SPOILER ALERT: This column contains spoilers from “The Last Supper Part Two: Entrée,” the Season 2 finale of “And Just Like That,” now streaming on Max.
Before the second season of “And Just Like That” even premiered, we knew that Kim Cattrall would (briefly) return as her “Sex and the City” character Samantha Jones. The ratings rationale for bringing back such a beloved figure were obvious enough, but creatively, the move seemed oddly self-defeating. After an awkward start, the sequel series had finally started to establish its own identity. What was the point of reminding viewers what they were missing, let alone with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo featuring no other cast members?
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But to my great surprise, Cattrall’s appearance in the 11th and final episode of Season 2 was both effective and, against all odds, organic. (Or, at least, as organic as anything can feel in this shiny, often uncanny simulacrum of 2020s New York.) The two-part finale, titled “The Last Supper,” was all about saying goodbye and paying tribute to Carrie Bradshaw’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) former life, symbolized by her iconic Upper East Side apartment. Samantha Jones was a part of that life — at least as much as Mr. Big (Chris Noth), née John Preston, who Carrie lost to a Peloton-induced heart attack at the series’ very start.
Season 1 of “And Just Like That” often felt like a prelude, arranging itself into a new status quo so the real story could eventually start. First, Carrie lost Big; then the show crammed in a slate of new, more diverse characters, none of whom got the space to feel like a true co-lead; finally, showrunner Michael Patrick King and his writers had to explain Samantha’s absence via clumsy texts, culminating with an offscreen drink between old friends.
In Season 2, Samantha went almost entirely unmentioned, creating some cognitive dissonance with her impending drop-in. Instead, the central quartet of “Sex and the City” became a more diffuse friend group. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) had a kindred spirit in Lisa Todd Wexley (Nicole Ari Parker), a fellow private school mom juggling work, kids and her husband’s career; even after comedian Che Diaz (Sara Ramirez) broke up with Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), they could still be Carrie’s younger, cooler friend from work. Law professor Nya (Karen Pittman) alone felt underused and isolated, though that could easily be chalked up to Pittman’s simultaneous work on “The Morning Show.”
Real estate agent Seema (Sarita Choudhury) was Samantha’s most one-to-one replacement, a proudly single and libidinous career woman who could kibitz with Carrie about sex and dating. Thankfully, Choudhury’s performance was compelling enough that it never felt like a mere impression. She even delivered one of the season’s unambiguous high points, a rainy heart-to-heart with Carrie in which Seema called off their planned summer vacation. In refusing to play third wheel to Carrie and her rekindled romance with Aidan Shaw (John Corbett), Seema firmly drew a boundary, sharing real hurt but no regret for her choices. “And Just Like That” is often enjoyable despite itself, and this scene required no caveats.
And yet nothing hits quite like a Samantha Jones “Honey…” delivered from the back of a cab on the way home from Heathrow Airport. The promised phone call, allowing Cattrall to keep away from her castmates, arrives in the opening minutes of “The Last Supper Part Two,” mercifully nipping our anticipation in the bud. Samantha and Carrie’s conversation barely lasts a minute, but it manages to pack in multiple “Fabulous”-es, at least one f-bomb and a sample of the classic “Sex and the City” background music. It’s a purposefully deployed dose of nostalgia as Carrie, freshly moved into a Gramercy Park manse, hosts one last dinner party for loved ones old and new.
At the Last Supper itself, Carrie asks her guest to share, in one word, what they’d like to leave in the past. (In true Carrie fashion, she then allows herself an entire speech.) Samantha Jones isn’t directly name-checked alongside “guilt” and “fear,” but it’s understood she’s part of what “And Just Like That” needs to address before it can move onto a recently announced Season 3. In the world of the show, Carrie and Samantha’s friendship is ongoing; to viewers, the chat is an informal goodbye, but certainly more closure than we got from the infamous second movie.
“And Just Like That” had already started to move on. The best aspects of the show feel like natural consequences of following these characters into middle age; Charlotte’s brushes with modern identity politics, for example, have always felt the least forced as a parent of teenage kids, a pattern that continued in this season’s snowstorm search for condoms. Carrie and Aidan’s latest pause comes not from youthful immaturity or misunderstanding, but the inherent tension of two adults with settled lives struggling to combine them. But it would be a disservice to Samantha to simply leave her presence looming or introduce some hasty fix, like Stanford’s newfound enlightenment prompted by the real-life death of actor Willie Garson. Like much of “And Just Like That,” Cattrall’s finale appearance was constrained by off-camera circumstance and thus inevitably clumsy, but worked almost in spite of itself. Nostalgia, deployed strategically and with a future in sight, is a powerful thing.
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