingus," for once in our lives, Charlotte is blase and accepting about this "outre" practice, casually noting that she has both given and received said lingus during her married life. I realize that the writers are doing this purely for comic effect (Charlotte is engaged in something more sexually "avant garde" than even Samantha? Cue the comic disbelief!) But it's nonetheless a nice reversal of the typical "Charlotte is uniformly disgusted and appalled by anything outside the sexual 'norm' " shtick... so I'll take it!

Parenthood--Can Be Challenging! Who Knew! Watch: I also think that the episode does a nice job in its musings about parenthood--Charlotte and Trey (especially, I note ominously, Charlotte) are really excited about the prospect of becoming parents... but they're also a little bit anxious about the effects which parenthood will have on their lives generally, and on their relationship specifically. And I think that it's kind of nice to see that complicated blend of feelings represented--of a genuine desire to become parents existing alongside a "our lives are going to change in radical and fundamental ways which I cannot even imagine, and that is exciting, but it is also more than a little scary" ambiguity. The narratives in our pop culture all too often tend to be of "I am unreservedly and unambiguously dying to be a mother, and after I am, my life and self will be complete, and I will glow with happiness forever," without a cloud in the sky or a hesitation in sight. Perhaps... it can be a little more complicated than that? And people can go into parenthood ardently desiring it, but also a bit apprehensive about the radical life change which it represents?

I also enjoy that the show depicts parenthood as, you know, work--I was perhaps a bit too unkind when I said up above that Tricia and Cliff's kids were monsters--I will try to be kinder here below, and say that they are unruly, challenging, and rambunctious youngsters. (There. I think that's better.) And Charlotte and Trey (who had been mooning off in the clouds with utopian visions of serene, hiccup-free mommy and daddyhood) are brought back to earth a bit, by watching their friends seek to get three children under the age of eight to behave themselves at a dinner party.

It's something like what the show, at its best, does with romantic relationships--noting that our cultural myths about couplehood often gloss over some of the thornier realities of what real life as a couple can be like... glad to see them do something in the same vein with parenthood, as well. Turns out, couplehood, marriage, and parenting--all a bit more complicated than fairy-tale-type narratives would have us believe! A conversation which Charlotte has with Tricia makes it clear that Tricia loves being a parent... but surprise surprise, just because you love and value something doesn't mean that it's always easy! Quelle news flash!

Next Up...?:
"Time and Punishment" (oh, the pun! It burns, it burns!), in which Carrie and Aidan's re-booted relationship gets off to a rocky start (of course it does), Miranda ends up naked on her bath mat (naturally), Sam has issues with her pubic hair (as one will), and Charlotte prepares herself to quit her job and embark on full-time Homemaker and Future Motherhood (sparking one of the only explicit mentions of feminism in the entire series. Except that it is here called "the women's movement." Why not just call it "women's lib" and bring us all the way back to 1971? I'll grab my macrame dress, if you take care of the avocado and pumpkin-colored home decor items!)

Friday, February 4

Season Four, Episode Five: Ghost Town

The Summary:

Ah, gloomy Jacob Marley-esque specters of various sorts and descriptions, let us consider them!

So, it turns out that Steve is opening his own bar (well done, Steve!), and that Aidan (of "heart-broken-by-Carrie-by-her-running-around-on-him-with-Big" fame) is his new business partner. Carrie gets an invite from Steve and Aidan to said bar's opening, which throws her into a tizzy. What does it meeeeean? Why did Aidan invvvvvite her? What should she dooooo? At first, she's inclined to stay acres and miles away from it all--but then she comes to hope that the invite is a gesture of forgiveness on Aidan's part, and decides to attend. In the midst of said attendance, Carrie bumps into Aidan, and they have a weird, awkward, but nonetheless quasi-flirtatious conversation, which leaves Carrie 1) aware that she still has feelings for Aidan, and 2) suspecting that she might want to try to win him back. Ohhhh, deeeeear.

