Monday, June 6

Season Four, Episode Eleven: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

The Summary:

Yay--abortion episode!

But ah, I hear you say, what a heartless feminist I must be, to actually be cheering for abortion. The rumors must be true! Feminists must actually hate babies (as well as puppies, kittens, sunshine, laughter, Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, etc., etc.)! Hard proof, at last!

I hate to disappoint, but what I am actually cheering here (as I know you already know, dear reader) is the fact that abortion is actually being bloody talked about in this episode--quite something in a pop culture in which the word is barely ever uttered. (And no, "shmashmortion" most certainly does not count.) Given that about 1 in 3 American women will have an abortion before she is 45, this vast cultural silence seems more than a leetle ridiculous and disturbing, does it not?

So, the big news of this episode (as you may have already gathered) is that Miranda is unexpectedly, unplannedly pregnant, from her impulsive-sleeping-with-Steve-ing of the last episode. Ohhhhh, dear. Not wishing to, in fact, be pregnant, Miranda schedules an abortion. (Thank you, New York, for making this ability for a woman to make her own choices about her own body and her own life, without draconian restrictions, possible. Well done, Empire State!) Said scheduling coincides with Charlotte learning that she has a 15 percent chance of ever getting pregnant. I believe this is what Alanis Morisette would inaccurately (but tunefully) call ironic. Whatever our long-tressed Canadian friend would say about it, it's a major bummer, all around.

In the midst of said dreariness, Carrie is thinking about--what else?--Carrie. Miranda's prospective abortion, and her dilemma about whether or not she should tell Steve about it, makes Carrie think back to her own abortion. [Blogger pauses to be pleased that the often- likable, somewhat-relatable heroine of a major television program is candidly talking about an abortion which she has personally had, herself. Pleased, pleased, pleased.] She was 22, it transpires, and became pregnant after a drunken one-night stand with a gent she met at Tunnel. (The whole Tunnel angle leading, I will note, to a slew of "Tunnel is such a lame club, how comical it is that you were there at all!" jokes which went waaaay over my "born in 1981, grew up in the Jersey suburbs" head. But I trust said jokes are funny... to someone?)

ANYWAY, Carrie never told the guy (whom... she had just met) about either the pregnancy or the abortion, and is now racked with uncertainty about said not-telling. Was she right not to tell him? Should she have told him?? Why are people still making Tunnel jokes??? Grappling with such self-doubt, she goes back to a restaurant where the guy (whose name escapes me--[insert obvious joke about how it probably escapes Carrie, too, here]) for some kind of closure-lunch -type-thing... and it turns out he actually still works there! And he waits on her... but does not remember her, not one little bit! So Carrie finally concludes that she doesn't need to feel badly about not having told a virtual stranger about a deeply personal decision which she'd made about her own reproductive future back when she was a lass in her 20s. I myself had come to that very same conclusion about five Tunnel jokes ago... but no matter!

But wait! There's more! So despite the fact that Miranda has sworn Carrie to secrecy re: all things abortion-related, Carrie... tells Aidan about it/them. (I spy with my little eye... questionable friendship behavior.) And Aidan, it transpires, is rather unpleasantly judge-y about it. (You'd better watch it, Shaw, or Big's stock will start to rise with me, and no one wants to see that happen.) I.e., Aidan: "I don't agree with what she's doing." Ah, because it matters so very much what you do and do not agree with in this scenario, sir... oh wait, I'm sorry, it doesn't, at all! So... shut up! Give me a shout when you get a uterus/have a plausible explanation about why you have any right to pass moral judgment on the reproductive decisions of your girlfriend's friend! Thanks!

Given said judge-y-ness, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that when Aidan asks Carrie if she has ever had an abortion, she promptly says no. (So to recap: telling your boyfriend about your friend's pending abortion when you had said that you would not, combined with not telling your boyfriend about your own past abortion, when you know that you should. Batting a thousand so far, Bradshaw!)

