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And Just Like That They Burned It All Down
Who needs plot and characterisation when you have Aidan Shaw in the most controversial on-screen coat since George Costanza in Gortex
Warning: contains spoilers for all episodes of And Just Like That
Warning: contains swearing
Warning: contains all-caps
Warning: contains a disproportionate amount of anger and upset at a fictional TV show
Still up for it? THEN LET’S GO, MOTHERFUCKERS (see, I told you).
Those five words:
“Was Big a big mistake?”
My five-second reaction:
What did she just say?
Did she say what I though-
I’m sorry, what?
WHAT THE EVERLIVING, EVERLOVING FUCK?!
Hang on, though. Before we get into all that: a bit of context. I’ve not felt compelled to join the slating of And Just Like That. Well, OK, any more than I did when reviewing the opening two episodes of the first season. It just seemed too…easy. Like, say, kicking a 65-year-old man who’d carked it after a Peloton class when he was down.
So, what changed? Episode eight of series two. Forty minutes of television that rendered me so furious I briefly lost feeling in my left arm. Reaching this breaking point has hardly been a weekly experience of small-screen excellence. I could (I won’t) write several thousand words just on the fuck-ups that I’ll kindly refer to as missteps. But I will give you the highlights version, in list form (that doesn’t even include them all forgetting when Harry’s mum actually died). It’s a list I’m calling, The And Just Like That Missteps That Were Really Massive Fuck-Ups.
The Samantha Situation
So, let’s get this straight: Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), PR powerhouse, giver-of-few-fucks was so ‘embarrassed’ at being dropped by Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie (a minor client, come on) that she fled to London and killed friendships that were a lifeline. If that was the shot, then the chaser was this from Carrie: “I thought I was more to her than an ATM”. Quite the scripting choice given headlines claiming Cattrall’s refusal to return came down to money.
But the stage was set. Nothing that had gone before was sacred: plot, characterisation, world-building, believability, credibility. In fact, anything that existed in the two and half decades prior could be undone, retconned or ignored. Just you wait, just you watch…
The New Miranda
Without wanting to co-opt that Avril Lavigne conspiracy theory, if anyone knows who bumped off the real Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and left a like-her-but-absolutely-nothing-like-her-imposter (sometimes excruciatingly called Rambo) slipped inside her skin, please call the Find Miranda Hotline on 666-666-666.
The Great Steve Injustice
Turning Steve from the sexy bartender who during their initial one-night stand (and in the years after), gave Miranda “great sex”, into a hard-of-hearing cartoon grandpa who doesn’t know his wife’s vagina from a 64 oz growler, is one of TV’s great injustices. To show your support, please call the Find Hot Steve Hotline on 69-69-69.
Just (Not) Friends
The new core female characters, building out an incomplete three to a more satisfying six – Seema (Sarita Choudhury), Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker) and Nya (Karen Pittman) - are fantastic, even if, let’s be honest, they aren’t given enough character development or beats of their own. We can absolutely see why Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) would want to be friends with them; might chase them down the street, begging them to come to a shit brunch. What’s not clear is why they would want to be friends with those three. The show’s entire credibility supply could be used up just on (goddess) Nya even entertaining being Not The Real Miranda’s mate. (And PS: Seema totally had Carrie’s number this week. Ditching her mate for her man? CARRIE BRADSHAW?!).
Carrie’s Momentary Mourning
This is absolutely not a commentary on how long mourning should last, what grief should look like. It absolutely is a commentary on how Carrie, based on the world of Sex and the City, and everything we know about her character, would behave. This is the woman who grieved more heavily when left by Big (Chris Noth) at the altar (well, he didn’t really. She technically left him. A debate for another time). She spent most of her five-star not-honeymoon mute and in bed. She forlornly asked, “Will I ever laugh again” (before Charlotte shit her pants and she did). She took up a Miss Havisham-like position in her apartment for several months. My god, she loved a wallow.
Yet, Big dies – ACTUALLY DIES IN HER ARMS WHILE HER WEDDING MANOLOS GET RUINED - and she cries for a couple of episodes, feels sad for a bit and then, largely – bar losing her shit last week while recording the audio book of her memoir about his death - cracks on, coughing up meaningless memes like, “Life’s too short not to try new things!”. Carrie Bradshaw would never. Come 2057, framed by the same brownstone window, she’d sit in her decaying Vivienne Westwood gown, that fucking dreadful wedding-day bird still stapled to her head, writing her column, ‘Death in the City’ (tag-line: ‘Will I ever laugh again? Why, have you shit yourself?’).
Which brings us back to where we started. To the apex of the Fuck-Ups. The new episode. Season two, episode eight. When the entire history, universe, of Sex and the City - forty-seven hours of telly and just-shy of five hours of films - was casually set alight. When Missteps and Fuck-Ups were eaten for breakfast by Everything You Watched Over the Last Twenty-Five Years Was Wrong, Dickheads. How…?
