Thursday, 17 November 2011

My So-Called Life – You have this tendency to shut people out.

My So-Called Life: 1x13 Pressure.

Jordan and Angela, sitting in a car (Angela driving and almost crashing Red, no less), debating but not really talking about the elephant in the room: Jordan wants to have sex, because he’s had sex with his previous “girlfriends”, Angela not really being sure about the whole thing (except that the parking lot isn’t the right place), sort of trying to get out of the whole conversation but not succeeding. 
This is one of the episodes that I didn’t really remember from the first time I watched the show, and I came into it expecting it to be very different from what it turned out to be. For once, my favourite thing about is that on the surface, the first part of the episode is about the awkward logistics of sleeping with your boyfriend without your parents finding out – but underneath the surface, Angela starts to struggle with the question if Jordan is the right person, and that question becomes the driving force of the second part of the episode. Jordan Catalano and Angela Chase live in different worlds – and in part they do because one has caring and protective parents, and there is a significant age difference between the two, and they have contradictory ideas about their future. One of my favourite moments in the episode is when Jordan and Angela sit in the creepy house and wait for a room to become free so they can have sex, and they have absolutely nothing to say to each other. 
The episode is structured incredibly well: Angela seeks advice from all kinds of people and finds surprisingly helpful insights from people she probably didn’t expect them from. Sharon – and significantly, when Angela starts talking to her about the thing she has this moment where she convinces herself that Sharon hasn’t slept with Kyle, which comforts her until Sharon points out to her that they had lots of sex – tells her that after she slept with her boyfriend, wanting to have sex, “like, constantly”, became this obligation, regardless of whether she actually wanted to have sex. There seems to be this obsession about virginity, still, on television shows about teenagers (and, I assume, in society in general, but there’s a stark difference between most of Western Europe and the United States so I can only go on the bits and pieces that I see in pop culture…), and the issue Sharon raises doesn’t really get discussed – consenting to having sex once doesn’t mean that you sign up for it all the time. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of seeing teenage sexuality turned into this massive issue and taboo – there’s no room to discuss these other things that might come up. The entire conversation becomes impossible. It’s amazing to me that MSCL managed to do this in 1994. This also applies to the conversation she has with her doctor, after stumbling through an excuse about needing statistics for a school project: regardless of whether the doc thinks it’s a good idea for a 15 year old girl to have sex, and because she doesn’t think it’s her place to tell Angela about the emotional aspect of sleeping with Jordan, she tells her piece of information that is essential: use protection. I do not understand what kind of person would with their children to be “punished” with pregnancies or STDs for not confirming to a specific set of sexual morals, and who in their right mind would believe that withholding information is a good way to protect some weird and inherently flawed concept of innocence. MSCL makes me believe that things have actually gotten worse since 1994, not better, and fuck, that’s a depressing thought, isn’t it? 
Angela tries to get out of the situation and the horrible thing is that simply saying “no, I’m not ready” isn’t an option because Jordan has made it clear to her that this would end their relationship. She hopes that her dad isn’t going to let her leave the house when the night arrives. She hopes that Rayanne, who magically turns up at the house once they are there and awkwardly waiting for a room to become free is going to give her an excuse to leave, but she doesn’t. Eventually, she uses Rayanne as an excuse to leave, which seems horrible (“I was there when she almost ODed and now she looked pretty out of it.”), but the really horrible thing is that she feels she has to use this excuse to get out of an unbearable situation because Jordan doesn’t understand her at all. 