Eventually, however, Carrie does decide to tell him--interestingly, hemming and hawing even within the disclosure itself--pretending at first that she was but a mere slip of a girl when it happened, that the condom had broken, so it wasn't really her "fault," etc., etc. She finally manages to come totally clean, however (she was actually a grown woman of 22! They didn't actually so much use a condom!, etc., etc.) and (shocker of shockers) Aidan still loves her. He is even willing to concede that he may have (unbeknownst to himself) gotten some lass pregnant somewhere along the line in his sexual past, so maybe he shouldn't judge others for... being sexual, and having made mistakes. (I.e., Aidan: "I was no angel.") Thank you, sir, just for that, I will reconsider the sudden and virulent dislike which I took to you in this episode. FOR NOW, anyway... but please do watch it in future, hmmmm?

But maybe we should talk a bit more about Miranda, since she is the one who is, in fact, actually pregnant? So, as aforementioned, Miranda is having a rather rough time of it, as you can imagine--Charlotte is furious with her and refusing to speak to her because of the whole "you are pregnant when you don't want to be, and I am not pregnant when I do want to be" thing, Carrie keeps pestering her about whether or not she is going to tell Steve, and Samantha... well, Samantha is just being totally awesome and supportive, so well done, Ms. Jones! But still--it is all a wretched mess, and Miranda feels, correspondingly, wretched.

On the day of the abortion itself, Carrie goes to the clinic with Miranda (which--good, nice to take a break from all the navel-gazing, Ms. B!) , and Miranda has a meltdown/freak-out in the waiting room. She has, after all, always wanted children. (Which, I will grant you, has been pretty consistently telegraphed to us throughout the series.) She is, after all, 35, and with but one functioning ovary. (Miranda, tearily, to Carrie: "Is this my baby?")

Turns out... it is. Miranda decides to continue the pregnancy, and embark on life as a single mom. She is, as she puts it, "pretty freaked out." (Well... yeah! But must be nice to have this be solely emotionally freaked out, and not in any way economically freaked out... ah, to have the salary of a high-powered New York attorney! Ah, to be a fictional character in a show which treats money as though it did, indeed, grow on trees!) At least Ms. Hobbes will have the support of her friends--including the previously elusive Charlotte--as she embarks on Motherhood Madness-- the Miranda story ends with her surrounded by her three friends, making vows of devoted aunthood, and eating various kinds of cakes. Excellent. I am in favor of women making their own autonomous decisions about their own reproductive lives! I am in favor of supportive friendships! I am most definitely in favor of CAKE!

But it can't be all cakes and happiness, now, can't it? Of course not, my friends. So let's go back to Charlotte for a moment, shall we? In the finest "The Writers Using Charlotte as An All-Purpose Punching Bag" tradition, over the course of this episode, Charlotte has to go from being heartbroken at the prospect of Miranda ending a pregnancy (which she herself so desperately longs for), to being heartbroken at the prospect of Miranda becoming a mother (which she herself so desperately wants to be.) She eventually manages to conjure up genuine happiness for Miranda, even amidst the emotional pummeling which the writers have inflicted upon her: (Charlotte to Miranda, when she learns that Miranda's continuing her pregnancy after all: "We're having a baby???") It's a complex kind of happiness, however, in which envy of her friend (and judgment of her friend--about which--boo, Mrs. M--boo) are blended in with genuine pleasure for her... emotional ambiguity surrounding pregnancy and motherhood? Who knew? I thought when women found out that their female friends were pregnant, they just squealed a lot, and bought them brightly colored booties. Clearly, I have much to learn...

In contrast to all of this High Drama and Profound Emotion, Samantha, it transpires, has a quite light and fluffy story line in this episode. (Praise ZEUS.) She briefly becomes Lucy Liu's publicist. She uses her position as said publicist to score fancy free swag, like the coveted Birkin bag. Lucy Liu finds out about said fancy swag-gathering, and is royally (celebrity-ly?) ticked. She subsequently fires Samantha for her Birkin-themed transgressions. Can't fault her for that! (Even if we can fault her for some of horrendous dragon-lady parts which she has accepted during her career as an actress--why, Lucy Liu? Why???)

