Friday, September 2

Season Five, Episode One: Anchors Away!

The Summary:

Hello, dear readers! Are you ready to embark on our whirlwind tour through Season Five? Ah, Season Five. Such a short season (a mere eight episodes, and yet I will point out that the DVD boxed set costs just as much as the boxed sets for the seasons which had eighteen episodes. Not cool, HBO. Not cool.), but such an interesting one! There is much for us to discuss, to be sure!

So this, our very first episode, begins with Carrie, out and about on the town as a single lady... actually enjoying the fact she is alone. (The time to put on your best shocked and horrified face... would be now.) On a Friday night, she takes herself out to a movie, and sits there contentedly munching away on her popcorn, unruffled by the fact that she is surrounded by couples. Contentment! Comfort in one's own skin! Happiness with one's own life! Clearly... this cannot last.

And last it does not, as the writers/the universe conspire to punish her for at once being happy and single. (How dare she, I mean, really!) Carrie decides to take a random weekday to enjoy strolling around the city, visiting an art museum, and so on, and so forth (the living is good when you are a freelance writer in TV Land, clearly!)

Naturally, this all massively blows up in her face, with her getting caught in a rainstorm, embarrassing herself by nattering away about love and destiny to a handsome stranger (as one tends to do), to the point where he flees from her in exasperation, and encountering a truly scary Ghost-of-Christmas Future-style elderly single lady in a cafe. Said lady, we learn, broke up with her last boyfriend (one is lead to assume, during the Eisenhower administration) in the hopes of finding someone better, and consequently is now stuck sitting around forlornly in public eateries, dusting her ice cream with lithium. As is typical of single womankind.

Shaken by these encounters, Carrie agrees to go to a big party thrown by a bunch of sailors during Fleet Week (as one will), dancing and flirting at said party with the dashing Louis. Louis is charming, and they have a nice chat about love, and fate, and New York (which does NOT cause Louis to flee in terror, notably), during which Louis reveals that he simply cannot stand the Big Apple. At which point, Carrie instantly nixes him as a romantic prospect, musing that while she's not sure about what her romantic future holds, in many ways, New York is her true love, and "I can't have nobody talking shit about my boyfriend." Buh-bye, Louis! Have fun being beautiful/putting your foot in your mouth about people's beloved cities of residence elsewhere!

And what of the other ladies, you gently inquire? Well, Miranda is a brand-new mom, and finding her adjustment into mommyhood a bit bumpy. For one thing, it turns out that breastfeeding is actually pretty darned hard sometimes. For another, Steve suddenly seems to be around all the time, hanging around Miranda's house, and eating sandwiches made by her housekeeper. (I know I hate when MY housekeeper makes domestic interlopers sandwiches! Oh, wait... my housekeeper is ME.) For yet a third, Miranda is feeling left out and weird around her friends--Carrie and Charlotte are supportive about, and interested in, her new life as a mother, but Sam is visibly bored by the baby, and eager to get him (and, it inevitably follows, also Miranda) out of the way, when the ladies have fun, difficult-to-do-with-a-newborn-in-tow plans. Samantha: Kind of mean. Miranda: hurt. Baby: adorable.

What about Charlotte? Meh, nothing too embarrassing or dreadful, but overall, just kind of yawn-inducing. As her divorce proceedings... well, PROCEED, Charlotte has decided to officially transition from being Charlotte MacDougal to being Charlotte York. This... seems healthy! She has also decided (mainly at Anthony's instigation) that she needs to have sex immediately, if not sooner, to get over her marriage. (Even though... she is still actually married...?)

As such, at the Fleet Week party which the non-mommy ladies attend, Charlotte shows an officer one of her breasts (as one does, in large public venues, with tons of people around), in the hopes that this will somehow liberate her, and secure the birth of a "new Charlotte." It doesn't seem to, so much--she is kind of embarrassed (I cannot imagine why), and the officer kind of disappointed, as the Charlotte York Show goes no further then that brief flash of her upper lady-area. Ah well. At least... the party decorations looked festive?

And what of Samantha (apart from being kind of mean and exclusionary when it comes to her new-mum friend)? She is still furious with Richard for cheating on her, and embarks on various little revenge projects to fill up her idle hours. She wallpapers his neighborhood with fliers featuring his face, and the words "Cheater! Liar!" on them. (Won't someone think of the wasted paper?) She agrees to meet him for a drink, only to throw said drink in his face. (Won't someone think of the wasted alcohol?) But underneath it all, she clearly still has feelings for the oily schmuck, and the episode ends with her daydreamily listening and relistening to a voice message he left her. Healthy!

The Analysis:

LGBT Folks Watch: One of our two usual suspects, one Anthony Marantino by name. He is amusing, even if the advice that he gives Charlotte about how to move on from her failed marriage seems rather... unpleasant? I.e., he tells her that if she doesn't start having sex soon, it'll be just a "sleigh-ride into menopause." I will admit that that line made me laugh. (Mario Cantone can deliver a line, what can I say?) I will also concede that that line is intensely distasteful, and suggests (if it does not outright state) that women in or past menopause are unworthy of sexual attention and are somehow past their "sell-by date" as sexual beings. Lovely!

