- 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 »
3.5. Episode Five: "The Zit"
Original Air Date: September 22, 1994
"Sometimes it seems like we're all in a prison and the crime is how much we hate ourselves. It's good to get dressed up once in a while, and admit the truth: That when you really look closely, people are so strange and so complicated that they're actually beautiful -- possibly even me." -- Angela
Angela discovers a pimple at the same time that Patty wants her to participate in a mother-daughter fashion show. Angela does not want to be the center of public attention, but Patty seems to need it for approval and neither can fully understand the other's attitude. At school, the "Sophomore Top 40" rates Sharon as "Best Hooters," and Rayanne as "Most Slut Potential."
Teenage heroine discovers a pimple. Imagine how most television shows would treat such a premise: One-liners, put-downs, anxiety over the "big dance," more one-liners and a "heart-to-heart" talk to reassure both the afflicted and the audience that everything will be okay. MSCL takes a more sophisticated approach, using the superficially mundane subject of a pimple to develop the much deeper concept of self-image. But sophistication does not require complexity. "The Zit" addresses both subject and concept at the level of the story line, without deeper analytic levels, and such "skin deep" treatment is fitting of both. Accordingly, "The Zit" stands as "Editor's Choice" to demonstrate the MSCL's elegance to those who have never watched the show.
THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER CRISIS IN CONFIDENCE
As in "Father Figures," Angela and Patty are experiencing a similar problem from different perspectives. Angela is experiencing the changes of adolescence. She is self-conscious and does not relish the idea of putting herself on display, precisely what Patty wants her to do in the mother-daughter fashion show. On the other hand, Patty is beginning to see signs of aging, but unlike Angela, she desires an audience that will approve of her and reaffirm her beauty. But even though Angela and Patty are dealing with similar problems, Patty doesn't understand Angela's situation.
"I can't believe you're making me do this," Angela says, referring to the mother-daughter fashion show.
"I can't believe you don't want to do this," Patty replies.
However, Angela is able to pinpoint Patty's motivation:
"Mom, the only reason you want to go is because everyone told you how great you looked."
We are given further insight to Patty's feelings when Camille tells her about the "Top 40" poll. Patty seems mildly disappointed that Angela is not on it, a reaction which suggests that Angela's feelings may be unfamiliar to Patty because she was very attractive during her high school years. Camille considers it a blessing that she was not attractive in high school because she now likes how she looks, "and that's all that matters." Camille's statement clearly addresses Patty's problem. But it will take some time for Patty to understand Angela's perspective. That she does not understand is made clear by her clinical, matter-of-fact tone as she tries to instruct Angela on how to take care of her pimple. (In fact, Danielle may have a clearer notion of Angela's feelings: "yuck!" This conveys precisely the loathing and disgust that Angela dreads.) Angela will finally spell out the problem for Patty as they are fitting Angela's dress. The scene is one of MSCL's best, and the one which Bess Armstrong felt to be the most difficult to perform. As the scene begins, Patty is peeved by Angela's "warped version of the Patty Duke Show" joke, but still does not understand what is bothering Angela:
"You are clearly not comfortable with this. I'm not clear why -- you always seemed to enjoy it in the past."
Patty's statement carries the undercurrent of her inability to realize, or perhaps accept, that Angela is changing from child to adult. But as the scene progresses, it becomes clear that Patty's inability to see Angela as Angela sees herself is driven by her own "unconscious wish" to use the fashion show as a means of affirmation:
"I would think that you would welcome the opportunity to dress up to look your best--"
"Who am I looking my best for?"
"For you! Of course this is for you!"
However, Patty's rationale applies to herself and not Angela. Finally, Angela explains her feelings in no uncertain terms.
"Mom, just face the facts, okay?"
"What facts? What--"
"That I'm ugly, okay? Just face it -- I have."
Angela's statement is incomprehensible to Patty. If Patty's inability to understand Angela's problem results at all from Patty's need to solve her own problems, it is equally the result of her unequivocal love for Angela. To Patty, Angela is a beautiful child, and she cannot conceive that Angela could think otherwise. Patty begins to see how her earnest attempts to help Angela have actually exacerbated Angela's poor self-image. Later, as Patty and Graham prepare for bed, Patty tries to explain her problem with Angela, Patty feels that she has completely mishandled the situation with Angela, and cannot understand why. Her explanation is tangled with a rationalization of why she wants to be in the mother-daughter fashion show, and Graham explains:
"Well, I guess it's because you were kind of caught up with something. Something unconscious, something overpowering, something that kept you from acknowledging her insecurities..."
"Obviously, this fashion show business really means something to you. It's like you need it, it's like some kind of approval that you're starved for. And maybe I can't give you because I'm just one person and not the world."
The frankness of Graham's explanation can be explained by the level of comfort in his relationship with Patty, which is revealed through the scenes with Patty and Graham in their bedroom. In the first "bedroom" scene Patty's comments to Graham confirm Angela's belief that Patty is interested in the fashion show because everybody tells Patty how good she looks. Graham suggests this, but Patty discounts the idea, citing lines around her eyes that don't go away. Graham first tries to be diplomatic, but is finally sincere and straightforward:
"They don't bother me, Patty."
