My So-Called Life: 1x11 Life of Brian.
I became a yearbook photographer because I liked the idea that I could sort of watch life without having to be a part of it. But when you're yearbook photographer, you're like, never in the picture.
Life of Brian is my favourite episode of MSCL. I say this not having seen the second half of MSCL’s first and only season. I say this, realizing that this is probably a good moment to point out that I do like Angela, because sometimes I tend to point out that Rickie has a more difficult life; that Rayanne’s issues are less explored; that Sharon or Danielle or Brian seem tragically underappreciated – I do like Angela, and I am probably more like her than any other character in the show. And then there’s Brian Krakow. I think there’s barely any piece of monologue I can relate more to than Brian’s explanation of why he became yearbook photographer. It feels safe to be behind the camera, to be the chronicler, to watch other people exist and document their stories, but the prize you pay for not being seen, for being invisible behind your storytelling tools, whatever they might be, is not being part of the picture. This is just fine if you don’t actually want to be emotionally involved, but Brian wants to be. He is in love with Angela, and, more than that, he wants to have some kind of average teenage boy experience of high school – and this is how those circles of doom and unhappiness start. Angela likes Jordan, but Jordan doesn’t go to school dances, so Rayanne tells her to just sort of bully Brian into taking her, but Delia is new to school (and adorably introduced to Brian by Sharon, who is just looking out for everyone’s happiness, apparently) and really likes Brian. So Brian stands, in a way, in front of a forked path, and one is probably a one-way street named Angela that doesn’t really go anywhere but it’s the path he really, really wants to take, and the other is the safe and somehow less exciting path called Delia that Brian eventually chooses not to take because he knows he’d just be betraying himself if he compromised. The result: predictable unhappiness.
The show manages to just subtly portray how each of the characters enters into this whole conversation about the school dance with their very own agenda, and how ultimately, their interests clash. Brian manages to ask out Delia (even though the whole thing involves a very, very long story, that Delia mostly just ignores, bless her), but the very next moment – because this is how Brian Krakow’s life works – Angela NEEDS him. She needs him because she sort of wants to go to the dance but Rickie has just told her that he can’t come with her now that Rayanne has asked out that possibly gay guy for him. Brian is her alibi, and this is what Brian will always be for Angela: the guy who is conveniently available and ready to help. Brian is enthusiastic because to him, her half-hearted attempt reads as “When you stripped away all the blathering, Angela Chase – was asking to go to the dance with me.” but this also inadvertently leads to the heartbreaking scene where Brian has to tell the girl that actually wanted to be there with him that he would rather go with somebody else (and ugh, poor Delia, and I’m conflicted whether to give Brian points for honesty or just hate him for his brutality – “Of all the stupid things I've said, which are like countless… I've never wanted to take something back more than that one.”)
And what I also love about the episode is that there is this alternative version of it hanging in the air: what if Brian had actually gone for the easily attainable happiness, the girl who genuinely liked him, who, if only for a moment, gave him the feeling of life, happening, rather than his usual “it’s just automatically true that nothing actually happens”.
Angela: Brian, this was all my fault.
Brian: (vo) Her hair smelled incredible.
Angela: I mean, I ruined your night, and Delia's night. I should have stayed out of it.
Brian: (vo) Her hair smelled like the orange grove we passed when I was eight on the way to see my grandmother.
Angela: And I… I can't really explain why I even got involved. But I'm sorry.
Brian: (vo) But I guess that's just her shampoo. Or something.
These things are so stupid.
Angela: I know. No one ever has a good time. So, I don't know, you wanna dance or something?
Brian: Not with you. Well, I just…I just… I don't care about dancing… that much.
Angela: Me either.
Oh Rickie. Rickie breaks my heart, because he is so lovely, and so stuck, in this place, and we will never get the chance to follow him OUT. He develops an almost immediate crush on a new student (for some reason, it’s “new students day”, I guess?), who seems artistic and individualistic enough for him to hope that he might also be gay, but this isn’t the kind of environment where Rickie could ever dare to try and actually find out. He wants to go to the ball, even though Rayanne thinks school dances are stupid – and she asks him if he wants to go with Corey, but obviously (and I really like Angela’s reaction when she realizes how he feels about Corey, because she just feels so terribly sorry for him, for his situation, but naturally she points out to him that she is stuck in a similar “in love with the wrong person” scenario), for Rickie, he could only ask out another boy “in some imaginary universe that exists in my mind”. Rayanne finds a way around it and asks Corey on a date with both her and Rickie (and she ends up not showing up at all) – but it goes wrong. It doesn’t go as dramatically and horribly wrong as Rickie probably assumes it would (“It's just weird, you know, when you have a picture of how
something's gonna be, and it turns out completely different”, and Rickie completely shares Corey’s sentiment, if for entirely different reasons), but Carey simply leaves when he finds out that Rayanne isn’t attending, which leaves Rickie alone, along with the other mismatched couples at the ball.
Rickie: So Rayanne never called Corey.
Angela: Are you just like gonna kill her?
Rickie: That's a really nice offer, but the truth is that would only solve half the problem.
Angela: What's the other half?
Rickie: The other half is, like, you know… the tough half.
Angela: Which is?
Rickie: Which is like just, you know, that I belong nowhere. With no one. That I don't fit.
