- My So-Called Life (Pi... - #1 »
- Dancing in the Dark - #2 »
- Guns and Gossip - #3 »
- Father Figures - #4 »
- The Zit - #5 »
- The Substitute - #6 »
- Why Jordan Can't Read - #7 »
- Strangers in the Hous... - #8 »
- Halloween - #9 »
- Other People's Daught... - #10 »
- Life of Brian - #11 »
- Self-Esteem - #12 »
- Pressure - #13 »
- On the Wagon - #14 »
- So-Called Angels - #15 »
- Resolutions - #16 »
- Betrayal - #17 »
- Weekend - #18 »
- In Dreams Begin Respo... - #19 »
2.2. The Geometry of Angela's World
We know that geometry puts the fear of God into Angela, but the true "geometry" of Angela's world is not one of lines and angles and theories and strict proof. Rather, it is a congregation of relationships, feelings and experience which we can describe with circles and triangles. The "circles" in Angela's world are made up of all the characters of MSCL. There is an inner circle, comprised of those whose influence on Angela is greatest, and an outer circle, comprised of people with less, if any, influence on Angela. The "inner" circle is comprised of Patty, Graham, Sharon, Rayanne, Rickie and Brian. These are the characters who shape the person that Angela is.
Angela's Inner Circle
Patty exerts the most influence on Angela, and the dynamics of the Angela-Patty relationship are condensed in the Pilot episode. Angela has symbolically emerged from childhood by dyeing her hair "Crimson Glow," and Patty, holding a bag of groceries, confronts Angela with pursed lips. She is not ready to accept the changes in Angela. Patty's influence over Angela is evident from the fact that she is the only person to whom Angela even attempts to explain herself:
"I had my hair dyed."
Patty responds with sarcasm. Angela and Patty remain in conflict until the end, when a chastened but wiser Angela returns to her. By the time Angela has gained the security to seek out Patty, Patty has accepted the changes in Angela. It may be helpful to conceive of the conflict between Angela and Patty in terms of a breakup: As a child, Angela's "significant other" is her parents, Patty and Graham. As an adolescent, Angela is beginning to find her own identity and outgrow the parent-child relationship. The transition is not easy, but one Angela must make, because she must define herself in terms of her individuality and not in terms of her relationship with another. As Angela's separation from Patty and Graham progresses, she becomes more involved with the world around her. Fairly early, Angela becomes enamored of Vic Racine, and thus becomes aware of her teachers as human beings. That realization is moderated by Patty and Graham. Later, Rickie's dilemma makes Angela aware of homelessness. That realization occurs despite Patty and Graham. In the process of becoming an individual aware of the world at large, Angela gains a maturity that allows her to stay close to Patty. Angela and Patty continue to conflict, as in "The Zit" and "So-Called Angels," but even in these episodes, which depict Angela and Patty's most angry clashes, they end in an embrace. It is Patty to whom Angela turns when Rayanne overdoses, and, in a lesser way, during Rayanne's crisis in "On the Wagon." Because Angela turns to Patty, Patty also is made privy to the "Betrayal." Patty's significance in Angela's life is made clear in the final scene in MSCL, when Jordan beckons Angela to drive away with him, saying, "your mother says it's okay." In "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," we see Angela, Patty and Danielle on the sofa, discussing Patty's high school sweetheart, Tony Poul. Clearly, Patty made her life with another, and as Angela explains to Danielle:
"You can still love someone, even if they're not THE one any more."
Angela's reference is to Jordan, and they are ostensibly talking about Tony Poul. However, the statement is equally true of the relationship between Angela and Patty. Angela experiences a similar "breakup" with Graham over a pair of Grateful Dead tickets. And, just as Angela ends up in Patty's arms at the end of the Pilot, she will end up on Graham's "pedestal" (the ladder) at the end of "Father Figures." However, the juxtaposition of Angela embracing Patty and standing on the ladder with Graham symbolizes an important difference in how Angela relates to Patty and Graham after the "breakups."
Prior to "Father Figures," Graham is the "nice" parent, warming up spaghetti and giving advice. After "Father Figures," Graham and Angela continue in a loving relationship, but it has subtly changed. Angela appears at the family dinner table just once after "Father Figures" (in "The Substitute"), and Graham becomes less involved in her life. After the "breakup," Graham will never figure prominently in Angela's life again. Thus, it is especially poignant that Graham overhears Angela's breakup with Jordan. As Angela and Jordan talk, their relationship changes permanently, even though they know it will not end.
"I'll see you tomorrow," Jordan says.
