Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our new feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
Recently I re-watched both Sex and the City movies. Yes the Abu Dhabi story line, which dominated the movie, is still terrible. It’s funny to see Carrie talking on a land line, using a flip phone, announcing that she doesn’t text and watching shows on TiVo. But what really stuck with me is how annoyed I still am that Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) ended up with Big (Chris Noth). I was, to use the phrase the show made famous, just not that into him.
It’s been well-documented that television bad boys are my weakness. Dylan McKay. Tim Riggins. Pacey Witter. Sawyer. Jordan Catalano. I loved them all. On TV, I’ll take the resident bad boy with a heart of gold any day of the week over the boring good guy.
But my one very distinct exception to this rule is Big, or John Preston as we later knew him. This past January, HBO Max announced And Just Like That, the 10-episode Sex and the City revival that is slated to begin production this spring. When the news broke, the brouhaha was that Kim Cattrall will not be a part of the series. I’ll miss Samantha. Sex and the City with only three-fourths of “the girls” will not be the same no matter how producers try to spin it.
But there was also a bunch of speculation about whether or not Big will be back. Noth was not part of the initial And Just Like That announcement. There are rumors that the script for the third, never realized, Sex and the City movie killed him off. Noth himself has scoffed at the rumors and Sarah Jessica Parker’s official Instagram response if Big will return? “Wait and see.”
Now, I don’t want the series to kill Big off. A Carrie in mourning is not how I want to revisit the girls. But I couldn’t help but wonder… would I care if they were divorced? Abso-fucking-lutely not.
The Season 3 arc which found Carrie cheating on Aidan (John Corbett at his peak sexiness) with Big is easily one of the best television storylines ever told. It allowed our heroine to make a mistake, a big one. Big was married to Natasha (Bridget Moynahan) but was a miserable schmuck. Once he realizes Carrie is in a happy relationship with Aidan, Big confesses to Carrie that he still loves her and that he misses her and he can’t stop thinking about her. By “Easy Come, Easy Go,” Carrie has slept with Big and is keeping their affair a secret from Aidan. The whole thing ends disastrously, as one would expect, with Carrie famously telling Big “we are so over, we need a new word for over,” and her relationship with Aidan shattered. The entire season was just fantastic. That should have been the end of Big and Carrie right? But it wasn’t.
They go round and round. He moves to Napa. She dates Alexandr Petrovsky (Mikhail Baryshnikov) and moves to Paris for him. And then, in the series finale, Carrie and Big reunite. Ugh. After Miranda (Miranda of all people!) tells him “go get our girl.” Double ugh. At the time I went on a local TV show where each reporter had to choose a side, should Carrie have ended up with Big or Alexandr? I took a page from Kelly Taylor and declared that Carrie should have chosen herself.
Things got much much worse in the ensuing two movies. In the first, which premiered in 2008, Big leaves Carrie on their wedding day because he freaked out and couldn’t get out of the car. Carrie is devastated. She sobs. She sleeps for days. Samantha has to spoon feed her to get her to eat. “He’s a bad guy. Always was. Bad guys do bad things,” Carrie tells her friends.
And she is right! Big is not a good guy and Sex and the City continually romanticized his bad behavior, turning Big into a mysterious code Carrie needed to crack. That his money (he can build her a swank closet and buy her a penthouse suite) and status (he’s driven around New York in a towncar) somehow makes up for his lack of emotional maturity. Of course (heavy sigh) they got married anyway. By the second movie not only did the girls take a very unfortunate aforementioned trip to Abu Dhabi, but now Big has decided that maybe the couple could use two days off from each other each week.
The prize, forever dangled in front of Carrie, is getting this aloof jerk to admit he loves her. Throughout the series, Carrie realized how bad the dynamics were between the two. In the series’ penultimate episode, during a huge fight, she tells him “You do this every time. Every time. Do you have some kind of radar? Carrie might be happy, it’s time to sweep in and shit all over it. You cannot do this to me again. You cannot jerk me around.”
But he does jerk her around all throughout the first movie and for much of the second. Here’s the bottom line: By the second movie Carrie was in her 40s. Old enough to know better, to know that the bad-boy behavior of a teenager may be an angst-ridden rite of passage. But no one should repeat this dynamic over and over again as an adult. Big is a grown man—even if he rarely acts like one.
Carrie must know that a man who is distant, noncommittal, has repeatedly broken her heart and still calls her “kid” is perhaps not the best choice for her. She knows “it’s never different.” At the beginning of the first movie she tells us “when that big love comes along, it’s not always easy.” Sure on TV it shouldn’t be easy for the sake of drama, but by the end of it we want our heroine to make a good choice.
On TV, it’s far more interesting for Kate to be with the troubled Sawyer. For Angela to pine for Jordan Catalano. And for Carrie to be in a tumultuous relationship with Big. But now Carrie is grown up. Or should have. For a show that was so empowering for women, so about women expressing their needs, owning their feeling, so about the fact that you don’t need a man to complete you, why did they allow Carrie to settle for Big and romanticize his infantile behavior? Why does it remain a central theme of the show? Why does Big’s smarmy charm still dominate the series?
And just like that I’m all worked up about it all over again.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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