"And Just Like That" isn't brave enough to let Lisa Todd Wexley have a real choice with motherhood

Another lost opportunity to develop an underused character comes and goes as quickly as a pregnancy scare

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published August 20, 2023 4:00PM (EDT)

Nicole Ari Parker in "And Just Like That" (Craig Blankenhorn/Max)
Nicole Ari Parker in "And Just Like That" (Craig Blankenhorn/Max)

The following contains spoilers for "And Just Like That" Season 2, Episode 10, "There Goes the Neighborhood"

Appropriate to its status as a penultimate episode in a TV season, much transpires in "The Last Supper Part One: Appetizer" episode in "And Just Like That…" to tee up the finale's phone date with destiny – er, Samantha Jones. That's the reason many of us hung on through this season no matter how much it tested the integrity of our acrylics.

We knew the day would come that would reveal the circumstances under which Kim Cattrall's much-missed diva returns to this world. Is it through the miracle of FaceTime? Will it be at the titular Last Supper set inside the familiar brownstone apartment we've grown accustomed to Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) calling home? Who knows?

The only certainty is that Aidan (John Corbett) isn't attending. Heck, Country Lurch may not appear much at all, since his kid Wyatt broke several bones in a truck accident he caused, claiming he did it because he missed his dad.

"The Last Supper Part One: Appetizer" is all about tying up loose ends. Carrie really did sell her old apartment to the nice single girl downstairs, and for a steal. All the single ladies, Now put your hands up!

Steve (David Eigenberg) gets a happy ending as a Coney Island clam-slinger, this show's equivalent of sending the old family pooch to a farm upstate. Stanford, Carrie tells Anthony (Mario Cantone), is now a monk living in a Japanese temple and left his ex all of his worldly goods. That's one way to write the late Willie Garson out  the show — give him an afterlife not worth checking up on.

Meanwhile, Che (Sara Ramirez) nukes all chances of getting back together with Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), or winning over this show's audience, by taking a blowtorch to their eight-month affair on stage in their return to comedy – a show Miranda unwisely shows up to unannounced. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) sells an expensive piece of art to Sam Smith and celebrates by saying "f**k them kids" and getting wasted.

This is all par for the course, along with the shocking/not all at all shocking bit where Seema (Sarita Choudhury) exchanges "I love yous" with her tough-to-stomach movie director and proceeds to freak out about it. Seema is relationship averse. Of course she would trip this wire.

Anyway, we're cruising through all that so we can explore a character the writers of this show have almost entirely ignored this season – besides Nya (Karen Pittman), we should say.

Instead, let us speak about the potentially great Lisa Todd Wexley, Nicole Ari Parker's acclaimed filmmaker, mother and likely-to-be politician's wife. Throughout "And Just Like That" LTW has been presented as a modelesque queen who occasionally descends from her luxury digs to cavort with Charlotte. LTW is the pinup friend, hanging around like a poster on a wall, but not fully present for plot-accelerating conversations.

Because of this, two seasons into this show LTW remains more of an idea than a fully realized person. Series creator Michael Patrick King feels that way too since he jams an entire season's worth of conversations that could have lent new facets to Parker's character and her husband Herbert (Chris Jackson) into one profound unsatisfactory subplot.

LTW is the pinup friend, hanging around like a poster on a wall, but not fully present for plot-accelerating conversations.

First, some table-setting. In "There Goes the Neighborhood," an overwhelmed Mrs. Wexley passes out while trying to balance her career, planning Herbert's campaign, and failing to mother correctly. This gives Herbert a fit until his wife reveals she's pregnant.

"The Last Supper Part One: Appetizer" picks up that conversation at a lunch LTW is enjoying with Miranda, Carrie and Charlotte (remember, Seema's off banging that dude, so Rich Lady brunch has an opening), and Charlotte cannot help but sing her friend's praises: PBS is extending Lisa's documentary into a 10-part series.

"They're Ken Burns-ing you!" Miranda says approvingly. Later, though, the filmmaker expresses her doubts to Charlotte. She confesses she's exhausted at the thought of coming up with 10 hours of content.

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"And Just Like That," like "Sex and the City" before it, is allergic to mounting substantial conversations about everything, including the cost/reward analysis of juggling motherhood and career. I also doubt King, who both wrote and directed the episode, factored the "strong Black woman" trap that Parker's character is forced to navigate into this exchange as Charlotte plays out precisely how some people fail such women.

