Sunday, 23 October 2011

My So-Called Life - Nobody should hate who they are.

My So-Called Life: 1x12 Self-Esteem. 
Angela: There's something about Sunday night that really makes you want to kill yourself, especially if you've just been totally made a fool of, by the only person you'll ever love, and you have a geometry midterm on Monday, which you still haven't studied for, because you can't, because Brian Krakow has your textbook, and you're too embarrassed to even deal with it. And your little sister's completely finished with her homework, which is just, like, so simple and mindless a child could do it.
There is barely anything worse than finally achieving something you’ve always wanted, something you’ve secretly dreamed about, something you’ve imagined in your head over and over, and then realizing that reality doesn’t live up to your imagination, that you’ve shaped a certain situation or even a certain person into something that doesn’t really exist. Even worse, when this thing that you’ve always wanted, this burning thing, is actually bad for you, and not just in the sense of changing your priorities in a way that might not be good for your future, but in the much more threatening manner of depriving you of the ability to be or become someone you want to be. Angela, in spite of being the observant narrator, wants to be noticed. She wants to be recognized for the complex and contradictory special little snowflake that she is (as do most teenagers and children and grown-ups), and this is what Jordan Catalano denies her. She is allowed to be the girl that skips geometry review and flunks her midterms to snog his face off in the boiler room, but he can’t have her be noticeably associated with him, because that would put a dent into the carefully constructed persona that is Jordan Catalano (and yes, Jordan Catalano, slacker-king that he is, does have a carefully constructed persona – in a way, not actually going to school has given him all the time in the world to chisel out all the little details). 
Angela starts out so deeply emerged (which is really the best way to describe the snogging) in the whole thing that she doesn’t see the issue. Rayanne spends the episode circling her, in a way, discussing how much of a train wreck this is going to be eventually with everyone BUT her. Rickie is too busy dealing with his own issues, but Rayanne and Sharon (and I really can’t point out enough how happy I am that this show puts these two characters together any chance it gets) both see where this is going, and they both contribute their own individual insights into both Angela and Jordan’s character to the debate. Rayanne goes into it with her deep understanding of teenage boy psychology and fucked-up relationships, Sharon contributes her (often forgotten) long knowledge of Angela and her own experience of just having broken up with her first boyfriend (“My biggest regret is breaking up with Kyle, like, before midterms!”). 

Angela: You know, that I'm meeting Jordan Catalano in the boiler room. Just don't tell anyone.
Rayanne: Why?
Angela: Because he doesn't want people to know about us yet, or something.
Rayanne: Angela, you are letting Jordan Catalano control you.
Angela: What? Who say's he's controlling me? I can't believe this. For like months you've been trying to convince me to do all these things I'd never dream of doing and now that I'm actually doing them, I mean, haven't you made out with guys in the boiler room like, hundreds of times?
Rayanne: So?
Angela: So are they controlling you?
Rayanne: No, because I am not you. Because as I have stated a hundred times, I don't go getting my emotions involved. I am the type of person who can handle the boiler room. You are not.
Sharon: Okay… what's the deal with Angela and Jordan Catalano?
Rayanne: Here's a thought - ask her.
Sharon: I can't. She'll think I'm checking up on her. So, are they like a couple?
Rayanne: From the point of view of what I believe, or from what she believes?
Sharon: From the point of view of reality.
Rayanne: What do you think?
Sharon: I'd have to say… I think she could really get hurt here.
Rayanne: Tell me something I don't know.
Angela eventually comes into their restroom-session and feels like they are talking behind her back, and weirded out by the fact that two people who previously couldn’t stand each other have found common ground by discussing her – but “We’re barely even friends” (the “are we friends” / “no” moment was one of the funniest of the episode, because their friendship is based on the fact that both Sharon and Rayanne cherish the fact that they could never ever be friends. Also they high-five when they agree that Angela is basically doing the same thing Rayanne achieved with the drinking and drugging, and that both of their issues are based in a lack of self-respect). 
So Angela does what any self-respecting young person would do in the same situation: she pretends that Jordan asked her out on a date to a Buffalo Tom concert. Jordan, playing pool at the concert, reacts predictably unenthusiastic when he sees Angela there (“you’re kinda crowding me”), so Angela runs out, finally admitting to herself that this really isn’t what she wanted, and Rayanne tells Jordan to finally admit to himself that he has feelings for Angela because if he doesn’t, she’ll find someone better (that other person, by the way, went by Angela’s house earlier this evening to help her with geometry but Angela wasn’t home). 
When she finally arrives home, heart-broken and exhausted, she still has to think about her geometry midterms, so of course… Brian Krakow is being sent for, and turns up on her front step, but then can’t hide his frustration any longer. 
Brian: You could not possibly conceive of how much studying I have to do tonight! Have you ever even heard of calculus? Geometry is a paid vacation compared to calculus. Okay? I mean, do you, do you have any idea what it's like to be in accelerated? I mean, do you like realize the pressure on a person when it's like assumed that they will always get As? Hey, Brian, pull another A? That Brian, he always gets an A. You have the option of insanity. I do not. And that makes me crazy! I have to leave. I'm… I'm leaving.
One of the things that MSCL in its short run portrayed perfectly is how Angela’s infatuation with Jordan is mirrored in Brian’s of her. Jordan makes Angela the girl that sneaks off to a place where none of his friends can witness them, and Angela mostly communicates with Brian in places where none of her friends can see them. Both relationships are brutally asymmetric, and even though Angela never, up to this point, asked herself WHY she likes Jordan so much, Brian clearly spends most of his time pondering why, of all people, he is in love with Angela Chase. 
Jordan beckons, Angela comes running. They meet in the boiler room, but this time, Angela is too furious to return to the old pattern. She confronts him. 
Angela: I can't believe I came here. Why did you ask me to come here? Why are you like this?
Jordan: Like what?
Angela: Like how you are?
Jordan: So leave.
Angela: Admit it first.
Jordan: Admit what?
Angela: That all of this happened. That you have emotions. That you can't treat me one way in from of your friends and the next minute leave me some note. And by the way, I spell my name with one L.
This is a repetition of the dialogue between them in the previous episode, when Jordan asked HER the very same question. And it’s never answered. 
Then there is this moment in English class when something you are made to read, made to interpret, made to understand suddenly fits itself so perfectly into a particular, personal situation – Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, not to a perfect lover, but to an imperfect person, that both Brian and Jordan suddenly understand because it answers the question that they’ve carried around with themselves all this time. Why does Brian love Angela? Why does Angela love Jordan? What is going on in Jordan’s head? Jordan understands that the narrator of the poem is in love with this imperfect person, and Brian understands that he is in love with her because “she’s not just a fantasy. She’s got flaws. She’s real.” Brian walks out of the class with a good reason for his feelings, and Jordan walks out of the class finally REALIZING what he is feeling, and what Angela is feeling. The whole thing is doomed though, naturally, since there is one extra person in the equation and someone is bound to get hurt. 
And… Jordan, with his new insights into his own emotions and Angela’s feelings, walks over to her, and asks her to “go somewhere”, holding hands, admitting their relationship to everyone around to see. Angela forgets all her good intentions, and Brian just watches, helplessly.  

