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3.7. Episode Seven: "Why Jordan Can't Read"
Original Air Date: October 6, 1994
"I thought at least by the age of 15 I would have a love life, but I don't even have a like life." -- Angela
"Duh squared." -- Rayanne
Angela is crushed because Jordan "wasn't in the mood" to meet Patty and Graham; Patty fears she is pregnant; Rayanne and Sharon have a conversation in the Girls' Bathroom.
THE BEST LAID PLANS
"Love is when you look into someone's eyes and suddenly you go all the way inside to their soul, and you both know, instantly," says Angela with assurance at the outset of the episode. So says the girl who has been kissed just four times. However, Angela's complaint, that at fifteen, she doesn't even have a "like" life, and her imagining that the magic moment happens "seconds before the avalanche hits," reveals another side to her conception of love. Angela clearly seems to believe that she can choreograph, manage or manipulate events to create the relationship with Jordan that she desires. She does not yet understand that the bonds that connect people are built naturally, in the passage of time.
Curiously, we never actually learn "why Jordan can't read," and neither does Angela. But beyond the literal meaning of "reading," "to read" encompasses any exercise in interpreting and understanding symbols. Here, Jordan's literal reading problem symbolizes his inability to grasp Angela's feelings towards him, largely because she is too inexperienced in matters of the heart to adequately express herself. Therein lies the lesson Angela must learn, and the answer to the mystery posed in the episode title: She knows less about Jordan -- and love -- than she realizes. But Angela gets her first real lesson in what it means to "love," and it is not an altogether happy experience.
Angela's concept of love is first revealed by a five-page letter containing "every feeling I ever wanted to express" about Jordan Catalano. She seems to believe that her feelings are susceptible to the discipline and organization of pen and paper. She also seems to believe that she can control events to bring about the goal she desires. (We cannot be too hard on Angela for wanting to control things -- consider Patty.) What follows from Angela's belief in her ability to manage events is a sequence of encounters with Jordan where Angela attempts to exert control only to lose it. Even as Ms. Lerner admonishes the students to "stay with the group," Jordan finds his own way through the museum. So when Angela and Jordan encounter each other in the museum, it is a chance encounter to Jordan, but a carefully timed event to Angela.
Digression: What Is the Big Hairy Deal about Staying with the Group?
Angela asks what is so important about staying with the group, and as nothing is wasted in MSCL, we are at our peril if we dismiss the dialogue as mere filler; the question has been posed for a reason. The outcome of Angela's efforts to force the relationship with Jordan is symbolically foreshadowed by Ms. Lerner's admonitions to "stay with the group." The group symbolizes a certain order and natural process (the group will proceed through the museum in an orderly and thorough manner). However, Jordan has chosen his own path, and for Angela to give chase (no pun intended -- oh, who am I kidding? Of course it was intended!) she must leave the group. But by choosing to leave the group, Angela has only the illusion of control, for she has plunged into what is, for her, the unfamiliar. Thus, Angela unwittingly abandons the very thing she depends on to succeed, and the result is clear: She will fail. End of Digression.
As Angela revels in her "really nice conversation" with Jordan, Rayanne confesses to losing the note. Angela tries to regroup, concocting a transparently implausible lie about having written the note about a dead boyfriend. (What Jordan must think of girls! They continually lie to him -- and badly.) However, Jordan's excuses are equally implausible and she is angered by the idea that he didn't actually read a letter she poured so much into:
"Oh really? Why is that? I'm curious, I would really like to know what it was that made it so incredibly boring. Just tell me. Was it too emotional, too personal, too many big words--"
"Shut up!" Jordan yells.
Suddenly, Angela realizes the truth:
"You couldn't read it. That's it, isn't it?"
Jordan admits as much but before anything more can be said, Shane pulls Jordan away. Shane's role in this episode continues a leitmotif begun in the Pilot episode, where nearly every significant exchange between Angela and Jordan will be interrupted -- by forces beyond Angela's control. Here, however, the interruption seems welcome. To Jordan, his reading problem is something he doesn't talk about, and Shane arrival has spared him. To Angela, Jordan's problem is information she can use to gain an advantage, and Shane's arrival has given her the chance to make new plans. Angela begins planning almost immediately, and it is clear her new knowledge about Jordan figures prominently. As Rayanne runs off to beep George, the "really cute" museum security guard, Angela expresses to Rickie her anxiety about "running into" (i.e., an unplanned meeting) with Jordan. Rickie reassures Angela:
"You won't run into him. He has shop fifth period Mondays and Wednesdays and he never cuts shop -- I just know because I used to pass him on the way to Computer."