As we have been so eager to compare Jordan and Graham, it should be no surprise, then, that Angela and Jordan's breakup echoes an analogous "breakup" with Graham. As Graham listens from the couch, he realizes that Angela has gone on to a place in life where he cannot follow. We see the melancholy in his face, as he must realize that precisely what he did not want -- to lose Angela -- has, to a degree, happened. While Patty and Graham influence Angela's essential self and her relationship with the world, the peers in her "inner circle" influence parts of the whole. Sharon and Brian influence Angela's perception of friendship, or how she relates to others. Rayanne and Rickie influence Angela's moral development, or how she relates to herself. We may assume that Angela's oldest friends are Sharon and Brian. The same age, and daughters of best friends, we can imagine Angela and Sharon in the playpen together and learning to walk together. Angela decorated with streamers on at least one of Sharon's birthdays, and it is possible they have shared every birthday. Brian has been a neighbor for years, and Angela tells us that she spent hours in Brian's house as a child. Although Angela and Sharon are estranged in the early episodes, Sharon's anger is the product of being shut out by Angela. Even while spreading the rumor about Angela and Jordan having sex, Sharon defends Angela's reputation. Later, Sharon confronts Angela about Jordan's treatment of her. It is not something Angela wants to hear, but Sharon is looking out for Angela's best interests. (Sharon is joined by Rayanne, but the discussion between them, and the confrontation of Angela with the facts, are instigated by Sharon's concern for Angela.) Still later, Sharon tells Angela about Rayanne's indiscretion with Jordan, which Sharon does "to protect her. Because it's what you do -- when you're a friend."
Brian, too, is unconditionally loyal to Angela. In the Pilot episode, he berates Angela for going to Let's Bolt because he believes she might get hurt. He stands by Angela when she undertakes to distribute the contraband Liberty Lit. He reveals his "chess club" way into the school on Halloween when it appears Angela might risk an alarm-tripping break in. Of course, Brian's presence is the product of his obsession with Angela, but underlying Brian's feelings, he remains a friend in whom Angela can confide and talk to as an equal. Angela's relationships with Sharon and Brian influence the kind of friend Angela is to others, particularly Jordan, as discussed below. While Patty and Graham influence Angela's basic character, and Sharon and Brian influence Angela's dealings with others, Angela's inner self is influenced by Rayanne and Rickie. This is why the three are virtually inseparable in the earlier episodes, and later go their separate ways. Rayanne is an "amoral" force, exhorting Angela to follow her basic instincts:
"Go now! Go!"
"People throwing themselves at people is like, the basis of civilization."
"I have a right to live my life."
Rickie is the "moral" force:
"If you do it before you're even ready, how are you going to see all that?" "Why are you making this play for Cory Helfrich when you know how I feel about him?"
Rayanne's voice is imperative and we hear it from the outset. Rickie, on the other hand, is a mere echo at the outset. As Angela grows, Rayanne's voice is less compelling to Angela. Over the same period of time, Rickie finds his voice, and it is the voice of MSCL. It is a voice which asks the tough questions, and faces the tough answers: ("I'm gay.") It is also the voice that Angela heeds as Rayanne's influence wanes. Finally, when Rayanne's impulses drives the wedge between herself and Angela, it is Rickie who mediates. It is no accident that Rickie's mediating voice matures in "Betrayal," the episode in which MSCL becomes self-aware.
Angela's Outer Circle
The outer circle is comprised of Jordan, Camille, Chuck, Vivian, Hallie, Neal, Kyle, Delia, Cory, Amber, Shane, Katimski, Vic Racine, all of the other teachers and occasional players, and sadly, Danielle. Most of these characters are obvious choices for the "outer circle," as they are characters with whom Angela has incidental or no contact. However, the relegation of two of these characters to the "outer circle" deserves scrutiny. How, one may ask, can Jordan be relegated to the periphery when Angela's life essentially revolves around him? The answer lies in that Jordan, unlike the members of the "inner" circle, does not act on Angela; Angela acts on Jordan. Where the members of the "inner" circle help shape the person Angela is, Angela brings her developing self to her relationship with Jordan. Angela has a certain patience with Jordan which we might attribute to Graham:
"Boys your age can sometimes not know how to be what you expect them to be."
But regardless of Jordan's failings, whether he fails to read a letter, or show up for an introduction, or introduce Angela to his friends or gets too friendly with Angela's friends, Angela remains unswervingly loyal to him. Angela defends Jordan when Brian calls him an idiot. She defends Jordan when Sharon and Rayanne point out that he is using her. She willingly forgives him after the "Betrayal." Angela also tells Jordan things he must hear, even if they are unpleasant. She encourages him to stay in school:
"You must think someone like me can't understand. Only I do."