Meanwhile... Miranda is initially ticked that Steve is opening his bar now, when they are not together (as opposed to when she was constantly encouraging him to do so, when they were together.) Said mild-ticked-ness is appeased, however, when Steve tells her that he never would have opened the bar without all of her previous encouragement. Good, glad we sorted that out!

Also, Miranda thinks that she has a ghost in her house. Turns out... she doesn't. [Blogger holds her eyes open with her fingers, Clockwork-Orange-style, to try to keep awake.]

Charlotte, in the meantime, is having some rather creepy problems with her rather creepy mother-in-law, Bunny. Bunny, it transpires, decorated her and Trey's apartment (which looks like plaid exploded all over it... plaid, and duck decoys. Oh, Scottish kitsch! Will your terrors never be tamed?) Charlotte wants to redecorate said Land of a 1,000 Scottish Tchotchkes, but is impeded by Bunny's efforts to control said redecoration (up to and including going new bed shopping with the happy couple, which gives Charlotte the willies... especially when Bunny and Trey insist on lying on said potential new beds together to try them out. Cree. Py.)

Bunny also feels free to come into, and go out of, Charlotte and Trey's Scottish Nightmare Apartment just as she chooses, including moving back into the said apartment when Trey gets a cold to take care of him. (Even though... he is in his forties...?) After being woken up in the middle of the night by Bunny coming into their bedroom to rub Vicks all over Trey as he sleeps (again--cree. Py.), Charlotte confronts Bunny about said wacko behavior, and declares that she, and not Bunny, is now The Lady of the House, and she (The Lady) does not really want Bunny in it (The House).

Bunny refuses to accept this dictum... but seems cured of her "barging into the MacDougal home any time of the day or night" modus operandi when she walks in on Charlotte and Trey in post-cold flagrante one day, and subsequently flees the apartment in distress. This doesn't seem to address the fundamental issue of Trey's consistent "you know best, mother" deference to Bunny at Charlotte's expense, nor the quasi-incestuous vibe between mother and son... but no matter! I guess that's progress!

Samantha, meanwhile, is still dating Maria... and things are not going that well! Of course they're not. Remember Sam's initial "maybe I shouldn't get involved with Maria, because I'm not interested in a relationship or commitment" worries? Yeah, turns out those worries were not entirely ill-founded, as Sam is now wanting to claw her own skin off, living with the day-to-day intimacies of having a significant other. She and Maria have fallen into a predictable, and not terribly satisfactory, pattern: Maria would prefer to stay in, and talk about their relationship. Sam (wildly bored by said prospect) would rather go out, and not talk about their relationship. I see.

The downside of going out, however, is that everywhere she and Maria go, they seem to encounter one of Sam's former amours, who inconveniently propositions and/or flirts with her, right in front of Maria. I see. This, unsurprisingly, does not make Maria radiantly happy--not least because Sam doesn't tell any of these gents that Maria is not her friend (as they suppose) but rather her girlfriend. I seeee.

The breaking point comes when a bloke shows up at Sam's door in the middle of the night seeking a tryst (unsolicited by Sam herself, I hasten to note), and Maria has to be the one to tell him that she and Sam are now an item. Furious at Samantha, Maria (in approved Fiery Latina Fashion) smashes most of Sam's crockery on her kitchen floor. To a salsa music soundtrack, of course. Ay yi yi.

Erroneously convinced that the root of their problem is Sam missing sleeping with men, Maria buys a strap-on dildo for her, as a peace offering. Thoughtful, but it doesn't so much address the real problem, of Sam not wanting to be in a relationship. So... she breaks up with Maria. Alas. Sorry about that, Maria! Good luck finding someone who does want to be in a relationship with you... and who doesn't care too much about their plates!

The Analysis:

LGBT Folks Watch
: Our usual suspect, Maria... for the last time, alas. And as we shall discuss below, we have dipped into increasingly stereotypical territory where our lesbian friend is concerned. (Hint: ladies are boring to date, because all they want to do is take candlelight baths, and talk about feeeeelings.)

