In the dream I keep having about Jordan Catalano, I'm trying to catch up with him. But it's hard, because there's something wrong with the floor. Sometimes my father is there. Sometimes my great aunt Gertrude's funeral kind of gets mixed in with it. The end of the dream is always the same: I catch up with him. I yell and scream how he hurt and betrayed me. How I can never forgive him. He just stands there like someone caught in a storm who stopped caring how wet he gets. Then I wake up. The storm of words still pounds through my body. Hatred can become like food. It gives you this energy. You can live off it.
Thus begins the final episode of My So-Called Life.
This is one of my favourite voice-overs. The dream itself is a surprisingly accurate depiction of how dreams really are: things get mixed up, people get mixed up, the impossible rooms that defy the laws of physics – and emotionally, being confronted with unresolved conflicts again and again, haunted by them until you find some way to find closure. I like that Angela admits that there is a selfish aspect to leaving this conflict unresolved too: as long as she doesn’t confront Jordan, she can bask in her hatred (the word “hate” itself seems to me like a bit of an exaggeration, but it fits Angela’s character that she would choose it), she can continue to feel like the wronged victim of Jordan’s betrayal. (and Rayanne’s – isn’t it telling that she doesn’t even mention Rayanne?)
The underlying theme of the episode is the idea that dreams reveal unresolved conflicts, desires and fears. Patty dreams of a high school sweetheart just as she fears that her marriage might be in danger (despite never openly mentioning to it). Delia dreams of Rickie and toys with the possibility of admitting her feelings.
The next step is what the characters do once they become conscious of their dreams and interpret what they might mean. Delia asks Sharon if Rickie is even available (assuming that she would know because she is, like, friends with Rayanne Graff: “I'm not friends with Rayanne Graff. I'm not!” protests Sharon). Patty calls the guy, finding a plausible excuse because she is vaguely in the restaurant business and could help Hallie and Graham, who are just facing the daunting prospect of charming investors. Angela doesn’t really do anything, but surprisingly, Jordan tries to re-connect – by telling her everything that is new in his life (Frozen Embryos is Residue now…) – and Angela tries to ignore him because she isn’t willing to confront him, and she is even less ready to pretend that they are okay, that they can just pick up where they left off. Sharon is brilliant in the scene as a supportive friend – essentially shooting him a glare of death to make him go away. Also, Sharon’s dream: “Last night, I dreamed that Rayanne Graff and I were appearing in this water ballet together, for, like, charity.” She is receiving subconscious messages about being friends with Rayanne…
Brian – Angela - Jordan
The centre of the episode is another recent and unexpected relationship, though: Brian and Jordan. Brian accidentally stumbled into helping Jordan academically and if it weren’t for Angela, they could easily be friends, because both (without articulating it, but instinctually) realize that they are different enough to provide something important for each other – and I also get the sense from their scenes that they enjoy hanging out with each other because they’ve found this common level for communication. But then there’s Angela, so things aren’t simple.
Jordan: Forget the story. I can't think about some crappy story. My life sucks too much.
Brian: How come?
Jordan: Because she hates me. And I deserve it. You know who I mean, right?
Jordan: Today, after Katimski's, I tried to explain to her that I was, you know, sorry, or whatever.
Brian: So, what happened?
Jordan: Nothing. Uh, I didn't know what to say.
Brian: Say you're sorry. Wait, you can go up to any girl and get her phone number, yet
you're afraid to tell Angela Chase you're sorry?
Brian: Nothing. It's just ironic.
Jordan: Well, so what? What's ‘ironic’?
Brian: Um, when you realize the, like, component of weirdness in a situation.
Jordan: Help me, Brain. Help me figure out something good to say to Angela.
Brian: No. Look, you did an undefendable thing, okay? No one can change that. I mean, you have to live with it. It's like you created your own prison, and now you have to exist in it.
Jordan: That's perfect. Give me some more stuff like that.