In the second scene, after Patty and Angela have had their confrontation, Graham tells Patty that she may have her own reasons for wanting so badly to be in the fashion show. The scene continues with a discussion of their own insecurities in high school and ends in some playfulness and a revelation by Graham, (his knowledge of who RuPaul is), which surprises Patty. Beneath the dialogue and action are bits of business that tell more about the relationship: Patty in the closet, Graham coming out of the bathroom, both of them disrobing, Patty unconsciously rubbing in hand lotion (subtle counterpoint to Angela's idle stroking of her chin), Graham flossing (his wedding ring prominent), Graham throwing back the covers and crawling into bed, Patty scratching herself, Graham blowing his nose, their continued conversation while they kiss. The business, and Graham's honesty about Patty's looks, indicate clearly that these two are comfortable with each other and with their appearance. Throughout the entire program, Patty and Graham stand out as the only married couple we see. They are also the only two people who have a happy, unencumbered, satisfying sexual relationship, one of MSCL's tacit moral statements. The marital relationship between Patty and Graham represents the mature development of self-image, where satisfaction with self creates a satisfaction with another. We should also note that the interaction between Patty and Graham falls within Angela's rubric of "sex or a conversation, ideally both." Clearly, Patty and Graham talk to one another in a meaningful way, while having a satisfying sexual relationship. Their relationship represents Angela's ideal. Graham's explanation of why Patty wants to be in the fashion show enables as resolution of the conflict between Angela and Patty. When Angela comes to apologize, Patty apologizes as well, finally able to articulate why she subconsciously needed the show for herself and why she wanted to do it for Angela.
"That's all I want for you," Patty tells Angela, "is to enjoy what you really are."
After this, Angela is able to accept Patty's help in caring for her face. But the reconciliation has greater meaning. The Pilot episode established a conflict between Angela and Patty based on the changes in Angela and Patty's unwillingness to accept them. Patty has now accepted that Angela is changing, and because Patty has, Angela is now able to accept Patty's advice as help and not criticism. The episode has worked through a critical element of the mother-daughter relationship.
CRISES IN SELF-IMAGE
While Angela and Patty work to understand one another, the "Sophomore Top 40" poll examine the link between appearance and self-image. Sharon knows that people are looking at her differently, and is forced to confront the issue when Angela bluntly tells her about the poll during a spat in the girls' bathroom:
"You're on it -- They both are. I can't believe you didn't know."
Angela's attack has been prompted by Sharon telling Angela to "go squeeze your zits." Angela and Sharon provide an important counterpoint to one another, which is emphasized by their spat in the bathroom. Both are suffering from a crisis in self-image, but where Angela's crisis has been triggered by her private attention to a "negative" physical feature, Sharon's crisis has been triggered by public attention to a "positive" physical feature. Neither crisis will be resolved until each girl learns to accept themselves. For Angela, this lesson is learned as she works through her conflict with Patty. For Sharon, the lesson is learned as she works through her conflict with Kyle.
The poll makes Sharon becomes terribly self-conscious. She dresses for gym in a heavy sweatshirt. She wears her coat to class and slouches. She endures leers, crude remarks and unwanted attention in the hallways. Sharon blames Kyle and his friends for her problem, and breaks up with him. However, Kyle later confronts Sharon, and, with Sharon's prompting, explains his true feelings towards her:
"It's not just what you have, it's your whole -- it's you... But I must admit, I'm happy you have them. Why aren't you?"
"I'm working on it."
Kyle's reassurances about his feelings for Sharon enable her to begin the process of accepting herself.
Digression: The Kyle-Jordan connection
Kyle's reconciliation efforts present a counterpoint to Jordan's later attempt to reconcile with Angela after the "betrayal." Kyle tells Sharon that her appearance got his attention but was not the whole reason he wanted to go out with her. After making his point, he is ready to drop the subject, just as Jordan will be ready to drop the subject after his "undefendable thing" speech. However, like Angela, Sharon sees Kyle's statement as merely a beginning. Kyle appears as a decent and sincere boy as he explains to Sharon how he feels, and he will later openly declares his love for Sharon. Yet, in the aftermath of a sexual encounter, Sharon is an afterthought in his resolution to spend more time with the dog, and when he wants sex from Sharon, he invokes Brad Pitt, demonstrating that he knows exactly what to say to her. Kyle's behavior indicates that while Kyle may sincerely love Sharon, he is also completely capable of saying what he must to get what he wants sexually. The same may be said of Jordan Catalano. End of Digression.
The poll also creates a self-image crisis for Rayanne, but she reacts entirely differently from Angela and Sharon. Rayanne suggests that Angela's anger over Rayanne being called a slut is a fear of guilt by association. Angela is mildly hurt by the suggestion, but Rayanne chooses to treat the entire matter as a "goof:"
"I have the right to live my own life!"
While Angela and Sharon treat their respective problems seriously, Rayanne outwardly embraces the role she has been assigned by the poll.
The tension among the girls is eased, if not resolved, during encounters in the Girl's Bathroom. Angela and Sharon implicitly apologize to one another for their earlier fight, and because their respective self-image issues thematically juxtapose one another, the apologies indicate that each has learned to accept themselves. Unfortunately, any hope for a total reconciliation dissolves when Rayanne enters. Rayanne realizes what is happening between Angela and Sharon, but remains cool:
"If you want to be friends with her again, that's fine with me. Maybe you do. After all, she's not a slut -- yet."
The statement is filled with portent, but no less so than Angela's response:
"You know what? How many guys you do or do not sleep with is like, so none of my business. It has nothing to do with our friendship, okay?"
Rayanne again dismisses the matter without discussion. However, one's self-image is a big deal and not a "goof." Rayanne's dismissal of the issue and outward acceptance of an image which has been assigned to her by others shows that, unlike Angela, Patty and Sharon, she is unwilling, perhaps afraid, to look inward. This may be because, unlike the other characters, Rayanne has no real "significant other" to help her do so. At the end of the episode, Angela declares:
"People are so strange and so complicated, they are beautiful, possibly even me."
She has learned to accept herself and embrace a self-image that comes from within and not from mere physical appearance or public opinion. Rayanne, on the other hand, has far to go: The name tag she wears at the mother-daughter fashion show says "Slut."
Copyright 1997 William E. Blais.
All Rights Reserved.