People of Color Watch
: Our usual suspect, Maria... whom as we shall discuss below, is dipping into reeeeally stereotypical territory in this episode--oh, those fiery Latins! How their hot blood does rule them! They cannot help it, they are slaves to its fires!

"The Tummy is Gone": Suggesting a Gent is A Desirable Romantic Prospect in Large Part Because of How He Looks Watch: So, when we first encounter him in Season Three, Aidan is kind of a hippie-dippie-ish, let-it-all-hang-out character, both in terms of the way that he acts, and the way that he dresses/presents himself--he's got shoulder-length-hair, wears turquoise jewelry, and has the body of a man who would rather make daisy chains in a field than go to the gym. (Not to suggest that John Corbett was ever anything other than Very Good-Looking, but in Season Three he also had a pleasing regular guy-ness to him--unlike the ladies of the show, he was actually permitted to have something of a stomach in his stomach region. As mere mortals who don't spend their entire lives doing crunches... tend to do! Thank you for your presence, internal organs! Keep up the good work!)

When we re-encounter him in Season Four, however, things have shifted somewhat. He now has a more fashionably short haircut, has stripped himself of all eccentric jewelry flourishes, and clearly spends more time at the gym than he does with his daisy chains. Gone are the goofy hippiesh shirts, having been replaced by stripped-down, "I am a guy, and therefore do not care about your girly color and patterns" type minimalism. This all seems like a very plausible and realistic response to your girlfriend's having cheated on you with a gent who embodies Conventional Masculinity as much as Big does... but still, I find it kind of a bummer. I liked the slightly loopy, eccentric version of Aidan much more than this flattened out, "I could plausibly be on the cover of GQ, looking brooding and a little sullen" variety. Ah well. This was never about what I wanted, now, was it?

What I find most troubling here is the response of Carrie and the other ladies to Aidan's shift in appearance. In that--they talk a lottttttt about how much better he looks now--specifically, about how much more toned he is. Charlotte, for example, is clapping her hands with glee about the prospect of Carrie trying to get back with Aidan--she declares that he was "perfect... he just needs to lose the tummy." (Oh, Charlotte M. So glad to have you falling back into your "conventional masculine beauty is the cornerstone of any successful relationship" pattern.)

I resent the implication that Aidan is somehow a more desirable romantic prospect now than he was back in Season Three, simply because he more rigidly conforms to our cultural ideal of what a "beautiful" man is supposed to look like. The majority of the men whom Samantha beds (with their flawless abs and meticulously fat-free bodies) fit that ideal--and they are borrrrrring. Big (with his omnipresent expensive suits and his meticulous gym attendance) also fits that ideal--and he is more often than not quite toxically unpleasant and destructive. The Aidan of Season Three was kind and attentive and goofily individualistic. He was comfortable in his own skin, clearly not feeling the need to prove anything to anyone, happy to dress precisely the way he wanted to dress, and do precisely what he wanted to do, whether or not this was conventionally "manly." And if that doesn't make a gent an excellent romantic prospect, then I do know not what does.

"You Want Fireworks??? I'll Give You Fireworks!!!": Depicting Hispanic Women as Tempestuous and Nutty Watch: As I alluded to above, I am not so fond of the way in which this episode depicts Maria, in several different ways--among these being having her embodying the Fiery Latina stereotype right up to the hilt, screaming and smashing plates left, right, and center during her and Sam's first proper fight. The fact that said plate-smashing is accompanied by lively,"Spanish" music... does not, I feel, help matters! Please take up your ever-ready notebooks and jot down the following: "Hispanic women: possess tempers as hot as flowing lava. Tend to break things. Preferably to salsa music." Good to know!

