Saturday, 7 January 2012

My So-Called Life - Sometimes it's like I really think I know her. And then it'll be like we're total strangers.

My So-Called Life: 1x17 Betrayal.
Angela: I loved Jordan Catalano so much, and talked about him so much, and thought about him so much, it was like he lived inside me. Like he had taken possession of my soul or something. And then one day...I got over him! It was like Jordan Catalano had been surgically removed from my heart. And I was free!
This is perhaps one of my favourite opening scenes – the lovely moment in the last episode when Rickie, Angela and Rayanne sit in front of the TV to wait for the new year comes close, simply because it is such a bittersweet last moment of almost untarnished friendship between the three – but I like this one most for introspective, forever-caught-up-in-her-own-thoughts Angela. I always feel bad about not giving Claire Danes enough credit for her performance – it’s almost like I take it for granted because she is consistently and reliably great – but this moment of absolute giddy relief over the fact that she is free of Jordan Catalano, these few minutes of celebratory glee, highlight an Angela we’ve never really seen before: one who doesn’t hold back because she questions every single decision a hundred times, one who simply enjoys something rather than expecting something bad to happen immediately after. And what better soundtrack than the Violent Femmes’ Blister in the Sun? 
Here’s something Rayanne knows, as well as many viewers: this isn’t going to last. There is no way of surgically removing emotions for somebody else so that nothing stays behind, and it’s exactly those bits and pieces that inevitably remain that cause the most damage. Angela contributes to the potential danger by becoming friends with Jordan: because before he was mostly fit and mysterious, but unknowable, he was this person Angela created in her head; but being friends with him allows her to get to know him, and surprisingly, there really is an actual person underneath. Angela soon resorts to the usual techniques: pretending to be interested in somebody else when Jordan is watching (unfortunately choosing Cory, the other guy Rickie has a crush on), repeating over and over again that she really is not interested in Jordan at all, in case you were wondering. 
And what about Jordan? We never really know. Jordan doesn’t explain his feelings to other people. He presumably doesn’t spend as much time as Angela on analyzing them, but it’s clear from the way he acts around her that is upset about how things are going. 
What do we know of Jordan Catalano, really? He cares deeply about his band and his car. He has a broken family and an abusive father. He uses drugs and alcohol to escape, even though he’d never consciously make the connection between the two. And what do we know of Rayanne Graff? She has a broken family, a negligent mother, an absent father, and she never ever says what she wants and instead hides behind a care-free fa├žade, pretending that all those things that do matter to her so much – Angela’s friendship, being respected – aren’t all that important. We’ve spent so much time on discovering how incompatible Angela and Jordan are that the similarities between him and Rayanne seem like something completely unexpected, except they’ve always been there (and maybe they are one of the reasons why Angela likes them both). 