The Analysis:

Person of Color Watch: So as I mentioned, Lucy Liu is in this episode. She has excellent comic timing. She wears some entertaining, almost-Carrie-level-cracked-out ensembles. (Warning: There are pigtails involved.) She does not act like a horrible dragon-lady stereotype, but rather like an eminently rational person who is being made to deal with a decidedly irrational person (i.e., our friend Samantha.) So in essence, there is nothing to especially delight us in her presence here, but neither is there anything to madly offend. Ah well. It could be (and has been) worse!

“Have Your Abortion Talk”: The Good, The Bad, The Meh About Abortion Chatter In This Episode: Ah, how I have missed playing judge, jury, and executioner on this here blog! So what, in my judge-y perspective is good, bad, and meh about the way this episode handles abortion? Let us see!


1) The fact that it is bloody here at all. The dearth of representations of abortion in our pop culture (let alone extensive, thoughtful, complex discussions of abortion) is truly, truly sad. So just having this episode exist at all is, I think, pretty great. Thank you, writers! I will try to keep this good work on your part in mind the next time you do something that reeeally bugs me! (I.e.—in the next episode.)

2) The fact that abortion is made to seem… normal, and common. Because… it is normal, and common. Over the course of the episode, we learn that Samantha has had two abortions, and Carrie has had one. (Would it have been more subversive to have “nice, normal” Carrie, and not “slutty, outrageous” Sam have had the second procedure? Yes. But I am still feeling favorably inclined towards the writers here, and am trying not to be too mean…yet…) That among four female friends, at least two would have had abortions is… surprisingly rooted in reality. Kudos once again, writers—kudos!

That the writers further normalize abortion by having Carrie have had one is just the cherry on top. Because of course Carrie is the voice of the show—the ostensible Everywoman whom we are consistently asked to sympathize and identify with. And to have the heroine of the show have had an abortion—which she remembers without regret and discusses without shame—is pretty powerful stuff. I am… really liking what the writers did here. And it is freaking me out. Why am I so positive all of a sudden???

3) The fact that abortion is represented in (as aforementioned) a nuanced, layered way. The ladies’ discussions of it are never of the simplistic, black-and-white variety—the writers recognize throughout that abortion (much like pregnancy, birth, motherhood, and oh, everything else on bloody earth) is complicated stuff. It raises big questions, starts complex discussions, generates not-easily-quantifiable emotions. Turns out, this episode demonstrates, that being pregnant when you don’t want to be is hard. Deciding what to do next is hard. Living in general is hard. I love this episode, can you tell?

Which is not to say that I think it is perfect because, dear readers--you knew that I would not. And so let us turn ourselves over to the BAD:

1) The bad, I think, is primarily concentrated in one element of the episode—and even that is really less the writers' fault than it is the writers' giving voice to a perspective which I find deeply distasteful—i.e., Aidan’s. (What happened to us, Mr. Shaw? You were supposed to be the charming antidote to Big for me! How did you slip from your pedestal so???)

As I noted in my plot summary, Aidan’s reaction to the news of Miranda’s pending abortion is indignation… on Steve’s behalf. Miranda doesn’t intend to tell Steve (whom she notably... isn't dating) about the abortion, a decision which leads Aidan to assert that, when it comes to abortion, “the guy always seems to get the shit end of the stick.” Shall I talk you through my reactions to this assertion? (I’m afraid I am going to, whether you want me to or not.)

Stage 1: Anger, ranting, sarcastic declarations. I.e., “Oh, sure, it’s clearly the guy who gets the shit end of the stick when it comes to an unplanned pregnancy. (And what stick are we talking about here, anyway? What’s on the other end of it? Where did this expression come from? On second thought, don’t tell me, I suspect I do not wish to know.) Anyway, sure, it’s definitely the guy who gets the raw deal here—not the woman who has to face the physical realities of either abortion or pregnancy--not the woman whose actual body is materially involved. Not the woman who, in many cases, ends up being the primary parent of a child, or tackling the not-inconsiderable cost of an abortion. Not the woman who might face the stigma of having had an abortion or of being a single parent. Boo frickin’ hoo, poor, poor guys, let me get out my hanky and weep for y’all, because I feel so bad for you.” [Mimes crying into a purely imaginary, but nonetheless very elegant, hanky.]

