Wednesday, June 8

Season Four, Episode Twelve: Just Say Yes

The Summary:

So if you cast your mind back, dear readers, you will remember that
I actually really, really liked our last episode. And--brace yourself for a shock--I really, really like this episode, as well. Shall wonders never cease?

So what is it that the ladies are contemplating saying "yes" to in this episode, you ask? In Carrie's case, it's a biggie (small "b," mercifully)... in rummaging around in one of Aidan's bags one day, Carrie comes across... an engagement ring. And when she sees said ring, does she... smile delightedly? Clap her hands in silent glee? Do a quiet jig around her apartment? Nope. She has to make a run for her sink, so as to be able to throw up in it. (Have I mentioned lately that I love this show? I. Love. This. Show.)

So, wow--potential proposal! Potential marriage! Carrie, unlike 99.99 percent of other straight female characters in American pop culture is, not unambiguously delighted, but rather decidedly freaked out by the prospect. She anguishes over said pending proposal with her friends (Charlotte thinks she should say yes, Samantha thinks she should say no, Miranda is just generally lawyerly, and asks Carrie to sift analytically through her feelings. Shocker!) She frets about what to do when Aidan proposes (one), and muses more broadly about the disconnect between popular romantic narratives, in which the heroines always know when something is "right," and reality, in which feelings are (surprise, surprise) a smidge more complex than that (two). "How do you know," Carrie asks, "when it's right?" Is there such a thing as absolute certainty when it comes to affairs of the heart, outside of romantic fiction? Carrie, still queasy at the thought of slapping an engagement ring on her finger, even though she loves the man who wishes to do the slapping, isn't sure.

In the midst of all of this vomitous turmoil, Carrie also bumps into Big (because I am sure in a city of about 17 million people, such chance encounters happen every day--heck, I live in a city of about 70,000 people, and chance encounters are rare e'en here, for Pete's sake!), and talks over the prospective proposal with him. (Because I can't see that being weird at all...?) He tells her that her ambivalence is a sign that she is "not the marrying kind." Carrie muses over this declaration, and its possible veracity, or lack thereof. I muse over why the Sam Hill she is talking to Big about this stuff in the first place, and why she is wearing a tacky heart necklace which looks like it came out of a vending machine while she is doing so. Hmmmm. Mysteries--they are many in number.

ANYWAY, just when Carrie is beginning to think that Aidan isn't going to propose, after all... he proposes, and does a nice job of it, too, kneeling in the street, making a quite charming speech about his love for her, his desire to spend his life with her, etc., etc. Carrie hesitates, deer-in-the-headlights style, and then decides that looking for a thunderbolt-from-the-sky sign that this is "right" is silly, and that she just needs to follow her feelings. Her feelings tell her that she loves Aidan. So... she says yes. Ring--on Carrie's finger. Happy music--on the soundtrack. Trouble--ahead!

And what of the other womenfolk? Having decided to continue her pregnancy, Miranda decides that she needs to tell Steve about said pending baby-bump/child. She does so (blurting it out in front of a bemused ice cream vendor), bemusing Steve yet more. Miranda tells Steve that he can absolutely be a part of their baby's life, but that she doesn't expect anything from him in terms of financial support. [Insert inevitable blogger grumbling about how nice it must be, to be able to thus blithely dismiss all offers of financial assistance, in a world in which many mothers spend their lives chasing men for child support payments which never come here.]

Steve is clearly thrown by this news, and by Miranda's presentation of it. Surely, Steve muses, a father's role is to support his child...? Surely, Miranda must be telling him about her pregnancy because, on however subconscious of a level, she actually does want his support...? So one night, Miranda answers a knock on her door to find Steve kneeling before her, proffering a ring. Much like Carrie, she reacts to this proposal in not-typical-romantic-heroine fashion (Miranda: "What, are you fucking crazy?" Have I mentioned lately that I love Miranda? I. Love. Miranda.)

She reminds Steve that they are, in fact, not in love, and are, in fact, not a couple, and that, consequently, getting hitched seems like a rather foolish idea. Steve concedes the wisdom of these statements, and extracts a promise from Miranda that he'll get to be a real, substantive, meaningful part of their child's life, nonetheless. They leave it that neither of them really knows what they're doing, and that there isn't a super-clear template for them to follow in terms of how to raise a youngster together while not being a couple... but they'll work together, and figure things out. Sounds like a plan to me!

