Thursday, 4 August 2011

My So-Called Life - I understand him in this way I didn't even know existed.

My So-Called Life: 1x07 Why Jordan Can’t Read.

Angela: Love is when you look into someone's eyes, and suddenly you go all the way their soul... and you both know, instantly. I always imagined I would fall in love nursing a blind soldier who was wounded in battle. Or maybe while rescuing someone in the middle of a blizzard, seconds before the avalanche hits. I thought at least, by the age of fifteen, I would have a love life. But I don't even have a like life.
I feel like this is the kind of episode that takes a while to set in – it seems like a solid episode at first sight, but then afterwards, if you let it, all the small moments and subtle changes and the way it communicates new information about characters take root in your brain, and grow. On the surface, it’s a very straight-forward episode: Angela thinks she has found a new meaningful connection with Jordan, asks him out for a date which requires him to meet her parents first, he stands her up. She writes a letter that “contains every feeling [she’s] ever wanted to express about Jordan Catalano” – a futile effort to exorcise a demon, perhaps, to get over him, Rayanne loses this letter – and Jordan gives it back to her. She finds out that he didn’t read it because he couldn’t. This ties in well with her opening monologue because realizing that Jordan is, in fact, wounded in a way, and requires (her?) help, makes her fall in love all over again. It fits in so well with her romantic ideal of love, even though it’s the high-school-version of the soldier wounded in battle. It’s also an incredibly well-acted moment, Angela realizing that this person has been idolizing for the past months is a complex characters with issues she didn’t know he had; and this is kind of the point of their entire “relationship”: Jordan doesn’t really know anything about Angela, and the viewer has a hard time figuring out if he is even interested, and Angela has no clue who he really is. Her reaction to this conversation that reveals Jordan’s inability to read is going to Rayanne, proclaiming that she now understands him in a way that she “didn’t even know existed” – except that everything which follows this moment is a painful misunderstanding. Jordan plays a new song at the band practice he “invited” Angela to, and it is titled “I call her Red” – and about that someone he can rest his head on when tired, etc., which naturally, Angela Chase with her crimson glowy hair takes as a declaration of love. He drives her home – in his very red car – and Angela takes the opportunity to offer her help with his reading issues, by proposing that, like many other intelligent people, he might have dyslexia. Jordan doesn’t want to talk about it and becomes defensive, but then finally does share something about himself (and not because she forces him to): he tells her that he would really like to become the kind of person that “makes snow, like, as their job”. It’s a funny little moment, on the one hand, because it’s SO Jordan – but Angela’s response also points at something a little more significant. She says “You mean, part-time, or…” just before he kisses her. 
Angela has a moment of realization that is then immediately erased: their ambitions in life are probably not really compatible. I think it’s inevitable that Angela and Jordan would drift apart the more they get to know each other (and it’s hinted at in the episode, when Jordan tells Rickie that Angela takes everything too seriously), but that’s not really an issue yet. Angela is fifteen. She has kissed the boy she liked in his car and her life is now shiny and wonderful (to the extent that she literally dances, and hums at the breakfast table, and starts drinking coffee exactly the same way Jordan likes his, which I think is an accurate portrayal of how ridiculous but lovely first love can be).  