Stage 2: Caution, back-pedaling, a desire to pull back on the sarcastic declarations a bit. I.e., “Weeeeellll, but are you a guy? Can you speak for men here? Don’t you hate it when men speak for you? Well, don’t you??? Isn’t it a little much to dismiss out of hand the emotional involvement of men in abortion altogether? Well, isn’t it??? Maybe Aidan has something of a smidgen of a quasi-legitimate point here—in an ideal world, wouldn’t abortion be a decision which women made with their male partners (if they are involved with a male partner, that is), with said partners listening, being supportive, and respectfully recognizing that this is ultimately a woman’s decision, however involved in it he may be? Maybe?”

Stage 3: Renewed anger, ranting, and sarcastic declarations, this time directed at self. I.e., "Whoa, whoa, whoa, please do step off of that slippery slope which you seem so happy to climb abroad, won’t you? Does it not strike you that the whole ‘men have a right to have a stake in a woman’s decisions about her pregnancy’ thing leads rather comfortably into creepy-pants, controlling spousal notification laws and the like? I thought that perhaps it had not. Repeat after me—abortion is a woman’s decision. Period, full stop. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find that ‘U.S. out of my uterus’ sign I carried during that one pro-choice rally in college, and slap it up on my fridge. GOOD NIGHT."

So, in case you could not tell, this episode made me (temporarily but quite powerfully) dislike Aidan a considerable amount, while leaving me ambivalent about what he’s actually saying. The idea of completely dismissing men’s feelings about their female partners’ pregnancies and/or abortions does not quite sit right with me—yet at the same time, I find Aidan’s assertion that men somehow get a raw deal out of a situation in which the burden clearly falls primarily (and in many cases, exclusively) on women makes me want to stab someone in the head with a particularly sharp and pointy pair of scissors. (Not you, dear reader, not to worry--it would never be you.) This wrong-headed pity party on Aidan’s part almost makes me Team Big… a dark state of affairs, indeed.

And now that we have gone the good and the bad, this leaves us merely with--the MEH.

Meh Element #1: Charlotte Being Nasty Re: Miranda's Prospective Abortion. Part of the complexity of this episode lies in the way that it treats Charlotte's reaction to Miranda's pending abortion. Having just received grim, infertility-themed news herself, Charlotte understandably (if rather unpleasantly) loses it when she hears Miranda is planning on terminating a pregnancy herself. She reproaches her, sneers at her, then gets away from her as soon as humanly possible. And while she comes around in the end, dragging herself out of her own grieving turmoil to bring Miranda flowers in the wake of (she thinks) Miranda's abortion, I could wish for a bit more of an explicit mea culpa on Charlotte's part here. I.e., not just a "I am here to support you since you are my friend," but rather a "I am here to support you since you are my friend, and by the way, I was wrong to imply that getting an abortion made you morally akin to Pol Pot." Something of a nitpick, since I think the Charlotte-Miranda dynamic is handled in a really complex and interesting way, otherwise... but why am I here, if not to nitpick?

Meh Element #2: Miranda's Refusal to Say The Word "Abortion," Like, EVER. In this episode, Carrie uses the word "abortion." Samantha uses the word "abortion." Even Mr. Judge-y Pants Aidan and Ms. Meanie-Pants MacDougal use the word "abortion." However, Miranda Hobbes, Esq., the one who is actually planning on having an abortion... does not. When she calls her doctor to make an appointment, she says "I'm pregnant and I... need not to be!" What is this, MadLibs all of a sudden? "In order to not be pregnant I need an... [noun.]" When she tells Charlotte that she changed her mind about her abortion, she says, "I didn't do it." I'm sorry, what "it" are we referring to here? Decide to paint your bathroom chartreuse? Buy that second donut? Take up juggling as a hobby? What???

I was initially tempted to put this sucker in the "bad" category, because it seems to so annoyingly play into our cultural squeamishness about abortion, and our reluctance to call a spade a spade, an abortion an abortion, etc. Abortion is not a dirty word, and should not be treated as such. And it bugs me no end to see the blunt, candid Miranda coyly tiptoeing around the subject when talking to her own bloody gynecologist.