She forces Jordan to admit, if only to himself,
"that all of this happened. That [he] has emotions. That he couldn't treat [Angela] one way in front of his friends and the next minute leave [her] some note."
She frankly admits to him that she is not ready for sex. In short, Angela treats Jordan as Sharon and Brian treat Angela.
Through Angela, Jordan metamorphoses from the "too cool to care" boy who feels crowded to the young man ready to admit both his feelings for Angela and the need for other people in his life. Thus, Angela's relationship with Jordan is defined more by the person she is, and is becoming, than by what the relationship makes her. Similarly, the change we see in Jordan is attributable to Angela's effect on his life.
A second member of Angela's "outer circle" should also be considered. It is unfortunate that Danielle should have so little impact on Angela, but in fact, Danielle plays virtually no role in Angela's life, and is regarded largely as a nuisance by Angela, and sometimes the rest of her family:
"Danielle, stop keeping score."
Had MSCL survived, we might have found out how Danielle feels about this. Only four years apart, it is likely that not too long before MSCL began, Danielle and Angela were playmates and confidants. How sad for Danielle that she should lose such a friend, and now be relegated to an object of scorn. Danielle very possibly feels betrayed, and this feeling might have motivated her choice of Halloween costume, and the sentiments she expresses to Sharon while trick or treating. Perhaps we see a glimpse of Danielle's feelings as she inspects the perfume and makeup on Angela's dresser: She has lost her sister to a thing called growing up.
However, Danielle's melancholy may be assuaged by the knowledge that her loss is temporary. Although Angela has outgrown Danielle, the essential love for her sister remains. When Angela bows out of the Mother-Daughter fashion show, she suggests Danielle to replace her, as she knows Danielle wants to be in the show. At times she remains playful with Danielle. Angela is genuinely repentant when she realizes her jab at Danielle on Halloween morning has struck deeper than she intended. As the family sits in the church on Christmas Eve, she gives Danielle a smile that clearly expresses her love. In time, Danielle, too, will grow up and once again be Angela will be a part of her life. Indeed, they will likely be best friends throughout life.
The Triangles of MSCL
The "geometry" of Angela's world is defined principally by relationships among three persons. These are not principally "romantic triangles," but rather relationships where each person involved complements another.
Jordan or Brian?
As if this one hasn't been beaten to death. Should Angela choose Jordan or Brian? Which one would she have chosen had MSCL survived? As MSCL ends, Angela rides away with Jordan, but only moments after she has, at last, been confronted with the true depth of Brian's feelings for her. However, Angela's choice between Jordan or Brian is, in legal parlance, a false conflict. Jordan and Brian represent two sides of Angela's "ideal" man: Sex and conversation. Jordan is clearly Angela's romantic interest, and Brian is clearly a friend and confidant. Angela works so hard at creating the romantic relationship with Jordan, she confides nothing to him. Their conversations are essentially meaningless, as we see in "Self-Esteem." On the other hand, Angela has no romantic feelings for Brian. They converse, but Angela never considers Brian's feelings for her, or even whether he has any feelings for her deeper than as friends. In terms of romance, Angela has made her choice and Brian's feelings have not really entered into the equation (except to the extent that Angela mistook Brian's sentiments for Jordan's). Thus, there is no conflict in Angela's mind. But in a larger sense, Angela can choose neither Jordan nor Brian, as neither provides both aspects of her ideal. Thus, there is no conflict; Angela will ultimately choose someone other than Jordan or Brian. Interestingly, the budding relationship between Jordan and Brian hints at Jordan increasing his conversational skills while Brian finds a "mentor" to increase his poise with the opposite sex. Could it be that the friendship between Jordan and Brian could provide for each the "sex or conversation" aspect they lack? If so, which would Angela choose? We can only speculate.
Rayanne or Sharon?
This is not Angela's dilemma; it is Brian's. If Brian is the "conversation" aspect of Angela's romantic ideal, Rayanne and Sharon are the "sex" and "conversation" aspects of a triangle with Brian. Dubious? Sharon and Brian and Rayanne and Brian interact in nearly every episode. However, Brian's relationship with both Sharon and Rayanne is flawed. Sharon and Brian are friends, and, as suggested elsewhere, have probably know one another for a very long time. In "Strangers in the House," Brian comes to Sharon's aid and comfort; Sharon introduces Brian to Delia; Sharon tries to persuade Brian to sit for the Teen Helpline; she offers to show Brian where the "Pleasure Center" is; she directs Brian to Louie's to take a year-end video; she confides in Brian her problem with Kyle. But consider the "romantic" aspects of Brian's relationship with Sharon: His brief encounter with Delia ends disastrously; he becomes the beneficiary of an R-rated counseling session courtesy of the Teen Helpline; he videotapes the "Betrayal."
