Aidan’s ‘And Just Like That’ Return In Season 2 Has Given The Show Life

SPOILER ALERT: This review contains spoilers from “A Hundred Years Ago,” the eighth episode of Season 2 of “And Just Like That,” now streaming on Max.

I was as skeptical as anyone when it became clear that Aidan was returning to “And Just Like That.”

The “Sex and the City” character, Carrie’s other great love and one who, in his status as an obvious second choice to Big, wasn’t really so great, seemed to have run out of dramatic possibility a while ago. His appearance in “Sex and the City 2,” with a credibility-straining chance meeting in Abu Dhabi, seemed only to be happening to cast into relief what worked, and what didn’t, in Carrie’s marriage. Aidan’s own qualities as anything other than not-Big didn’t meaningfully enter the story.

With “And Just Like That,” Max’s continuation of the “Sex and the City” TV and movie franchise, the writers seem to have finally figured out what to do with Aidan: Embrace his not-Big-ness. In Thursday’s episode, Carrie has lost herself in her nascent relationship with Aidan (her third attempt at this, not counting the liaison in the Emirates), settling into a giddy and gleeful haze that friends of hers, to one degree or another, can see is an attempt to hide from reality. It’s not Aidan she’s in love with. It’s the concept of not being alone.

Which makes “And Just Like That” as brilliantly frustrating as it’s been in its two-season run. We’ve been living with the stories set up in “Sex and the City” for some twenty-five years now. And like any friendship, or any relationship, of such long standing, the pleasures of engaging with the characters now are double: The comfort of familiarity, and the realization that even those we know best can still surprise us.

“You’re still you in there, somewhere,” Miranda tells Carrie at a meal they share, one in which Carrie seems unable to stop herself from gushing on about the excitement and possibility she feels. (The tell that Carrie’s still Carrie? Her recollection that she hated Aidan’s house upstate.) Carrie spins a narrative for her friends about how Aidan’s property in Virginia might resemble the house from “Howards End,” which means it’s all fated. Her ability to find the stuff of great literary romance in her dating life is no surprise, but her lack of self-awareness jars us, a bit: A confession, post-lunch, to Miranda that she is re-evaluating her whole life and regretting her marriage to Big jangles. It feels wrong.

Wrong, but not out of character. Carrie has spent the run of “And Just Like That” grieving, and grief does strange things. Carrie is neither precisely repeating the beats of her past relationship with Aidan nor totally forgetting their history; she’s refracting it all through the reality of the past years of her life, ones in which she’s been painfully lost and alone. (What these years have been like for a now-divorced Aidan, we can for the time begin only to guess.) Of course Aidan looks like a lifeline. He comes from a time when her life had a sense of possibility.

And of course newfound optimism makes her feel, well, a bit off-kilter. The whole ensemble does a good job of selling a friend group thrown off-balance by a new, fast-moving relationship: John Corbett and Sarah Jessica Parker, together, build something we’d never quite seen from Aidan and Carrie, a certain shared mania. (Their frantic, breathless redecoration of Che’s apartment, where they’re crashing, struck me as exemplary; they’re in a necessarily temporary place that they’ll spare no expense converting into a pretend forever home.) Corbett’s performance comes to make clear why Aidan showed up for their reunion dinner in a bizarre, bondage-inflected ensemble: He can’t stop performing for Carrie. Cynthia Nixon is predictably strong in the voice-of-reason role Miranda still occupies with authority (despite having recently rushed her way through a chaotic relationship herself). And Kristin Davis, expressing confusion through a sort of exaggerated delight, continues her recent strong run.

But it’s Sarita Choudhury who gets the best bits of the episode, a fine reward for a performer who’s tended to be better than her material in the early going of the show. Choudhury’s Seema is legitimately put out at Carrie’s having outright forgotten their plan to summer in the Hamptons together, and is unwilling to adjust their plan to accommodate a friend who has eyes only for her boyfriend. The show itself is putting viewers through what it’s like to be Carrie’s friend: For weeks, I’d been excited to watch Carrie and Seema going to the beach, an option that’s been foreclosed in favor of Crate and Barrel trips and musings about “Howards End.”

Carrie is a frustrating character, and her less-positive qualities — what some might call her humanity — are what have brought drama, tension, and life to “Sex and the City” and now “And Just Like That.” Aidan has provided her a backdrop for the ongoing soap opera (or, perhaps, the ongoing E. M. Forster novel) of her life; he’s also reflected back every bit of incautious, overzealous commitment to the bit, with the pair reinforcing one another’s instincts toward ratcheting-up the relationship perhaps before it’s really time.

The show has set up a fascinating conundrum: What makes Carrie feel vibrantly alive for the first time in years is distancing her from the support systems that sustained her through that same time. Bringing Aidan back is, from what looks like the midpoint of his and Carrie’s third try at things, anything but playing the old hits: It’s allowed “And Just Like That” to develop its characters and their world, and generated real and painful moments for a character who needed them. I hope Aidan and Carrie stay together for as long as the show can maintain this quality. And I can’t wait to see how a revitalized series figures out how to break them up again this time.

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