However, I am going to give the writers credit here (see how nice I am now? [Ominously, under breath] For the time being, anyway...), and go with the theory that Miranda's awkwardness and self-silencing in (not) ever using the word "abortion" was actually a deliberate choice on their part--a way of demonstrating that all of the shame, stigma, and secrecy surrounding abortion has rendered even the take-no-prisoners Miranda timid and hesitant. It might well have been! I hope that it was! Let's go with that theory!

Meh Element #3: The Last Minute, Dramatic Abortion-Decision Reversal. So, for the past several years, I have had the great good fortune to escort at a women's clinic which provides abortions, and, correspondingly, has a truly loopy collection of protesters. (None violent, happily, but all deeply unpleasant people, nonetheless. Trying to make girls and women cry, calling them whores, telling them God hates them, etc., etc. Feel free to all convert to a cult which believes in complete seclusion from the rest of society any day, guys!)

One of the many beliefs near and dear to the protesters' (and to many anti-choice folks', for that matter) hearts is that women... are really not all that bright. They just don't get what abortion means, you see. If only they were... you name it, forced to look at an ultrasound, forced to wait 72 hours, etc., then they would realize what an abortion actually is, and run right out of the clinic into the protesters' waiting (if also decidedly creepy) arms!

Except... volunteering at the clinic has just confirmed and deepened my belief that women are, contrary to popular/protester opinion, actually pretty darned smart, and do not make decisions about their unplanned pregnancies lightly. That women, though finding the non-judgmental counseling which they get from the clinic's counselors a pleasant change from the epithet-lovin' protesters, in fact usually already know what they want to do with their own bodies and their own lives--whether or not they are emotionally, physically, and financially prepared to have a child--before they even walk in the door. So the protesters' fever dreams of a last-minute "save" ("These foolish women will see our poorly-made, often misspelled, and decidedly nasty signs, and desist from their abortioneering ways!") are, happily, confined to their distasteful imaginations.

The protesters make women cry. They make women angry. They do not, notably, make them change their minds.

All of which is a loooooong lead-up to saying that I find Miranda's last-minute, literally-as-she-is-walking-into-the-doctor's-office decision not to have an abortion a little annoying. Yes, I know that this is a tee-vee show, and that tee-vee shows thrive on drama. Much more dramatic to have Miranda have a meltdown in the doctor's office, than to have her quietly realize at home that she wants to continue her pregnancy, and quietly call her doctor to tell her so. ("I need to cancel... you know, the thing.")

And yes, I can believe that the last-minute-change-of-heart is possible. From what I understand, it is pretty darned rare, but I am sure that it can (and does) happen. Another place where the "choice" part of "pro-choice" comes in... women having the right to make their own decisions about their own lives, following the dictates of their own hearts and their own minds.

However. Miranda's sudden change of plans nonetheless feels uncomfortably close to some anti-choice propaganda which I've read. (I.e., "And then she realized what she was about to do, and walked out the door a happy mommy-to-be, rather than a murderer! Oh, and she decided to become a fiercely anti-gay, fire-and-brimstone evangelical while she was at it! Yay!", etc.) Miranda has been thinking and talking about this pregnancy for weeks, and I would have liked to see a few more pulls in her "an abortion is the right thing for me to do right now" sweater (does the sweater metaphor work? No? Not at all?) prior to her actually arriving in the clinic.

If the writers had laid more groundwork in terms of her ambivalence about terminating her pregnancy beforehand, I would have been much more forgiving of her last-minute volte face. Said volte face still seems plausible since we, if we are long-time viewers of the show, know that parenthood has always been in her long-term plans, and that her long-term fertility is in doubt, but I wish some of her "ahhhhh, this might be my chance to be a mother, I don't know what to do!" doubts had emerged in this particular episode a bit sooner. Real women's real decisions about abortion don't, for the most part, happen while they are sitting in the waiting room at their doctor's--and it would have been nice for the show to reflect that.

But on the whole SATC--nice job on The Abortion Episode! Pity that discussions of abortion are, indeed, confined to this very episode--but crumbs from your table--I will accept them!