People of Color Watch: And in this episode, we have... three! One Asian-American woman who is Miranda's silent "baby nurse" (delightful, we needed more characters of color who are mute), the charming Chandra Wilson, who packs a lot of punch into her one scene as a lady cop, and Daniel Sunjata, who plays Carrie's brief flirtation, Louis. (I learn from the good people over at IMDB that Mr. S was named one of People's Most Beautiful People in the early aughts (well done, People!) and is a native of my adopted state of Illinois (well done, IL!)

What to make of young Louis? In no particular order: 1) Kind of nice that Carrie considers an African-American man as a love interest? Even if it is only for about five seconds, given the lily-white nature of her amorous eye elsewhere in the series? 2) What the heck is the deal with the SATC writers and the naming of characters of color? So Louis, it transpires, is from the great state of Louisiana, and Carrie (in her writerly way) gets a lot of pleasure in calling him (wait for the originality) "Louis from Louisiana." This may not be remarkable in and of itself, but combined with the fact that her African-American assistant in the first movie is named Louise, is from the great city of St. Louis, and Carrie (in her wordsmithian way) takes great joy in calling Louise (pause for the fresh innovativeness) "Louise from St. Louis," I... have concerns.

Because is it just me, or 1) is there something kind of troubling about the fact that these characters of color are clearly from somewhere else (somewhere Other, if you want to go all academic--and I do tend to), and clearly belong somewhere else? Louis isn't going to stay in New York, but rather go back to Louisiana--Louise (mild, uninteresting spoiler alert!) isn't going to stay in New York, but rather go back to St. Louis. Remind me why it is that we can't keep the majority of more substantive characters of color actually in the city, again...?

And why do I have the uneasy feeling that these characters wouldn't have gotten their fun little alliterative nicknames if they weren't people of color? We never get a white "This is Brooklyn... from Brooklyn" type character, after all. I dunno. Happy as I was to have Louis' fetching self around for an episode... something about the whole thing just doesn't seem quite right with me. (It also makes me wonder what, if I wasn't a white lady, my name on the show would have to be. I'm from New Jersey, so... "Jessie from Jersey"? "Gardenia from the Garden State"? It's a tough one to call!)

Me Being Kind of Creepily Ageist Watch: So this is purely coming from me, and not so much from the writers [hand flutters to mouth in a delicately lady-like, "You shock me!" gesture--I am admitting that I am worse than the writers here? Will wonders never cease?], but I must confess to you that, in the Fleet Week party scenes, it does rather creep me out to see our four ladies (now ranging in age from their late 30s to their mid 40s in age) flirting with an assortment of sailor boys. In large part, I hope, because many of the sailors whom we see are, indeed, boys--lads of my students' age, in their early to mid 20s. And it kind of creeps me out, to see Samantha roaming through these packs of youngsters with a predatory gleam in her eye. [Blogger deliberately avoids all references to "cougars" and "cougarism" here.]

The writers actually nod to this discomfort too, a bit, by having Carrie get told by a fresh-faced young lad she's been chatting to that she "remind[s] me of my mom." Yeouch. I hope the fact that I (and I guess the writers, to a certain extent) find grown women romantically sizing up young guys creepy does not have to do with internalized sexism (drat you, internalized sexism!), but rather to the fact that there is something empirically creepy of a 36-year-old regarding a 21-year-old as a romantic prospect (regardless of the genders involved). Because (with the inevitable caveats inserted here about how sometimes true love interevenes regardless of age, and how Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books) 21-year-olds, delightful as they are... are still kids! Leave them to dance with lasses of their own age, SATC ladies!

And While We Are On The Subject of My Weird Quibbles... Watch: What was that you said? You want to know more about my weird quibbles with this episode? Why, then, aren't you in luck! I have mentioned it on this blog before, but I will re-mention yet again that I find something a little unnerving about the pressure which is being put on Charlotte to date, to have sex, to get out and meet men... while she is, in fact, still married. She and Trey have officially separated, there is no hope of reconciliation, they are most certainly no longer a couple, but somehow it still weirds me out to hear all of the "you must find a new man NOW" rhetoric, given that she is still Mrs. Trey MacDougal. Maybe... wait until you're actually divorced to throw yourself back into the dating fray? Maybe... at least make it clear to the gents you're interested in that you are, indeed, still married? Happily, the writers seem to share my weird discomfort about this, as it comes up in a future episode. So... the writers and I are kind of in sync about something? Have the fires of hell officially turned into a frozen pond???

