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Angela's World

3.10. Episode Ten: "Other People's Daughters"

    Original Air Date: November 4, 1994

 

"We move from terror and loss, to unexpected good fortune, and out of darkness, hope is born." -- Angela, quoting the tarot.

Synopsis


    Patty's stodgy dinner party for her parents' 45th wedding anniversary coincides with Rayanne's wild birthday party; Rayanne overdoses and Patty rescues her.
 

Analysis


As Amber draws a Tarot card to represent Patty, she explains to Angela that it is the Daughter, who hides her feelings behind a mask. Angela protests that she is the daughter, and Amber reminds her that Patty is a daughter as well. Each Tarot card has dual meanings, Amber goes on to explain, both good and bad. Thus, we are introduced to the thematic underpinnings of an episode that examines the three major female characters of MSCL. Angela, Rayanne and Patty are each "other people's daughters," and that shapes who they are and their relationships with one another.

RAYANNE, AMBER'S DAUGHTER


As Rayanne, and Rickie forage for food at the beginning of the episode, Rayanne remarks that the dark mustard in the Chase refrigerator has to do with sex.

    "All you need to survive is mild yellow. The rest is purely recreational."

It is a telling comment, because, as we have seen, food functions as a metaphor for love and family support. Thus, when Rayanne equates dark mustard with sex, it reveals her confusion of sex with love and affirmation of self. The source of Rayanne's confusion lies close to home. Rayanne is Amber's daughter, and unfortunately, Amber herself is more daughter than mother. As Angela enters Rayanne's home for the first time, we see Amber's imprimatur throughout the apartment: Beads, candles, wind chimes. These are the trappings of the `60s flower child generation, an era when Amber would have been a child, and they indicate that Amber has never grown up. Amber's conduct confirms that she is still a child. She is "pals" with Rayanne and her friends. She is fascinated with Angela's brightly colored streamers. She sanctions drinking by Rayanne and her friends.

Later, Amber will act the mother without being a mother. She breaks up the party, but her anger stems from the fact that Rayanne's antics have inconvenienced her. Amber hurriedly changes clothes as she scolds Rayanne, then rushes out for a date with Rusty, oblivious to the fact that Rayanne is in serious trouble. At the hospital, Amber arrives, genuinely concerned, (for there is no doubt that she loves Rayanne), but again she voices her concern in terms of self:

    "These kids can scare the hell out of you!"

Amber has made no connection between Rayanne's behavior and her own. Such self-directed behavior, and the failure to understand the connection between one's own actions and the consequences of those actions, is childlike. Truly, Rayanne is a child being raised by a child.

The food metaphor, always prominent where Rayanne is concerned, reinforces both Amber's essential character and the effect it has had on Rayanne. Amber does not believe in cooking:

    "The only really great foods are appetizers and desserts, so why bother eating anything else?"

Thus, Amber affirmatively rejects the values, indeed, the parental responsibility, of providing a stable and loving environment for Rayanne. Factually and metaphorically, Rayanne does not enjoy the stable home life and family support that Angela has. Further evidence of Rayanne's lacking home life arrives in the form of a birthday card from her absentee father. He has sent a birthday card with $270, and birthday wishes:

    "Happy birthday and maybe more."

It foreshadows what is to come, but also shows that Rayanne's father is not attentive enough to properly sign his daughter's birthday card. Rayanne reacts with anger, although she does not express it as such. She asks her mother to send the money back, but Amber ignores her. She gets drunk and decides to spend the money on a party. The drinking and the party are Rayanne's attempt to control her life. She equates adult activity with being an adult, and therefore being in charge of her own life. Rayanne equates drinking and having sex as being "responsible," and therefore in control. Thus, Rayanne drinks in this episode in the hope that she, and not capricious elements, such as an absentee father, controls of her life. She also engages in adult activity because, as will be seen in "On the Wagon," she cannot successfully be a child. Rayanne's mind set is reinforced by her hopes for her party,

    "where so much is going on at every second, that there's no possibility for, for, your mind to wander and you become this prisoner, of like, happiness!"

If Rayanne can imprison herself, she is, in effect, exercising total control over her life. Rayanne does not realize, however, that her drinking and sexual excesses are irresponsible acts that rob her of the ability to care for herself.

Digression: Why Doesn't Rayanne Smoke?


    There was an extensive debate on line about why Rayanne does not smoke, as the habit usually accompanies drinking and drug use. Thematically, the act of smoking does not exert dominion over one's body as dramatically as sex or drinking or drugs. Further, Amber is an X-ray technician, and we may extrapolate that Amber has regaled Rayanne with enough smoker's lung stories to cure her of ever taking a puff (although Amber herself smokes). We also know that Rayanne is in good physical condition, and likely avoids smoking for that reason. But perhaps most all, Rayanne probably knows that, although the boys will willingly kiss a girl who puts out, all else being equal, the boys prefer kissing a girl who does not smoke to one who does. End of Digression.

Ironically, the more Rayanne tries to control her life, the more she actually abdicates control. We see visual evidence of this in her frenetic actions as she hands out invitations and buys drugs and alcohol for the party. Ultimately, Rayanne's misguided efforts to gain control leave her on her bathroom floor, utterly helpless.

PATTY, VIVIAN'S DAUGHTER


It is no accident that the scenes of Rayanne's preparations for her party are interwoven with scenes of Patty sparring with Vivian, or that Patty's conflict with Vivian takes on the tone of a domestic comedy as Rayanne's party becomes darkly malevolent. Rayanne and Patty are thematic counterparts in this episode.