Ah, Ladies, They Are Such A Needy, Hyperemotional Drag Watch: I am also a little put out by Sam finding Maria such a drag to date in large part because of her (ostensibly feminine) need to endless deconstruct their relationship, their feelings, etc. (As Samantha puts it, "All this emotional chow-chow, it's exhausting.") Throughout the episode, Sam implicitly and explicitly compares this "chow-chow" to her past involvements with men, sighing that Maria needs so much more in the way of emotional engagement than any man ever has. May I suggest that this is not so much a gender issue, as it is a by-product of 1) Maria as an individual, 2) the fact that Maria is the first person whom Sam has dated seriously in quite some time, and that she as such is much more emotionally invested in Sam then most of her Gentlemen Companions have been, and 3) Sam's constant efforts to deflect any deeper discussions about feelings resulting in Maria having to push harder and harder to get any sense of what the heck is happening in Samantha's head/heart? Ah, it seems not! It's all because the ladies are tediously and deeply dedicated to relentless emotional analysis. Good to know!

The Inevitable Break-Up of Samantha with Her One and Only Girlfriend--Handled Well or Handled Poorly?: A Debate:

Handled Well: Well, first off, I'd just like to start with what we can agree on.

Handled Poorly: What, is this the Senate all of a sudden? Are we Democrats and Republicans here? "Ummm... I think that the sky is blue." Ta-dah. Common ground!

Handled Well [slightly miffed]: There's no need to be snide.

Handled Poorly: What, about you, or about the viability of political bipartisanship in our current, polarized political environment?

Handled Well: Well, both, really, but I was actually talking about me--I think the one thing we can agree on here is that this break-up was inevitable from the start. There was no way that the show was going to have Samantha seriously involved with a lady for any meaningful length of time.

Handled Poorly: Oh, totally. I know a "we are still a shocking and cutting-edge program" publicity stunt when I see one! This has "we are edgy, edgy, damn it!" written allllll over it. Get the "Sam dates a woman! It's shocking!" angle in... and then escort the woman herself out. It's textbook. The "sweeps week, lady kissing lady" tactic to a tee.

Handled Well: See, I agree with you! Hooray!

Handled Poorly: Uh-huh. But that doesn't mitigate the fact that they handled said inevitable break-up terrrribly here.

Handled Well: Oh, you think so, do you?

Handled Poorly: Now who's being snide! Yes, I do, actually--I draw your attention to when Samantha first sees The (Allegedly) New and Improved Aidan after she's broken up with Maria, and asks Carrie if he actually looks great, or if she's "just been with a woman for too long." 'Cause, get it--being with a lady for, what, a couple of months, has made Sam think that anyone with a Y chromosome in trousers is alluring. That's what dating a woman will do to you--make you desperate and sex-starved. Terrible!

Handled Well: I would like to agree with you that that is, indeed, an unpleasant moment.

Handled Poorly: Please. I think they've already handed out the Nobel Peace Prizes for this year. Stop campaigning.

Handled Well [ignoring Handled Poorly altogether]: But I would like to note that I think, on the whole, the show does a pretty good job of breaking these two up. They emphasize that the mismatch is not between Samantha and A Woman (to whom they make it quite clear she continues to be attracted, interested in, and to like, for all of said Woman's Emotional Drama), but between Samantha the Not-A-Relationship Person, and Maria the Relationship Person. Samantha is just not suited to being with the same person long term, and that is something which she eventually has to acknowledge to herself, and to Maria. That doesn't seem too wretched to me!

Handled Poorly: Ummm-hmmm. Except when she meets a guy whom she cares about later in the season, all of those "oh, I don't want to be monogamous! I don't want to be in a relationship!" concerns... go clean out the window.

Handled Well [gritting teeth]: Let's stick to the matter at hand, shall we, Snarky-Pants?

Handled Poorly [triumphant]: And the chances for winning an award for peacemaking... officially lost for the year! Ha HA!


Next Up...?: "Baby, Talk is Cheap" in which Sam swans around town wearing fake nipples (yes... really), Charlotte contemplates motherhood, Carrie tries to lure Aidan back into her web of deceit and lies, and Miranda manages to continue to refrain from eating things out of the garbage. Progress on that front, anyway!