This Is My Very Last Weird, Not Strictly Feminist, Quibble About This Episode, I Promise... Watch: It really is. So this episode is the first post 9/11 show which SATC did, and I think they actually handled it really well, in that the writers don't give us a moment of "let us awkwardly refer to the massive tragedy/international incident which is just happened in our city in an artificial way that no human person would ever do in real life" but rather just throw the ladies back into their day-to-day lives, and have the aftermath of 9/11 be the water they swim in and the world they live in, but not something which they make stilted and inorganic references to. Well done, my writer friends!

The only moment in which 9/11 is even vaguely mentioned is when Carrie reminds her friends that it is each of their "patriotic duty as a New York woman" to go shopping--the implication being, of course, that shopping can be their way of helping to rebuild the city in the wake of the disaster.

Which... I get to a certain extent, because, of course, the economic devastation of 9/11 was considerable, and supporting NYC businesses in the wake of it was important--I guess this allusion just reminds me of rhetoric which I found kind of troubling at the time... that somehow being a consumer was the primary way to help our country get back on its feet. Not... donating to the recovery effort? Lobbying for health care for first responders? Questioning the need for a Patriot Act in the wake of the disaster? No? It seems not, my mistake!

SATC isn't a somber, political show, and I do not ask it to tackle somber, political themes... but is there a way to not always bring the female characters in the show's lives perpetually back to their role as consumers? No? It seems not, my mistake!

And At Long Last, We Make Our Way to Actual Feminist Analysis--Singlehood Edition Watch: Shall I take you on an epic journey through my reactions to the ways in which this episode tackles questions of singlehood?

Reaction #1: Oh, wow, this is so great! They are showing Carrie out and about in the world, as a happily single person! She can go to movies alone... and have fun. She can spend the evening in her own company... and enjoy herself doing so. How festive! [Blogger mood: contented.]

Reaction #2: Of course, I might have known this was all set-up for "Single Life Is Tragic and Pathetic." Did we really need to have Carrie obsessively rant at a complete stranger about love and fate? Do real single women randomly engage in such rantings to random men they encounter on the street? I... can't say I've ever done something similar, myself. Smile politely, sure. Exchange a few pleasantries about the weather, absolutely. Reveal my inmost fears and fantasies, and talk about my ex-boyfriends? Not... quite as much. [Blogger mood: Mildly crabby.]

Reaction #3: Oh, and now we have the specter of unpaired-off womanhood past the first flush of youth, and of course she is a grotesque clown figure, who has to self-medicate with quasi-illicit drugs just to get through her hopeless spinster days! [Blogger mood: Extremely crabby.]

Reaction #4: Oh, wait! Carrie just told Louis that being alone... actually isn't that bad! She said that regardless of what happens in her love life, she'll always have the madly beautiful, endlessly energetic city to inspire and enliven her. That... doesn't seem that bad! [Blogger mood: Circles back to relative placidity, with only a mild undercurrent of discontent. Phew.]

Yet More Actual Feminist Analysis--Motherhood Edition: And the series' depictions of Miranda's mothering life have begun! And... they are actually not terrible! [Blogger pauses to make a "V for Victory" sign.] Miranda is feeling a bit overwhelmed and tired by her new life as a mother, and challenged and frustrated by its sometimes uncomfortable physical realities. (She feels like a failure when she finds breast-feeding difficult, she is kind of weirded out by how radically different in size her breasts now are, etc., etc.) She's also trying to figure out how to balance her friendships with the demands of motherhood... she desperately wants for nothing to have changed, but of course... it has. She can't dash off with her friends to go shopping all afternoon, but has to go home to take care of her youngster. Grappling with that is hard enough, but having to deal with Samantha's "babies are such a drag" attitude makes things yet harder.

And I pat the show on the back for actually getting into all this stuff--what do you do if breastfeeding isn't as easy as it looks like in the handy little pamphlets the hospital gives you? What do you do when some of our friends regard your new motherhood as more of a nuisance than anything else? Rather than just fading off into a rosy Hallmark-card glow, Miranda actually has to grapple these questions... and it is pretty great. (I mean "great" as in realistic, of course... poor Miranda! Sorry for the rocks strewn across your path, here! May they soon be cleared!)

Notable Quotables:

Miranda, to her friends at the coffee shop, with young master Brady in tow: "Nothing has to change! Just think of this [Brady in his bassinet] as a big purse!"
Carrie: "Miranda... your purse just spit up."

[After listening to Charlotte react in horror over her having gone out alone on "date night"] Carrie: "Are we still going to have to call it 'date night' in our 50s?"

Next Up...?: "Original Sin," which is about the complex theological contention that all humankind are born into a state of... oh, no, wait, sorry, my mistake! This episode is, in fact, about Miranda contemplating whether or not to get Brady baptized (do it! Think of the presents!), Samantha contemplating whether or not to get back together with Richard (don't do it! Not even for the presents!), Charlotte contemplating whether or not to embrace the nutty philosophy of an unpleasant self-help guru (hint: she kinda does), and Carrie contemplating whether or not she has officially become entirely bitter and cynical, as a result of over a decade of dating life in NYC (hint: she kinda has.) Lively times ahead, to be sure!

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