Brian: No. No, absolutely not. The Phonics manual does not cover that type of situation.
Jordan: The Phonics manual?
Brian: I cannot be involved. Whatever you say or don't say to Angela Chase is completely between you and her.
Jordan: Okay. Relax. I'll figure it out myself.
Brian: Fine. That's actually fine. I mean…
Brian: You figure out what you want to say to her, and I'll do some Calculus, and we'll just work independently.
Brian: What have you got so far?
There is so much to this, really: There’s Brian, who sincerely likes Jordan but knows that the only way their relationship will work if they keep Angela out of this. And then he voices this feeling he has, this frustration over being trapped with all his emotions without any chance of ever articulating them to Angela, and while he provides this perfect sentence for Jordan, he realizes that this is a way to do it sneakily without suffering the consequences. If he helps Jordan, he can finally lift this burden without any fall-out and he can tell himself that he is acting altruistically, helping a friend rather than being selfish.
Jordan: I did an undefendable thing. I created my own prison. And I have to exist in it. Maybe I had a wish, or whatever, to punish you. An unconscious wish. You've heard of them, right?
Angela: Yeah, I think so. I can't believe what you just said was really amazing.
Jordan: I know.
Jordan: Okay, what?
Angela: Okay, now we can have a serious talk.
Jordan: We just did.
Angela: Oh, come on, you can't hit a person with something that profound and expect that to be the end of the discussion.
Jordan: You can't?
Jordan: I was so close yesterday, but it wasn't enough. She's, like, starved or something. It's gotta be written down so I can't screw it up.
Brian: Well, so write her a letter.
Brian: No. No, I am not writing a letter to Angela Chase for you. I can't.
So Brian pens a letter, because of course he does. He also tells Rickie about the whole thing and Rickie is the emotionally most intelligent person around, so naturally he immediately exposes Brian’s hypocrisy and tells him that this isn’t selflessness.
Rickie: Brian, I don't believe this. You're using Jordan Catalano.
Brian: What? He's using me.
Rickie: Yeah, but you're using him, too. To, like, express your true feelings towards Angela. Or whatever.
Brian: Oh my God, you're right.
The realization doesn’t keep him from writing the letter though.
Dear Angela,I know in the past I've caused you pain, and I'm sorry, and I'll always be sorry, until the day I die. And I hate this pen I'm holding, because I should be holding you. I hate this paper under my hand, because it isn't you. I even hate this letter, because it's not the whole truth.Because the whole truth is so much more than a letter can even say. If you want to hate me, go ahead. If you want to burn this letter, do it. You could burn the whole world down. You could tell me to go to hell. I'd go, if you wanted me to. And I'd send you a letter from there.Sincerely,Jordan Catalano
Poor Brian. The only we he gets to apologize for the things he has done (and I think he thinks of being secretly in love with someone as a form of betrayal too) is by committing another betrayal. He witnesses the effect his words have on Angela in the most tragic way possible when she expresses that “there's so much more to this person than I ever dreamed!" (because this is basically what he has wanted Angela to realize about him for, like, forever). Jordan even tries to reveal to her that he didn’t actually write the letter but… Angela kisses him first. And Brian watches from his prison, trapped.
Rickie: Oh, so they're back together, huh?
Brian: Yep. Of course, she's still gonna die someday. We're all gonna die.
Rickie: Brian? Did you do something, or something? Brian, what did you do?
Brian: I wrote this letter... to her.
Rickie: Oh my God, and she thinks he wrote it? Brian, you have to tell her.
Brian: No, look. I mean, what difference does it make? So, they happen to be, like, together. So what? SO WHAT? I mean, if you, like, analyze why certain people end up with certain other people, it'll make you want to kill yourself.
Rickie: Tell her.
Brian: No, it wouldn't be right. See, he asked me for help. I helped him. I can't go back on that.
