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?

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