Rickie's knowledge of Jordan's schedule and his too-convenient reason for knowing has a suspicious feel. It's not the first time there has been an indication that Rickie is attracted to, or at least aware of, Jordan's attractiveness. But his intimate knowledge of Jordan's schedule -- he will later be able to tell Angela exactly where to find him-- is equally as naive as Angela's desire to "run into" Jordan. (Rickie, of course, will have his feelings dashed in the wake of Byzantine plans to put him and Cory Helfrich together at the World Happiness dance.) At the Frozen Embryos rehearsal, Angela frets (get it?) that Jordan is not paying attention to her.
"Huge events take place on this earth every day, hurricanes, earthquakes -- even glaciers move. So why couldn't he look at me?" Angela asks in voiceover.
Almost as soon as she asks the question Jordan offers to sing his new song, "I Call Her Red." The timing of Jordan's offer almost seems to feed Angela's misconception that wishing might make it so. In any event, Jordan plays his song, and because it fits Angela's desires, she believes the song is about her. However, as astute viewers, we know better, and the scene becomes one of the great rewards of watching MSCL. In preceding episodes, the camera has shown very clearly that Jordan drives a red car. Here, we are told by a credible voice (Rickie) that Jordan's song is about Angela, and the camera tries to lull us into believing him, as every view of Jordan's car carefully mutes its red color. If we let the camera deceive us, Angela's ultimate letdown is all the more intense. If we keep in mind what we have already learned, the scene provides insight to Angela: Convinced the song is about her, she fails to acknowledge that there is something else very important to Jordan which is red.
We shall dispense with any exegesis of "red" as a homonym for the past tense of "read." Interestingly, Angela associates love with natural disasters, avalanches, hurricanes, and earthquakes, which rarely if ever require any man-made impetus. However, she perceives her connection with Jordan as depending on her ability to manipulate events. Through the rehearsal scene, the episode has presented a cycle of Angela attempting to control the progress of her relationship with Jordan, losing control and attempting to regain control. Angela is about to discover that love, like other natural phenomena, has no blueprint, and can be devastating. When the rehearsal fizzles, Jordan offers Angela a ride home. To Jordan, offering a ride is a natural way of extending generosity to others. (As Graham offers food.) After all, Jordan's car is his "shelter from the storm," from the harshness of the outside world. To Angela, Jordan's invitation is evidence that her efforts are working. In Jordan's car, Angela plays the literacy card. She believes she is the only person besides Jordan to know about it, (although it was clear to Vic Racine in the preceding episode), and accordingly, she believes she knows Jordan better or more intimately than anyone else. As she will later tell Brian:
"You don't know, you don't understand, not for one second."
Angela believes Jordan's reading problem is her ticket to becoming an important figure in his life. But Jordan does not realize, cannot "read," Angela's agenda. He has an entirely different philosophy. Where Angela sees love in relation to a scenario where she takes control in the face of an avalanche, Jordan sees love in relation to the relatively simple process of making snow:
"You know those guys? Up in the mountains?"
"Who make snow? Like as their job?"
"I would really like to do that."
With this, Jordan gives Angela the tender, meaningful kiss she has dreamed about. The timing of the kiss shows us Jordan's attitude on the progress of love. After the kiss, Jordan offers an innocent and thoughtful apology.
"I interrupted you."
His statement recalls their kiss in "Dancing in the Dark," where Jordan leaves Angela standing on the curb, arms folded in consternation. Here, Jordan again leaves Angela at curbside, but she deliriously dances (to the same music that plays when Jordan leaves her in "Dancing in the Dark") in innocent, childlike steps to her front door. She has succeeded -- hasn't she? Angela seems to have missed that the tender, romantic kiss she had hoped for was not the result of planning and control. At breakfast, drinking coffee "black with three or four sugars," Angela asks if she can go out on dates. She has already begun new plans. However, Patty throws a wrench into Angela's machinations by decreeing that Angela must present her dates to herself and Graham. (How all occasions do inform against Angela.) Angela's dilemma, and the naivete of her thinking, are punctuated in comic relief by Danielle:
"So, say it was somebody you knew. Then I wouldn't have to introduce him, `cause you already know him. Right?"