This is also a sign that Brian has grown up a lot this year. The person we met at the beginning of the show – well, he wouldn’t be in the position of writing the letter in the first place, but he also would have taken any chance presented to him to reveal something negative about Jordan Catalano. Brian Krakow now has friends, and he understands the value of friendship.
The episode also rather elegantly mirrors the Brian-Angela-Jordan triangle in Patty’s storyline. Not that Patty-Tony is exactly the same as Angela-Jordan – we really can’t predict how this may end, after all, considering that we still know so little about Jordan Catalano – but there is a sense that Angela, maybe for the first time, really understands something that Patty is going through when she prepares for her meeting with Tony.
Danielle: So, do you love him more than you love Dad?
Patty: No, honey, that's okay.
Angela: No, it's a ridiculous question.
Danielle: Well, that kind of thing gives me nightmares.
Patty: What kind of thing?
Danielle: That you and Daddy could get divorced.
Angela: Danielle, she's gonna see him for one hour, to talk about restaurants.
Angela: Well, I mean, a person can have feelings for someone, even if they're not, like, THE person any more.
Patty: Sweetie, Tony Poole is someone that I knew long, long ago.
Angela: Long, long ago. Like a fairy tale.
Patty: That's right. But he's not who I chose to make my life with. I chose your dad.
Angela: But did you, like, love him?
Patty: I'm not sure. With Tony, it was, it was crazy. We really did some pretty crazy and wild things back then. What can I say? But, uh, it's always tempting to lose yourself with someone, who's maybe lost themselves. But eventually, you want reality.
Danielle: That makes sense.
Angela understands this idea of feelings that don’t just disappear – this is the lesson she learned two episodes ago, when all this feeling of freedom came to nothing once Jordan slept with Rayanne. Patty explanation in part maybe fits Angela’s attraction to Jordan: this idea of “losing” yourself with someone, because so much of Angela’s earlier scenes with Jordan were about how little they share, how little of the Angela we saw in all her other relationships appeared when she was with him. And Danielle is utterly brilliant in this scene too because she realizes more than Angela that Patty and Graham are having problems, because she has them more attention. It also reveals a profound difference between the sisters: Angela is surrounded by friends who have broken families, and yet takes her own for granted; Danielle constantly fears that her family might fall apart. And then, after Graham reacts indifferently to the idea of his wife going on a date with an ex-boyfriend, Hallie of all people points out to him that it would be the more considerate reaction to pretend to be jealous. Hallie may be tragically in love, but she is also a fucking awesome mate – and we never see Graham with friends (his brother doesn’t count), so it just seems like a relief that he has a different outlet to articulate his feelings. A relief that is promptly undermined when they convince the investors and embrace in a moment of happiness and there is this tiny flutter of expectancy and excitement on her face (shout-out moment for Lisa Waltz! This show had such a perfect cast) before Graham barely restrains himself from kissing her, and afterwards they both know that this maybe won’t end well after all.
Brian: Boy, she really likes you.
Rickie: I can't even believe it. I mean, it's such, like, an unfamiliar experience. I mean, do you realize how much easier my life would be... if I could just like her back? I mean, Brian, this could be my chance. To be straight.
I’ve absolutely adored how the show handled Rickie’s sexuality, this undercurrent of sadness over watching all his friends fall in love and how he never really expressed how much harder it is for him because having a crush on Jordan Catalano comes with completely different consequences and a horrible lack of possibilities compared to Angela’s crush on Jordan, and because he could never ever tell the new guy what he feels… and then, the final episode explicitly acknowledged it.
Rickie: Delia? Maybe we should go somewhere sometime?
Rickie: You know, like, to a movie or something.
Delia: I'd like that.
Rickie: Because, um, I, I really think that we'd be good together.
Delia: Okay, but you're gay, right?
Rickie: Well, I, you know, I…
Delia: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't…
Rickie: No, it, it, it's okay.
Delia: That came out so rude.
