Friday, June 24

Season Four, Episode Seventeen: A "Vogue" Idea

The Summary:

Hello, dear friends! Are you ready to sail into the offices of Vogue (whilst not in the company of Anne Hathaway)? Good, I thought you might be. And so--let us go!

So, as part of her "perhaps I should try to actually get my financial life on track" campaign, Carrie has taken a freelance job at Vogue. (Beats taking a midnight shift at Piggly Wiggly, I suppose!) She breezes her way into the magazine's offices as confident as confident can be. She LOVES Vogue. She reads Vogue religiously. Surely, writing for Vogue will be a delicious dream come true?

Oh, dear reader. Of course it's not. Turns out, the editor she has been assigned to work with, Enid (played by professional-pisser-off-of-Dan-Quayle Candace Bergen) is kind of mean. Covers Carrie's pieces in red ink, is generally clipped and brusque and pull-no-punches-ish when she talks to Carrie about her work (and her need to revise, revise, revise said work. Revise it, I say!) Darned female bosses! Bitches all, clearly.

Carrie flees from the harsh Enid to go work with the charming Julian, another Vogue editor who takes a rosier view of her work, and goes pleasingly easy on the hard words and the red ink. All is well with Julian--he supports her professionally! He tells her delightful stories about his courtship of his ballerina wife! He seems all things nice and paternal! What could possibly go wrong there!

A goodish bit, it transpires, as Julian 1) suggests that Carrie has issues with men generally/daddy issues specifically because her dad walked out on her family when she was little, and 2) offers to help her resolve said issues by sleeping with her. Awww, Julian, you shouldn't have! No, really--you shouldn't have. Carrie tells Julian to go take a hike, dismisses his cheap, self-serving psychoanalyzing as... cheap, self-serving psychoanalyzing, and decides to work with Enid from here on out. Sure, Enid is harsh, but she is also helping Carrie to grow and develop as a writer, and maybe... a female boss who challenges you is better than a male boss who removes his pants in the workplace? Methinks so!

Charlotte and Miranda's plotlines are intertwined in this episode, as an eager Charlotte offers to throw a baby shower for a reluctant Miranda, and a reluctant Miranda (as reluctant people will) reluctantly accepts. If you will recall from Season 1 (if you can think back that far... it is difficult, I know! Miranda wore nothing but boxy pantsuits back then--HORRORS), Miranda is not so much a fan of baby showers--all the cutesy baby decorations; all the, as she puts it, "enforced oohing and aahing" over baby gifts, etc., etc. She wants a baby shower with no frills, no fuss, and fried chicken on the menu. The elegant, traditional Charlotte--resists this idea, and keeps cramming the shower with cutesy baby stuff, despite Miranda's objections. TENSION.

Said tension increases after Charlotte comes to Miranda's apartment one night to help her baby-proof it, and said help devolves into her calling said apartment "a death-trap" and making Miranda feel guilty and defensive for not yet having made decisions about breast-feeding, co-sleeping, and many other maternal matters. They fight, and Miranda worries that she (who is apparently capable of yelling at her struggling-with-infertility-and-divorce friend, even as said friend is throwing her a baby shower) lacks the necessary nurturing, patient qualities which will make her a good mother.

When Charlotte bursts into tears in the middle of her baby shower, however (an attendee had given Miranda a Tiffany's rattle identical to the one which Trey had given Charlotte in their struggling-to-conceive days--yeouch), Miranda discovers, however, that she is, indeed, capable of nurturing and comforting those she loves, as she helps soothe Charlotte during her meltdown. Turns out, a lady can still be loving and caring, even if she 1) is a Type A workaholic, and 2) hasn't read a single book about parenting. As always, SATC, you know how to shock and surprise me!

Meanwhile, in Samantha Land... it is soon to be Richard's birthday, and Sam is seeking the perfect present. He helpfully suggests having a threesome with a beautiful, 21-year-old hostess at a restaurant which they frequent, one Alexa by name. Sam was probably thinking something more along the lines of a spice rack... but okay!

Reckoning that Richard is going to have sex with other women either with her or without her, Sam reckons that with her is the best way to go, even though she herself would prefer to be monogamous. So she proceeds with the threesome, which (happily for her) proves to be disastrous, given the potent combination of Alexa's propensity for calling Richard "Daddy," and Richard's own distaste for getting older/recognizing that he is, indeed, of an age to be Alexa's father. (Which you are, sir. Deal with it.) They summarily kick Alexa out (sorry, youngster! Hope you can find someone nice, and maybe... more your age?), and Richard says that he and Sam should give monogamy a shot. A happy ending! [Ominously, under breath: "For now, anyway..."]

The Analysis:

Awesome Hair Cuttery Watch: So in somewhat of a tangent, I will note that Carrie cuts her hair in this episode, as a symbolic "I am starting my new life, and starting it looking amazing, by the way" gesture. (For my own musings about the all-important Cathartic Haircut, see the following from... golly, last year. Jeepers! My hair has gotten sooooooo loooong in the interim! Note to self: must get it cut again. Especially since haircuts seem to lead to jobs at Vogue!) I love Carrie's new cut, as, indeed, I have pretty much loved Carrie's hair across the board in the series. There... isn't too much of an analytical nature of these comments, I know. But... haircuts are neat! Yay! Haircuts!

People of Color Watch: One of Miranda's colleagues who comes to the shower is African-American. Nice for another brief flash of a professional African-American woman in the series (albeit, a very brief flash), and as an added bonus, her baby is adorable. Yay! Adorable babies!

Aging Madness Watch: This episode does raise some gender-specific worries about aging, particularly in the "I Want to Sleep with a 21-Year-Old" Richard-Samantha subplot. Sam is feeling anxious about this encounter, not only because she doesn't actually want to sleep with anyone but Richard, but also because she's concerned to see Richard manifesting a taste for waaaay-younger-than-her flesh. Troubling, indeed. [Note to self--Richard=creepy. Oh, wait, I already made that note about four episodes ago.] Sam laments (but does not question) the radical differences in how male and female aging are treated in our culture, fretting that "men get better looking as they get older, and women get--"--presumably the reverse, but she happily doesn't get to finish this unpleasant thought, as Carrie cuts her off with a sarcastic, "Threeways, apparently." Thank you, Ms. Bradshaw!

