Saturday, 31 December 2011

My So-Called Life - In a way, that made me feel lonelier.

My So-Called Life: 1x16 Resolutions.

I don’t know what it is about humans that makes it so important to have some kind of significant date attached to plans and resolutions. In the case of the resolutions voiced at the beginning of this episode, as the television counts down to the year 1995, you’d kind of think that most of the characters would have recognized the errors of their way earlier and perhaps chosen to change their habits accordingly, instead of waiting for the new year to come. But alas, this is the forever-miracle of humanity: doomed (and gifted!) to remember, yet yearning for that tabula rasa, that second chance, that new start that will somehow magically redeem us. The other truth: it almost never works. 

The resolutions are: 
What I was thinking, as like a New Year's resolution is to stop getting so caught up in my own thoughts, because I'm like way too introspective... I think… but what if not thinking turns me into this shallow person? I better rethink this becoming less introspective thing... okay, so I'll stay introspective, but I do resolve to stop doing Jordan Catalano homework.
Angela thinks too much about thinking too much, comes to the conclusion that thinking too much determines who she is, and thus concludes that she shouldn’t allow Jordan (Jordan’s, by the way, at this point of the episode: “Wait a second, isn't tonight, New Year's Eve?”) to use her. 
I resolve to never again have sex with Kyle, or anyone, again, unless I really love and respect them.
Sharon resents herself for being on the other side of an asymmetric relationship: she feels like she is only using Kyle for sex, thinking that he cares more about her than he does about him (regardless of whether she’s right or not, his dog still comes first on the list of priorities). 
I resolve to stop obsessing over Angela Chase.
Brian’s resolution nicely mirrors Angela’s: resolving not to think about somebody requires the same kind of impossible witchcraft that Angela would have needed to stick to her first one. It’s not possible. If it were, we’d have more movies and songs about arts and crafts (assuming that’s what people would do if they didn’t spend so much time despairing over unrequited love). What I really like about the portrayal of Brian’s feelings for Angela is that he isn’t the guy watching her from a distance, creating this idealized version of her in his head – he is right there. He witnesses Angela in her worst moments. If there ever was an idealized version of her, the image of her has long been adjusted to fit the actual Angela, and still, Brian can’t let go. 
…to find some place where I like really belong.
Angela and Brian deal with emotions and feelings. MSCL always manages to portray these struggles as important and integral to being that specific age, but it also never shies away from pointing out that some of the other characters are faced with external burdens, are stuck in unbearable situations. This doesn’t diminish the validity of Angela’s introspectiveness, or Brian’s crush, it’s just important to remember that Rickie’s issue isn’t one that simply requires him to change – it requires others to step in and take responsibility because no kid should be dealing with homelessness and abuse on his own. 
…to stop drinking, but this time like really stop.
And then there’s Rayanne and her personal demons – requiring both things, actually, changing herself and other people stepping up to help her – and both of these things are precarious because she’s been portrayed to easily fall back into old habits and has a negligent mother who does not realize the gravity of the situation. Also, Rayanne, despite being loud and open and never hesitating to name things, resents being helped. She dealt with the school counsellor by dismissing her issues with humour, didn’t articulate to Angela what she needed of her in terms of support to stay sober, and somehow managed to even alienate usually eternally helpful Rickie. 

Patty and Graham are also slowly steering towards serious issues. Patty resolves to be less suspicious (“less judgemental, less critical, to lighten up, and above all, to be more supportive”), even though Graham seems to be hiding something – and Graham, meanwhile, isn’t even really conscious of the fact that he is hiding something, and only articulates a vague concern about talking to Hallie Lowenthal after class and not having told her once and for old that he won’t run the restaurant with her. 
This is a good moment to mention that I always feel bad about often delegating Patty and Graham to the “other stuff” section, but I’ve found the slow build-up between Hallie and Graham delightful. From how the show portrays them, they are friends – and Graham needs a counterweight like Hallie, who is the opposite of Patty. But things are never simple. Graham knows that something is developing, even if he doesn’t even allow himself to openly articulate that concern in his resolution. 