Rickie: No, see I, I try not to, um no, I, don't like, uh… Yeah, I'm gay. I just don't usually say it like that.
Delia: How do you usually say it?
Rickie: I don't usually say it. I mean, I've actually never said it out loud.
Delia: Wow. I feel kind of honored. I have to be honest. I have, like, the biggest crush on you.
Rickie: Another first.
Delia: See, I've pretty much figured it out. It's partly because, I think you're the most fantastic person. Plus, you're an awesome dancer. And partly that Brian Krakow really hurt me. I mean, I'm sorry, I know he's like a friend of yours and all, but he is the most self-centered, low-down dog of all time. He uses girls, then like tosses them aside. I guess I'm just... sort of in the mood to have a crush on somebody where it can't hurt too much.
Rickie: Be my guest. Delia, if I were attracted to girls, I'd be attracted to you.
Delia is as observant and analytical (but not in the same way as Angela: not to the extent that she gets caught up in it, but that it provides her with perspective and a rationality that Angela doesn’t really have) as Rickie is. I love that she kind of navigates around the danger of Rickie using her to feel normal and then acknowledges that she is also kind of using him, as a safe crush after the disaster with Brian, and that she provides this safe environment for Rickie to come out for the first time (we don’t really know how Angela came to the assumption that he was bisexual before the pilot?).
I always prefer stories about friendship over pretty much everything else. Sharon and Rayanne… are the unlikeliest of friends. They are opposites of each other. They spent the first half of the season disliking each other on principle because they competed for Angela and suspected each other of taking Angela away. And then they realized that they had this one extremely important connection: being able to talk about some issues with each other that they couldn’t discuss with anyone else, and that they managed to do this without being judgemental and genuinely helping each other. They are friends already because they meet the highest standard of friendship – they are supportive of each other, protective even, occasionally, and they trust each other far enough to talk about the intimate details of their lives – and yet, they’ve both been extremely hesitant to call each other friends, mostly because they still hold on to the idea that THEY CAN’T BE FRIENDS, because Sharon would never be friends with Rayanne Graff and Rayanne would never be friends with Sharon Cherski.
Rayanne: Want to know something really laughable? I have no friends. I mean, Angela Chase. Forget it, we obviously cannot discuss that. Rickie Vasquez… totally not my friend. Tino… not dependable. You're probably thinking, ‘So what? You, like, deserve to have no friends.’ I mean, that is what you're thinking, isn't it?
Sharon: I have never met anyone like you, you know. You will say anything, and a person can say anything to you. You're just, like, non-shockable, or something. It's kind of...
Rayanne: It's refreshing, isn't it?
Sharon: Yeah, it is kind of... refreshing.
Sharon: So you do... have a friend. I mean, maybe not the one you want, but...
Rayanne: I screwed up.
Sharon: Duh squared.
This is the moment when Sharon sees how upset Rayanne is (and she knows even before Rayanne explains herself, really), and makes the choice of comforting her and saying this one thing that she never admitted openly. And awesomely, Sharon is the one who starts playing with Rayanne’s hair, because usually Rayanne is the physical friend who immediately hugs and kisses. It’s lovely. It also made me bash my head against the wall because of all the lost potential.
Rickie ends up telling Angela that Brian wrote the letter. He inadvertently causes pain when Angela pretends that she knew all along and he tells her he thought she would figure it out, and she realizes that she didn’t, and wonders what it says about her in addition to the shock and pain she feels anyway.
Meanwhile, Jordan admits his feelings for Angela to Patty (because ironically – is that the right word? – Jordan ends up in front of her door while Tony cancels).
Jordan: It's like you think you're safe, or something. Because you can just walk away anytime. Because you don't, like, need her. You don't need anyone. But the thing you didn't realize is… you're wrong.
