Wednesday, 11 January 2012

My So-Called Life - It's truly amazing. I have the power to be invisible.

My So-Called Life: 1x18 Weekend. 

My whole life is waiting for something to happen.

I've sort of cautiously attempted not to get too involved in the show and to and keep a critical distance, knowing fully well that this moment would come eventually: Weekend is the penultimate episode of the show, and it is in many ways a comedic break from many of the serious issues and complicated relationships without completely disregarding them for the sake of pure entertainment. And yet, I can’t completely enjoy it because I know that there is not enough time to resolve all the conflicts, that one episode from this, so many things will be left open since the gods of renewal were just as unjust and cruel in 1995 as they are now – and that attempt was futile anyway, to not let myself care too much about the characters, because the writing and the acting make it impossible not to. It’s like Skins – history teaches that caring about specific characters and relationships comes at a high risk because both have a bodycount – but the writing and the acting draws you in nevertheless, resolutions be damned, bring on the tears. 
MSCL never really traps the viewer in one character’s perspective though – Angela narrates and contributes her thoughts, but she isn’t necessarily the only lens, nor was Brian in his episode. What this aspect of the show adds is an interpretation of events coming from the characters that reveals more about them – Angela’s interior monologues often said more about her situation when you paid attention to the things she didn’t say, for example. Hearing Brian’s thoughts hinted at the fact that he is just as trapped in over-analysis as Angela is, but they are sadly trapped in that awkward phase that makes it difficult to realize that someone you’ve known all your life but never really been friends with might have a similar interior life (the moment I did separates my teenage self from whatever it is I am now in my mind). 
Weekend provides Danielle’s voice overs – and in addition to finally glimpsing the inner thoughts of the invisible Chase (who spends a not really surprising amount of time pondering her own invisibility: “My life is different people kicking me out of different rooms.”), it also kind of explores the well-known Chase household in a different manner. Patty treats her two daughters differently because they are of a different age: she tends to be overprotective and over-concerned about Angela (always struggling with her own recollections of being that age vs. what she thinks her actions as a mother should be), but at the same time, she under-estimates Danielle. Danielle is in a position to overhear conversations that Angela would never be able to witness (not that she would want to), and at an age where other people’s drama is more interesting than her own. She isn’t yet in the phase of self-involvement in which everything is blown out of proportion, but she does understand much more than others think. Danielle notices the tiny fractures in her parents’ marriage (as Camille’s concern about Hallie Lowenthal grows and Patty pretends that everything is fine). We don’t really know how privy she is to what is going on in Angela’s life, but presumably, she does know much more than Angela thinks. 
And there is a lot to know. Rickie is still living with his English teacher. Angela and Rayanne aren’t talking to each other and Angela is trying to avoid any contact – and Rickie attempts to stay out of it (“Rayanne, don't put me in the middle of this, okay?”), but it’s not really working. The situation is more frustrating for Rayanne because she feels like she’s lost all her friends, not just one. When Patty leaves her daughters alone to go on a weekend trip with Graham, Graham’s brother and the new girlfriend (surprise!), Rayanne finds a lame excuse to come over and, in one of the most inspired plot twists to bring about a bottle episodes (technically it’s only half a bottle episode, but still…) ever, manages to cuff herself to Patty and Graham’s bed with a pair of handcuffs that Camille left Patty to “reconnect” with Graham (“Looks like I might be staying a little longer than I thought.” She tells Angela, not entirely unhappy.) 

