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!

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