Enter Aidan ‘The Coat’ Shaw
Ever since those photographs of Carrie and Aidan (John Corbett) together on the streets of New York appeared, the fear was real. Why bring back Aidan? The man whose heart was broken by Carrie twice (if we’re not counting when she fled without a word from him in Abu Dhabi post cop-off). The guy who we - and he’d - been told was, like the other men in her life, “not quite Big enough”. Because Carrie’s great love, her happy ending, the Sex in her City, was Mr Big, aka John James Preston. But hey, I reasoned, it's an easy, quick hit of nostalgia. Or an extended dream sequence! They wouldn’t make Carrie’s New One the One Who Wasn’t The One. Would they?
We waited seven episodes into season two for their reunion (or in my case, hoped they’d forgotten entirely). It began when Carrie sent a mundane collection of words to her ex and called it an email. ”Hey Stranger…” said the subject line and opening line (CALL YOURSELF A WRITER). Then: “Remember me?”. Babe, of course he does! You’re the one that destroyed him so successfully he “lost his ability to open up and trust women” (courtesy of Steve via Nina Katz aka The Face Chick).
They agree to meet for dinner on February 14th. Come face to face (well, face to coat) on the street outside, Aidan having apparently come from the front lines of the American Civil War. They sit in a booth, the space between them a yawning void where their chemistry should be.
Aidan looks at Carrie like she’s a bucket of chicken. Carrie looks at Aidan like he’s someone auditioning to play John Corbett playing Aidan Shaw. And me? I couldn’t help but wonder…was he always so boring? (yep). Was she always so boring around him? (yep).
By the end of the night, they haven’t even snogged, but are about to scale her brownstone steps, having seemingly (unspokenly) agreed that they’ll get back together and have a Dead Serious Relationship. Until…Aidan whips around like he’s been shot by a pellet gun, noticing that they’re at her old/new apartment (did he not hear her give the cab driver her address? Did he not see where the cab was heading? Recognise the sidewalk he stepped onto as the one he stepped onto a hundred times before?). He spins out - BECAUSE OF COURSE HE DOES - refusing to cross the threshold of the apartment in which she did him over while he did DIY.
So now they must enjoy their Dead Serious Relationship in hotels and er, Che Diaz’s apartment becaus-OH GOD, WHO CARES, JUST GROW UP, AIDAN. YOU’RE OLD! Instead of telling him to get a grip, Carrie sacks off her own home to go and excitedly buy a pepper grinder with the new/old boyfriend that refuses to enter her new/old home. They laugh at bone-dry things the other one says. Enjoy an extended ‘Che’s cousins’ gag. Talk about some chicken doing something in Aidan’s house. It’s genuinely more painful than watching Miranda be fingered by Che while Carrie pisses the bed.
Those Red Flags aside (the homeware behaviour is as disturbing as the refusal to enter where she lives), the very idea, as advanced by the characters and creatives that this would now automatically work - of course it would - after she cheated, refused to commit and he clung on for a love that didn’t exist, is deranged and entirely unearned.
Some home truths! Aidan could be controlling – you know, like when weeks in, the first time, he gave her the ultimatum of quitting smoking or being dumped. Second time around, he could be a straight arsehole - slapping on that nicotine patch a bit too hard, flirting with/contemplating revenge sex with fit bartender Shana as Pete the Dog literally shit on Carrie while she was dressed as Joe DiMaggio. He was insecure and threatened; pressuring Carrie into a quickie wedding so he could “lock this thing down” (KEEP GOING, SMOOTH TALKER), because he wanted “the whole wide world to know that you’re mine” (and more importantly, Not His). If Aidan was threatened by a living, flawed Big, how would he really handle a dead, sainted Big? That he’s replacing only because the heart she’d spent years trying to get her hands on packed up?
And what about that last dalliance between Aidan and Carrie? The now-thirteen-year-old kiss when both were married (it’s understandable if you haven’t seen it given it’s in the second film - a crime against cinema). Carrie, flashing-flesh, bangles-jangling, caked in eyeliner (I think that’s movie code for ‘slut’), uses him to get back at Big for *checks notes* sitting on the settee after work and buying them a telly to watch black and white movies on together (fuck this: if you weren’t dead, Big, I’d marry you. Actually, I’m not sure even that’s a dealbreaker). But for Aidan? She was still, always is, that bucket of chicken. (And by the by, I bet his once-wife will be thrilled that Aidan’s back with the ex she was so worried about she’d google during their marriage. And that she’s about to meet their kids, including the 14-year-old who was just a baby when she got off with his dad. A Meet Your New Mommy icebreaker, maybe?).
But apparently, none of this matters now. Or perhaps even exists anymore. Instead, we’re meant to believe that the 25 years she was madly, unmistakably, irrevocably in love with Big were, as she says to Miranda, “a big mistake”. That she should have chosen Aidan all along. Even though she didn’t, repeatedly. “Aidan, in the original series, was Carrie’s best boyfriend,” said episode writer Samantha Irby on the show’s official podcast. “He is the one who should have won”. I DON’T THINK SO, NOT THAT SAMANTHA. This runs entirely counter to the conclusion of the TV series and both films. Big was The One (actually, from the very first episode). And Aidan wasn’t. She just wasn’t that into him.