Happily, this episode voices these "male sexiness only increases with age! However, any woman over 32 is a withered husk!" stereotypes only to undermine them--Alexa is certainly beautiful, and surely seems like a nice kid--but at the end of the day she is, in fact, a kid, and Richard eventually realizes that he'd rather be with the complicated, interesting, and, of course, still bloody gorgeous forty-something Samantha. Good choice, sir! (Though please note that I still. Don't. Like. You.)

"How the Hell Do We Know?": Women Being Uninterested in Motherhood=Fine Watch: I do also enjoy how this episode just matter-of-factly demonstrates that Carrie and Samantha are completely uninterested in all things baby-related. They love Miranda, and are happy for her (especially Carrie), but they regard Baby Culture generally with a kind of bemused detachment. They happily buy Miranda gifts, and line up to celebrate with her, but at the shower they are visibly bored by the parade of presents, and cheerfully acknowledge that they don't know what a Diaper Genie is--and they don't care. In a culture which still places considerable pressure on women to become mothers and care about all things maternal, Carrie and Samantha's open lack of interest in The Baby World does rather warm my heart. (Please file this happy representation away for when we get to the movies, when Carrie is compelled to give a loooooong speech about how even though she is childless/child-free/what-you-will, she still loooooves kids. As opposed to luring them into her gingerbread house/eating them in her spare time? You shock me.)

"I'm Going to be a Terrible Mother": Ridiculous Pressures Placed on Women to be "Perfect" Mothers, Both by Selves and By Others Watch: ANOTHER thing I like about this episode (my liking... it seems boundless!) is the way in which it highlights the insane pressures which surround mothers and mothers-to-be in our culture, and the unfortunate ways in which women sometimes turn that pressure on themselves, and on other women. Miranda is terrified that she's going to be an awful mother because she hasn't read all the literature about parenting techniques, the benefits of breast-feeding, etc., etc., which Charlotte has. When Charlotte asks her what kind of mother she wants to be, Miranda replies "a good mother," and quickly learns that this answer is not, well, good enough--according to the parenting books which Charlotte has read, she has to have a much more specific parenting plan and parenting style in mind. (Charlotte: "Do you want to be a marsupial mom, or a stroller mom?" First of all--what??? And second of all--neither!!!)

Not to knock either books or research (I am a professor, after all, so books and research... rather my stock-in-trade!), as I am sure that doing research about what kind of crib you want your kid to sleep in, or reading books about how to navigate breast-feeding are very wise things to do... but this episode does do a nice job of pointing out that this literature/culture can sometimes be, not helpful, but actually oppressive, as it relentlessly makes you feel like a "bad parent" unless you are making all your youngster's baby food by hand, letting them chew on only hand-whittled toys, and have a point-by-point plan for their future intellectual success in place before they can even focus their eyes.

Charlotte is genuinely trying to be helpful when she follows Miranda around her apartment spouting baby advice, and talking about all the books which she's read and which theories she's absorbed, but said spouting sadly has the opposite effect, making Miranda feel like she's a sad, defective parent before her baby has even been born. The episode thus, I think, does a nice job of showing how easy it is to get sucked into the Model Mom vortex... and how ridiculous that vortex really is... for although Miranda doesn't know anything about marsupial motherhood (about which, again--what???), she's ready to love, care for, and foster her pending youngster. Perhaps that, in the end, is more important than having read a library of books about co-sleeping? Maybe?

Gender Essentialism Madness Watch: Have you missed it??? It's been quite some time since I've had to wag my finger [blogger, adopting a stern, school-marm-ish expression--or rather, a more stern, school-marm-ish expression than usual--pauses to do so] about the series' inclusion of "slam-your-head-on-your-desk-annoying" gender essentialism--but I get to do so again now. Yay! I suspect that it shall be just like riding a bike--one never forgets how, really--once learned, it lingers in one's very bones and blood, never to be lost again.

ANYWAY. When Miranda is lamenting to Carrie that she's worried about what not having a full-time father figure is going to do to her baby (even though... Steve?), Carrie says that her baby will have a good father figure in its life--namely, Miranda herself. As the boys of the gone- but-never-forgotten MST3K would say, "Well, I can see that... huh?!?" The notion that Miranda will be a good "father" figure to her baby because she likes sports, and is professional and ambitious, is one which I find both insulting, and dopey. (A twofer!) I also find the implication that "mothers=loving nurturers, father=sports-obsessed providers" binary stereotypical, and distasteful. (A four-fer!) Plus, where do LGBT parents fit into this binary? Oh, we're not supposed to care about LGBT parents? Apologies, my mistake!

Notable Quotables: Carrie, when asked by Julian why she's so drunk after drinking only one and a half martinis: "I didn't eat breakfast, and I'm a size two. Which should make me perfect for Vogue." Unsavory, I'll grant you, in its suggestion that Carrie has bought into our culture's General Body Image Madness with the whole not-eating-thing, but still--it makes me laugh. A little Vogue related humor--starts your day right! (And also--breakfast. Look into it, Bradshaw!)

Carrie to Enid, after Enid says that Carrie knows nothing about either men or shoes: "Men, I may not know. But shoes--shoes, I know."

Next Up...?: Season finale, season finale! Can it be true? How did we get here so fast? [Blogger carefully ignores the fact that she started writing about this season during a bloody ice storm about a million months ago. La la la, I can't hear you, facts! La la la! CANNOT hear you!] And with the season finale comes... DRAMA! Will notorious womanizer Richard cheat on Samantha? Will noteworthy pregnant woman Miranda decide to exchange Pregnancy for Baby? Will legendarily "idiotic when it comes to Big" Carrie do something totally dopey and ill-advised when she learns that Big is moving to California? Will punching-bag-of-the-writers Charlotte's work as a docent at MOMA result in comic disaster? I am going to say... yes, yes, yes... and yes!

Wednesday, June 22

Season Four, Episode Sixteen: Ring-a-Ding-Ding

The Summary:

Ah, rings of various sorts and descriptions! Let us contemplate them!

So, as we know from our last episode, Carrie's relationship with/engagement to Aidan is over. [Blogger moves her lace handkerchief delicately to the corner of her eye, to mop away the ladylike amount of moisture which has gathered there.] And it is sad, and awful. He leaves her for good in this episode, and in the wake of said leaving, Carrie cries on her bathroom floor for hours. (Sarah Jessica Parker notably goes without makeup to play these "hideous break-up and break-up fallout" scenes, which has a pleasing ring of reality about it--few things annoy yours truly more than the "I ostensibly have the flu/have been weeping for days, yet my mascara is still flawless" moments on the tee-vee or the movie screen. Please, Hollywood. Please.)

