Tuesday 21 June 2011

My So-Called Life - Something's not right between her and me.

My So-Called Life: 1x04 Father Figures

Father Figures is my first favourite episode of MSCL. Since I don’t really remember much of the show, only having seen it once and a couple of years ago, this is almost like seeing the episodes for the first time, and what has become one of the best things about it is how the characters – not Angela, because from the way the show is narrated, there is this mechanism of immediately inhabiting her skin, at least that’s my feeling – are slowly fleshed out. We find out more about them, especially as they start to grow closer to each other, and share these kinds of stories that they wouldn’t with a stranger or a new friend, and explain themselves and how they relate to the world. The thing that makes reviewing MSCL hard is that it’s a series of conversations, essentially, and conversations that reveal things about the characters in a subtle way.
Father Figures is just really brilliant because it is mainly about Angela’s and Graham’s relationship in the aftermath of Angela finding out about the almost-affair, but not sharing that information, and instead quietly being angry at her dad – but as the episode progresses, it portrays almost every character’s relationship with their parents. 
In the very first scene of the episode, we see that Danielle, Angela’s poor borderline-invisible sister is still at the point where her father is everything and without flaws – like Angela, years ago, she happily greets him at the door when he comes home from work, while the grown-up version of Angela merely glares at him from the distance, thinking about the fact that she doesn’t feel she can trust him anymore (“you start wishing they'd do something, like, really wrong, just so you could be right about them.”) 
Patty struggles with an audit and has to confront the fact that her dad, while having stepped back from the business she is now running, still insists on doing things his way, even though his way turns out to be possibly harmful. She starts to understand that the man she has always admired isn’t without flaws, and stands up to him when it becomes necessary. Chuck isn’t the most easily likeable character, but he tells her, in the end, when they sort of make up, that he always felt like “walking on egg shells” when she was a girl, and Patty understands this now, since she’s going through the same thing with Angela. This is one of the themes of the episode: how the relationships between children and parents changes as the children realize that their parents can make mistakes too, even objectively genuinely good parents like Graham.
Graham: I, I don't want to lose her.
Patty: Yeah, but you have to, just for a little while. You have to let her push you away and not punish her for it. All she's doing is pushing you off your pedestal, and she's right to do that, she has to do it. She's right on schedule...she's not a thousand years late, like I am.
Graham: So, so, um, what do I do?
Patty: Stand your ground. And let her know that...no matter how hard she pushes you away, you'll still be there.
Graham notices that something is wrong, and his suspicion grows as the episode progresses. Angela doesn’t look him in the eye, she avoids having a conversation with him, she almost comes close to calling him a liar when she finds out about the audit, and – the way MSCL is sometimes so beautifully subtle – he observes her being more affectionate towards her grandfather, embracing him while she is avoiding any kind of contact with Graham. Patty doesn’t read anything into it because this is how Angela has been treating her for a long time now – but Graham’s always been the “good guy”. Patty plays the role of the responsible, strict mum, but now Angela meets him with the same kind of quiet disdain she usually reserves for Patty, and he finds her going through his briefcase, looking for evidence ("Something that would make it make sense for me to hate him"). When he asks her to give back the tickets for the concert, since Patty pointed out that she can’t go (and this is probably the moment when I like him best – he gave her the tickets to try and fix whatever’s wrong, but he also wanted to share something with her that was really important to him when he was her age – “It was one of the eight best nights of my life. You know, it's something I wanted to give her.”), Angela panics. She doesn’t have the tickets anymore (she gave them to Jordan), she betrayed Rayanne in the process, and she is still furious at him without being able to actually tell him why. 
Graham: I admit, I made a mistake. I'm not perfect.
Angela: Oh, believe me. That's become really clear.
Angela flees into the night. She hides in Brian’s car, where Brian finds her. He still feels betrayed after she invited Jordan over to his house (“Are you, like, meeting someone in here?”), but there’s also a genuine moment of connection between the two when he voices how amazed he is at the fact that Angela’s dad would be upset to know that she DIDN’T go to the concert (“Wow. You're dad is so different from my dad.”) Brian is the product of overly cautious and protective parents (as the scene goes on, his mum shouts at him from the inside of the house to take out the garbage, to Angela’s embarrassment). 
Brian: You want my sweater?
Angela: Okay
Brian: Try not to sweat into it.
Angela: Why do you have to say things like that?
Brian: Why do you have to…
Angela: So, wait, what were you saying?
Brian: Nothing. Just… you shouldn't act one way towards a person when you need
something, and then…
At this point, Angela’s position changes. She started as Graham’s silent accuser, but now he treats her the same way she approached him, and she has to admit that it’s horrible (“Dad not even wanting to look at me is, like, the worst feeling.) She is especially vulnerable since Rayanne is avoiding her too. 
Angela: I can't believe she's this mad.
Rickie: I know, but you see, I can see it from your side, but I also see it from her side, and from my own side. But, I don't really have a side. Anyway, why'd you do it? I mean, were you mad at your dad?
Angela: What? Who said that?
Rickie: Well, with my dad, who's technically my uncle, but he raised me, I mean, if he gives me something, and I'm mad at him, I can't open it. But, that's different, 'cause I'm somewhat afraid of my dad. I mean, in the past, my dad has broken down my door.
Angela: My dad always knocks.
Rickie: I had a feeling.
THIS CONVERSATION! It’s so short, but it perfectly sums up who these characters are. Rickie is insightful, but he would never directly tell Angela that she is in a better situation because he understands that pain is pain. He makes HER understand that it’s not all bad. It also serves as another reminder that Rickie probably has more severe problems than any of the other main characters. 


