Saturday 3 September 2011

My So-Called Life - Come on! We'll be legendary! They won't forget us.

My So-Called Life: 1x09 Halloween. 

A short review, for a change: 

Halloween didn’t exist when I grew up. We dressed up for a couple of parties in January, but going from door to door in costume, asking for candy, didn’t become popular until I was well into an age where I couldn’t participate anymore, and when it slowly started to take over suburban neighbourhoods, it was accompanied by predictable lamenting of the “Americanization” of culture, etc. This results in a strange situation where my feelings about Halloween are mainly based on how I’ve seen it portrayed on TV shows – Lindsay Weir feeling to old for it in Freaks and Geeks, Ethan Rayne giving out costumes that would turn the wearer into all kinds of things (also, parents turning into teenagers and getting into all sorts of awkward situations) on Buffy
Halloween is all about dressing up and becoming somebody else. After all, Joss Whedon took the opportunity to turn his characters into somebody else, literally, for an episode that has the same name as this one, and MSCL seems to have been his inspiration for this, since the same thing happens here (minus the magic – it just requires some suspense of disbelief by the audience). For a show that is all about identity and figuring out who you are and how to relate to other individuals going through the same thing, it provides ample opportunity for insightful moments between the characters. Angela feels too old to go out and ask for candy, but turning into somebody else for a day sounds pretty awesome (“I wanna be someone else, but to wear, like, an actual
costume to school is too scary”). She is also forced to ponder all kinds of existential questions when their new English teacher asks her to tell Jordan he’ll be expelled if he continues not to show up (“Does anybody know Jordan Catalano? That question, like, got to me. I mean, I'd had seven conversations with him, and one really bad kiss, and one amazing one.”) When Angela confronts Jordan with the news, he reacts with his usual mixture of frustration (understandable, to an extent, since the one teacher who did care for him turned out to be a horrible person and the current teacher doesn’t have time for “bad” students) and apathy, to Angela’s dismay (“I can't even communicate with him when it matters. When it could affect his, like, life.”). 
Then, MSCL introduces something entirely new: a supernatural element, out of nowhere, into a show that probably had the words “real” and “authentic” thrown into ever single review. The kids finds an old book, and the last person to have it was Nicky Driscoll – an urban legend at their high school, a student who died tragically on Halloween the year Kennedy was shot, and left enough of a mark on everybody that they all have some kind of story about him – I know someone who knew someone who knew someone, etc. Angela happens to wear a costume – given to her by Rayanne – by someone who once rode on his bike. Rayanne decides that they should spend Halloween in front of the school trying to contact Nicky Driscoll’s spirit, and they eventually break in (minus Rickie, who exits with “my life is complicated enough”. Oh Rickie.). Brian knows how to get in, but he also gets distracted by Rayanne’s vampire legs, and manages to lock them in. 

Brian: Why are you doing this?
Angela: What do you mean? What about you? Let go of my arm.
Brian: We'll get into trouble. You could screw up your whole life.
Angela: At least I'll know I'm alive.
Angela starts to see ghosts, and wanders off alone while Rayanne and Brian (unlikely match and all) try to figure out how to turn off the circa 1979 security system. She meets Nicky Driscoll who is just on his way to perform the one stupid stunt that will get him killed, and of course she won’t be able to help him, and of course he reminds her of Jordan, because he peaked in his youth and if he’d ever grown old, he’d have turned into exactly the kind of ridiculous older man Rayanne so vividly described. Angela can’t save Nicky Driscoll, but maybe she can still change Jordan’s attitude. 
Angela: You're not going to class?
Jordan: What's it to you?
Angela: You know, you're gonna get expelled. Don't you care?
Jordan: It doesn’t matter.
Angela: Of course it matters.
Jordan: She's looking to throw me out, okay? She's been waiting for his. She thinks I'm a loser.
Angela: You're crazy to let her tell you what you are.
Jordan: What are you talking about?
Angela: She doesn't know you. She doesn't know who you are. You can't let her decide what you do.
Jordan: Hey! I decide what I do. Maybe, maybe I want to get kicked out of school.
Angela: Maybe you do. It doesn't mean people can't try and stop you, and tell you... I know you think ‘how could someone like me understand’. Only, I do.
So Jordan shows up in class. 