While Angela’s path in this episode is about fighting to have both things: the snogs in the boiler room and to be recognized and seen, Rickie goes through that other thing that sometimes happens to teenagers: somebody else recognizes his potential, a potential that he doesn’t see, and forces him to fulfil it. The new English teacher bullies him into signing up for a drama class. 
Rickie: Why are you doing this?
Katimsky: Pardon?
Rickie: This is not something I am gonna do. I'm just not the sort of person who joins things, okay?
Katimsky: I'm really sorry, but no, that's not okay.
Rickie: What?
Katimsky: Well, I mean, come on, I'm a teacher. How do you expect me to react to a ridiculous statement like that… you don't join things?
Who are you, Groucho Marx? You'd never belong to any club that would have you as a member?
Rickie: What?
Katimsky: Look, what is holding you back here? That I'm not cool enough? Don't let the fact that your English teacher is a dork stop you from fulfilling your potential. Just pretend that I'm a track coach. I happen to notice that you can run fast. I need
you on my team! It's as simple as that, Enrique.
Rickie: Stop calling me that! Why are you calling me that?
Katimsky: I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I keep forgetting. It's just, it's just, gee whiz, it's such a great name. When I was in high school, I hated my name. I hated it.
Rickie: I don't… hate my name, I just…
Katimsky: Oh, oh good. I'm really glad. Nobody should hate who they are.
I’ve been reviewing Popular at the same time as MSCL, and one of the things that always seemed vaguely unrealistic to me, was that the school portrayed in Popular sometimes has these moments of being incredibly, unbelievably supportive of its students. Someone gets bullied – cue the awareness camp for the worst offenders. Even though Ryan Murphy always portrays all the ways in which minorities have to deal with bullying, have to fight to assert their identity (and yes, I do realize that Glee has massive, massive issues, but this is nevertheless true), he also imagines safe environments that allow the characters to be themselves. Rickie doesn’t have that. In the unnamed high school, Rickie is invisible. He isn’t in that one club that enthusiastically supports his choice of clothes, his creativity, his sexuality. His friends are his support group and the only people he is safe with, but essentially, Rickie navigates a potentially antagonistic environment all the time. He reacts so strongly to Katimsky because he’s never been confronted with the possibility that standing out, being noticed, might be something good that doesn’t eventually lead to disaster. This is the first time that someone outside his circle of friends takes an interest in him that isn’t negative, that isn’t bullying or picking on him for being different. So Rickie signs up for drama club. 

Random notes: 

Rickie: He actually asked me if I would consider joining drama club. He must have like no life.
Rayanne: So? Neither do you.

Angela: We barely talked, and when we did, it came out sounding really meaningful
There's a tiny leaf in your hair.
Jordan: Where?
But is that your stomach or my stomach?
Angela: Your cuticles look like little moons.
Jordan: My what?
Angela: Your cuticles.

The episode executed the theme of self-esteem really well, but I think one of my favourite moments was actually when the girl in Angela’s geometry class pretended that she had failed the test to make her boyfriend feel better about himself. Later, the same girl explains everything to Angela and there is a hint that Angela might pass the test, if only she didn’t once again fall into the boiler room rabbit hole. 

Graham, meanwhile attends the cooking class, which is sadly taught by a drunk and eventually hospitalized teacher, and while Patty starts questioning her decision to send him to cooking class instead of asking him to find a job, he finds a new calling when a pushy woman in his class recruits him as their new teacher. I bet that’ll end well. 

Another great moment of the episode: when Sharon knows how to pronounce erogenous and Rayanne doesn’t. 

Also, when Rickie tells Brian about the horrible “gee whiz” English teacher who doesn’t even know the difference between Enrique and Ricardo while Brian simultaneously shares his woes about being asked to help Angela with her geometry class and even though this is an absolutely ridiculous request, he is now spending all his waking hours STUDYING GEOMETRY TO HELP HER. Of course he does. 

In a weird subplot, the episode observes the strange mating dance of middle-aged teachers (making a point, I suppose, that even among grown-ups, those with the more colourful feathers and the louder mating cry stand out). The horror! The awkwardness! 

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