This is by far my favourite moment of the episode, as much as I love Brian Krakow, because this is just heart-breaking, and as much as Angela is trying to comfort Rickie, as much as she tries to show him that she will be his friend, be close and just there for him, this is a burden he carries alone. He carries it by going inside and dancing, spectacularly, with the other heartbroken person at the party, finally getting all the applause that he deserves.
Bernice: Brian, honey? Are you ignoring me, sweetheart? If you are, it's okay. Just tell me.
Brian: My mother is a behavioral psychologist.
Bob: Bernice, if you left him alone, maybe he'd break out of this prolonged latency.
Brian: And my father is a Freudian psychiatrist.
Bernice: Our child is not in latency.
Bob: Keep living in denial, Bernice.
Brian: Which basically means that they fundamentally disagree on, like, everything.
Bob: Bri? Everything all right?
Bernice: Feel free not to respond.
Brian: At Angela's house, they probably like laugh, and eat unbalanced meals, and talk about things that don't have deep symbolic meaning. They're probably like this normal family.
I really like the introduction in this episode because it takes so little to portray that Brian couldn’t possibly share his woes with anybody in his own family, and sort of… envies Angela’s normal family (at least it looks like a normal family, through his lens).
Brian continues to discuss his dilemma with Graham, via wallpaper metaphor (and Graham never quite grasps that his own daughter is the great wallpaper out of Brian’s price range). It’s also very fitting with his previous characterization that Brian would just get stuck helping Graham with the wallpaper, because he really is the son the Chases never had.
Graham: Well, I guess it depends on how… badly you need wallpaper.
Brian: I would say pretty badly.
Graham: Well, I guess that says it.
The simple fact that Brian’s parents are called Bernice and Bob makes me cackle. It’s Bob, not Robert, cuz otherwise the whole alliteration thing wouldn’t work.
Patty: This wallpaper sat here through the entire Bush administration.
Oh, remember when “the entire Bush administration” meant only four years or limited misery. IF ONLY.
Brian: What's always amazed me, is fishermen. How they wait there forever, when something finally tugs on their line, they like don't panic. The strange thing is, even though I've established verbal communication with Delia Fisher, I still think about Angela. Constantly. Why am I like this? I truly sicken myself. I just have to stop being her little puppet; I vow to never again show up at Angela's door with some lame excuse.
Cue Brian at Angela’s door, with the lame excuse of an atlas she was supposed to return “in like March”.
Brian: My life is so ridiculous. I have to ask Delia Fisher to the dance. I have to. Now… on the count of three. One. Two. Three. Speak!
If there was ever an incredibly accurate GPOY moment in MSCL, this is it. I can’t really judge how Brian appeared before he got his own episode – because to me, he’s always been exactly that, not the guy who didn’t realize what effect his words had, but the boy who always awkwardly ends up saying the wrong thing, or nothing at all, because he can’t get over his own insecurities.
Rayanne, notoriously mostly absent from the episode, is attending guidance sessions in school for her addictions. “And so I broke down and cried. It was hysterical.”
Angela tries to get Jordan to attend the dance (or to ask her out to the dance, even though she knows fully well that he never, ever will), and he responds by explaining his philosophy:
Jordan: See, I have this philosophy.
Angela: You have a philosophy?
Jordan: Well, if I go somewhere and someone I know is there, then cool, there's something natural about it. But once you start making plans, then you have like, like obligations… that basically blows. So my feeling is, whatever happens, happens.
Angela: I have to say, I really respect that.
Later, when Brian says the same thing (even though he is clearly just pretending because Brian is the exact opposite, he makes plans FOR EVERYTHING, he would never just attend something spontaneously), Angela tells him that it’s completely ridiculous (“that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life”).
Brian: Finally, an erection from actual physical contact!
GIGGLES. It’s just nice that the show acknowledges that Brian is just a teenage boy, after all.
Angela: You don't understand people, Krakow. You're so heartless.
Brian (VO): I mean the fact that she called me heartless… that's just really good. That's excellent. I mean, how ironic can you get without puking?
And I love this little scene, because even though there are differences between Angela and Brian – Brian is more of a realist to Angela’s romanticism – they are fairly similar. They are perceptive but sometimes they don’t realize something really important about themselves. Angela doesn’t realize that she is doing the exact same thing she blames Brian for doing, and you’d think Angela would notice when Jordan turns up at the dance, that she is just one link in the chain of unrequited love.
Jordan ends up going to the dance and right before he leaves, he stays behind so that Angela can swoon over him a little bit more – but instead of kissing, he ends up saying semi-significant lines:
Jordan: Why are you like this?
Angela: Like what?
Jordan: Like how you are?
Incidentally, this sounds very, very much like the thing Angela told Brian a couple of episodes ago, when he helped Sharon.
Try, the song Delia and Rickie dance too, must have been on the radio a thousand of times when I grew up, it gives me all those weird nostalgic memories of endless summers. “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.”
There’s this tiny moment when Sharon and Kyle watch Rickie and Delia dance and Sharon looks at Kyle’s amazement – like, does this ever go anywhere? I found it really peculiar. I really don’t remember the rest of the season but there’s this hint that maybe, if MSCL had gone on, Kyle might have turned into a potential love interest for Rickie, or maybe I’m just reading the scene wrong and it was supposed to be about Kyle, admiring Delia for just enjoying herself at the party while Sharon was so stressed about everything going right.