Since one of the points of bottle episodes is to explore the relationships of the characters by trapping them together without a way out (arguably, the concept is meaningless in the case of MSCL because all the show does is trap characters to observe them closely – since they can’t get out of high school until they graduate), the eventual arrival of the missing characters is inevitable. Sharon comes with her mother, who has been tasked by Patty from far away to remove the incriminating cuffs, and while Angela does her best to keep her from wandering upstairs (“Why? That is so exactly the point. Why? Because of respect, for elders, which I just feel is totally lost in, like, today's world. So, what did you need?” – she also discusses the unfairness of the 30-day exchange policy: “I MEAN, IS THAT JUSTICE?”), Sharon slowly realizes that something is amiss, especially when she witnesses the “Rayanne fainted and is suffering from a miracle sickness” charade that the others have meanwhile prepared. There is an interesting serious moment when Camille sees Rayanne – she asks Angela in private if this is “the same Rayanne that has the drinking problem”, and there is this flicker of disapproval in Angela’s face when Camille reduces Rayanne to this. She still feels protective of her and it bothers her to hear someone who has no idea what is going on talk about Rayanne like she is nothing more than a problem. 
Rayanne: Rickie, will you go down and help Sharon and, uh, Danielle with lunch? I need to talk to Angela alone.
Rickie: Uh, sure.
Rayanne: Look Angela, I know we're not that close right now, but I just...
Angela: Look, I don't want to get into this right now, all right?
Rayanne: Get into what?
Angela: Some big discussion about what happened between you and Jordan Catalano. Because the truth is, is that it happened and nothing can change that. I don't want to talk about it.
Rayanne: Neither do I.
Angela: Oh, so why did you ask Rickie to leave?
Rayanne: I have to go to the bathroom. I need you to get me a jar.
Angela: I can't believe you.
This conversation is the elephant in the room that they both don’t want to talk about – Rayanne because she isn’t good at explaining her feelings to anyone, and Angela because she is still too hurt. Instead of tackling their issues, they focus on the problem at hand – the handcuffs – and of course, the person they decide to bring in is Brian Krakow (“When he walked through the door, part of his arm touched my shoulder. I thought I would faint, I mean swoon. […] He was a genius. I had goosebumps. Just watching him think.”)
Brian’s solutions: that one piece of equipment that any normal dad except his has in the garage (Graham doesn’t, though), the hardware store (on Monday), a similar pair of hand cuffs (hey! Sharon knows exactly where to get them!) 
Brian: Hey, I don't even know where the Pleasure Center is.
Sharon: Don't worry. I'll show you.
Unfortunately, the other thing they find apart from a new pair of cuffs is Sharon’s boy toy, who then hilariously witnesses and misunderstands Brian’s attempts to free Rayanne (“Krakow, stop, it's too big. It won't fit.”)
Rayanne: Wait, come in.
Danielle: You're awake?
Rayanne: I can't sleep. Too bored to sleep. Could you do me a favor?
Danielle: I could for money.
Rayanne: Girl after my very own heart. Okay, here's what you do. You go down to the liquor cabinet. You give me a bottle. Anything brown. I'll give you a dollar.
Danielle: Nope.
Rayanne: Two dollars.
Danielle: It's wrong to drink.
Rayanne: You have a real miserable side to you, you know that?
Danielle: My parents say you're a bad influence. I heard them talking about the things you do. Why do you do them?
Rayanne: I don't know. See, okay, when I look at myself, I see everything in, like, slow motion, and I think, "Something has to happen." Only, it never does. So I have to make it happen.
Danielle: Wow. 
Is this the first time ever that Rayanne EXPLAINED herself to anyone and tried to articulate this gnawing feeling inside of her? This reminded me so much of Cook, too – this feeling that things just have to keep moving, even when the direction is ultimately destructive. “You just burn, kid.” I think it’s telling that Rayanne never shared this with Angela, that she chooses a… stranger, because there will be no consequences if she tells Danielle. At the same time, the scene is beautiful because the episode started with Danielle articulating her frustration about how nothing ever happens - and here's Rayanne, who makes things happen, with both exciting and terrible results. 
The next morning, Brian finally figures it out and manages to at least free her from the bed post, if not from the cuffs – and Rayanne immediately decides to run. 
Angela: You're leaving?
Rayanne: I can still make something out of this weekend.
Angela: Don't you dare leave now.
Rayanne: Hey, come on, hands off.
Angela: My parents will never trust me again.
Rayanne: Come on, now you're crossing the line, girlfriend.
Angela: I can't believe you! You're like this curse that's just, just destroying my life! You can't just walk out and expect us to clean up after you. You're like this living, breathing bad luck omen!
Rayanne: Don't mince words! Tell me how you feel.
Sharon: Rayanne, calm down.
Rickie: Hold it together. Angela!
Angela: I can't take it anymore.
Sharon: Rayanne, just don't talk!
Again, things don’t get out of control completely because they need to clean up in time before Graham and Patty come home. It looks like the aftermath of the wild party that you would expect from teenagers being left alone. 
When Rayanne finally does leave, freed from the cuffs at last because they manage to get the key from Patty unobserved, Angela and she share a moment that hints at a future reconciliation: they agree not to get in any big discussion, and part peacefully, but they’re still far from being friends again. 