When Sharon realizes that Angela is beyond scared about the whole thing, she becomes the most amazing human being to have ever existed in shows about teenagers. Seriously. She steals her parents’ porn, because when your friend is afraid of being intimate, that’s what you do, and watches it with her to make it seem less awkward and weird, and she crosses this “dividing line between girls who’ve had sex, and girls who haven’t”, and she talks about her own experiences with Kyle even though Angela hasn’t really shared things about her own life lately. I love all of it, because we started into the whole show with the assumption that Angela has somehow outgrown Sharon, that Angela has turned into this new human being that just NEEDED to hang out with Rayanne and there is no common ground with her old best friend anymore, but Sharon has grown too, just like Angela did, and now they are connecting on an entirely new level. It’s completely true that the things that happen in the precarious time between being a child and being an adult can sometimes drive people apart that used to be friends, but it is just as true that sometimes, the changes that each individual goes through can eventually lead to a more meaningful connection. 
Sharon tells Angela that she needs to talk to Jordan because she “has this tendency to shut people out”. It’s not about the logistics of having sex, about the place and the time and the how, but about whether it’s the right person, and if you can’t even talk about sex to the person you’re about to have sex with, it might be a good decision to reconsider your options. 
Angela: Hi. I'm sorry about Friday night. I just had this flu shot and…
Jordan: Quit lying. Tino told me. Rayanne Graff has been clean for like weeks. Since the night she almost ODed, right?
Angela: I guess.
Jordan: I mean, you can think what you want about me. I never lied. I can't believe it; I let you drive my car.
Angela: It's so hard to explain because it's not going to sound right, because… part of me really wants to.
Jordan: This is the whole reason I didn't want to start this the first place.
Angela: Why, because you knew you wouldn't get sex? You'd just be wasting your time?
Jordan: Because you just don't get it, okay? You're supposed to! It's accepted. It's what you're supposed to do! Unless you're, like, abnormal.
After their super-horrible break-up, Angela talks to Rickie, shares that their relationship was actually pretty horrible (“Every minute of it just completely sucked”), and that she should have just had sex with him because it would have been so simple. And then Rickie does the magical thing Rickie sometimes does, which is having insight into things and finding a way to communicate it perfectly: it shouldn’t be simple, “it should be like a miracle, like seeing a comet, or just feeling like you're seeing one. Seeing the other person's perfectness, or something. And if you do it before you're ready, how are you going to see all that? Not that I would like know, or anything.” 
After all those other people who contributed to Angela’s travel and travails, Brian comes into it late, but he also provides a valuable insight, since the show has always presented him as “the other option” to Jordan Catalano: he is enraged that his bike was remotely involved in Angela’s quest to lose her virginity, but then, they have a surprisingly genuine conversation about the whole thing (and, of course, the very conversation Angela could never have with Jordan): Angela finds out that some boys don’t only care about sex (“is that, like, a problem you’re having?”), and Brian finds out that girls also think about sex (“Boys don’t have the monopoly on thinking about it” / “they don’t?”). Graham listens to the whole thing, stunned. 
In the end, Jordan brings by Brian’s bike because he’s not a complete tosser (and I like that the show makes an effort to present him in a positive light after a pretty damning episode – he isn’t a horrible person), and Brian for once totally succeeds in the whole macho routine (“Is she home?” / “I’m not sure”). They discuss the politics of officially breaking up, and Angela explains to him that she wasn’t ready for “that much freedom” (using the car as a metaphor”), and Jordan promises he won’t spread rumours about her in school. 
Angela: Because it is a big deal. I mean, because sex made your whole life start, and if you think about life as like a circle or something, then sex and death are the same… look, I'm not I'm not saying they're the same, I mean, I've thought about having sex with you, and god, I've never seriously thought of killing you, but…
Jordan: Okay. At least you got in some driving practice.
Angela: Yeah.
Jordan: Just don't take your turns too wide, or anything. I'm sure you won't.
Angela: Sometimes someone says something really small, and it just fits right into this empty place in your heart.
Your hair. Like it's really soft, like in the back. I'm gonna miss it.
Jordan: Yeah.
Angela: Well, I guess this is it. Goodbye.
Jordan: Bye. See you tomorrow.
This is perfect. Jordan doesn’t understand Angela’s point but he still feels weirdly protective of her – he understands that he is a very special person and that he isn’t the right guy for her, but he actually cares about whether somebody else will take advantage and hurt her. And Angela finally recognizes that they don’t fit, that they are absolutely wrong for each other, regardless of whether she cares about him or not. And that final bit is probably my favourite, because that’s the inevitability of school: you don’t get your clean breaks. You can’t avoid people because you are doomed to run into each other, you’re doomed to see each other again, tomorrow, in the hallway. 
Angela: People always say you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster, or something. Like you can know what it is, even. But every so often, I'll have like a moment, where being myself, and my life right where I am is, like, enough.
Random notes: 