"I'm Keeping the Baby": And Let the Single Pregnancy and Single Motherhood Plot Lines Begin! Watch: So just to warn you, what I'm about to say will likely come up a goodish bit in the weeks/seasons ahead--but I'm still going to say it now, anyway 1) the show (for awhile, anyway) does some really interesting things in its treatment of single motherhood, particularly in its musings on how to juggle raising a child with someone with whom one is no longer romantically involved, and 2) the show does some really annoying things in its treatment of single motherhood, particularly (as we see, beginning here) in its complete erasure of the considerable economic privilege which makes Miranda's decision to continue her pregnancy possible, in the first place.

Because unlike the overwhelming majority of women facing an unplanned pregnancy, economic factors clearly play no role whatsoever in Miranda's decision-making process. She is rich. She can afford an abortion at a safe, pleasant clinic, and can, conversely, afford to hire a nanny/top-quality day care for any child which she might have. Money or lack thereof is simply not a concern for her. And as ever, I am going to mount my "It would be nice if the series at least acknowledged how disconnected this massive economic privilege is from most women's realities" hobbyhorse here. Saddle up, my friends--we're in for a bumpy ride!

Next Up...?: "Just Say Yes," in which Carrie needs to figure out whether or not she wants to get engaged, Miranda needs to figure out how to tell Steve about their pending baby, Charlotte needs to figure out whether she can handle being with Trey but sans baby, and Samantha needs to figure out whether or not she intends to sleep with her very attractive new boss. I'll bet you can guess how at least one of these dilemmas ends up playing out, anyway!


  1. I'm so happy you're back! I love this episode too.

  2. Thank you so much, Christina, I am so glad to be back! I so very much appreciate your loyal readership. Isn't the episode marvelous? As I rewatch the series, I'm coming to the conclusion that Season Four might well have been the best of the entire show... they deal with such interesting issues during that season, and do so so well... warms my heart to see!

  3. I want to throw a wrench in one of your bad and meh points. Maybe Miranda cannot say the word abortion because all along she was not ready to go through with it and deep down inside, she knew she was going to have little Brady Brady (did the writers not foresee that Miranda and Steve would end up together?!). Her inability to say the word makes it less real. But because Miranda is uber-rational, she saw her situation for a facts-only standpoint and saw this was not the ideal scenario for bringing a baby into this world and thus scheduled the abortion. But when it came time to pull the trigger, Miranda finally stopped being rational and let her emotions take over. And maybe it took that getting to the pull the trigger point to let her emotional side, which was fighting all along, finally win.

    I'm not sure if I totally buy what I'm selling, and I never thought this while watching the episode, but reading your analysis made me think. Bravo! :)

    Glad you're blogging again!

  4. Thanks so much for your comment, Ellen, and for continuing to read--even when I am being as monstrously long-winded as I am in this here post. And I'm glad I'm back blogging, too! How I have missed SATC-themed snarkiness/festivity.

    I'll totally buy what you're selling--it definitely makes sense that Miranda might shy away from using the word because she was trying to emotionally distance herself from the reality of contemplating/having an abortion. That totally fits in with a discussion which she and Carrie have during the episode, where Carrie is wondering whether or not most guys would want to know about their sex partners' unplanned pregnancies, and Miranda says, "I don't even want to know, and it's me!" So there's definitely that effort/desire to distance herself from what's going on--about which refusing to use the language of abortion might be a significant part.

    I also like your idea that her refusal to use the word "abortion" is partly an effort to keep her complicated, tumultuous feelings about it all at bay--if she never says the word, she never has to deal with the reality of what she's going through/has to consider that maybe she actually DOES want to continue her pregnancy, after all.

    So in sum, you (surprise, surprise) are being waaaaay more generous to the writers than I am--I hope that they were going for exactly what you're outlining here--deliberately having Miranda skirt around abortion language because of her own efforts to distance herself from the situation and mute her own feelings. Let us hope they were actually being as complex and subtle as you are in your reflections about what they're doing!

    And seriously, I love Brady as a first name, but I hope to goodness they kept his name "Brady Hobbes" after they got hitched. Because being named "Brady Brady" is a one-way ticket to Getting-Beaten-Up-On-the-Playgroundsville. Yeouch.

  5. I just watched this the other night, and I thought she eventually did use the word when she said to Carrie, "I can't have a baby right now! I could barely find the time to schedule this abortion!"