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3.8. Episode Eight: "Strangers in the House"
Original air date: October 20, 1994
"You were the only person I wanted to deal with" -- Sharon Cherski
Sharon's father suffers a heart attack; Angela and Sharon reconcile; Patty fires Graham.
This episode explores the dynamics of changing relationships among Angela, Rayanne, Sharon and Brian. Angela and Sharon reconcile with an understanding that their friendship need not be all or nothing, while Patty and Graham recognize the dangers of maintaining their work and home rapport as is.
As the episode begins, Patty and Graham are at work at Wood & Jones Printing. There is a dynamic between the two, as Graham helps Patty recall the color of a customer's order, (saffron, because Patty was eating rice, c.f. risotto disaster with Brad which precipitates Graham becoming the instructor of the cooking class), and Patty making sure that Graham has the quotes for a potentially lucrative client. But more than the teamwork, the scene shows that Graham is more attuned to food and cooking than to the business. Thus, a major plot line begins. Before Graham can leave, however, Patty receives a phone call -- Andy Cherski has had a heart attack.
ANGELA, SHARON AND BRIAN
Angela is drawn into the action when Graham appears in school to take Sharon to the hospital. It seems appropriate that Graham appears as a surrogate parent for Sharon. Patty and Camille are best friends, Angela and Sharon were, and we will later receive clues that Graham and Andy are friends, as well. Even though Angela and Sharon are estranged, Angela is still familiar with many of the details of Sharon's life, (she knows where the Cherski's keep their spare house key), and genuinely concerned when Graham tells her about Andy. In Sharon's room, Angela flashes back to childhood, when the room was their world. (There is no explanation as to why Sharon, who is apparently an only child, has two beds in her room.) The scene confirms that the basic foundations of concern and familiarity that form a close friendship are still intact. However, the reconciliation between Angela and Sharon will take time:
"I wanted to hug Sharon and tell her things -- how awful I felt. But it was like, I didn't have the right, because we weren't friends anymore."
Angela's feelings keep her from being any more than civil to Sharon. As if to compensate, Angela gives Sharon her bed to sleep on and finds a better pillow than the one Angela uses.
At school, Angela can be no closer to Sharon. In previous episodes, Angela and Sharon have showed signs of reconciliation, but here, Sharon must turn to others for comfort. She first turns to Brian when Kyle cannot provide so much as a shoulder for her to cry on. Brian can give that much, even when he does not know what else to do. But gradually, he puts his arms around Sharon and consoles her.
Of course, Rayanne cannot help but tease when she sees Brian and Sharon together. Typically, such teasing would prompt Brian to try to justify his behavior. Here, however, he apologizes for Rayanne; Brian is apparently comfortable with Sharon. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that Sharon turned to Brian not merely because he was there, but because it felt comfortable for her to do so. Angela, Sharon and Brian grew up together, and it is likely that Brian has been nearly as much a fixture in Sharon's life as he has been in Angela's life. In prior episodes, Brian and Sharon have dealt with one another primarily in terms of their common friend, Angela. After this episode, Brian and Sharon will deal with one another largely without regard to Angela, and particularly with regard to Delia Fisher. Thus, a moment of intimacy, not sexual intimacy, but one's consolation of another, both changes a relationship and strengthens it. We see the beginning of the new and stronger relationship between Sharon and Brian in Angela's bedroom. In the past, Brian has not seemed any more comfortable with Sharon than with any other girl, but here they sit on the bed laughing together. In a short time, they have progressed to a comfortable, easy relationship. We can extrapolate that it is probably easier for Brian to be comfortable with Sharon for two reasons. First, he is not "totally in love" with her. Second, given Sharon's involvement in school activities, she and Brian likely have a common ground that is easy for Brian to talk about and relate to.
Angela's reaction to the laughter, just before she enters, raises an interesting question. Clearly, she is mildly envious of Brian because he is able to laugh and talk with Sharon and she is not. But she undoubtedly understands that Brian has certain special qualities. One cannot help but wonder what her attitude would be towards Brian if he were as comfortable with her as he is with Sharon. When Angela enters, Brian reverts to his awkward self. If his relationship with Sharon has changed, his relationship with Angela has not.
ANGELA, SHARON AND RAYANNE
Rayanne reacts with teasing when she sees Sharon and Brian together:
She again teases when she overhears Sharon telling Brian that she is staying with the Chases:
"So, is her dad cooking you up all sorts of great things?"