Random notes: 

Graham and Patty lend a pirate and a Rapunzel costume, the latter is always returned with a ripped bodice…

Kids cockblocking pirate!Graham. Good times.

Danielle: Is that the guy Mom hired to replace you?
Graham: No one can replace me. And, yes.

Sharon isn’t a rat. She’s a cat, DAMNIT. In a lovely subplot, Sharon decides to go trick-or-treating with Danielle instead of having an adolescent night of boredom with her boyfriend. It’s quite lovely. Have I mentioned lately how much it surprised me that I really enjoy Sharon? 

Brian: I can't believe people are walking around dressed like idiots.
Angela: I wouldn't talk.

Rayanne: I'm having a brain hemorrhage, this is such a great idea.

Angela’s in the library, looking up Nicky Driscoll’s picture in the yearbook, pondering how some people have to die young – “Like it fits them or something” – and Rayanne randomly throws an edition of Rolling Stone on the table, “I can’t look at him”. Oh well, 1994. This was a beautifully understated moment. There’s a list in my head of moments like this (Nathan crying about Kurt Cobain’s death in Six Feet Under, in that horrible, horrible episode, the novel About A Boy, which makes me forever sad that the movie had to omit this aspect since it was set in the 2000s, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the way Californication utilizes it as a central point… but all of these were created years later, MSCL wasn’t.). 

The little subplot between Rickie and Brian is my favourite thing: Rickie borrowed some of Brian’s clothes to dress up as a “normal person”, which is ironic, considering how much of an outcast Brian actually is. I really love their friendship. And that Rickie doesn't make fun of the fact that Brian has very specific ideas about how his clothes need to be washed, while everybody else makes fun of him. Rickie accepts him the way he is. 

Danielle dresses up as Angela, and it’s PERFECT. “Mom, Sharon Cherski and I exist in, like, two different worlds, okay? I can't just hand her a dish, okay? I mean it's just not that simple.” I also love the little conversation between her and Sharon, when Danielle tells her that she’d prefer her as a sister since she hates Angela, and Sharon asks her why she dressed up as her – and this is such a nice small moment, because Danielle is always on the outside, watching Angela, and seems so conflicted between admiring her older sister (later, she goes through the stuff in her room and leaves candy for her) and being jealous at all the attention she gets. It’s also perfect because Sharon probably feels the same way. 

Sharon: Only, Angela would stand more like this.
Danielle: Yeah, like the shirt's her only friend, or something.

Another favourite moment of the episode, one that is all the more significant after Angela acknowledged that she never manages to have that one meaningful conversation with Jordan Catalano, even when life throws her a good opportunity for one – Rickie just stumbles into one such conversation. On his way back home after deciding he wouldn’t join the Halloween shenanigans, he meets Jordan under the bleachers, who tells him that he would rather leave instead of going through the same procedure he and his friends share every Halloween. “God, it’s getting old”, he says, like the premature 17 year-old he is. “But you come because you think, you know, maybe something cool will happen. Cause what if something did, happen, and you missed it?” I think “what is something cool happens and you missed it” is probably the motivator for a lot of boring stuff teenagers decide to do. 

And the final favourite moment (I don’t know why I put them into the notes, maybe because I am not too happy with the main plot of the episode?) – Brian and Rayanne are stuck together, Rayanne naturally figured out that they are there because Brian was staring at her legs (his hobby is photography!), and while telling a lie about an abusive father, she accidentally reveals something true about herself (think about it: what do we really know about Rayanne at this point? Not much. She is so loud and talkative, but she never really SHARES anything) – that her dad never came home, and that she’s afraid of being left behind, even if the only person available is Brian Krakow. Brian leaves with the impression that he has shared a meaningful moment, Rayanne later tells Rickie that “it was a complete waste of time”. 

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