And Just Like ThatKristin Davis and Nicole Ari Parker in "And Just Like That" (Craig Blankenhorn/Max)"You've got that home routine down. You're like a machine!" Charlotte chirps. "I mean, this series has to happen. Think about everything it's going to do for your career. Also think about all the previously unsung Black women's stories you will be able to tell." Then LTW tells Charlotte she's gestating a human on top of everything else, but Charlotte doubles down anyway. "Lisa — I think you could do this."

This discussion could have fueled an entire episode. LTW could have explained to Charlotte that reminding her of how strong and capable they are negates the validity of her stress, helping her to level up. Everybody grows. We all win. Not gonna happen this season, though. LTW excuses herself to go take a nap.

Where Mrs. Wexley really gets short shrift, though, is when she's in bed with Herbert, punching a pillow, which prompts him to turn on a light so they can talk it out.

In just under three minutes, we learn the following: LTW asked Herbert to get a vasectomy after their third child was born, but he didn't, worrying that she was "a little post-partum" when she made that request. "I wasn't sure if it was just the hormones talking," he says.

"It's never just the hormones," she snaps, at which he sighs, "I can't do anything right."

"You could have, if eight years ago you had done what I asked you to." Thank you!

Then Herbert hits her with, "Lis, you can do this. If anyone can, you can. And I'll be here to help."

That's not quite true. She points out that he's in the middle of a political campaign and barely helps with the children they have.

So, being a modern man, he brings up "having the other discussion." "It's your decision," Herbert says, "Whatever is best for you, that's what I want."

Since they don't use the word abortion, let's be clear: Reader, they're talking about whether to have an abortion – something married people do in real life, but we rarely see depicted on TV.

"And Just Like That" isn't brave enough to be in this vanguard, though. LTW expresses her appreciation for Herbert's support and then says, bafflingly, "I thought about it, but I can't. I mean, I'm really grateful that I have that option. I just need to wrap my head around this new reality."

OK. Follow-up question: why can't she, exactly? Is it a matter of cultural expectation? Faith? A fear that an abortion might negatively impact Herbert's campaign? What is it? We'll probably  never find out.

Two seasons into this show Lisa Todd Wexley remains more of an idea than a fully realized person.

Consider the parallel between this moment and the "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" episode in the fourth season of "Sex and the City" where Miranda contemplates having an abortion. "Sex and the City" spend the entire episode exploring the last impact terminating a pregnancy has on a woman's life. In fact, Carrie's long-ago abortion is one of the first secrets she keeps from Aidan . . . until she decides to tell him about it.

Charlotte, of course, was against it. As it turns out, so was Miranda. That episode was the save-the-date announcement for Brady's entry into this universe. What a gift.

In our post-Dobbs era, "And Just Like That" had a chance to give Parker's character the same consideration from the perspective of a successful, ambitious woman asserting her right to prioritize her success as much as her husband does his. Instead it said, "I can't."

By not explaining why one of its regular characters in a show about woman can't get an abortion, that leaves countless viewers in the dark as they face fears about their reproductive options. It's also a regressive approach similar to the hot potato tossing seen in very special episodes of 1980s and 1990s TV where reproductive choices were acknowledged but never discussed in detail.

But what King ultimately ends up doing is more disappointing than even that, taking a simplistic moral workaround by having LTW wake up the next morning to discover that she's miscarried. In other words, he gives a model character an out that won't offend the so-called "moral majority" instead of trust the actual majority of Americans who support a woman's right to a safe abortion  — even wealthy women who seem to have it all.

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So that's that. We now return to this couple's regularly scheduled lack of expansion.

"And Just Like That" might return to the subject of Herbert being a herb, although it's doubtful. If King and his staff don't have the ovaries to get messy with conversations like this, they're certainly not going to risk the blowback that might result from having the one Black male series regular in the franchise's history be anything less than acceptably imperfect.

But this was a chance to dive into a specific situation where something personal is also political, both in the show and in relationship to the real world, and through a woman this show is reluctant to let us know better and in a real way. With one episode to go, it's too late to expect we'll get to know much more about LTW or Nya at Carrie's goodbye dinner.

But wouldn't it be hilarious if Steve showed up with a bag of Coney Island hot dogs and clams?

New episodes of "And Just Like That" debut Thursdays on Max.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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