HBO’s Sex and the City ends its six-season run this Sunday, lighting up its final post-coital cigarette as fans, magazine editors, entertainment news show producers, and pundits wonder just what it all meant and if it was as good for us as it was for them. A show’s finale is by now a familiar TV spectacle, like the “long lost identical twin” plot or the desperate addition of an adorable kid—a ritualized, slightly desperate appeal to viewers not to forget about the beloved show (“remember the times we shared, the way we made you laugh and cry?”) and to believe that the characters will live on even without the cameras.
What’s interesting about the build-up to Sex’s touchdown is the naked hostility with which the show’s producers are handling it. The hostility is aimed at both the show’s characters and its fans, who have stuck with it all these years despite weakening plots (the addition of the aforementioned adorable kid, who functioned mostly as a heavy, unstylish purse for Miranda to lug around) and diminishing cachet. But say what you will about Sex’s quality as a program or its cultural impact, the producers should at least take their own show seriously enough to hide their disdain for it as they put it to bed.
Disdain may seem like too harsh a word, yet how else to describe the final season’s plotlines, designed to punish and shame the Fading Foursome for precisely the traits we were once asked to love about them?
Do we really need vain, unabashedly sexual Samantha (Kim Cattrall) to be humanized by breast cancer? Absurdly, Samantha’s cancer was discovered during a consultation for breast implants; obviously, the producers hoped to tie her vanity to her illness. Introducing her post-chemo hair loss while she performed oral sex on her boyfriend was an added bit of cruelty. This has not brought gravitas to the show’s lightest lightweight; it’s a cynical stab at seriousness, a plotline as poorly constructed as the characters’ wobbly stilettos. What’s the fun of Samantha’s life of zipless fucks if she ends up getting snagged so harshly?
The there’s Charlotte (Kristin Davis), the square doily of the bunch. For her dogged pursuit of the sort of traditional values New York career women allegedly shun (the big wedding, the stay-at-home mom life), she is denied the perfect family she craves. Who didn’t wince at the insensitivity of her learning that she is infertile while frying two eggs? (Gotta love the writers’ subtlety of wit.) Charlotte is forced to sublimate her desire for a baby into a haughty show dog given to her by a strange woman she meets in the park. (The audience is to infer the woman is childless and without any significant relations other than with her dogs—in other words, crazy.) This offensive plotline reached its logical nadir when the dog gave birth to a litter of puppies and Charlotte felt—finally!—like a real mother. She wanted a baby, she got three puppies instead.
The actual mother on the show, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), has always been portrayed as uptight and elitist, but those traits seemed like lovable eccentricities, not shortcomings. Yet this season, Miranda has been forced to accept her new lot in life: working wife of an ambitionless bartender and—the horror!—resident of Brooklyn, a borough portrayed as one or two subway stops removed from Kabul in terms of accessibility and social desirability. On a different show, Miranda’s new life might be seen as an improvement, an admirable grade-deflation from an annoying Type-A personality to a softer Type-A-minus, but not so on Sex. Despite some scenes of domestic bliss in Brooklyn, it’s clear that Miranda sees herself as having been cast out of the Promised Land, and her punishment is having to ride the subway to Palookaville with the other palookas.
Finally, there’s Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), the show’s anchor and lodestone. If the other characters’ punishments are overly simplistic, Carrie’s is subtler, a bit unclear. This lack of clarity is, in fact, her punishment; she is forced to live with the ambivalence of her “lovah” Aleksandr Petrovsky (Mikhail Baryshnikov) and the ambiguity of their relationship. It’s like all of Carrie’s waffling (Big vs. Aidan; Freedom vs. Commitment; Being Taken Seriously vs. Wearing Ridiculous Clothes) has been forced on her the way a parent might demand that a child caught smoking must smoke an entire pack of cigarettes as a lesson. The colorful, fluttery free-spirit has been pinned under glass by her own capriciousness. What’s worse, she’s asked to see a life with Aleksandr as her only option. In a recent episode, Carrie caught a glimpse of whom she might become if she remains single: the too drunk, too loud, too blowsy Lexi Featherston (Kristen Johnston), a faded It Girl we’re to despise—before she falls out a window and dies. (Then we’re apparently supposed to laugh at her; the giddy banter before her funeral is yet another example of how callous the show has become.)
Why have the show’s producers decided to punish their creations? Humiliation has always been part of the show’s bitter martini (the opening credits end with Carrie being splashed by a puddle, after all), but this gleeful sadism is different. In the beginning, Sex celebrated single life in New York, reveled in the excitement and possibility of the city and the dreams of its inhabitants. Clearly, for the producers, familiarity with four of those inhabitants has bred contempt. Then again, perhaps the contempt is aimed at the real world analogs the show has created, as well as the attendant fashion/real estate/publishing/beverage/all-around lifestyle industries that have emerged to cater to them. The fantasy that there was ever a world as sexy, buoyant, and blissfully immune to reality as the one depicted Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on HBO was proven false as New York turned tragic, jobs disappeared, and smoking was banned. The show may be over, but all those brassy, disposable-income-flinging Carrie-wannabes who’ve grown like spores—despite being doused regularly in astringent, brightly colored drinks—hang on tenaciously. Talk about a legacy. No wonder the producers are so pissed.