Sharon runs into early difficulties with her plan when Kyle declares his love for her on the school hallways (“I don’t care who knows it!”). Because MSCL is awesome like that and willing to feed into my doomed obsession, the person she takes this problem to, even though it’s rather involuntary (as most of their interactions are, really – fate just always interferes…), is Rayanne. Rayanne is fascinated by the idea that any guy would declare his love openly and asks Sharon if this doesn’t make her happy (naturally, that’s not the word she uses – “you’re totally fulfilled, right?”) – and Sharon explains that the only reason why they are back together is because she was watching “that River Runs Through It” movie and Brad Pitt turned up so she called Kyle and they had “a better time then thy used to when she was technically supposed to love him”. Rayanne pragmatically tells her that this is nothing to be sorry about but Sharon doesn’t like using other people “because you were watching this movie”. Apart from the fact that this very nicely subverts gender stereotypes, the conversation is also hilarious because Rayanne is the only person in Sharon’s life she could have it with. 
There is of course another person that can provide a perspective on the whole “using people who are more emotionally involved” thing – Brian Krakow, struggling with the fact that he has to help Jordan Catalano, his nemesis, pondering if it makes him a hypocrite if he turns Jordan down for a feeling that he can’t openly admit to. Brian does manage to get stuck with Sharon’s “I love you beary much” bear in the process, though (“cute bear, Krakow!”) 
Brian: It's like I can't even like look at him so it just really boils down to respect, you know, I mean I have like zero respect for him, so, you know it's that simple, I mean, for me to tutor someone that I don't respect wouldn't that almost be like using him?
Sharon: It is definitely wrong to use people.
Brian: So you'll switch with me?
Sharon: No. No, that won't solve it, that's like the cowards' way out.
Brian: Well, I mean, I can live with that, because you know, I kind of am a coward, so…
Sharon: No. No, you have to be honest, you have to tell him that it was a  mistake and that, and that you can't pretend anymore and that that whole using him thing that, and you know, you didn't want to hurt him!
Brian: I'm supposed to say all that to Jordan Catalano? 
Sharon, determined to see this through finally (also because otherwise she might “end up” like Rayanne – “no offense”) but Kyle is smarter than he… seems… and suggests watching Thelma & Louise, which is a chance to marvel at a shirtless and very young Brad Pitt for some (Sharon) while others just enjoy the classic with the “really old babes” for the lesbian subtext (Sharon, in college - oh, all those seasons that never were). So it’s 7:30 instead of breaking up for good, and I think Kyle isn’t completely unaware of the fact that he is being used and maybe not entirely uncomfortable with it, because there are always compromises to ensure mental sanity in cases of unrequited love.

Angela /Jordan / Brian

Regarding Angela’s resolution: we find her in Red, doing Jordan’s homework, while he is smoking on the hood of his car and finally coming to his own resolution for the new year (slightly delayed, as expected). Jordan decides that he can’t take advantage of Angela now that they are not dating (“It would be different if we were like…” – yes, Jordan, it’s perfectly fine to have girls write your homework as long as you’re also having sex). Angela enthusiastically celebrates her own resolve and the fact that she is finally sticking to a resolution. In order to not completely destroy Jordan’s chances of ever graduating, she also signs him up (secretly) to be tutored – and of course the person chosen to help him pass English would be Brian Krakow (“are you… Brain?”). 
Brian manages to cut the Gordian knot of not being able to respect Jordan Catalano (but really being jealous of Jordan Catalano because of Angela) by finding a thing to respect him for that also promises to help him get over Angela: Jordan gets phone numbers from girls as if it were the easiest thing in the world. “This is like how you live?” he says, unable to process that other people don’t only associate terrible torturous emotions with the whole dating thing. 

That Restaurant Thing

The problem is: Graham and Hallie are perfectly suited for this. She has the passion and chaotic enthusiasm, he provides the level-headed analysis and realistic perspective. She finds the beautiful space for the restaurant, he takes a look at it, knows it’s perfect but also goes through the numbers to figure out whether it’s doable (and the other problem: it is doable. There are no impossible obstacles between Graham and that one thing that he really wants except that one approaching issue that he knows is there, but doesn’t really acknowledge). At the same time, he is negotiating this with Patty, who is torn between allowing Graham to realize his dream and being the voice of reason and being deeply suspicious of his relationship with Hallie. Graham is behaving like he is already involved in an affair while he is technically only planning to start a business. 
Graham: Listen Patty, there's something I have to tell you... It's been kind of weighing on me...I haven't been…
Patty: Oh god.
Graham: …Completely honest, about something, and I just can’t
Patty: Oh god... Just, just say it, just say it.
Graham: I want to open this restaurant. See, I missed Angela's birth because I got stuck in that airport and I missed college, and, because I did. And, and I missed Woodstock? Twice! And I really, I just, I don't want to miss this!
Patty: I will be totally supportive.
Graham: Really?! But I thought, I mean... you mean that?
Patty: Oh yes! God yes! I will be, unbelievably, supportive!
Graham: Wait ah, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait a second! What did you think I was going to say?
Patty: Never mind!
They are already communicating about an affair before there even is an affair: and worse, once Graham goes over to the restaurant to tell Hallie that he has decided, we finally see where this might inevitably go. They too have a conversation ripe with subtext, a conversation about doing something that you really want (“you wouldn't be here if you didn't really want to be, right?” says Hallie, hopeful, and clearly not just referring to them as business partners) – and then she tells Graham that her fiancĂ© just broke up with her, because presumably, even though Hallie doesn’t explicitly say so, her fiancĂ© assumed that they were having an affair too. Unrequited feelings all around. 


