The Unicorn Scale: Sex and the City (Season 4)

By Jennie Roberson

November 21, 2020



Photo credit: Image/HBO

Welcome back, Unicorns old and new! (Wait, does anyone know how old a unicorn was in those myths? Were they just eternally youthful? The things I think of when I write these articles, I tell ya.) I hope this article finds you and all of your loved ones happy and healthy.

So, it’s come to this. Yes, I’m revisiting Sex and the City. Haters may assume from my last article I must have a real axe to grind with the groundbreaking HBO series. But I really don’t. If I’m being totally honest, the show was on while I was busy being uptight in college. It helped show me there were more ways to be sexual — and to talk about it — than I had ever seen women do before on television. I still love it! But I do think it’s also important to see what the show did when it came to the subject of bisexuality, so I wanted to give it another look.

The 4 women of sex and the city wearing black outfits and laying on a large bed with their hands on their chins smiling.

Before I do too deep of a dive into the fourth season of this romantic comedy, I want to dole out a few disclaimers. First and foremost, there will be SPOILERS for the fourth season of the show, particularly with the development of Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall). Last but not least, if you’d like a refresher on the system I’m using to grade the representation at hand, feel free to head over here to get the lowdown about the Scale.

All set, then? Ready to pop off with saying “I couldn’t help but wonder” whenever you are remotely curious about a subject? Then grab that damn Cosmopolitan drink and away we go.

Today we are covering the storyline between Samantha, the head of a PR firm, and the most sexually adventurous of the group, while she has a brief relationship with Maria (Sônia Braga), a celebrated Brazilian painter. While Samantha has enjoyed many trysts with men over the course of the series, this is the first time we see her embark on a relationship with a woman.

What I Liked:

Something I’ve always admired about Samantha is that she may be the most open-minded person in the group. While she did state from her very first conversation with Maria she’s into men, she knows the potential for a good connection when she sees one and goes for it, regardless of gender. Also, it’s fabulous to see a person of color getting real screen time on this show! (Sadly, this is one of the few times we get to see that in the program — and I mean a very disproportionate few — but it’s still refreshing to see).

Samantha and Maria talking and smiling while looking at someone off camera.

Maria starts off with good communication as well. It’s one of her strong suits — to the annoyance of Samantha who is new to relationships. She works hard at understanding and being understood. This is especially on display when the lovers move to have sex for the first time and Maria makes it explicitly clear what her sexual and emotional needs are from that type of encounter.

While the relationship ultimately fizzles out, the show and writers make room for Samantha to grow and learn. Yes, she picks up a few tips about squirting, but I’m talking about emotional needs as well as connection in a romantic relationship. Sam may be a total novice in that department, but she does end up taking those lessons with her out of the relationship.

What I Didn't Like:

Ho, boy. Where to begin.

So, at this point, we’ve watched Samantha have three seasons’ worth of trysts with men. Now we get to see her with a woman, Maria. Wouldn’t one call her orientation, oh, I don’t know… bi?!

I know Sam noted she’s mostly into men. And she even mentioned in the course of the first episode with Maria that she’s “tried the girl thing” usually in a threesome. But the bone I have to pick isn’t with Samantha — it’s with the goddamn writers at this point. There was literally a whole episode dancing around Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) dating a bi man in the previous season. The term is used a billion times in that episode (pejoratively, but still). Carrie is a sex writer, for chrissakes. Even Newsweek acknowledged years before this episode that bisexuality was a valid orientation.

For a TV writer, this is an easy set-up for a good callback of jokes. But no. Instead we get Sam immediately labeling herself as a lesbian (“it’s just another label, like Gucci”) and the girls walking nine blocks talking trash about their friend’s new sexual exploration. Not only that, but it seems like just a new way to diminish and slut-shame Samantha for even trying something new (even if the reaction is coming from Carrie’s bruised ego) literally comparing her new orientation to something as dehumanizing as Sam declaring herself a fire hydrant or a shoe. What kind of support system is this?

(I do want to note here that it can be crucial to have and identify with the bi label — doing so can even funnel more funding for research and advocacy if it’s recognized and declared in the Census and medical journals. But I digress).

Unfortunately, there are also some terrible stereotypes at play. Not only do we have the old U-Haul trope executed with Maria getting serious after one date, but the painter eventually gets portrayed as the “fiery Latina” who literally smashes plates. Come on, y’all.

Maria dressed for an event gives someone the side eye.

Also, for Sam being declared a sexual goddess over and over again, I don’t buy that she doesn’t know what female ejaculation is or that women have three holes in their pelvic floor. She’s over 40. Woman, know thyself. This “revelation” isn’t even consistent with an earlier season where she encouraged Charlotte (Kristin Davis) to take a long look at her vulva with a mirror. This is some unbelievably lazy writing.

Believe me when I say I could go on in this section — I’ve had to delete some points for the sake of space. But I will say this: Sex And the City did get one thing (frustratingly) right — even twenty years ago, same as today, there will always be some straight douche who will immediately ask for a threesome as soon as he sees a woman is into other women.

The Rating:

Okay, I get it. I ragged on this storyline pretty damn hard. But this relationship, while problematic as all hell, had some highlights. We did get to see Samantha grow and take her lessons into her next few relationships. But goddamn, did it come at a cost (or, really, missed opportunity) for nuanced queer representation. Even though this was twenty years ago, I know they could have done so much better.

2 unicorn head emoji with purple mane