Aidan is giving Carrie 30 days to get together the cash to buy her apartment back from him... otherwise, the apartment shall be hers no longer. Yikes! It's at this point that the episode at least flirts with financial reality (well done, episode!) because Carrie, of course, is broke. She's an over-spender and an under-saver, and has just about nada in the way of financial assets. Unless you count her shoes. (Carrie, as Miranda helps her do the math re: where all of the money which she's made has got to: "I've spent $40,000 on shoes?" This is why I am a devotee of Payless, Bradshaw!)

Where to go to get the money? What to do to get the cash? The bank turns her down for a loan, and though Miranda and Samantha (but, notably, not Charlotte--which we shall return to anon) offer her the money, she refuses to take it. Big also offers her the cash (???)--she accepts his check, but tears it up when she sees her friends' looks of horror at the very idea of her taking funds from her erstwhile Demon Lover. (And maybe my look of horror, too, which I suspect may have been powerful enough to burn through the TV set.) Miranda: "When a man gives you money, you give him control." Ding ding ding, one point to you, Ms. Hobbes! Rip rip rip, Ms. Bradshaw! What are you waiting for?

As aforementioned, when Carrie is lamenting her financial woes, as Miranda and Samantha are offering to loan her the requisite cash, Charlotte is remaining conspicuously silent. Carrie, furious, later confronts her with said lack-of-help-offering, and Charlotte explains that friendship and money don't mix terribly well, and that it's up to Carrie to stand on her own two feet and face her own financial demons, anyway.

Unfortunately, while she's making her "female independence! wooo!" speech, she still has her wedding ring slapped on her finger, and is standing in the massively expensive apartment which her soon-to-be ex-husband had bought for her. It transpires that one of Charlotte's new hobbies is putting her wedding ring on, and wandering around what used to be her and Trey's apartment, admiring both the apartment and the ring as she does so. I see. (Might I suggest knitting as an alternative?) Carrie points out that a "stand on your own two feet, no matter how hard or unpleasant it may be" message seems a little odd coming from a divorcing woman who's still wearing her wedding ring, and the two friends part rather sourly.

Said sourness is happily diffused by the end of the episode, however. (Excellent!) After contemplating other uses for her wedding ring (maybe she could have it melted down into a pendant? Or earrings?), Charlotte concludes that she can't quite bear the thought of her wedding ring--which she had loved so much, and had worn with such hope and happiness--being casually used to make her some random purty jewelry. What she CAN bear, however, is the thought of giving her wedding ring to Carrie, to use to buy her apartment, turning, as Carrie says, "her painful past into my hopeful future." Awwwww. Now that is friendship, right there! (Close personal friends of mine, please take note: you can give me any and all Tiffany diamonds you may have on hand any darned time you like. I will use them to make a down payment on... BOOKS.) So we leave the Carrie/Charlotte storyline with the two ladies realizing that "we're alone again"--scared, but also feeling optimistic as they look forward to the next chapter in their lives. Delightful!

What else is there to say about Charlotte in this episode, you inquire? In addition to pressing her gorgeous wedding ring into Carrie's expectant palm (lucky palm), Charlotte is looking for a job. Not that she technically needs a job--Trey has given her their old apartment and, we understand, quite enough money to live on comfortably, sans paid employment--but rather because she loves the art world, and wishes to get back into it.

Sad fact is, she can't get hired because she has too much experience for the jobs which are available. Bummer. Sorry that you're being denied the chance to pursue the work you love, Ms. C. Feel free to slip me any of that extra cash which you've got lying around any old time you want--stuffing money into envelopes for me might help to fill up all those idle hours, after all!

Okay, so from Carrie and Charlotte, we move to Miranda. Miranda... is super, super pregnant. (Aren't television pregnancies neat? She discovered she was pregnant in Episode Eleven, and by Episode Sixteen, she is just about ready to pop. And real pregnant women of the world laugh bitterly, and throw things at the television.) Turns out... pregnancy is physically challenging! You shock me. It has all kinds of things associated with it which Miranda finds rather unpleasant--she is gassy all the time. Her hands and feet have swollen up beyond anything she could have ever previously anticipated. She is also thinking about sex round the clock, which... she finds inconvenient. She confides in Steve about allll of said problems, and he 1) tells her that she is not, contrary to her own belief, ugly, but rather has the much-hyped pregnancy glow, and 2) agrees to sleep with her. Well... at least this time... no risk of pregnancy!

Meanwhile, Samantha (whom, I will note, is wearing a mudflap girl necklace in one scene--oh, Ms. Jones. Do you not remember all of my previous ranting about Playboy iconography? Do I need to send you off to the corner to re-read Female Chauvinist Pigs? Well--do I???) is annoyed at Richard. Richard, it transpires, is continuously showering her with expensive gifts (nice work if you can get it--being the shower-ee, I mean, not so much the shower-er--pricey!), but always signs the cards which accompany said gifts with "Best" and not "Love." "Best," seriously, Mr. Wright? Embarrassing. "Best" is a bit stiff when you're writing to your great-aunt, let alone your inamorata.

ANYWAY, running into Richard's personal shopper in his apartment one day, Sam learns that said shopper has been both picking out her gifts, and writing out her cards. (Seriously, Senor W.? Delegating even the purchasing of love tokens?) She also learns that he's been buying love tokens for far fewer women since Samantha came on the scene. (I guess that... passes as good news?) Panicked at how much he has disclosed to Sam about his buyin' and card-writin', the personal shopper readily agrees to the Terms of Her Silence--Sam will tell Richard nothing about their chat, provided that the shopper starts signing the cards on her gifts "Love, Richard." Samantha Jones: fights dirty, wins a different four-letter word on her gift cards.

Confronted with a card expressing his love to Samantha, Richard tells her that he does, indeed, love her. Nice how that works out! In response, Sam tells him that she loves... the very expensive bracelet which he gave her. She still can't quite bring herself to use the L word. Sigh. Ah well. She got a nice bracelet out of the deal, anyway!