Ah, would that Charlotte's story line had such a pleasant resolution. But alas... it does not. So, Charlotte has thrown herself whole-heartedly into fertility treatments--getting hormone shots, contemplating IVF, and (in case conceiving on their own doesn't work), putting herself and Trey on a list to adopt a baby from China. She is tense, because nothing seems to be working. Trey is tense... in general.

In the middle of the episode, Charlotte and Trey get into a huuuuuge fight at a Scottish-themed party which they are attending (about which--heck, I think I'd almost sign up for having a horrendous public fight with a significant other if I got to attend such a soiree--HOLY KILTS), after Charlotte gets an earful from her nasty mother-in-law, Bunny, about how she doesn't approve of Charlotte's possible adoption plans. (Bunny: "The MacDougal name will be carried on by sons of your own, not daughters of the South Pacific." Wow, racist and sexist in the same sentence! You raise the bar high, Bunny M.!)

In the wake of said fight, Trey confesses that he's just not sure about the whole parenthood thing anymore. It is so hard, and stressful, and he reckons that he could be happy with Charlotte, sans babies... but he isn't sure whether or not Charlotte could be. Charlotte... isn't sure either. The episode ends with Charlotte crying, staring at her still-empty nursery (which she and Trey had had decorated as soon as they started contemplating parenthood--gun--a little bit jumped, perhaps?), wondering "how do you know when it's not right"? Looks like there aren't any easy answers on that one. Drat! And I rely on TV to give me easy answers!

More straightforward and less emotionally complicated and difficult is Samantha's plot line. Turns out, Sam detests her new boss, Richard Wright. (Get it, that makes him Mr. Wright. Writers--consider your pun license revoked for a minimum of three episodes.) He is rude, arrogant, egotistical, while also being rather witty, and looking darned nice in a suit. Clearly, her dislike of him is destined to persist for a verrrrry long time!

Or... till about halfway through the episode, at which point they bond over their shared detestation of marriage and monogamy, and their shared commitment to... not committing. And subsequently sleep together whilst on his jet. (As one will.) So--one character engaged, one character preggers, one character crying, one in an amorous situation on a fancy-pants plane. Just another day in the SATC verse!

The Analysis:

I love this episode--let's just get that out of the way now. And why/how do I love it? Why, let me count the ways:

"Why Does Everyone Have to Get Married and Have Babies, It's So Cliche!": Ambivalence about Marriage/Questioning of Traditional Romantic Narratives Watch: So as you may have gathered from my plot summary, I really, really enjoy how when Carrie spies the glitter of an engagement ring in amidst her beloved's possessions, she... throws up. Sorry for Carrie and all, because... ick... but how I do love the subversion of the "straight women: all obsessed with marriage" line which all too often gets crammed down our collective throats in our pop culture. Carrie loves Aidan, and is extremely happy with him. About which--mazel tov! But the idea of marriage leaves her, not dreaming of wedding dresses and flower arrangements, but rather with (if you will forgive me the vomit-themed pun--who am I, the writers all of a sudden?) a nasty taste in her mouth.

Maybe it's because, as Carrie tells herself, she just needs more time to get used to the idea. Maybe it's because, as Big posits, she's just not the marrying kind. In any case, I love that the show has its very own heroine, Carrie (rather than just its perpetual sexual opportunist, Samantha) express uncertainty about (bordering on outright rejection of) marriage. Clutch this kernel of subversiveness to your heart, much as though it were a beloved child/kitten/pretty sparkly object, dear friends, because by the first movie, these complicated, non-traditional discussions of marriage... shot. To. Hell.

But for now... I am one happy camper. Maybe love doesn't always lead to matrimony! Maybe women are sometimes ambivalent about the institution of marriage, and their place within it! Maybe, somewhere out there, the writers like me, after all!

"Raise a Kid Together, and Not Be Together": Depictions of Single/Non-Partnered Parenthood Watch: So this episode, it transpires, is alllll about playing with our "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes [Whoever--Miranda, I suppose, in this scenario] with a baby carriage" expectations. About to be proposed to by the man she loves, Carrie alternately vomits and wrings her hands in angst. Embarking on the path to single motherhood, Miranda decides, not to marry her baby's father (whom she does not love), but rather to work with him to figure out shared parenting outside of couplehood. The episode presents the notion of Miranda and Steve getting married without love just for the sake of their pending youngster as ridiculous, and endorses their "we'll just have to muddle through this together, but let's leave wedding rings out of it, please" attitude to it all. NICE.