In contrast, Rayanne spares no opportunity to tease, perhaps intimidate, Brian in matters sexual. But their relationship changes in "Halloween" when they "sleep" together, and both miss a once in a blue moon opportunity to solidify the relationship. Thereafter, Rayanne uniformly treats Brian with some degree of hostility. One cannot choose but wonder. Had Brian and Rayanne "found" each other on Halloween, would Rayanne have been free to "do it" with Jordan? How would Angela have reacted to Rayanne and Brian as "a them?" The problems signify that neither relationship is suitable for Brian. Like Angela, Brian cannot settle for sex or a conversation.
Patty or Hallie?
Come on. Didn't anybody say Patty? Well, that's the right answer, IMHO. This is Graham's dilemma, and, as with Angela's decision between Jordan or Brian, it is a false conflict. While it may be expected, or even appropriate, for the kids to change alliances, to believe that Graham would leave Patty is to misapprehend the depth of love and commitment in the marriage. True, Patty and Graham's marriage is not bliss, but by not living in ignorant bliss, they proceed with their eyes open, testing the marriage in ways that prevent the split that would have to occur for Graham to run off with Hallie. For example, Patty and Graham discover they are terrible dancers together, but as a result, they realize that they are really quite compatible in other, more intimate ways. Patty fires Graham, but in doing so sets him free. Patty enrolls Graham in the cooking class, which angers him at first, but through the cooking class Graham finds his calling. True, in the first real look we get of their marriage, it appears Graham is on the brink of an affair. However, we later see that Graham has real doubts -- not about his marriage with Patty, but with the affair. He calls off the affair, and from that point forward is happily and steadfastly loyal to Patty. Even though Patty and Graham seem to have doubts from time to time, it should be noted that the doubts are most often Patty's. It is interesting that while Patty seems to instinctively know what is the right path for Graham, Graham remains secure because he seems to instinctively know that he and Patty are right for each other. Ultimately, the doubts are resolved when Graham states his desires quite bluntly: To open the restaurant with Hallie. From that point forward, Patty and Graham act in synch.
It cannot be denied that Patty and Graham love each other. They enjoy a healthy, happy sex life together, which does not create love, but rather indicates the existence of a loving, trusting relationship. Save for the anomalous "Weekend," Patty and Graham never fail each other. Because they conflict, because they question, they are able to love and trust. If Graham was to leave Patty, he would leave the most stable, committed relationship a man could desire. Which brings us to Hallie. If we cannot deny that Patty and Graham love each other, we cannot deny that Hallie offers Graham something he cannot get from Patty: Unequivocal confidence in his talents. Precisely because of the questioning that makes Patty and Graham's marriage work, Patty cannot blindly believe in Graham's ability to succeed. On the other hand, it is Hallie's blind faith that turns the restaurant dream into reality. Just as Patty must seek the approval of the runway in a mother-daughter fashion show to find something she cannot get from Graham, so must Graham be with Hallie to get what he cannot get from Patty. We must not mistake Graham's desire to enter into a partnership with Hallie as a desire to end his partnership with Patty. Of course, Hallie, unlike a fashion show, is a complex human being with her own set of needs and desires. Naturally, she finds Graham attractive, and is fond of him. And when Brad dumps her, it is natural that she might, for just a moment, want to make more of a celebratory embrace than there actually is. Graham is not unmindful of Hallie's feelings, either. And there ends the series. However, unless we attribute to Graham and Hallie qualities of selfishness and disrespect towards Patty which the entire series has shown are not only absent, but that the opposite is true, we must conclude that Graham and Hallie will proceed in business and keep their hands off of each other. We have, however, seen enough of the Graham-Hallie relationship to know that their business partnership will be similar to Patty and Graham's marriage, to the extent that they will proceed with their eyes open and constantly test the relationship while remaining steadfastly supportive:
"Every time we have a damn conversation, it's like I'm starting over!"
"Well, hand me the damn prospectus!"
"But Winnie Holzman said if MSCL had not been canceled, Graham would have left Patty for Hallie, so there." First, the statement was hearsay. Second, for the reasons discussed above, Graham would not leave Patty "for" Hallie. It is possible, however, that Graham might leave Patty, as the plans for the restaurant proceed. Graham's relationship with Patty represents a certain level of development in which Graham plays a particular role. For Graham to truly find himself, it may be necessary for him to leave Patty, just as Angela did to find her separate identity. But like Angela, Graham would return to Patty. IMHO.