The Analysis:

People of Color Watch: Minimal. When Carrie (very briefly) decides that she'll save money by taking the bus instead of cabs, she ends up talking to an African-American woman, who is also waiting for the bus. (To recap: delicate white ladies in stilettos--take cabs. Sassy black ladies in sensible shoes--take buses. Glad we cleared that up.) The salesperson in a shoe shop which Carrie and Miranda go a' shoe huntin' in is also African-American. He is allowed a few brief moments of sarcasm before being banished to the episode's margins. Buh-bye, sir! Enjoy your (apparently) bus ride home!

LGBT Folks Watch: Richard's personal shopper is gay. Seems like a nice bloke, from the one scene we get with him. Fair enough!

Wedding Rings Turning Up in Unexpected Places Watch: (I realized that that sounds potentially dirty as I was typing it, but no matter! I will just clean my mind out with soap, and continue.) I do quite like the ways in which this episode plays with ideas about the Sacred Wedding Band.

I totally forgot to mention in my episode summary (mind=sieve) that Aidan wants Carrie to keep the engagement ring which he bought her (one more reminder that Aidan, though not the gent for Carrie, is quite painfully nice), and that she refuses, because it would have been too painful for her to keep it--she'd never be able to look at it without thinking about Aidan and their Lost Love.

Charlotte, by contrast, is holding on tight to her wedding ring, because even though her marriage is very, very much over, and ended in a perfect disaster of a horror of a mess, looking at (and wearing) the ring still somehow makes her feel safe and secure. Over the course of the episode, however, she discovers that while she can't stand the idea of something which she had once so cherished being destroyed/melted down into earrings or some such, she also can't move on with her life still using the ring as a security blanket.

And I quite love the scene in which Charlotte proposes (see what I did thar?) that Carrie take the ring, and use it to buy her beloved apartment. The writers quite carefully have the scene replicate an actual wedding ceremony/proposal (Charlotte: "Will you take this ring?" Carrie, tearing up: "I will."), which I found quite charming. It plays quite nicely into the series' "there are many kinds of love, and among the most enduring and significant of these is love between friends" theme. Carrie and Charlotte may have both been devastated by their relationships with the good, but-not-right-for-them men whom they've just loved and lost--but they'll always have one another's love and support, no matter what. Awwww. Friendship. And lots of close-up shots of a Tiffany ring. Swooooon.

Massive Class Privilege Conspicuously on Display Watch: Do you feel that it's been too long since I sourly noted how blithely SATC glosses over class inequities? You do? Well, then, isn't this just your lucky day, because I am about to sourly note how blithely SATC glosses over class inequities! Hooray!

A pity, really, because this episode, more than most, actually flirts with reality re: money--because the opulent lifestyle which Carrie has been living on her limited means, it transpires, has really messed her up, finance-wise... and she actually has to reckon with that.

Unfortunately, her reckoning lasts about a minute and a half, during which short span of time she is offered the cash by both her wealthy friends and her wealthy ex-boyfriend. So the path to financial responsibility seems to lie in... having rich friends? [Note to self: must get rich friends. Additional note to self: spending past seven years as a grad student--not the best move, rich-friend-obtaining wise. Final note to self: Drat!]

The simple fact that Carrie has monied friends, and Charlotte a monied soon-to-be ex-husband, who enables her job search to be purely about intellectual fulfillment rather than economic necessity, need not be a problem in and of itself, of course... I just find Carrie's "I'll be a bag lady--a Fendi bag lady, but a bag lady" and "I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes" talk a little wearing. (In much the same way that all of my "I am so pooooor" talk when I was a grad student must have been wearing.)

Because Carrie is never going to be in serious financial jeopardy--she has what is (unrealistically) a quite lucrative job as a free-lance writer, a closet full of designer goods she could sell if push came to shove, and friends with the financial wherewithal to bail her out in times of trouble, as need be. (Much like my own "poverty" consisted of being a middle-class girl who couldn't go out to eat a lot, and bought all of her books used. Boo-bloody-hoo, poor bloody me.) That is not what real poverty looks like, and it is disingenuous to use language which pretends that it is. So can it, Carrie. (And retroactively--can it, self.)

"No One Will Hire Me!": Unpleasant News on the Job Front Watch: There has been a lot of job-related anxiety in the SATC verse of late, has there not? Not too long ago, we had Miranda lamenting the negative impact which she suspected that her pregnancy and subsequent baby might have on her career. And not too terribly long before that, Charlotte's friends warned her that if she left the paid workforce as a woman in her 30s, she might never get back into it.

Grim stuff, no? And it grows grimmer yet--this is one instance in which the series is looking an unpleasant reality dead in the eye, rather than smilingly pretending not to see that it is there, in the first place. ("La la la, I can't see you, Unpleasant Reality, because I am closing my eyes! La la la, please go away now, because keeping my eyes closed this long is getting booooring!"), Charlotte left the gallery world for (she hoped) motherhood, only to find that when the door slammed behind her, it reeeally slammed behind her--and now she can't find her way back in.

Bummer. All that talk about on-ramps and off-ramps for professional women who plan on taking some time out of the workforce for motherhood... looks like that's not working out so well, just yet! Guess we'd better get on that! (Of course, even jobless, Charlotte is still more fortunate than 95 percent of American womankind, in that going back into the paid workforce is about her mental need for stimulus rather than her physical need to eat... nice work if you can get it, Ms. C... if you will forgive me that particular figure of speech.)

So in sum--a small handful of gold stars for the writers, for acknowledging the difficulties which professional women have if they dare to step off the high-powered career track for a spell--and also for showing that Charlotte both misses and loves her work. I know that the show isn't really about the women's professional lives, but still, we get to see Sam savoring her work as a P.R. guru, Miranda richly enjoying her lawyer-ly life, Carrie finding great joy in being a writer... kind of nice to see Charlotte step out of her usual bruised/comic princess mode for a bit, and be a woman who passionately loves, and misses, her immersion in the art world. We haven't gotten to see that side of Charlotte in quite some time, and I, for one, am glad to do so. Even if... it is all about the frustrating parts of her professional life. Boo, frustration!

