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.

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