I suggest we insert some logic into this absolute shit-show of a situation. So, allow me to present the evidence, ladies, and gentlemen, for Carrie Just Not Being That Into Aidan.
-That time, early doors, when Aidan wanted to introduce Carrie to his parents and she freaked out, said no, and then turned up at breakfast anyway and ‘surprised’ them.
-That time she slept with Big behind his back (and the second, third and twelfth time). The sex seal broken while Carrie was writing in a hotel, having been driven out on deadline by Aidan SANDING HER FLOORS FOR FREE.
-That time she went to his country shack in Suffern, hated it and had a meltdown at a squirrel because she knew they were incompatible (Carrie and Aidan, not Carrie and the squirrel).
-That time he tried to help her with her broken computer, and she freaked out and was mean to him in the broken computer store and then was mean to him when he bought her a MacBook (OK, OK, he did say it was like “a little purse”) and then made it about her reluctance to commit (has she mentioned that yet, Aidan?).
-That time Aidan moved in, and she became a Bit of a Bitch because his stuff was, you know, around. Oh, and she didn’t like him speaking to her when she came home (though, to be fair, if a man said, “hey pop-tart, where you been and what you been doing” every time I walked in the door, I might wear his skin as a coat). It was almost like she didn’t really want him to move in, and was reluctant to comm…OK, you get it.
-That time she found the (ugly) ring that Aidan was going to propose with and instinctively chucked her guts up.
-That time – after saying yes to his proposal with a better ring – she insisted on wearing it on a chain around her neck, not her finger (“It’s closer to my heart that way,” she said to Susan Sharon, who knew she was full of shit).
-That time she took her new Aussie gay pal rather than Aidan to Bungalow 8 because THEY WERE INCOMPATIBLE. Carrie liked The Club and he liked staying at home, drinking beers and eating chicken (NO COMMENT), waiting for the day that Carrie devolved into a 1950s housewife, hips broadened in anticipation of a siring.
-That time she had a panic attack and broke out in big red hives while trying on awful wedding dresses with Miranda (saying her body “literally rejects the idea of marriage”).
-That time she pressed pause (indefinitely) on their wedding plans because she “wasn’t ready”.
-That time she bumped into Aidan and his baby post-break-up on the street and she wasn’t remotely arsed that he’d married someone else and sired a child with her, merrily chirping, “You can’t fight City Hall!” when he revealed his wife was a designer, too.
Let’s not fuck about: Carrie didn’t fear commitment. There was no spewing, no rash, no breathing into a paper bag with Big. In fact, she turned into a Posing for Vogue Loon in the run-up to their first attempt at a wedding. She just didn’t want to commit to Aidan. Sure, Big could be a dick - and so could she frankly, what with the stalking him and his mum to Church (“I’m Carrie. Carrie, Carrie.”); breaking up with him when he wouldn’t declare she was the one after six months; stalking his ex-wife by way of a fake meeting about a fake book etc etc etc), but since when has that been mutually exclusive with someone (some dick) being your soulmate?.
The first film opens with Carrie saying they’re right where we left them, ‘in love’, before Big pushes her up against an expensive bit of brick work for some how’s your father/mortgage broker. In the first episode of And Just Like That, their physical chemistry crackles, not a hint of regret.
And then, within the space of one-and-a-bit episodes, just a hop and a skip since she was weeping over the dead husband SHE’S WRITTEN AN ENTIRE BOOK ABOUT, Carrie floats the idea that not only does she now have the best orgasms of her life with Aidan (AIDAN!), but that Big himself was a mistake. Are we really meant to swallow that just weeks into round three (four?) with Aidan, her feelings for him, that always squatted, small and shallow, in the shadow of her romance with Big, towers over their entire history? (Which wouldn’t even make sense because Big was the Chrysler Building, remember!). That either Carrie was mad and deluded for the best part of three decades, or we were for investing and believing in it? (Also: up is down, north is south, Santa’s real and that fucking coat was a good decision).
And there’s no sign that the ridiculous speed at which the two are travelling, the hasty leap into retconning her past, is a plot point that’ll be explored (which actually could be interesting: is it easier to go backwards than forwards? Can the pain of her new reality without Big drive her to try and obliterate what was, still is, true? Is that easier to live with somehow? Is moving on not enough, when what lies ahead might never be as good?). But as creator Michael Patrick King said: “I didn’t bring Aidan back to fail”. And in that case, while he may not have brought Aidan back to fail, it might mean the show does.
You see, it’s not so much the betrayal of Big (though honestly, just spit on his grave why don’t you), but the betrayal of Carrie, of the audience, of every minute of Sex and the City that was made, aired and watched before this.
Big wasn’t a “big mistake”. But this is.
RIP Mr Big.
RIP Carrie and John.
RIP Sex and the City.
IF YOU CAN BEAR IT: all aired episodes of ‘And Just Like That’ are on Sky/NOW TV. A new episode is available to watch in the UK every Thursday