"Look at My Fingers... They're Like Sausages": Pregnancy as Actually Difficult Watch: Points to the writers, too, for emphasizing the parts of pregnancy which don't usually seem to make it into commercials, maternity-wear ads, etc., etc. (All those happy, shiny-haired, clear-skinned ladies, looking fit as fiddles and glowing like the sun, etc., etc.) Kind of like the much-lampooned menstrual products ads, in which energetic women leap about in white leotards. Turns out, female biological experiences... can be a bit messier than that! During The Menstruation, one often feels sleepy and nauseous (and that is if one is lucky.) During pregnancy (from what I hear), a whole host of other physical unpleasantnesses can arrive. And kudos to the writers for bringing those up, and de-romanticizing pregnancy a bit. Having Miranda complain about how some of the less charming physical complications of being preggers is another nice thumb in the eye of the "everything about pregnancy is grrrreat!" myth. And you know me, I do love a good thumb in the eye!

Next Up...?: "A 'Vogue' Idea," which features, well, Vogue, as well as a guest appearance by Murphy "My Real Name is Actually Candace Bergen" Brown, a baby shower, and a three-way. Lively!

Wednesday, June 15

Season Four, Episode Fifteen: Change of a Dress

The Summary:

Good day to you, my friends! Are you ready for some pretty heavy-duty discussions of marriage, and some extended scenes of tap-dancing? You are? Bless you, valiant reader. You are always up for things, no matter how weird said things may be.

So, as we know, Carrie is very much engaged, and has very mixed feelings about said engagement. She keeps trying to reconcile being An Engaged Woman with being Carrie Bradshaw--with often uneasy results. (I.e., not loving the whole engagement ring angle, Carrie takes to wearing the ring around her neck. And burying it in amidst many, many other necklaces. Coming from a woman who loves to express herself through her sartorial choices, this... seems ominous!)

Carrie is starting to get a considerable amount of Engagement and Wedding Pressure--everyone she meets seems to want her to gush excitedly about her wedding plans (which she is notably not doing), and Aidan is making it clear that he'd like to set a date for said wedding ASAP (which Carrie has notably been actively avoiding doing.)

In amidst all of this ambivalence, doubt, avoidance, pressure, etc., Miranda suggests to Carrie that they go to a hideous, tacky bridal boutique and have Carrie try on a wedding dress... it will be, Miranda claims, like "aversion shock therapy." Face the Demon of Wedding Fear and Angst head on, and hopefully banish it from her life forever.

Though alas, things do not turn out quite as Miranda had hoped... seeing herself swathed in a Princess Di-like meringue of a dress, looking every inch the hyper-traditional, fairy-tale bride, Carrie loses it, tearing herself out of the dress in a panic attack in the middle of the boutique. (Sorry, dress!)

Carrie finally confesses to her friends (and herself) that she just doesn't want to get married--she'd accepted Aidan's proposal because she loves him, and knew that saying yes was what she was "supposed" to do... but in the end, she just can't do it. The very idea of marriage is making her break out in a nasty-looking rash. (Sorry, skin!)

She eventually shares some of these concerns with Aidan (and I do mean "some" of them), telling him that she's "not ready to get married yet" and "needs more time." Aidan, while clearly not happy about this state of affairs, agrees to back off and give her some time and space. And thus, an uneasy peace reigns!

Until, that is, the night of the Black and White Ball which Samantha's Richard is throwing, when he and Carrie are (conveniently for the writers, inconveniently for Carrie) wearing a tux and a white dress, respectively, and he suggests that they just throw caution to the wind, and get married that very night. What ensues is a tense, difficult discussion about love, marriage, and their future, in which Carrie and Aidan learn just how very different their ideas about said future are. (I.e., Aidan: "People fall in love, they get married--that's what they do." Carrie: "Not necessarily." Ohhhhhh dear.)

So to recap: Aidan: sick of having girlfriends, wants to be married. Wants, as he tells Carrie, "the whole wide world to know that you're mine." And by the whole wide world, yes, he does mean Big--that affair, Ms. Bradshaw! How it comes back to bite you in the tuckus once again! Carrie: doesn't see why they need to get married--why they can't just keep things the way they are, and be committed to one another, yet unhitched. Questions why Aidan needs them to be married in order to feel secure in her affection and loyalty. (See: affair, above.)

There are ultimatums, there are tears, there is much anguished-inability-to-find-any-common-ground. They break up, and Aidan moves out the next day. (Waaaaaaahhhhh.) And somewhere out there, John Corbett wistfully bid his last (or so he thought) HBO paycheck goodbye...

JEEPERS. Heavy stuff. Miranda is having somewhat of an easier time of it (i.e., no drastic heartbreak whilst wearing a beautiful white gown--always a plus!), but still struggling with the pressures being placed on her--i.e., in terms of how she is "supposed" to react when she tells anyone that she is pregnant/tells anyone anything about her pregnancy. (Miranda: "Everyone else is glowing about my pregnancy, when will I?")

Going for an ultrasound, Miranda learns from her doctor that she is having a boy. (Mazel tov, Ms. Hobbes!) She absorbs this information rather matter-of-factly, thus disappointing her doctor, who is clearly waiting for a gushy outpouring of joy. Seeing this disappointment, Miranda decides to (however fakely) provide her doctor with at least a simulacrum of such festive outpourings. (Miranda to Carrie: "I just faked a sonogram.") Constantly expected to be jubilant and ecstatic about her pregnancy (even by complete strangers) at all times, Miranda is... tired. She loves: the quiet moment of wonder she experiences when, alone at home one night, she feels her baby kick for the first time. She hates: having to put on the Happy Pregnancy Show for every passer-by. Hang in there, Ms. M! This is a TV pregnancy, after all, so those nine months should be up any day now!

Charlotte, in the meantime, keeps telling herself (and anyone else who will listen) that she is not going to let her divorce get her down. Getting divorced, she declares, will be like "pulling off a Band-Aid"--no fuss, no muss. Hmmmm. Of course it will.

Except Charlotte (in the middle of a tap class which she is taking, as care-free, soon-to-be divorcees will) has a meltdown which makes her realize that she can't just pretend that she is feeling no pain from her pending divorce--that she has, instead, to deal with said pain. Sigh. Too bad, tap dancing does look like more fun!

So as Charlotte and Carrie are watching their relationships fall apart, Sam is hoping to change hers... into a monogamous one. (Whaaaaaat? Who are you, and what have you done with the Samantha Jones we've known/loved/watched gleefully sleep around for the past four seasons?) She is in love, you see, and wants to date no one but Richard--and have Richard date no one but her.