For Rickie, the theme of the episode is a variation of the nativity story – Katimski has them read Homer’s Odyssey, and that describes his situation. He is living with the Chases and the situation seems to be ideal, especially since Rickie is a less complicated, less messy, more talented cooking-wise addition to the household than Angela and Danielle (“If only he had come into our lives when the girls were still young and impressionable”, says Graham, “he's like my mother, only mature”, responds Patty). But the danger is already looming. They know that something is wrong because Rickie’s uncle and aunt haven’t called, and Rickie knows that there is an inevitable moment in the future when somebody realizes that this isn’t just a temporary hiccup in an otherwise normal situation. “He can’t just stay here forever”, says Patty, and Rickie panics. He fears that they will get the police or some other authority involved, so he pretends that things are fine, that he can return home, that this was never really serious, even if it means that he is now on the streets and once again looking for shelter. Odysseus at least had the home that it took him forever to return to – Rickie can only wait for it to materialize out of thin air. The one person who realizes that Rickie isn’t okay is Katimski. 
Rickie: Okay, well, um, you know that essay that I never handed in, about what Odysseus wants? Um, can, I get an extension on that?
Katimski: Okay...
Rickie: Beause I read it, it's about this lonely guy that wanders the world for like, many years, right?
Katimski: Right.
Rickie: And he way that, that it starts like in the middle, what's that called again, I know you told us...
Katimski: In medias res.
Rickie: Right.
Katimski: It's in the middle of things.
Rickie: Right. Because see, right know it's, it's sort of like, it's sort of like I don't have a place to live.
Katimski: Oh God. Well now, what happened?
Rickie: But I mean it's okay, it's, it's actually gonna be fine, I was  staying at my friend Angela's house for a while, and they're  really nice, they're this really great family, but in a way, that made me feel lonelier, and I know that sounds ungrateful…
Katimski: No, no no, I understand.
Rickie: And see, my uncle? I was living with my aunt and uncle, because, well, it's sort of a long story...
It’s a long story because really, the odyssey began long before Rickie was kicked out. Like the Odyssey, it started in medias res, before the show first picks up – with whatever tragic thing happened that made it impossible for him to grow up with his parents instead of sketchy distant relatives. 
Katimski tries to help him; he asks a friend for a favour (to get Rickie a place in Pride House, a place that presumably helps LGBT homeless youths) – but there’s a waiting list, and a horrific night in a home that freaks Rickie out so badly and makes him feel so unsafe that he flees. 
I absolutely adore the structure of the episode – because there is always this question looming of why Katimski doesn’t just ask Rickie to stay at his house for a bit, this was, after all, the easiest answer to Rickie’s troubles after Christmas, and Katimski behaves erratically too – not just because he is abstaining from coffee, but also because he spends this entire episode incredibly frustrated over the fact that he can’t help Rickie, and those who could don’t. We only find out why he can’t at the end of the episode – he is living with his partner, and presumably the situation of gay teachers in 1995 wasn’t safe enough for them to live openly or for parents not to freak out over the fact that he may have invited a teenage boy over who would have otherwise either spent the night outside or been beaten up for being gay in a halfway house. So he is understandably frustrated with the Chases for making Rickie leave, regardless of whether it was because of the story he told (because really, I think deep down Patty and Graham knew perfectly well that things weren’t fine, they just wanted to believe it because it would be the easier option, really). 
Rickie calls Katimski from a phone booth and pretends to be at a safe place because that’s what Rickie does, always: pretend to be okay so as not to cause a fuzz, so as not to cause discomfort, even if it means that he gets hurt. But he wants and needs Katimski to ask him to stay over because he just doesn’t have the resources to help himself anymore, this is a problem that he can’t face and overcome on his own. 
Rickie: Your address was in the phonebook. Sorry. It just got so hard to be alone!
Katimski: Come in.
Random notes: 

I find it weird that the lessons always end right after the teacher starts to talk about the topic. I mean, what are they doing the other 40 minutes? Sing songs from Sister Act

Jordan: You could, have sex with me though. If you really want to help. I guess that's a no. 

Kyle: Hey! Ah, you must have lost this?
Sharon: Oh!
Kyle: I found it hanging from a urinal. 

Jordan: You can even start with the basics, you know?
Brian: No, okay.
Jordan: I mean, even if it seems like too basic? Start with that. And then after, if you want, I can teach you how to get someone’s phone number. 

Pragmatism: It’s what made America great. 

Wilson Cruz!! With every episode, I am more amazed by his talent. 

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