I have several favourite moments in the episode (and I think this one is probably going to go on my favourites-list altogether), but I think the most heartbreaking is one between Rickie and Angela. It’s so tiny and easy to miss, and yet… 
Angela tries to find Jordan, and Rickie, like he does earlier in the episode, knows exactly where he is. In fact, Rickie seems to have a better idea WHO Jordan is too (he knows that Jordan never misses shop, for example), and Angela realizes (with the same sudden amazement the viewers probably feel) that Rickie feels the same way about Jordan she does, but he doesn’t have the luxury to talk about his feelings openly and even less, to pursue them. He’s hopelessly stuck in the position of being the quiet observer, until maybe, he can leave this place that doesn’t let him be who he is. It’s quiet, and it’s sad, and most amazingly, it doesn’t destroy Angela and Rickie’s friendship. They just kiss and it’s okay. 
The central conversation of the episode, and I think it’s already poignant that it is actually a conversation, doesn’t include the titular character. Is it obvious from the reviews how I feel about Jordan Catalano? I understand Angela’s infatuation, to an extent, because I’ve seen a similar thing portrayed on almost every other show starring an observant female protagonist. Trent Lane, Nick Andopolis and Jordan Catalano could probably form a formidable band (with a ridiculous name, like MYSTIK BLACK EMBRYO EXPLOSION or something). But I also have to admit that the character I feel for, whose position I understand more, despite his occasional arrogance and the way he never holds back on his dislike for people and things and sometimes says the most ridiculously awful things without realizing it, is Brian Krakow. 
Angela: Look, if you must know, Jordan Catalano is coming over, so…
Brian: What?
Angela: Yeah, shut up! Why is that so amazing? I'm sorry if you disapprove.
Brian: I don't disapprove. I'm just sickened.
Brian: So what, you and Jordan Catalano are like a couple?
Angela: Yes, why is that so hard to accept? He's coming over, and... we are probably gonna go see The Bicycle Thief this weekend together.
Brian: What? You think Jordan Catalano will understand one word of Bicycle Thief?
Angela: Shut up!
Brian: You only understand it because I explained it!
Angela: That's such a lie!
Brian: You're bringing Jordan Catalano to The Bicycle Thief? That idiot?
Angela: Don't you dare call him that! You don't know, you don't understand. Not for one second. You think you understand, but you don't! You just analyze everything until it barely even exists.
Brian’s outrage is two-folded: on the one hand, he is just jealous at Jordan because Angela chooses to spend time with him, despite the fact that Brian considers him not worthy – but he is also outraged because the understanding of Bicycle Thief and its artistic value is something he thought he shared with Angela. This is how Brian shares things with other people: he explains them. He probably comes across as arrogant when he does so, but it’s the only way he knows to include other people in things he likes, and he obviously cares enough about Angela to want her to understand what he likes and why. And now Angela has taken that thing that he thought they shared, and is going to take it to someone Brian considers both a threat and as not benig able to recognize the beauty of it, and in addition, she insults the capacity he values highly (being able to understand and analyze things). He’s probably also (though secretly) afraid that he never truly grasps things (there was a hint of this possibility a few episodes back, when Sharon’s emotional explanation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis was more accurate than his analytical one). Also, the unspoken truth of Angela’s accusation is that she sometimes tends to do the very same thing, and this is exactly why Jordan, in the end, isn’t going to show up to their date (“she knows too much about me, she just makes too big a deal out of everything, she makes everything too complicated.”)  
Brian: So, what did your parents think about Jordan Catalano? Were they, like, revolted?
Angela: We are not talking about Jordan Catalano ever again.
Brian: We're not? Okay, we're not. Why not?
Angela: Because you are incapable. Of understanding.
Brian: Oh yeah, why?
Angela: Because it's never happened to you. I mean, just wait until it happens to you, Brian. Seriously, I cannot wait until it happens to you because I'm gonna look at you and I am gonna laugh. And I'll say, ‘See? See? I told you so.’
Oh well. 

Everybody else: 

Patty thinks that she might be pregnant (“The night we watched The Nutty Professor on cable”?), which leads to her and Graham reconsidering the notion of having another child. In the end, Patty is endlessly happy that she is not pregnant, while Graham has to admit that he is sad because he’s sort of embraced the chance that they might have a son. It’s a nice little moment though when Graham plays catch with Brian.  

The episode is about asymmetric relationships and misunderstandings, but it’s really lovely how it also manages to subtly mirror relationships: Brian jealously watches from the sidelines as Jordan and Angela becomes closer (which he realizes though the bits and pieces of information he accidentally picks up), and meanwhile, Danielle obviously has a huge crush on him, which he uses to find out more about Angela. 

Danielle checks if she’d have to go through the obligatory “meet the parents” moment with Brian, cause they already know him and stuff. 