Rayanne: Have as much as you want. I'm drunk.
Jordan: Yeah, me too. But not enough. So, Graff... so who are you here with?
Rayanne: If you mean, where's Angela?, she didn't come. Just like usual.
Jordan: So let me ask you something.
Rayanne: It wasn't even my idea! I auditioned for this stupid play. It was Angela's. Yeah, right, like I could be Emily.
Jordan: Emily who?
Rayanne: It's this part, in this stupid Our Town play. It was just wishful thinking. No, I could never be her. Angela could be her.
Jordan: Oh yeah?
Rayanne: She's exactly like Angela. I mean, you know, she's so innocent that she, like, doesn't know she's innocent.
Jordan: Yeah.
Rayanne: And she always says this stuff like, "My, isn't the moonlight terrible?"
Jordan: Yeah, she's always saying innocent stuff like that.
Rayanne: No, I meant, I meant... never mind.
Jordan: So, does she like that guy I keep seeing her talking to, Cory or what?
Rayanne: I don’t know, it's hard to say, you know?
Jordan: Sometimes it's like I really think I know her. And then it'll be like, like we're total strangers.
Rayanne: I know. Hey, Catalano! It's cool.
Jordan: Hi.
Rayanne: Hey.
It’s inevitable, really. The remarkable thing is that MSCL chooses to make this connection through Angela: Jordan is upset over Angela apparently moving on even though he’s never clear on how he feels about her, and Rayanne is upset because Angela is still somewhat elusive – there is this insurmountable distance between them that Rayanne thinks is caused by her own lack of innocence. And of course there’s Brian, trying to collect material for a yearbook video, accidentally filming them while they are both betraying Angela – Jordan because he has these unspoken feelings for her, and Rayanne because she knows that Angela isn’t over him, regardless of how many times she’s officially declared she is. They both love Angela, but Angela doesn’t get this darkness that connects them because she’s never been there – the horrible parents, the alcohol – and they both know she doesn’t and can’t understand this fucked-up place. They both know it’s a stupid idea, and they take forever, hesitating on the way, but eventually they end up in the car together (and of course, the next morning they both pretend they were too drunk to really remember), and Brian documents it because despite the fact that he knows he should, he can’t look away. 
Brian has no intention of using this to drive a wedge between Jordan and Angela, but he also can’t keep from telling somebody else – and he tells Sharon – and Sharon tells Delia, and regardless of how well-intentioned they all might be, there is this point where a secret just has to come out because too many people know. 
Sharon: I can't tell her! It's not like my place to tell her. Right?
Delia: Well, aren't you really close?
Sharon: But if I don't tell her, is that like being a friend? Is it being more of a friend to tell her, or to not tell her?
Delia: Well, I would.
Sharon: See, I can see not telling her, because if I tell her, it's almost like I'm saying, "See, I told you so about Rayanne Graff!" And that's not what I would tell her, if I told her. Is it?
Delia: No, you'd be telling her because you're...
Sharon: See, I would want to know. I mean, wouldn't you want to know?
Delia: Well, yeah, I would definitely want to know.
Sharon: Oh my god. Why did Brian Krakow have to witness this? And if Rayanne had to do this totally low life, disgusting thing, couldn't she at least have done it in private?
Would Sharon have even hesitated to tell Angela if she hadn’t sort-of kind-of befriended Rayanne in the past weeks? And I also love that it only takes one conversation to so perfectly portray what kind of person Sharon is: she considers the problem from all angles and her only goal is to figure out what would hurt less – this isn’t about alienating Angela from Rayanne so she can have her friend all to herself, this isn’t about causing pain in retribution for the weeks of abandonment. Sharon cares but she knows that there is no way she can do this without hurting someone. Brian also tells Rickie, because he’s “the only one left” (it’s one of those classic moments when Brian accidentally insults someone…). So when Angela, upon overhearing Sharon’s conversation with Delia in the restroom, comes to him to tell him how outrageous she finds all of this and how much she doesn’t believe any of it… Rickie can’t actually lie, and has to tell her that it’s all true. She later goes to Brian and asks to see the video but he refuses, just for once corretly analyzing the potential emotional fall-out of a situation and telling her it would “just make you feel worse.”