Richard, however, is not so much on board with this. (Richard to Sam: "We're not the monotonous--I mean, monogamous--types." You look darned snappy in a tux, sir, but please know that I don't. Like. You.) Crushed by Richard's refusal to even consider going steady, Samantha embarks on a fling with a sleazy journalist... unfortunately for her, it transpires, as Richard catches her in the midst of said tryst, just as he was about to suggest that they try monogamy after all. Oopsies! Sorry, Ms. Jones!

The Analysis:

Bizarre Fashion Watch
: I feel compelled to pause the action to tell you that in this episode (as she and Miranda are on their way to the horrendous bridal shop), Carrie wears one of my very favorite, cracked-out ensembles of the entire show--my very favorite part of the general madness (warning: there are belts over bare midriffs involved) being a green felt tiara which looks like it was made by a high schooler playing Titania in her school play. What can I say? I am a sucker for a cracked-out headpiece!

People of Color Watch: Charlotte's tap teacher is African-American actor, choreographer, professor, doctorate-holder, and all around awesome and excessively multi-talented person Andre De Shields. He... gets the chance to dance. And that is all. Hope it was a lucrative gig for him, anyway!

Miranda's doctor (unnamed) is also African-American. Nice to see an African-American professional woman present in the series, even if she does have approx. three lines (and at least 90 percent of these are her pressuring Miranda to act happier about her pending baby boy.) Oh well--beggars, choosers, etc.

Wedding Pressure, Maternal Pressure, General Lady-Themed Pressure Watch
: It will perhaps not entirely shock you to learn, considering the way I've been carrying on in my last few posts, that one of my favorite things about this episode is how it handles the way which society expects Carrie and Miranda to feel/act as engaged/pregnant women, and the way which they actually do feel/act.

Carrie, of course, is not at all psyched to be engaged--she knows that she "should" be... but she's not, so all of the external "why aren't you gushing about how excited you are to pick out a dress/set a date?" type pressure makes things that much worse for her. She's very conscious of the cultural script which she "should" be following--i.e., proudly showing off her engagement ring to everyone within a three-mile radius, rather than burying it amidst ropes of pearls around her neck--but try as she might, she just can't make herself do so. One of my favorite scenes in the episode is one in which Carrie buys a fistful of bridal magazines to try to "reprogram her attitude," only to find that it is totally futile--she feels how she feels, and no amount of bridal-themed photo spreads can make her feel differently.

[Blogger's note: please file away this moment of Carrie's "I just don't get wedding culture and have no interest in being a bride" within your mental filing cabinet for when we get to the first movie, when she indulges in a bridal fashion photo shoot for approximately six hours, during which time she remains consistently, blissfully dazed by wedding accouterments, and I want to kill myself by drinking the nearest bottle of bleach.]

Miranda, too, is very keenly aware of how she is "supposed" to act as a mommy-to-be... putting on overt shows of glee for even the most casual of casual observers, etc. Miranda is in awe of her pregnancy (once again, Cynthia Nixon gets to show off her considerable acting chops, in the scene where Miranda feels her baby move for the first time)--but it is a quiet, private kind of awe and happiness. She smiles to herself when she feels her baby kick, but she has no interest in burbling away about her baby joy to her co-workers, doctors, acquaintances, etc.

And I love how Carrie and Miranda, while both aware that these narratives about how they are "supposed" to act are socially constructed, nonetheless feel tremendous pressure to conform to them, and (at least initially) reproach themselves for falling short of these "ideals." Perhaps not in such a dramatic fashion, but I suspect that every woman in our culture has felt that way at one point or another in her life... like she's not living up to our dominant norms of femininity, and (in spite of herself) feeling somehow like a failure for not doing so. I think that that whole angle is very skillfully handled by the writers--and watching Miranda Hobbes fake a sonogram? Comedy. Gold.

"If It's Just a Stupid Piece of Paper, Then Why Do We Need It?": Intriguing, if Painful, Debates about Marriage Watch: So, as I am sure is obvious, I lovvvvvve this episode--one of my favorites in the series, hands down. Season Four is just so sad and complicated and nuanced and generally great. I heart it. (All that gushing which Carrie couldn't bring herself to do about her wedding... must be coming out through me, I suppose.)

Somehow, even though I hate to see Carrie and Aidan break up (they were clearly doomed as a couple, but he is so nice and normal! Sigh.), I also... love to see them break up, because they do so in such a realistic, interesting way--slamming into a brick wall re: whether or not to get married, in much the same way that Charlotte and Trey had previously slammed into an adjacent brick wall re: whether or not to have children. I imagine that these two issues are responsible for many a break-up (or at least, many a difficult conversation between significant others) and it's nice to see them being given so much--and so much complex--screen time.

Because the writers do, indeed, do a very nice job of making you absolutely see where both Carrie and Aidan are coming from here, and to sympathize with both of them in their hurt and confusion. Aidan wants to marry Carrie--to make their commitment to one another concrete, legal, and official. He is almost 40, and sick of having girlfriends--he wants to be a married man. And the episode doesn't mock him for that, but rather presents his needs as authentic and legitimate.

But happily it does the same for Carrie, who is not wedded (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) to the "committed, monogamous relationship = marriage" equation. She loves Aidan, and has no intention of becoming involved with anyone else (finally), but nonetheless feels a fundamental resistance to the idea of being married--which the show also represents respectfully. It's painful to see these two tear each other and their relationship to pieces over the Marriage Question--but to be true to themselves, unfortunately, they have to.

And I am so glad that we do not get the Hollywood version of their story here, in which Carrie realizes the error of her ways, and rushes off to marry Aidan in the last scene. (Probably chasing him through an airport to do so...?) The story which we get here is much sadder, if also much more pleasantly reflective of the reality that there is a wide spectrum of ideas out there about what love means, and where it leads. Thanks for that, writers! I am going to pretend, for the time being, that you don't flush all this nuance and complexity right down the toilet in the first film. [Ominously, under breath: For now, anyway...]

Scene That I Simply Love Watch: I can't make it fit tidily into my feminist analysis, but I must share with you that one of my all-time favorite scenes in the series is the one in which Carrie and Miranda go to the "where ugly tulle goes to die" bridal shop, and both try on wedding dresses. (For Carrie has stipulated that she'll only try on a hideous wedding dress if Miranda does, too. Wise woman.) They put on quite the show for the bemused saleslady, who is understandably baffled by a pregnant lady and a lady wearing green felt horns showing up on her doorstep demanding to be given dresses akin to "a giant cupcake." And the dresses which they do end up trying on really are quite delightfully awful.