And then there’s the hilarious moment when Patty and Graham, incredibly nervous about meeting Angela’s mysterious boyfriend, are endlessly relieved when it’s “just Brian” at the door. Oh Brian. Things will get better eventually. 

The other lovely subplot of the episode once again brings together Sharon and Rayanne, and I am still surprised how incredibly well they work together, and how much their exchanges make me love their respective characters more. Kyle, Sharon’s boyfriend, starts talking about how Rayanne “had sex with one of the guards” in a judgemental way, and Sharon comes to her defence: 
Sharon: Oh, get over it.
Kyle: What?
Sharon: Well, face it. If a guy did that on a field trip, you and your friends would give him a medal.
Kyle: Hey, I'm just making conversation. Besides, I thought you hated her.
Sharon: I do. I mean, of course I do. But I just think there's a lot of great reasons to hate her, without dragging in her sex life.
It’s a little bit of a PSA moment too, but it fits in perfectly with the characters, and it’s the kind of thing that I would LOVE to see other contemporary shows handle as well as MSCL does. They later meet in a restroom and talk about sex – and I think that’s a really significant moment, because on the one hand, Sharon probably can’t share these things with her friends, who would judge her for it, and Rayanne can’t really talk about it to Angela, because she wouldn’t necessarily understand. Like the surprising connection between Brian and Rickie previously, this is one of my most favourite unexpectedly brilliant relationship on the show. I think I would also maybe ship this if the show was still on air and hadn't ended so tragically early.
Rayanne: So have you and Kyle gone all the way yet?
Sharon: That is completely none of your business.
Rayanne: Duh. Look, I know it's none of my business. I mean, we're totally not friends, due to the fact that neither of us can stand each other. That's why I asked you. Go ahead, ask me anything. Go ahead. It's, like, relaxing.
Sharon: You're so weird.
Rayanne: Duh, squared.
Sharon: Okay, look. I made a solemn promise to myself, that I would not go all the way until I was ready. And I'm, like, sticking to that. 
Rayanne: Oh. I was just vaguely curious. Cause, I mean, when I saw you making out with Kyle in the hall, I mean, you act like you're... reaching ecstasy.
Sharon: Well, yeah. Well, I mean, I mean, I mean, when, you know how that is.
Rayanne: Oh, yeah, in a way. I mean, it's fun and all, you know, I don't always feel anything, you know. Sometimes I feel like numb, or something.
Sharon: Maybe you just haven't found the right person yet.
Rayanne: I've tried every type of person. Look, no big deal, you don't have to look all worried or anything.
I’ve noticed that the show subtly assembles all the pieces to eventually come to the point where it really portrays how bad Rayanne’s situation really is, and it’s done really, really well. She and Angela talk about almost everything, but she can’t share this (and, when she realizes that this is more serious than she probably admits to herself, she immediately tries to relativise her statement). 

Random notes: 

The teacher accompanying them on the field trip is completely freaked out by the prospect that somebody might get lost, as if they were in a maze-like cave and not a museum with guards and stuff: 

Teacher: Stay with the group, okay? The most important thing to remember is to stay with the group. The most important thing to remember is to stay with the group.
Angela: What is the big deal with staying with the group? I mean, what if Amelia Earhart had stayed with the group?
Rickie: Or Diana Ross.

Angela: If only there was a button somewhere that I could just push to force me stop talking.

All CAPS conversation between Angela and Rayanne: 


Angela’s explanation why she wrote a “Dear Jordan” letter, to Jordan: 

Angela: Yeah, well, when I, I wrote this, I wrote this about someone else. Um... I, this guy, I… I had a boyfriend last summer, and, um, I … I … I wrote everything... I wanted to remember him, and I... I used your name because I… I wanted... uh, I didn't want other people to know it was about him, because he... he died... he's dead.

I think Angela would get along really well with Miranda!

Claire Danes’ laugh when she finds out about Patty’s pregnancy scares is possibly my favourite thing ever. 

The episode does not actually answer the question it poses in the title.

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