Possibly the most realistic portrayal of high school: 
Rickie: Look at that Cynthia Hargrove.
Rayanne: It's a pierced nose. It's not like an actual personality, orsomething.
Angela: Who were you trashing?
I feel like I’ve head this conversation at one point in my school life, and I feel like this conversation has probably happened about me, and about pretty much everyone else in my class. 

Angela: I couldn't stop thinking about it. The like fact that…. that people had sex. That they just had it, like sex was this thing people… had, like a rash. Or a rottweiler. Everything started to seem like, pornographic or something. 

Hilarious moment of the episode: while Danielle tries to share her concerns about getting a flu shot, Graham and Patty are preoccupied with considering having Jordan over for dinner and phrasing their suspicion that sex will eventually become an issue in a away that leaves Danielle out of the conversation. Danielle’s reaction: “Um, when you said what else they could be doing, did you mean like foreplay?”

Jordan, upon vampiring his way into Angela’s room: “WOW, FOOD”. Oh Jordan. He is like that thing that lives in your basement that you occasionally feed so it doesn’t come up and murder you in your sleep.  

On the same “I sometimes feel so alone in my dislike of Jordan Catalano” note, let us remember that he suggests having sex in the abandoned house that is probably haunted and has all kinds of weird people living it, but hey, it has like eight bedrooms, so there’s that. Sigh. 

Sharon, about Kyle: “I didn’t fell like I should give up my beliefs. […] I'm saying I had a belief that he was being a butthead, which was true.” Have I mentioned before that Sharon is secretly one of my favourite people on the show, probably my second favourite after Rickie? 

Jordan meets Graham for the first time and they do this awesome macho posing thing that is hilarious to watch: 
Jordan: Oh.
Graham: Oh, back at you.
Jordan: Is Angela here?
Graham: Are you Jordan?
Jordan: Yeah. Are you her dad?
Graham: Uh, yeah, yeah. So, uh you, uh you guys are going to a party?
Jordan: Is that what Angela said?
Graham: You mean, you're not?
Jordan: No, we are.
I mean, as much as I sometimes dislike Jordan, Jared Leto is amazing. 

Hallie, Graham’s friend from cooking class, wants to open a restaurant and asks Graham to be a partner in the business. That’ll end well. (Hallie’s description of Jordan to Patty, who wasn’t present for the awkward meet-and-greet-thing, is awesome though: “Sort of stray puppy, you know the type you’re always trying to ease their pain. He may even be a halfway decent person, but let me tell you, trouble. Way too gorgeous.”)

Graham is constantly trying to get somebody else to confirm that Hallie is a horrible person but nobody ever does. 

Patty: I'm just going to drop this whole subject.
Graham: Why? Without running it into the ground? You?
Patty: Very funny.


“Having shared the most sacred love a human being can know, Shelley and Mitch talk intimately of their secret hopes, their fears, their dreams, every moment of their lives bringing them closer together.”

By the way, I’m pretty sure that the guy on the tape is Popular’s Vice Principal Krupps but that’s too awesome a coincidence to actually fact-check. If you want to, you can imdb Robert Gant. 

There is this subtle story in the background of the episode: Jordan is extremely cautious about allowing Angela to drive his beloved car, but when Angela asks Brian for his bike (equally beloved, presumably, considering how much time he spends with it), he immediately gives it to her. She also admits to finally realizing that she is mostly using him because he allows her to use him and that’s a bad thing, but the main point is: Brian totally lets her have his bike without attaching any conditions. 

The magical way these things sometimes work out, Sharon’s sex tape eventually lands in Rickie and Brian’s hands, and they watch it together:

Brian: My parents have a vibrator. It sounds like a lawnmower.
Rickie: I wish I could get away with bicycle shorts. 

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