Perspective | I’ve decided how this season of ‘And Just Like That…’ should end
As best as I can tell, the penultimate episode of the second season of “And Just Like That…” last week hinted at two possible scenarios for Thursday’s finale. One: Carrie relocates to Virginia with Aidan, because divorced Aidan doesn’t think he can successfully co-parent his teenagers while living half-time in New York. Two: Carrie and Aidan break up for the third time, because Aidan’s got to go and Carrie can’t bear to leave.
The “leave” scenario is antithetical to the whole idea of the series. This show might not technically be called “Sex and the City,” but Manhattan is Carrie’s lifeblood. For decades — since the original six-season show premiered in 1998 — every time Carrie was presented with a fork in the road, she chose herself, her city, her brunches, long waitlists for short-lived clubs. She found herself a good man a long time ago, and his first name is Bergdorf.
The “stay” scenario is antithetical to the concept of rebooting a series at all. Why remain invested in a character who just takes three right turns over and over again? How many times can we watch Carrie move back into her junior one-bedroom, gaze out over the changing leaves and a drunkard peeing in the street, and say something like, “And just like that, I was home”?
Frankly, this season has made it hard to root hard for either option, because circumstances of the plot have turned Carrie into a caricature. As a single, fashion-obsessed 30-something on a budget, there was something character-specific, if not admirable, in Carrie repeatedly choosing beauty over practicality and spending her hard-earned paychecks on designer shoes rather than saving for a mortgage. As a 50-something widow whose late husband left her millions, she no longer has to make financial choices at all. Gramercy Park palaces and downtown lofts are purchased with as much consideration as Twix bars. (And for those of you insisting that Carrie has made her own astronomical fortune as a book author, I’m here to tell you, as a book author: lol no.)
The Carrie of “AJLT” is ageist: At a fundraiser, she sprints away from two cane-using women, worried that if she’s photographed with them, she’ll catch their oldness like a pox. She’s puritanical: Despite a career as a sex columnist, she somehow balks at mentioning vaginal dryness on her podcast, which is then canceled, because lubricant was a main sponsor. When Aidan calls her sobbing to say that his 14-year-old got drunk, stole the car, wrapped it around a tree and now has a broken leg and collarbone, her response is tepid concern (“breaks heal”) until Aidan keeps repeating that he “should have been there.” At that point, it appears to dawn on Carrie that this could affect her own future, too: “And just like that, for the first time, I was worried.”
Look at me, writing about Carrie and Aidan as if they’re real people, rather than characters whose romance was retrospectively revised after Chris Noth got #MeToo’d. In the original “SATC,” Carrie’s series-long great love was Noth’s Mr. Big — an emotionally unavailable business mogul whom Carrie nonetheless pined for and eventually bagged. Aidan was a two-season detour. In the reboot, we’re now supposed to see Aidan as the one who got away. After a whirlwind rekindling between the two, Carrie wonders out loud whether her whole marriage to Big was a mistake.
But I cannot impress upon you enough that there was a time in American culture in which they — Carrie, Aidan, Big — seemed to matter. In the late 1990s and early aughts, the cast of “Sex and the City” became shorthand to millions of young women for how they should describe themselves and their own life choices. Were you a traditional romantic like Charlotte? A capable careerist like Miranda? A glamorous sexpot like Samantha? Or were you Carrie, a flawed observer just trying to make sense of it all? If you decided you were Carrie — and most people did — then did you choose a sensitive, rugged man’s man like Aidan, or did you follow what your dumb heart wanted, and go Big or go home?
Before the reboot, Kim Cattrall (wisely) begged off replaying Samantha, and Cynthia Nixon, who plays Miranda, now identifies as queer. Thus, the archetypes were reshuffled. The glamorous sexpot would be inhabited by a new character, Seema. The capable careerist would be embodied by another new character, Lisa, while Miranda instead became, in her words, “a sexually confused alcoholic who’s in the midst of a divorce.”
“And Just Like That…” is — let’s just dispense with this quickly — not a good show.
But I’ve been watching it anyway, out of respect for my past self. I was in high school when “SATC” first aired. My friends and I were deeply curious about the worlds of these women a few decades older than us, and I remain curious about them now.
The parts of “AJLT” that have been most successful are the parts that don’t recast archetypes but instead complicate them, exploring how the person you thought you were going to be doesn’t always match with the person you are. The best storyline this season showed traditional-romantic Charlotte deciding that maybe she was a career gal after all, returning to work but spending her first week fending off hapless calls from her husband and kids. “I was a person before all of you!” she tipsily and hilariously erupts at them after allowing herself a happy hour with colleagues, adding: “Get it together!”
So how should the season end for Carrie? Virginia with Aidan, or New York alone?
I can’t help but root for a third scenario: Carrie realizes that of course Aidan needs to be in Virginia with his kids right now. But also, of course it would be ridiculous for her to pack up her whole world and join him when they’ve only been re-dating a few months. (Do his kids even want a full-time stepmom they’ve only met one time?) But also, of course it would be ridiculous for the happy couple to break up when things are going well: Life is short, and they’re not spring chickens.
Instead of Aidan being the one to hop on a plane weekly, spending half his life in New York, my vote is that Carrie volunteers to be the nomad. Half the time in that junior one-bedroom, half the time on Aidan’s farm. Gradual introduction to the kids. Lots of delayed flights and schedule coordination and syncing of Google calendars.
It’s not a tidy resolution, and, in fact, it sounds like a slog. The kinds of compromises and scenarios adults work out when they’re finally old enough to know better, and to know themselves. And just like that, you have real life.