The scene also moves from charming wedding-dress comedy to high marriage-themed drama without a hitch the instant that Carrie catches a glimpse of herself all be-whited and be-veiled, and has her marriage meltdown. It is just... fabulous. You should watch it (it starts about two minutes into the clip--trust me, these wedding dresses... will haunt your nightmares for many a month to come. I love the sleeves on Miranda's so, so much! One could conceal a loaf of bread within them! Or perhaps two!)

Notable Quotables: Carrie: "I'm missing the bride gene. I should be put in a test tube and studied."

Carrie's voiceover: "As progressive as our society claims to be, there are still some life targets we're all supposed to hit: marriage, babies, and a home to call your own. But what if instead of breaking out in a smile, you break out in a rash? Is something wrong with the system, or is it you?"

Samantha: "I think I have monogamy. I must have caught it from you people."
Carrie: "Now it's airborne!"

Next Up...?: "Ring a Ding Ding," in which Carrie contemplates being an ex-fiancee, Charlotte contemplates being an ex-wife, Miranda contemplates the unpleasant physical aspects of being massively pregnant, and Samantha keeps getting persistently showered with expensive gifts by Richard. Hmmm. Which of these ladies would you rather be?

Monday, June 13

Season Four, Episode Fourteen: All That Glitters...

The Summary:

Welcome back, my friends! Are you up for more relationship-themed struggles and strifes? I do hope so, for that is what we have before us!

So Carrie is still struggling with embracing her new identity of Fiancee/Bride-to-Be. (Carrie: "I keep forgetting I'm engaged!" Words to warm the heart of any prospective-groom-to-be, I am sure!) In this episode, she muses over whether or not, to be one of The Coupled, a lass "has to put her single self on a shelf."

The question has become particularly vivid to her since she and Aidan moved in together, as, come the evening, more often than not, she is eager to go out and paint the town red (or whatever other color seems appropriate), whereas her beloved would rather stay in and watch sports, whilst eating Kentucky Fried Chicken out of a bucket. I see.

Out and about one evening sans Aidan, Carrie happens upon a beautiful, gay Australian shoe distributor (as one will), with whom she strikes up a friendship. They talk a lot about monogamy and commitment, and Carrie wonders if the lovely Aussie (Oliver by name) is onto something, with his theory of "not getting everything from one man."

In the end, however, she finds, in gadding about town with Oliver, that she actually misses Aidan, and (while not giving up her town-gadfly ways) actually wants to spend some evenings at home with him--because though not a "quiet night at home" aficionado, she is an Aidan aficionado. But, mercifully, even when she stays in, she is not compelled to either watch sports, or consume fried chicken products. Excellent!

There is also a brief, insignificant subplot in which Stanford (yay! Stanford! where have you been, sir???), in his role as Carrie's "gay husband," gets jealous of all of the time which she is spending with her new "gay boyfriend," Oliver. Said brief, insignificant subplot ends with Stanford kissing Oliver (as one will), and also features Stanford wearing an electric green suit which Elton John would likely dub "a bit much." I love Stanford.

On the Miranda front--whilst she and the other ladies are at a gay nightclub one night (about which--way to appropriate other people's space, straight ladies!), she bumps into a male co-worker, Max, whom she hadn't previously known was gay. He asks her to keep said gayness on the DL at work, which she agrees to do. In the spirit of fair play and secret sharing, she tells him that she's pregnant, but doesn't want anyone at work to know, since she knows that pregnancy and motherhood are not super-favorably regarded for the Lady Workers there. He, in turn, agrees to keep her secret safe. What could possibly go wrong there, I ask you?

A great deal, it transpires, as, through a series of mischances, they both end up "outing" each other to their colleagues. Alas. They both take it in a valiant spirit, however, with Max no longer trying to conceal his orientation from the senior partners, and Miranda showing up to work in a slinky, baby-bump-hugging number which at once says "I am pregnant!" and "I am still at work, so don't even think about in any way undermining my professional position because of said pregnancy!" (It also says "I am Cynthia Nixon, and once the show's stylists finally stopped dressing me in men's pantsuits from the '80s all the time, I. Look. Awesome.")

Also at the gay club (what a night that was!), Samantha takes some ecstasy given to her by a stranger (sounds... totally safe!), and then goes home to have sex with Richard. Under the influence of said stranger-given drugs, Sam tells Richard that she loves him. He... goes to sleep without saying anything. I see.

Madly uncomfortable about her massive emotional disclosure, Samantha finally brings up the Love Incident with Richard... and he laughs it off, saying that he totally gets it, she was high, one says crazzzzzy things whilst one is high, etc., etc. Samantha... is bummed, because, even though high on drugs given to her BY A STRANGER, SERIOUSLY, HOW DUMB ARE YOU, WOMAN at the time, turns out, she actually meant it. Alas.

And there is more alas to come, I fear--this time on the Charlotte and Trey marriage front. Things are not good at all there, I am afraid--when not yelling at each other, they are plain old not speaking to each other--and Charlotte can't really seem to see a way out of their current mess. She wants a baby, Trey does not. What to do about this impasse... Charlotte does not know.

In the end, they manage to have a real conversation about it all--Charlotte says she doesn't think that she should have to give up her dream of having a baby, Trey concedes that that is true, and offers to give her their apartment. And... finis. Their marriage = over. Sorry, Charlotte! Perhaps taking some ecstasy given to you by a stranger might help...?

The Analysis:

LGBT Folks Watch:
And in this episode, we have... four! Stanford and Anthony, Charlotte's erstwhile wedding stylist, both make appearances, and we also have two shiny, new (if also purely temporary--hello, and goodbye, new gents!) characters Oliver, and Anthony's current crush, Gordon. As you know, I heart Stanford, even though (as is sadly all too typical) he's not given much to do in this episode. Neither is Anthony or Gordon. Sorry, gents!