Like Rayanne, Patty is also struggling to control of her own life. Like Rayanne, Patty's father is absent. (Strictly speaking, both of Patty's parents are absent, as she is adopted, a point specifically discussed in this episode.) Like Rayanne, Patty resents having others controlling her life, such as rearranging her candlesticks, or putting turkeys in her refrigerator, where she keeps neatly labeled leftovers. Like Rayanne, Patty reacts with anger and a false front of happiness. The food metaphor also figures in Patty's problems. We have already seen Chuck Wood's concept of food as love: Chili fries and pie at the diner. Here, we see Vivian's concept of food as love: A huge turkey in the refrigerator, oregano in the curry sauce and platitudes

    "Turkey is the easiest thing in the world, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser"
    "Oregano is the universal herb."

The very concept of getting emotional over food is incomprehensible to Vivian. (However, we should remain mindful that these are not Patty's real parents, and in this day and age we can easily imagine this well-meaning pair rescuing Patty from a state-run orphanage that classifies ketchup as a vegetable.)

Unlike Rayanne, Patty reacts with truly controlling behavior, forbidding Angela from going to Rayanne's party, and generally aggravating the rest of her family while planning the anniversary party. But Patty cannot be any happier controlling than Rayanne can be in abdication. Thus, as the respective parties unfold, we see Rayanne veer wildly out of control, while Patty "masks" her clenched teeth with cheerful smiles.

RICKIE AND GRAHAM, NOT REALLY ANYBODY'S DAUGHTERS


While Patty and Rayanne present dual aspects of self-determination, each has an amplifying counterpart. Rickie appears in this episode as Rayanne's truly powerless counterpart, and as Rayanne's abdication of control over her own life increases in degree, so does Rickie's impotence. When Patty confronts Rickie about the beer bottle, he cannot tell Patty that it is Rayanne's beer. At school, he cannot tell Rayanne that she is out of control, or prevent her from going further out of control. At the party, he cannot help Rayanne when she needs it most. Finally, as Rayanne lies helpless on the bathroom floor, he can barely tell Patty what drugs Rayanne has taken. In contrast to Patty, Graham stands out as truly in control. Graham is the "Magician," who (according to the tarot) uses skill and imagination to channel power from above. Graham tells Patty how to deal with Vivian.

    "Here's what you do. You go down there and say, `Mom, I love you, but you're driving me to an early grave. Do not touch my candlesticks, ever!' That's what you do."

When Vivian announces she is "in the kitchen -- poking around," Graham promptly moves to intercept her. He also resists Patty's attempts to control the party, as if he understands that it is her reaction to Vivian. (The disparity between Patty's powerlessness and Graham's power is driven home visually in the scene where Graham eats an apple as Patty palms an orange.) Finally, Graham stands up and prevents Vivian from contaminating his curry sauce with oregano. Graham alone controls his own life. (Although not totally, as the help-wanted clippings remind us.) It is therefore fitting that in Angela, Patty and Graham's child and the third in the triangle with Rayanne and Rickie, should be the character through whom the balance in the dual nature of things is struck.

ANGELA, PATTY'S DAUGHTER


Of the "daughters," only Angela actually breaks out of her "prison" by disobeying Patty's edict to stay home and attend the anniversary party. While Patty has chosen control to the point of oppression to be the master of her own life, and Rayanne has taken the path of abdication, Angela has found a middle ground. She will not relent to Patty's unreasoning commands, but neither does she resort to artificial substances. As a result, Angela arrives at Rayanne's party and stays sober, and thus able to rescue Rayanne by calling on Patty. Symbolically, Angela's call to Patty signifies the unification in Angela of the duality of Patty's repression and Rayanne's abdication. Angela has enough control to make her own choice but is secure enough to abdicate control to someone more able and experienced when she must.

Digression: Why Does Patty Cry?


    After the crisis with Rayanne, after Rickie has been excused and after Angela is safely inside the house, we see Patty sitting along in the car, crying. We may well ask why, not that she doesn't have reason enough. Is she crying for Rayanne? Because she fears that it could have Angela who overdosed? Because she recalls the death of her college roommate? Because of the tension between herself and Vivian? Did Patty lie to Angela about the roommate? Was it Patty who overdosed and "died" one night long ago as the result of abdicating responsibility for herself and her actions, and faced, as Rayanne now faces, a long struggle to find herself? Does Patty's dislike of Rayanne comes from seeing too much of herself in Rayanne.? Is Patty crying because she realizes that in having raised Angela to be able to exercise her own will, and to act responsibly toward herself and others, Patty has succeeded in her own struggle? Is Patty is crying, perhaps for the first time, for herself?
 
    As intriguing as these thoughts may be, the right answer is neither so dramatic or complicated. The short scene of Patty crying is immediately followed by a short scene of Angela smiling, safe with her family, being offered cake by her father the Magician. Angela is Patty's daughter; Patty cries so Angela does not have to. End of Digression.

The characters of MSCL are thematic extensions of Angela. By revealing their struggles to be masters of their own fate, and the duality of the paths they choose, we begin to understand another aspect of Angela: Between power and powerlessness, oppression and abdication, Angela has a balance. She is capable of exercising free will and control of self in a positive way. It is an aspect of Angela's character which will be fully tested, in a different context, in "Self-Esteem" and "Pressure." Angela is equipped to succeed in her struggle to move through the "darkness" that is adolescence and the "terror and loss" of the security of childhood, to the "unexpected good fortune" and "hope" that is the self-determination and self-identity of adulthood. Angela can stand up for herself.

 

    Copyright 1997 William E. Blais.
    All Rights Reserved.

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“I cannot bring myself to eat a well-balanced meal in front of my mother.”

Angela Chase, Episode 1: "My So-Called Life (Pilot)"