Beneath the teasing, however, is an attempt to reach out, and in a moment of privacy in the Girls' Bathroom, Rayanne abandons her public teasing for some rough-and-ready practical advice:
"You're dad's like, seriously sick, right? You shouldn't even be here. People are feeling sorry for you, right? Use it. Take advantage."
"I mean, you have a personal tragedy. With a loved one. You shouldn't be in some stall, bawling."
Rayanne then offers to take Sharon to the hospital, courtesy of Tino. However, when Rayanne tries to recruit Angela for the trip to the hospital, Angela declines:
"I've really been cutting bio."
But Angela regrets her choice. With Sharon, Rayanne and Rickie off to the hospital, Angela seeks out Jordan Catalano for comfort:
"So are you crying or something?" he astutely asks.
"Because I'm lonely," Angela says in a voiceover. "Because I have no friends. Because I'm a terrible, terrible person." However, Angela does not tell Jordan the truth: "Because my "friend's father is in the hospital, and he could die."
Jordan hugs Angela, but the moment ends when Shane appears.
"That's rough," Jordan tells her. "I gotta go."
Jordan leaves with Shane, doing to Angela precisely what Angela has done to Sharon -- extend lukewarm comfort and leave her alone in her misery. The scene echoes "Guns and Gossip," where Angela, oblivious to the effect her actions have had on Brian, is forthwith devastated by Jordan, who is oblivious to the effect his actions have had on her.
ANGELA, SHARON, RAYANNE AND BRIAN
The acts of kindness and Angela's non-action come to a crisis in the Chase kitchen when Kyle phones for Sharon. Kyle has been unavailable to provide any emotional support for Sharon, but we may well guess what motivates Sharon. Suddenly, Brian becomes irrelevant and he knows it. Any expectations he might have had, any new feelings of poise and confidence, wilt and he heads for the door. But as insensible as Angela is to the similar effect her own actions have on Brian, she immediately sees what has happened and steps in to defend Brian:
"I don't believe you! What about Brian?"
"Angela, Kyle is my boyfriend, I hate to tell you--"
"Well Brian Krackow happens to be waiting in my living room and I don't know what you're doing with him--"
"Nothing! Nothing, we're just -- we're just friends."
"Yeah, when Kyle's not around, you like use him!"
To Sharon, this is the pot calling the kettle black:
"You are lecturing me about using Brian Krackow when he is like so obviously in love with you and you like totally use him!"
"Brian Krackow is not in love with me!"
"That's not what Rayanne Graf says!"
It should be no surprise that Rayanne has correctly diagnosed Brian, as she has proven herself to be keenly attuned to the human condition -- with respect to others. But the implication of what Sharon tells Angela should not be overlooked. Clearly, Rayanne and Sharon have discussed Brian and Angela; they are talking to one another as friends.
Digression: Sharon and Rayanne's Ride to the Hospital
Sharon and Rayanne's discussion about Brian most likely took place on the way to the hospital with Tino, one of the most taciturn characters in the history of television. Their friendship is developing, but there are other reasons for them to discuss Angela and Brian.
Rayanne has some anxiety about Angela and Sharon reconciling. To have discussed Angela with Sharon implies that both girls have shared their feelings about Angela. Sharon has likely put Rayanne at ease about her continued relationship with Angela. To have discussed Brian implies that one or both have though about him. Rayanne's teasing, as we know, is her way of protecting herself while trying to get closer to someone, and she has been teasing Brian since "Dancing in the Dark." In "Halloween," the episode that follows "Strangers in the House," Brian and Rayanne will begin a relationship that never fully emerges. It is therefore conceivable that, although Rayanne has professed to having tried "every kind of person," she has not tried a person like Brian, and may want to. End of Digression.
But if Rayanne and Sharon are becoming friends, it seems that Angela and Sharon are moving in the opposite direction.
"You know what, just don't even speak to me, okay."
"I can't believe, you can't even be nice to me. God, at a time like this."
"Why do you even need me to be nice to you since everybody else in the world is!"
Sharon storms out of the house. Angela storms upstairs, leaving Brian at the door.