If Angela is thinking ahead to the weekend, Danielle is thinking years ahead. To cope with Patty's ground rules, Angela again hatches elaborate schemes to try to control events:
"I want to see him so much, but at the same time, I don't want to just `see' him, like, with no preparation."
Rickie tells Angela where to "see" Jordan, and once there, she rehearses her greeting to be sure it sounds spontaneous. Again, the camera helps us understand the context. As Angela practices saying "hi," we see students in the background. But with each different rehearsed greeting by Angela, the same students go through the same motions. The camera has taken us out of the "real" time of the episode to visually emphasize that Angela is going through "takes." Ironically, Jordan's actual appearance takes Angela by surprise, but she sticks to her agenda, trying to back him into both agreeing to see a movie and coming to meet Patty and Graham. Jordan is slow to catch on, but once he sees what is happening, he agrees, almost to get away from Angela. Again, and for the same reason as earlier in the episode, Shane's tugging at Jordan comes as a relief to both Jordan and Angela. But once again, Angela's control over events is short-lived. As it becomes clear that Jordan will not show to meet Patty and Graham, Angela tries to save face:
"We kept it loose. It wasn't definite, it wasn't like a date."
The scene that follows is nonpareil. Not for MSCL the heartbroken and tearful teen flinging herself on her bed. Rather, the scene is carefully paced and true to the elements of the story. The scene builds from the preceding scene in the living room, where the music begins with guitar and a solo voice humming "I Call Her Red." Angela goes to her room as the solo voice begins singing the words to the song. The tone and tempo of the music and Angela's retreat to her room recalls the Pilot episode where R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" plays as Angela returns from her abortive trip to Let's Bolt.
Still trying to plan ahead, Angela begins to look at clothing for the next day. But the hurt is too much for her to bear. She begins to cry. In measured pace, she crouches, then kneels, then slumps to the floor -- she can get no lower. The fade to commercial seems almost welcome as there is no comfort we can offer.
We return to a subdued Angela, still wearing the dramatic black of the evening prior, antithesis of the giddy lover at breakfast the preceding morning. The change in mood in two successive mornings dramatizes the ups and downs of adolescence. Angela's voiceover echoes her continuing belief in controlling events:
"This life has been a test. If it had been an actual life, you would've received instructions on where to go and what to do."
At school, Jordan (of all people) acknowledges that Angela's angst has been self-induced.
"She just makes too big a deal out of everything," he tells Rickie. "She makes everything too complicated."
Jordan's declaration ends the principal plot, which has been a cycle of failed plans by Angela. But the principal plot leaves Angela's attempts at connecting with Jordan an abject failure, the state of relations between her and Jordan unresolved, the point of her distress unclear. We must, therefore, look to the subplots to understand the lesson Angela has learned -- to understand "why Jordan can't read."
THE NEED FOR CLEAR, CONCISE COMMUNICATION
As the opening credits appear, Patty and Graham prepare for bed. We see their comfort with one another in their frank discussion of Patty's body, the almost playful exchange in their movements in the bathroom and Patty's knowledge of how to manipulate the scale even as Graham tells her how to get an accurate reading. Such ease between two people is the product of long-term intimacy and the work at understanding one another that accompanies such intimacy. While Patty believes she is pregnant, she and Graham must each work through the problem of understanding how the other feels about an unexpected addition to the family. Ironically, it is clear that if Patty is pregnant, it is an accident. Thus, we see that the most profound expression of the bond between two people -- the creation of life -- can result from lack of planning and loss of control. Through Patty and Graham, we also see that the communication that forms the bond must be continually maintained. As Patty and Graham puzzle over when conception occurred, Graham notes that there haven't been "that many times," to which Patty replies:
"Are you kidding? There have been tons of times!"
Obviously, they are speaking of the same number of times, but from different perspectives. While gently jabbing at the difference between the sexes, the exchange illustrates the need to keep the channels of communication open. Once Patty realizes her supposed pregnancy was a false alarm, it becomes clear to both that Patty is relieved and Graham disappointed. However, because they are able to "read" each other, they are able to support each other.