This makes me wish so much that we’d have gotten a chance to get to know Jordan better. Jordan has an abusive father. Red is so important to him because having a car in part means not being trapped in a situation that he can’t handle. He can always leave, and this is essentially how he approaches all his relationships – with one eye always on the exit, except Angela helped him face some of his issues. She got Brian to help him with school. She doesn’t constantly under-estimate him. He likes her and he needs her: but so does Brian Krakow.
Angela and Brian meet once again in front of her house, because that’s what Brian always does, both literally and symbolically: cycling around her.
Angela: Uh, Brian? Brian, look at me. That letter I told you about. Rickie said you wrote it. And I have to know because…
Brian: Know what? There's nothing to know. Okay, what, what Rickie probably meant is that, see, Jordan Catalano asked me to, like, proofread it for grammatical errors.
Angela: You proofread a love letter? Is this like a game to you?
Brian: Um, hardly.
Angela: But you admit that you were involved.
Brian: I'm not admitting anything.
Angela: This is a joke, right? That the, the two of... Oh God. I can't believe I fell for it. It's obviously a total lie.
Brian: No, I meant every word. I mean, the person who wrote it meant every word. Probably.
Brian: I didn't write it.
Angela: But Brian, you said…
Brian: Forget what I said. Forget this whole conversation!
Brian: You liked it, though, right? It made you, like, happy?
Brian: Because that's probably all that, you know, matters.
Angela: To who?
Brian: To, you know, the person... who wrote it.
Jordan: Angela. Hey.
Jordan: Hey, Brain.
Brian: Hi. Hey.
Jordan: Come on, let's go. Don't worry, your mom said it's okay. See you, Brain.
Brian: See you.
And that’s how it ends. Angela shoots Brian a look from Red, a look that really says everything, and then Jordan and Angela take off and Brian is left behind alone, but maybe, just maybe, no longer trapped in a prison of his own making.
Jordan: Can't believe we have to use all those words in a sentence. I mean, not all in the same sentence, but, um, still.
Also, BRAIN. And I really enjoyed how Jared Leto played this too because there was always this sense that Jordan actually does this out of a very understated and subtle sense of humour – and Devon Sawa’s reaction to it, playing Brian as realizing essentially that whatever he does, Jordan isn’t going to stop calling him brain, so he doesn’t even bother correcting him and yet he still isn’t sure if Jordan is just taking the piss or dead serious. It’s hilarious.
Brian asks Sharon about Delia because apparently he has come to the conclusion that the only way to get over Angela is by being with someone else, but Sharon shoots down all his hopes. They have this really loveable sibling relationship. And Sharon’s glare of death also works perfectly on him.
Rayanne: You think I'm unhappy, me?
Rickie: Well, in my humble opinion, yes.
Rayanne: Don't say, ‘in my humble opinion’. That's Angela talk. That's how Angela Chase talks. What, are you trying to depress me? For your information, I happen to be a very happy, up person. What are you looking at?
Rickie: Ignore her. She's just a naturally happy, up person.
These are my notes on Patty’s dream of Tony (Angela thinks he’s cute, and “I can't trust your judgement on cuteness.”, because mum and stuff)
Why does she dream about Princess Diana.
And why is Princess Diana played by a dude.
Tony is totally a Jordan Catalano though.
Like, genetically predisposed to fall for idiots.
Things that fed into my eternal love for Sharon Cherski:
Angela: She dreamed about Rickie, my Rickie?
Sharon: So what do you think? I mean, does he ever, you know, with girls? Because she is a real sweetie.
Brian: So, what's new? I mean, is anything, like, new with anybody we both, like, know, or anything?
OH BRIAN. YOUR GIRL CRUSH IS SO BLATANT.
Also in my notes:
And as always I am entertained by the fact that nobody told Claire how to fake!kiss.
Or she chose to ignore it.
I MEAN. WATER BALLET. THEIR INITIAL CONNECTION IS OVER BEING ABLE TO TALK ABOUT SEX. PLAYING WITH HAIR. HOW COULD I POSSIBLY NOT SHIP THIS.