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.


  1. My favorite lines from this episode:
    "I finished. And that was the hardest I'd worked on anything since the SAT."
    "You seem to have a lot of opinions today."

    One thing that's always bugged me about this episode is that Charlotte's replacement at the gallery is like, 23 years old. Really? Charlotte has at least a decade or so of experience, and the person who can take her place just walked out of college? This isn't to say that women in their twenties aren't capable and hardworking, but running a gallery isn't something you just breeze into with your degree in art history and minor in finance.

  2. Love the clock! So glad that it has made its BOCS debut! Also so glad that you brought up Julianne Moore's gorgeous skin scenes in TKAAR.I recall being both shocked and enormously pleased that they showed such a pale woman in the buff.

  3. Agreed, those are good lines, Christina... Carrie always seems to get the winners! And I'd never thought about that before... how is it that someone right out of school can take on Charlotte's job--which, after all, is pretty much at the top of the gallery hierarchy? I guess the writers did it for dramatic effect--they wanted to show someone at the very beginning of her art career, in contrast to Charlotte, who is moving out of HER art career... but still, it doesn't make sense! It does yield one of my other favorite lines in the episode, however: Charlotte to new hire: "You're 22, what do you know about life? I mean, art!"

    And as soon as I recalled that this episode was called "TIME and Punishment," I knew that the clock needed to be involved, Kelli... so glad to get to show off its loveliness! And that literally was my favorite thing in that whole movie... love the Pale Lady representation!

  4. Yes, that is another great line! I also love Miranda's "The women's movement? Christ, I haven't even had breakfast yet!"

  5. Also a classic! This episode is chockful of them, really, when one comes to think of it... I need to step up my "Notable Quotables" section, Season Four has a lot of witty one liners on display...

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