I’ve noticed that I haven’t really written much about Rayanne, but I am really growing fond of how the show slowly reveals more about her (also, A.J. Langer’s acting is superb). Father Figures explores both her relationship with Angela and gives more hints about how complicated her family life is. One thing that is just immediately likeable about her character is how openly she shows her affection – when Graham mentions the tickets for the concerts, she responds enthusiastically, saying that it explains “the undercurrent of connections between Angela and me” – Angela has described their friendship as something instinctual that just HAD TO HAPPEN before, but Rayanne is even more direct and open about how much Angela means to her. She is deeply hurt when Angela decides to sell the tickets Graham gave to her and his daughter, both because she isn’t used to getting presents and because she’s made it so clear to Angela how much the band means to her (and I think part of the reason why The Grateful Dead is so important to her is because she shares this with her mum), and the shared experience of listening to them, and Angela just completely disregarded all of it, just to fill an awkward silence with Jordan Catalano (“What are you talking about? Why are you talking about money? We
had Grateful Dead tickets. People don't sell Grateful Dead tickets. People give people Grateful Dead tickets. Your dad gave those tickets to both of us, including me.”). Rayanne also doesn’t understand why Angela complains about her father – early into the episodes, she jokingly says “Ignore Angela, she can't help herself. She's a product of a two-parent household” – not with a mean tone, but I think on some level she’s serious, she’s pointing out a difference between Angela and both Rickie and herself. Angela has the reliable home life, the caring parents, the dad who would just randomly give her concert tickets. Rayanne feels betrayed by Angela, and we get a sense that she probably has felt this way before, about most important people in her life. 
Angela: Rayanne? Rayanne, I feel terrible, okay? And I have to go to Health in a few minutes.
Rayanne: Why?
Angela: Why do I feel terrible?
Rayanne: Yeah.
Angela: Because... of what I did. You didn't get to go to the concert.
Rayanne: No, I did. It was great. They played "Stagger Lee". Amber and Rusty took me, and Rusty ran into this guy he knew from Vietnam who was in a wheelchair. He had an extra ticket. He had a sexy upper bod, too. Making you feel bad is too easy, takes all the fun out of it. Look, your dad probably gives you stuff all the time, so it's no big deal to you. But to me... the fact that he did that... I guess that I'm envious like the green-eyed monster.
Angela: You don't know everything about my dad. Remember the night we couldn't get into Let's Bolt? I saw him around the corner from our house, and he was talking to this girl... like in her twenties.
Rayanne: So?
Angela: So?
Rayanne: I'm lucky, my dad's had, like, eight different girlfriends since he left, so... I'm used to it. But Angela, whatever your dad may be doing with whatever girl, and you don't even know if he is, he's still the type of dad that would lay two Dead tickets on you, out of nowhere. That's what matters.
I’m not sure if Rayanne is right. Angela has a good reason to be angry at her dad, regardless of whether he is a good father – Graham did almost have an affair, he did almost cheat on his wife – but I still like the conclusion, Angela and Graham fixing the rain gutter Patty’s dad criticized, talking about music, realizing that they both like Billie Holliday. It’s always hard to realize that parents can make mistakes, but at the same time, it’s infinitely rewarding to find these other meaningful things that can connect you to your parents as you grow older, that didn’t exist when you were still a child. 

Random notes: 

I wasn’t going to post this yet but then I realized that Sunday was Father’s Day, well, apparently everywhere else but here (ours was last week). What a wonderful coincidence! In unrelated news, up next, Popular’s first Christmas episode!

The awkward exchange between Rickie and Graham was adorable. Also, cute how both Rayanne and he have a bit of a crush on Angela’s dad. 

Rayanne: I am so hungry. Do you ever get, like, hypnotized by food?
Graham: Oh, are you kidding me? Hypnotized By Food could be my Indian name. 

Graham: “Your federal income tax return has been selected for examination." Oh, this is really scary. They must get Stephen King to write these.

Angela: I couldn't believe that Jordan Catalano was actually trying to diagram my sentences. His sentences were really short. (Jordan Catalano on Alive: “A plane crashes. People start to get hungry. They don’t have food. …”)

Patty: Angela, orange juice doesn't grow on trees.
Angela: It sorta does.

Graham [about Brian, who enjoys the fact that he only has to help his own parents, not everybody else’s too): Gee, thanks. "Well, I'd, I'd like to help you sir, but I'm too busy picturing your daughter naked."

Patty still calls Rayanne “That Rayanne Person”. 

I realize that this is probably an example of reading too much into this episode, but it’s also fascinating that an episode dealing with the relationship between parents and kids also portrays how grown-ups feel like children when the state audits them. 

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