Rayanne realizes almost immediately that something is wrong because Angela starts shunning her. The first person she talks to is Sharon – because she blames Sharon for what happened, but also, Sharon is secretly the only other friend she has apart from Rickie and Angela. 
Rayanne: Cherski!
Delia: Sharon, are you coming?
Rayanne: She'll be there in a minute.
Rayanne: So, congratulations, your dream came true.
Sharon: What dream?
Rayanne: Now you've got an iron-clad, perfect excuse never to talk to me again. You should be celebrating.
Sharon: You think I'm happy about this? Somebody I care about has been hurt!
Rayanne: And you just couldn't wait to go to them with the news.
Sharon: Don't turn this around on me! I said what I said to protect her.
Rayanne: Protect her. What a crock!
Sharon: That's right! So she would know. Because it's what you do when someone's your friend. You brought this on yourself.
Rayanne: And you're just so happy I did.
Sharon: No, I'm not. Not at all.
And she really, really isn’t. The best thing about this is that Sharon isn’t just upset because Angela has been hurt; she also realizes the implications of this for Rayanne, and she is sad for her too, even if she would never ever admit to it. 
The next person Rayanne talks to, absurdedly, is Patty – who, quite surprisingly, understands this from a different perspective than expected (she later reveals that she has done the same to one of her friends – and it’s just the greatest thing, when two characters relate to each other who seemed so different before, because they’ve had similar experiences that set them apart from the rest). 
Rayanne: But, like, if something really horrible happened...
Patty: Did something really horrible happen?
Rayanne: Yes! But I really didn't think it was. I mean, she said she was totally over him.
Patty: You mean Jordan?
Rayanne: Otherwise, I would have never done it. I mean, because it's not something that either of us really... It was just this thing. That, like, happened. He was just, like, there.
Patty: You and Jordan...
Rayanne: You hate my guts. I mean, well, I guess I would too, if I were you.
Patty: No. No, no. I don't hate you. I mean, I guess I can certainly understand how Angela feels.
Rayanne: Yeah. I've never really hurt somebody this bad before. It's hard to believe. I mean, but I guess you can't really hurt someone this bad unless you really matter to them. Please, don't tell her I was here. 
Usually, Patty is always conflicted because she has this instinctual reaction to certain situations that come from having been a teenager too, and remembering all these emotions: she can emphasize with Rayanne, just as she can usually with Angela when complicated things happen to her – but with Angela, Patty always second-guesses her instincts because she knows that she has to react differently as a mother. That whole conflict doesn’t really apply here. 
This is breaking up Rayanne’s world. Rickie doesn’t really want to talk to her because he sees this as fitting into her pattern of self-destruction and disregard for others (“What did you expect her to feel like?”) – so he walks away from her too. He tries to fix things by telling Angela that she can’t allow this to “control you – you’ve gotta lead your own life” – but Angela can’t react rationally. Rayanne only realizes what this means, truly, when she gets the role and has absolutely nobody to share her happiness with. She is completely alone. 
Angela chases Cory in retaliation, not realizing that the only person she hurts is Rickie, and Rayanne keeps her from doing something stupid. 
Rayanne: Well, I got the part. I would never have gotten it if it wasn't for you.
Angela: Look, I don't care anymore, okay? So just go away.
Rayanne: You're not the only one who got hurt.
Angela: Well, forgive me if I can't feel sorry for you, Rayanne.
Rayanne: You lost nothing, Angela. You lost a lousy, selfish friend, a guy you never really
had. You lost nothing! I lost a really good friend! I lost everything.
[…]
Rickie: I'm glad she got that part. She wanted that part.
Angela: What? Who's side are you on?
Rickie: I'm on your side! It's like, impossible to be on Rayanne's side. Even though I partly understand it.
Angela: What do you mean?
Rickie: I mean, face it. She's always partly wanted to be you. And in a way, I think this was her screwed up way of, for one night, kind of pretending she was you. I mean, I'm on your side, no question. But can I just ask you something? Why are you making this big play for Cory Hellfrick, when you know how I feel about him?
Angela: Because… I thought... I mean, you once told me that you were over him.
Rickie: But guess how I felt when you started going after him?
Angela: I don't have to guess.
Unhappiness all around. The “she’s always partly wanted to be you” is a call-back to Amber’s powerful explanation of their friendship at the beginning of the show – “She’s in love with Angela. She wants to be her.” – and of course this happens in an episode that has Rayanne literally pretending to be Angela in the play, by performing a role that she thinks resembles Angela more than it does her. 
The final scene of the episode is perhaps one of my favourites over-all – Katimski asks Angela to stand in for a scene that is about Emily/Rayanne realizing what she has lost – and during the performance, they are really using the text to communicate their emotions to each other because it is the only way they can explain themselves. It’s incredibly acted, and – horribly, but also realistically – it doesn’t prove to magically heal all the wounds, because even the grandest speeches don’t have that power (this is the one lie I will never forgive Skins). 
Katimski: Stop acting? Please?
Rayanne: What?
Katimski: Stop acting. There's really no need for it. You see, Emily is dead. The life she had is over. That's a pretty big deal. I mean, oh, gee whiz, she is just now realizing how precious every moment of that life really was. And that she never really appreciated what she had. Just imagine what that must feel like, Rayanne.
Rayanne / Emily: I can't go on, it goes so fast, we don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on, and we never noticed. Take me back.  Back to the hill, to my grave. But first, wait! One last look. Goodbye. Goodbye, world. Goodbye, Grover's Corners. Momma and Poppa. Goodbye to clocks ticking. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every minute?
Abyssinia (as Stage Manager): No. Saints and poets, maybe they do so.
Rayanne: I’m ready to go back.
Angela (as Mrs. Webb): Were you happy?
Rayanne: No. I should have listened to you. But that’s all human beings are. Just blind people.
Angela walks off, unable to forgive Rayanne, but their tears are a testament to the fact that both realize, helplessly, what they are losing. You can't ever remove another person surgically, without leaving any traces, without creating a mess. 

Random notes: 

Rayanne bases her interpretation of a character she is auditioning for on Angela, because she’s “sweet and innocent”. Hilariously, AJ Langer does a spot-on Claire Danes. 

Angela: Rayanne, think of it this way! Acting is like lying, and who's a better liar than you?

Rayanne: I just didn't cry right. I should have cried more like you. You know? Your little... first sigh, and then, and then your like mouth collapses.
Rickie: Why are you crying like Angela?
Angela: Shut up! I do not cry like that!

My parents also play this game: 

Patty: Graham, you have tons of clothes that you never wear!
Graham: Well, that doesn't mean that I never will.
Patty: Oh, I forgot! The one who has the oldest clothes when they die wins!

When Angela storms into Brian’s room and he is half-naked on the bed (a situation that could have been way, way more awkward): “People should tell people when they have visitors!”. 

Brian: Yeah, I was influenced by Spielberg, um, but I think my my recent work is more like Tarantino, only less violent.

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