The need to "read" to build a successful relationship is not confined to romantic/sexual relationships. Rayanne and Sharon begin a friendship that will be based on their ability to talk to one another openly. If Rayanne and Sharon seem to be strange bedfellows we must keep in mind that thematically, they represent opposed aspects of Angela's personality. As Angela's emotional and intellectual development progresses, it is reasonable that Rayanne and Sharon will become more comfortable with one another.
In the Girls' Bathroom, Rayanne and Sharon square off in front of the mirror. (Over Rayanne's shoulder, we see a graffiti of a heart with the initials "AJ" above and the name "Chris" below. This is reputedly a reference to A.J. Langer's real-life boyfriend.) Rayanne bluntly asks Sharon if she and Kyle have "gone all the way" yet.
"That is completely none of your business!"
"Duh! Look, I know it's none of my business. We're totally not friends due the fact that neither of us can stand each other, that's why I asked you. Go ahead. Ask me anything, Go ahead. It's like, relaxing."
"You're so weird!"
Sharon tells Rayanne that she has made a solemn promise to herself to wait until she is ready for sex, and is sticking to that promise. In return, Rayanne reveals that sex is not always particularly enjoyable. Each has learned a little about the other in the exchange. More importantly, a pattern has been set for their future relations. They will be able to "read" each other because they have tacitly agreed to the terms of the relationship: "Ask me anything." The "duh squared" scene begins a friendship that both Sharon and Rayanne will publicly deny until the last episode.
Angela's interaction with Brian provides a unifying force in the episode, as their relationship appears as both a mature couple and as friends. As we have seen since the Pilot episode, Angela and Brian are sufficiently secure in their relationship with one another to not pull punches.
"How come you look like that? You just look like you're going to a costume party as someone else."
In the shouting match over whether Jordan could understand The Bicycle Thief, Angela and Brian stand face to face and look directly into each other's eyes. As loudly as they shout, as intensely as they stare, there is no suggestion that Brian has no place judging whom Angela dates, or even being in the house. There is no suggestion that he leave and never return or that Angela has any intention of severing relations with Brian. In one sense, Angela and Brian are a couple, and their relationship survives the intensity and apparent hostility because it is secure. The camera helps us understand the relationship through visual means, as Angela and Brian reprise a sequence of crossing past one another that was executed earlier by Patty and Graham in the upstairs hallway as they discuss a pregnancy test for Patty. Thus, the movements of Brian and Angela echo the movements of the husband and wife; just as Patty and Graham have worked out intricacies of communicating with one another, so have Angela and Brian; they "read" each other. Unfortunately for Brian, he desires a truly romantic level of intimacy with Angela. Brian repeatedly appears in the Chase home on dubious pretexts which are his way of trying to manipulate events. Brian cannot control events to connect with Angela any better than Angela can to connect with Jordan, but his appearances at Angela's house create a charming sequence of comic relief which parodies the thematic context of the episode. As Brian appears in the house with an excuse as rehearsed as Angela's hallway "encounter" with Jordan, he is met not by Angela, but Danielle. Danielle's near-confrontational style parodies her older sister's attempt to control events, while Brian's fumbling reaction to Danielle parodies Angela's loss of control as events take their own course.
In the closing scene, as Angela and Brian play catch, (and kids play roller hockey in the street), Angela refuses to discuss Jordan Catalano because:
"It's never happened to you. Just wait until it happens to you. Seriously, I cannot wait until it happens to you because I am going to look at you, and I am going to laugh and I'll say, 'See? See? I told you so.'"
Brian stands mute as the scene fades to credits. Because he does not speak, Angela does not know. But clearly, "it" has happened to Brian. Ultimately, the bond between two people, whether soulmates or friends, depends on the ability to "read" one another, a skill which can only be learned over time and through the natural, spontaneous process of earning each other's trust and getting to know one another's ways. As long as Angela tries to manage her connection with Jordan, she cannot succeed; her plotting obstructs the necessary natural process which would enable Jordan to "read" her. However, Angela will never again try to control events to catch Jordan Catalano's attention. (Admittedly, Jordan is the subject of some scheming in "The Life of Brian," but, as discussed in the analysis of that episode and elsewhere, there is an entirely different dynamic at work.) From this episode forward, Angela's relationship with Jordan will evolve in a natural manner. Angela seems to have learned a hard lesson about the nature of love.
Copyright 1997 William E. Blais.
All Rights Reserved.