For the 20th anniversary of Sex and the City—which premiered on HBO on June 6, 1998 and went on to become iconic prestige television—Jezebel is doing a week of posts dedicated to our favorite band of sexual women friends.
There are three social currencies in New York City that, if you have them, will get you anywhere: Beauty, wealth, and youth. (If you’re a man that helps too, but barring that, it’s almost equally good if you’re a woman model.) That last part—youth—is perhaps valued less than in other cities; but it’s still important. So much of the city’s pulse revolves around having the energy to go from one event to the next, absorbing and making the most of the culture—whether parties, art openings, fashion shows, raves. This is true now, but it was especially true in 2004—before social media, when being seen was a physical act—when Sex and the City aired “Splat,” one of its best episodes.
“Splat” was part of SATC’s final season, and its mythical status is well-tread. Carrie, deciding whether to leave New York and move indefinitely to Paris with Alexandr Petrovsky, attends a fancy cocktail party and sees nothing but doom in her future via two friends: Enid Frick, a Vogue editor played with a clenched jaw by Candice Bergen, is so desperate to find a man in the “no man’s land” of dating as an over-50 woman that she flirts with Alexandr, right in front of Carrie’s face. In stark contrast to the tightly wound, formal editor is Lexi Featherston—a brassy, boozy Kristen Johnston—a 40-year-old party girl who literally dies of boredom, falling out an open window after opening it to smoke a bogie in a room full of uptight suits. Her spill, the titular splat, provides Carrie with an opportunity to opine in one of her florid voiceovers, “If you’re single in New York, there’s nowhere to go but down.”
“Splat” is deeply morbid, and not even because Lexi, who seems like an extremely fun person to hang out with, croaks at the end. Its estimation of a woman’s waning youth in the city is stark—we all know that as we age, patriarchal American society sees us as lacking worth—and the prospect of it prompts Carrie to make an objectively bad decision to leave her revered New York and risk washing away her entire identity for a man, and a city, she doesn’t really love. But in the episode, the implications about the things one must give up to “act their age” are deeply classist and conservative.
While Lexi does cocaine in the bathroom and gets wasted on surely expensive Champagne at the party—two things that most doctors would probably recommend people not do at all but especially in middle age—those aren’t necessarily the behaviors that the show presents to us as suspect. Rather, it’s the notion that Lexi is clinging to her youth in an unbecoming way; that by hanging onto the same behaviors she exhibited when she was an enthusiastic 21-year-old It Girl running around the city with Carrie and making it into Page Six, she is violating the terms of polite society, too loud and irreverent in general but especially gauche for a 40-year-old. Enid is horrified by Lexi’s behavior, two polar opposites, but only one seems happy, even if she laments that New York is boring now. New York is never boring, unless the people around you age out of having fun—which is my point. “Acting your age” is a quick path to a slow and extremely wack death.
If this sounds slightly personal, it is. I feel deeply compelled to avenge Lexi Featherston’s death because I, and most of my friends, are aging party girls of Lexi’s ilk (minus the hard drugs, okurr), down to have a good time even if the stodgy upper echelons of class and manners believe that we should be settling down (in spirit, if not in union). One thing I’ve thought about since the first time I saw “Splat” is that if Enid had lived like Lexi, she would have cared far less about finding a man to shack up with. Enid might have done what I imagine for Lexi had she survived, which is become a massively awesome “coug,” not unlike one of my real-life idols Cindy Gallop, a 58-year-old sex website entrepreneur who dates younger men and “actively look[s] forward to dying alone.” (Side note: Cindy Gallop is also my idol of interior design.)
The coug-til-you-die approach feels radically liberated to me—as does going to a rave at 40; I’m truly tryna be that 80-year-old bitch in the club—and by its nature circumvents the deeply conventional trappings upon which Sex and the City created its rom-com fantasy, real-life trappings which always feel spiritually disadvantageous to the woman. Even Samantha, the SATC character who I am (minus the affinity for the Upper East Side), ended up settling down and shacking up (although really, who can blame her; she had cancer, and Smith was a late-night snack). So for Sex and the City’s philosophy to hold true to the end, Lexi Featherston had to die, a sacrifice made for the show but a truly senseless death indeed.
“PARTY GIRL SAYS HER FINAL GOODNIGHT,” reads the fake headline in the New York Daily News in the episode, a fitting tribute to Sex and the City’s most relatable character. But what if that weren’t final? It’s 2018 now; our era is woker and more inclusive. Darren Star, two decades on, could right SATC’s wrongs by making a Lexi Featherston prequel, or resurrecting her and showing her own life, rather than making her a cautionary tale for those of us who just like to get zooted and whoop it up but don’t need anyone moralizing to us about what’s appropriate as we age. And barring that, we’ll just be the examples ourselves—getting old and having the best time we can conjure at every moment. Splat on this, motherfucker. Splat this indeed.