Patty: Go to my room, excuse me, I am an adult!
Warren: That is a judgement call, ma'am.

While the adolescents behave differently than you’d expect - the Chase’s house remains without loud music, a keg, hoards of destructive teenage vandals (Brian’s attempts to free Rayanne don’t actually count as vandalism… just lack of talent) – the cultured holiday that Patty had in mind comes apart at the seams. For one, the episode establishes a conflict between her and Neil’s new girlfriend, Cheryl – and then escalates this conflict so that Patty ends up being the only responsible adult, a role that she doesn’t even necessarily want. 
Patty: Well, I'm sure you could do anything you put your mind to.
Cheryl: I mean, you've got this great job, you've got this husband and children. It must be so satisfying. Like with me, there's so many, like, paths I could choose. Every single possibility of life is, like, open to me. But, you, I mean, your choices have been made. Your life is totally settled. It must really be like... comforting.
Patty: Yeah, it is.
The realization that Patty is coming to is that she probably wants some of that freedom as well – the freedom she provides for Graham, by giving him a chance to realize his dreams. The same comforting settled life can easily become a prison, and it isn’t as safe and sound as Cheryl makes it sound, considering that Graham is currently tiptoeing around the edges of an affair. 
So when the children get drunk and tease the mother about how sober and serious she is, she lets all her frustration and restraint go and gets completely, spectacularly wasted, being-carried-out-of-the-restaurant-half-naked-wasted. The next morning, she regrets the spectacle she made, but she also finally at least hints at the feelings that caused it: 
Patty: What about what matters to me? I mean, there I am, I'm waiting, and I'm waiting, and I'm worrying, and I'm feeling like the minutes are ticking by, and then you tell me that you're late because you had to look under her hood?
Graham: Wait a minute, what are we talking about here?
Random notes: 

I grew up watching ER, so seeing Laura Innes playing pretty much the exact opposite to the stern and dry Dr Kerry Weaver was… interesting. 

Angela: Mom, I've been alone with Danielle before.
Patty: Yes, and I can't help but recall the time you put her in the dryer.
Angela: Oh Mom, that was so long ago! I can't believe you're still talking about that. Anyway, she begged me to do it.
Patty: Whosever idea it was, I don't wanna come home and find anyone in an appliance. 

As tragic as the whole dance that Patty and Graham do around the elephant in the room is, the subtext of their conversations about Hallie Lowenthal is still hilarious: 

Patty: You looked under Hallie Lowenthal's hood?
Graham: Well, I couldn't just leave her there. You would not believe Hallie Lowenthal's engine. It is held together by string, literally.

Graham also forgot to mention that Hallie is no longer safely with fiancĂ©. 

I absolutely love that Danielle defies all expectations when it comes to her reaction to Angela’s friends: she doesn’t find Jordan attractive but has a huge crush on Brian Krakow, and Rickie is the cool friend. 

Rayanne: I wouldn't mind spending a few hours here with someone special. I love sex on a different bed.

Which is of course exactly the same thing Graham said to Patty before not getting laid due to awkward sex noises from the other room. 

Danielle: I'm not leaving. I live here.
Angela: Great. Wonderful. There's gotta be a key. Find it. And I'll explain this to you later. Like when you're thirty.

Angela: I'm telling you, those handcuffs do not belong to my parents.
Sharon: Of course not.
Rickie: Oh, never.

This is funny because they belong to Sharon’s parents. 

Angela: Weekend from hell.
Danielle (voice over): That was the best weekend of my entire life.
Angela: By the way, thanks.
Danielle: So, what are we doing next weekend?
Angela: Danielle, we are not doing anything.
Danielle: We could see what Brian's doing.
Angela: Danielle!
Danielle: I kinda like Rayanne.
Angela: Danielle!

And in the aftermath, there’s an ominous click from the bedroom, and as old men try to catch fish, Graham begins his desperate search for wire shears. 

Stay tuned for next week, when I'll drown in a puddle of my own tears.

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