I am going to preserve this moment, in which single, shared parenting and ambivalence about marriage reign supreme, in amber, so that I will have something pretty to look at, and something pleasant to remember, as we skid forward towards the painful conventionality of the dreaded films...

"I Think I Could Be Happy With Just The Two of Us... I'm Not Sure You Could, Though": Infertility and Prospective Parenthood=Tricky Watch: When critics, during SATC's heyday as a dominant part of our culture, condemned it as cartoonish, absurd, and entirely detached from reality, I would always think "Sure, okay, in some ways... but what about Season Four?" Because, as you may have already gathered, Season Four is full of Weighty Stuff--how to grapple with an unplanned pregnancy, how to move forward with a committed relationship when you're leery of getting hitched, how to prepare for single parenthood, etc., etc.

And among these serious and (I think) very well-handled plot lines is Charlotte's struggle with infertility. She starts her quest for a baby thinking that it will be easy--that she will conceive right away, and that she and Trey will have their very own bundle of joy before you can say "trust fund."

But it turns out, that doesn't happen. Conceiving proves to be hard to the point of impossible. Dealing with fertility treatments and contemplating adoption puts a rather severe strain on both her body and her marriage. Her and Trey's shared sense of purpose--to have a family--collapses when he decides, amidst the stress and turmoil of infertility, that parenthood might not be for him, after all. So Charlotte is left wanting a child but unable to conceive a child--and in love with and married to a man who no longer wants a child, to boot. A mess--she is officially in one.

But it's a sadly realistic mess--women who desperately want children are not always to conceive them (and are, perhaps, if they are white women, sometimes also discouraged from adopting non-white children by their racist mothers-in-laws, about which... yiiiiiiiikes.) Couples who think that they are on the same page, baby-wise, find out that they are not. So Charlotte's dilemma here--should she leave her marriage in search of a baby? Stay in her marriage and give up her dreams of a baby? Not easy questions to ask, and the show (to its credit) doesn't offer any easy answers to them.

And--sorry as I am that poor Charlotte is, once again, totally miserable--I must admit that I do quite like the path which the writers have taken her down, since her marriage. When she got married, she thought that Trey was her prince, she was his princess, and that they'd be blissfully, uncomplicatedly happy forever and ever. Turns out... not. And I kind of love the series for throwing its most starry-eyed-ly romantic character into such grimly realistic scenarios. (Mean of me, perhaps... but I cannot help it!)

Few women have the kind of money, looks, and privilege that our four leading ladies do. But many women have to navigate the muddy waters of commitment, infertility, and parenthood--and bless the writers for wading into said waters themselves, rather than remaining pristinely above the fray in Romantic-Comedy-Fantasy-Land. Love you, writers! (Yes, I said it, and I am not ashamed.)

Notable Quotables:
[I warn you that they are many in number, this time--when I said that I loved this episode--darned if I did not mean it!]

Carrie: "I saw the ring, and I threw up. That's not normal."
Samantha: "That's my reaction to marriage."

Big to Carrie, when she tells him that she might be getting engaged, but doesn't feel ready to be married just yet: "You've never going to be ready, baby, you're not the marrying kind."
Carrie: "And you, I suppose, are? What does that tell us?"
Big: "That nobody knows shit?"

Carrie, talking to Miranda on the phone as she suffers through a bout of morning sickness: "Apparently, we've reached the stage where our lives are making us sick."

Miranda: "I don't know why they call it morning sickness when it lasts all fucking day long."

Carrie: "Maybe there are no right guys, right moments, right answers--maybe you just have to say what's in your heart."

Next Up...?: "The Good Fight" which features... well... fighting. (As one might have anticipated.) Carrie and Aidan are fighting as they negotiate moving in together. Miranda is fighting--okay, well, wrestling with (sometimes you have to stretch to make the fighting metaphor fit)--her desire to balance pregnancy with dating a dashing international jet-setter (as one will.) Charlotte is fighting with Trey re: all things baby (or, rather, no-baby) related. Samantha is fighting the uneasy feeling that she actually likes her latest conquest/boss. Fighting, fighting, fighting, all around!

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