GRAHAM, PATTY AND CAMILLE
While Andy Cherski's heart attack has exacerbated the conflict between Angela and Sharon, it has also affected Graham. Simply put, Andy's heart attack causes Graham to realize that he is not happy working at Wood & Jones. Graham's crisis is compounded by the fact that he believes his responsibility to his family may prevent him from seeking a job where he would be happy. The depth of Graham's unhappiness emerges through Patty. As she sits in the hospital waiting room with Camille, she frets about Graham's inattentiveness to his work. Suddenly, even as Camille declares the opposite, Patty realizes her need for Graham. But the intensity of her attempted ravishment of Graham in a vacant room is also accompanied by futility; for the moment, Patty cannot reach him on either a professional or a human level. As Graham grows increasingly remote, the usual abundance of food in the Chase house disappears. There is no breakfast, and by evening, Graham is too incapacitated to prepare dinner, precipitating the ordering of the pizza. While the kids are in the kitchen fighting their own battles, Patty tries to talk to Graham. He refuses to talk and leaves the house. With Graham in crisis, it is no surprise that the food and eating motifs figure prominently. When Sharon comes home with Graham, no one but Angela feels hungry, a reflection of the emotional isolation she feels as the one person who cannot participate in consoling Sharon. Patty provides a golden opportunity for Angela to extend an olive branch to Sharon when she gives Angela's breakfast muffin to Sharon, but Angela can only acquiesce. The extent of Graham's crisis can be measured by his ability to provide for his family and others. Early in the episode, after the moment of self-examination at the mirror, he turns to cooking as a sort of comfort. The result is a lemon-hazelnut tort which he brings to Camille. However, the next morning there is "nothing edible in the refrigerator," as Graham stares blankly at the coffee maker. By that evening, those who find themselves hungry must resort to carry-out pizza, as Graham lies prostrate in his bed.
The characters constantly complain of hunger while in the Chase house in this episode, and metaphorically it is a product of the break-down of the traditional family support. Here, we see the family at a time when no person can be counted on to support another, as is usually the case. Hence, the title of the episode: "Strangers in the House." However, we should not lose sight of the fact that each person is capable of dealing with the problems they are facing during Graham's absence as the spiritual provider in the Chase home. Even in his own moment of crisis, Graham is able to give comfort to the one person who truly needs it: Camille. Late on the night Graham walks out, (12:37 a.m. to be exact), Patty gets a call from Camille thanking her for sending Graham to the hospital to sit with her:
"I don't know how you knew, but he is exactly who I needed."
But whatever comfort Graham provides for Camille is reciprocated as Graham and Camille discuss Andy:
"You know the truth of it is, [Andy] loves it. The lumber business is his life."
In that moment, Graham reaches a troubling conclusion he later shares with Patty. Graham arrives home early in the morning. Patty is drying off from her morning shower.
"I landed the account," he tells Patty.
"I don't understand--"
"When they told me, I don't know, it was like, this moment when I had to admit that I didn't want to land it, because landing it means that I'm really doing this. This is my job, this is my life."
As Graham speaks, we their faces in the mirror, Graham's in the blue-gray shadow of early morning, and Patty's in the full daylight coming through the bathroom window. As Graham speaks, it is Patty's turn to come to a troubling conclusion.
"You're fired. Because I love you. Because I don't want to lose you."
"Uh, no. No. Patty, it's okay, I can -- I can face my responsibilities."
"I know. But you're not happy. You're not. Something has to change."
"What'll I do? I mean--"
"I don't know..."
"What'll I do? I don't even--"
"I don't know what you'll do. I guess you're finally going to figure it out."
Patty has fired the "stranger" to regain Graham.
ANGELA, SHARON AND RICKIE
Rayanne and Rickie find Angela sitting outside by herself. In a humorous way, Rickie bluntly articulates the tension between Angela and Rayanne stemming from both being unsure about the other's relationship to Sharon. He then tells them that even if they are both friends with Sharon, they can still be friends with each other. This important reaffirmation of the security of her friendship with Rayanne gives Angela the strength to reach out to and open up to Sharon. Her effort does not go unrewarded:
"You were the only person I wanted to deal with."
The reconciliation shows Angela that she can maintain connections and friendships with people if she no longer wants to be the person she was in the past. Her understanding of this is evident in the friendliness and openness she exhibits towards Brian as she passes by him on her way home. Angela articulates her new found appreciation for these people in the episode's final voiceover and moral:
"There are so many different ways to be connected to people. There are the people who you have this unspoken connection to, even thought there's not even a word for it. There's the people who you've known forever, who know you in this way that other people can't because they've seen you change. They've let you change."
Copyright 1997 William E. Blais.
All Rights Reserved.