This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
Warning: This post contains spoilers about the first three episodes of And Just Like That.
There’s a fundamental issue at the heart of Sex and the City that has terrorized me since the beginning and has since infected the arteries of the greater SATC universe, including two movie sequels and now, a new series. Carrie and Big weren’t soulmates. They should never have ended up together.
It’s a plot point for which loyal viewers have been happy to suspend their disbelief for decades as they watch the episodes over (and over… and over), adopting the series as their religious text, Carrie’s puns as their Bible verses. It’s never ruined the show, not really. People making wrong relationship decisions and passing them off as fairy tales is one of the franchise’s most relatable elements. I encounter four examples of that at a typical brunch with friends.
Now, the fallacy of Carrie and Big’s star-crossed romance provides the foundation of the HBO Max sequel series And Just Like That. And with it comes that baggage about their relationship. In this week’s new episode, which takes place a few weeks after Big’s funeral, Bridget Moynahan’s Natasha Naginsky is back, and so is Carrie’s insecurity over whether she and Big really were that good and that happy together. (They weren’t!)
Natasha has always been one of the most interesting characters in the SATC mythology, and the whole storyline with her is one of the series’ most daring. I could write a dissertation on her entire arc and have often questioned whether or not I want to live in a society where a Ph.D. in Sex and the City subplots is not offered.
I admired it for how it challenged audiences in terms of Carrie as a character and what we’re willing to excuse or tolerate, both as viewers and as humans, with our own relationship pasts and accompanying wounds and bruising. It exposed Carrie’s narcissism, delusion, and destructiveness, not just testing how much Sarah Jessica Parker-branded charisma is needed to counteract that, but revealing that we’re perfectly OK judging a person’s behavior while still holding them dear (on TV, and in life).
It messed with notions of who is a villain in situations like these. We’re conditioned to hate Natasha, but it’s Carrie whose actions are arguably sinister.
I also liked that you didn’t necessarily need to buy into the idea of Big and Carrie’s fabled love to believe this storyline. The affair, the betrayal, and the chaos of it all seemed to operate outside of the arguments of who should end up with who. It was all very ugly and human and real—a storyline that reflected the impossibility of knowing what you want in life and from relationships, and the inevitability of fucking up the lives of those you love.
And, sure, in a very TV way, it set up this Natasha vs. Carrie debate.
I really liked the way And Just Like That revived that conversation from the perspective of women who have decades to let those wounds heal—but who also can never get rid of those scars.
The impetus for all this is the revelation that Big had left Natasha $1 million in his will, to which everyone reacts, understandably, with a rousing “What the actual fuck?”
Carrie, obviously, spirals. “I’m really mad at Big,” she says. “I almost forgot how I used to feel all those years ago: so nervous and insecure and desperate. Like what we had wasn’t enough. Like I wasn’t enough. And I just hate that after all the good years, this is what I’m left with. He ruined our happy/sad ending.”
Charlotte tells her that she and Big were the happiest couple she knew, and there was nothing to worry about. (Let’s all give it up for the Susan Sharon cameo in last week’s episode, who under her breath called Big a “prick” who made Carrie’s life miserable at his funeral—the only person who will tell the truth.) But that’s not reassuring.
There are fun, classic Carrie hijinks as she goes into stalker mode and everyone starts to be really petty about the whole thing. It all culminates in a lovely scene between Carrie and Natasha, where, after all these years of nastiness and spite, they come from a place of kindness and honesty. “I’ll never understand why he married me when he was always in love with you,” Natasha says. Carrie finally gets to say, “I’m sorry as well, oh God, for everything,” while Natasha forgives her: “I appreciate that. But we’re OK. It’s all in the past.”
It’s closure that, in essence, might be the biggest fantasy leap this show has ever made. How often does anyone get closure for something so complicated and so painful? I’m not sure Carrie earned that, and I’m not sure Natasha would be so gracious. But it was still nice to see and, for me, besides the point. I finally got my wish: an entire episode of Sex and the City in which we came to terms with the idea that Carrie and Big’s relationship was never the brass ring we were all convinced Carrie should be reaching for, or grateful to have.
There’s another, unpleasant twist to all this: the fact that horrifying sexual assault allegations made against Noth, which he has denied, were made public the morning this new episode dropped. That certainly might color how audiences feel about Big and his relationship with Carrie. As one of my colleague Laura Bradley’s friends, who will remain nameless, joked, “Well I know one writers’ room that’s feeling pretty good about their choices,” considering Big has been killed off the show. (Peloton, however, remains humiliated.)