The most prominently featured gay bloke in the episode is, then, Oliver--he is, of course, quite beautiful, and proves to be a very charming companion for Carrie. (And Australian, as an added bonus. Hellooooo, accent!) And I am happy to say that he is... not presented altogether terribly! Excellent! In some ways, to be sure, he falls under the stereotype of "gay men love fashion, and are promiscuous"--but to the show's credit, Oliver goes out of his way to note that, although he and his boyfriend have an open relationship, their way of negotiating monogamy/polyamory/et. al. is but one way among many, and that among his coupled gay male friends, a wide variety of opinions and practices exist. Thank you, Oliver! (Both for that--AND FOR THE ACCENT.)

The least savory parts of LGBT representation in the episode come, not from actual gay folks, but from the ladies' discussions of (and interactions with) them. (Color me shocked.) For one thing, it does rather bother me that the ladies decide, just for giggles, that they're going to go to a nightclub intended for gay men. Really? Is that absolutely necessary? I have lesbian friends who talk a goodish bit about how irritating it is to go to a club intended to be their space to find straight folks cluttering up every corner. Isn't the point of an LGBT space... to be for LGBT folks? Perhaps?

It rather reminds me of when I was in college, and worked at the Women's Center on campus--without fail, every couple of months, we'd get some push-back from a fraternity about how it was "unfair" that we had such a space, and that they should be able to rent it out for their events. You have the entire world, gents. Is it too much for us to have one corner of it, for ourselves?

To be clear, I know that rigid separatism of any kind is a slippery slope/problem-ridden minefield in its own right--(I'm looking at you, Michigan Womyn's Festival!)--but something about gentlemen feeling like they are entitled to waltz uninvited into a space designated for women, or straight folks into a space designated for LGBT folks... does not sit quite right with me. Ask first, privileged people! It's only polite!

It also bothers me that when Oliver explains he and his boyfriend's terms for their open relationship to Carrie, she replies with, "Ah, the International Gay Rules!" Ummm, wasn't Oliver just saying that all of the gay male couples he knows all think about monogamy differently? I thought so. So isn't suggesting that Oliver and his boyfriend's definitions are somehow internationally representative of all gay men... inaccurate and insulting? Perhaps?

It also bothers me (more and more bothering on display here!) that when Carrie is gushing to her friends about how great Oliver is, Sam says that of course gay men make great friends, because they know what's important in life--"clothes, compliments, and cocks." I see. Not to denigrate any of those things, but is suggesting that gay men are narcissistic and fashion/sex-obsessed somewhat stereotypical? Perhaps?

And the final thing that bothers me (at long last! Just when you thought the day would never come!) is that, when Carrie first meets Oliver, he gives her a goody-bag from a porn film release party which he's just been to. (I mean, is there a great friendship, in either literature or life, which has not begun in a similar way?) She settles down to watch the film in question ("Jocks and Cocks 4" by name--as Oliver says "I was told it was a Merchant Ivory film." They sure are taking their work in some intriguing new directions!), and then insists that her friends watch it, too, because, as she says, "this is really funny." The ladies then proceed to walk the Jocks Epic while screaming with horrified laughter.

I 1) don't really care for the fact that the film is depicted as a source of horrified laughter, in the first place (remind me why this is so shocking and weird, again...?), and 2) reckon that the ladies must not have heard that a goodly number of straight women watch gay porn, not to mock and deride it, but rather to, well, watch it. Just sayin'!

"What Is It With You and This Ring?": More Negotiating of Engaged-Ness Watch: Once again in this episode, I think we have some interesting stuff going on re: Carrie trying to figure out how to be both herself and An Engaged Woman. She clearly feels significant anxiety about losing her identity and autonomy in her pending marriage, and it's kind of nice to see these anxieties being played out and explored by the show. Carrie loves Aidan and is committed to him, but is nonetheless finding settling into domestic couplehood challenging, and sinking into the roles of Bride and Future Wife distinctly uncomfortable. And bless the show for musing about that, because I think the market is already glutted with Shiny-Bride-Themed Fantasies and Once-You-Find-Your-Man-Your-Life-Will-Be-Perfect Narratives. (Darned market.)

"They Think We're the Perfect Couple": Illusions and Realities of Marriage Watch: So in this episode, Charlotte ends up getting tapped to have her and Trey's apartment photographed for inclusion in House and Garden magazine. They want to photograph she and Trey for the spread, as well, because, as she tells Trey "they think we're the perfect couple." Realizing that being featured in the magazine is a long-standing dream of Charlotte's, Trey agrees to the pictures (even though, by that point, they are already broken up. Nice Trey. Sad situation.)

When talking about what the magazine has meant to her, Charlotte remembers that when she was a girl, she used to look at the magazine's beautiful pictures of beautiful couples in their beautiful homes, and daydream herself into just such a future. And the picture of Charlotte and Trey--looking, indeed, like the perfect couple in their perfect home--will, Carrie's voiceover notes at the end of the episode, doubtless fuel similar fantasies on the part of a new generation of young girls.

I do like the way in which the episode thus highlights the disconnect between the idealized vision of what Charlotte had aspired to have (smooth, flawless wealth and storybook romantic happiness), and the reality of what she actually did have (a marriage wracked by impotence and infertility before it limped to an end.) Early in the series, Charlotte consistently expressed the opinion that once she had her rich, handsome husband and her plush, lovely home, her life would be complete. Looks like... not. A sad, interesting detail that she herself is now a myth-maker in her own right, promoting visions of glowing, affluent domesticity, just as her own hopes of actually living such a life have evaporated into nothing. Yeouch.

"Goodbye to All the Good Cases, and Then The Buzzards Start Circling for Your Office": Pregnancy and Motherhood in the Workplace Watch
: I also appreciate that this episode starts to tackle what pregnancy and motherhood might mean for Miranda's career. The episode stresses that she is hoping to delay the revelation that she is up the spout for as long as possible, because as soon as the news is out, speculation about her longevity at, and her commitment to, her firm will begin. Sad that this should be the case in the 21st century, but surely, it is, and I am glad to see the episode take note of it. Combining motherhood with involvement in the paid workforce? Still made incredibly hard for many, many women in the U.S.--so Miranda's fears that her pending motherhood might cause her co-workers to take her less seriously, and jeopardize her future at her firm--sadly not unfounded.

Next Up...?: "Change of a Dress," in which Carrie grapples extensively with marriage issues, Miranda grapples extensively with pregnancy issues, Samantha grapples extensively with monogamy issues, and Charlotte... takes a tap dancing class. I see.