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- Pressure - #13 »
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3.13. Episode Thirteen: "Pressure"
"They obviously haven't 'ummed' yet." -- Rayanne
Angela chooses not to have sex with Jordan and they break up. Hallie enters Patty and Graham's life and unveils her restaurant plans.
As Rayanne once observed, there are different kinds of pressure, and while Jordan "pressures" Angela to have sex with him, there is a broader pressure being created by the clash between doing what one "should" or "could" do and doing what feels comfortable and right. Explored through a series of scenes which juxtapose contradictory themes and concepts, this more basic dilemma drives both the primary plot between Angela and Jordan, and the emerging, secondary plot concerning Patty, Graham, Hallie and the restaurant.
ANGELA THE WOMAN/CHILD
The episode begins with "Red" wildly careening through an alley. Angela is learning to drive, a rite of passage, and the fact that Angela is old enough for lessons but not experienced enough to handle the car tells us where she is in the passage to adulthood. Angela stops the car, or, more precisely, something immovable stops the car. As she makes excuses, Jordan leans over and -- in mid-sentence -- kisses her. In the background we hear a train horn. A great force has been gathering momentum, and it will be quite difficult to stop. Through dialogue fraught with doubles ententes, driving becomes a metaphor for more adult activities. Like sex. Angela understands exactly what Jordan wants. But when Rayanne and Rickie tell her that she is a considerable improvement over Cynthia Hargrove, Rayanne must draw her a picture:
"You mean Jordan used to -- umm--"
"Yes, Jordan used to 'umm' her."
Angela tries to be cool, but Rayanne sees through the studied nonchalance.
"They obviously haven't 'ummed' yet," she tells Rickie.
Thus, before the completion of the opening credits, we know the source of "pressure:" Jordan's desire to "umm" Angela, and Angela's feeling that she is not ready.
We cut to Patty in the Chase dining room, sneezing in reaction to a flu shot, while in the kitchen, Graham laughs at something Hallie Lowenthal has told him over the telephone. The juxtaposition of Angela's thoughts about sex as a bodily function and Patty's sneeze serves as a dramatic transition, and, more importantly, to remind us that Patty is a sexual person just as Hallie Lowenthal is about to enter Graham's life in a significant way. Thus, the momentary picture of Patty sneezing while Graham laughs introduces a new source of friction between Patty and Graham.
There is a more subtle message, however. The image of Patty and Graham reminds us that there is an emotional content which bonds us to our partners, as well as a responsibility for the physical and emotional well-being of one's partner. If sex were merely the physical act, the bodily function alone, Angela would be quite ready. The question Angela tacitly asks is whether she is ready for the emotional aspects and responsibility of adult sexuality. These themes are tacitly introduced here, and will be addressed as Angela seeks an answer to her question. Only MSCL could convey so much through a sneeze and a chortle.
At dinner, Patty, Graham and Danielle sit together. Angela comes in and immediately runs upstairs, denying that she will be hungry later.
"Well, good, because we're not running a restaurant!" Patty replies.
Patty's reply foreshadows Hallie's restaurant idea, and ultimately, she will be proved wrong. The scene is more important, however, for what it shows but does not tell: Angela has hardly appeared in the domestic scene. She no longer participates in the family meals and the family institution has become fragmented. Regardless of what Angela may or may not be ready for in the outside world, at home Angela has begun to assert her independence. But what happens when the world comes knocking at Angela's door? Later that night, as Angela inspects some cold cuts, she hears noises from outside and sees shadows in the window. She is apprehensive of the possible danger from the outside, and it is significant that the noise and shadow that has given Angela pause was created by Jordan. Angela opens the door for Jordan. He goes straight for the food.
Digression: Whither Cold Cuts?
When Jordan comes sniffing around Angela's house, she is in the kitchen fixing a late-night snack. She tells us Jordan's arrival is like a dream she has had, but without the cold cuts. This is not merely throw-away dialogue. Food is an important metaphor in MSCL. So when Angela tells us that she has had the dream without the cold cuts, she is telling us she has had a dream that centers on the purely sensual, physical aspect of her relationship with Jordan. And when Jordan heads for the food, it implies that he recognizes the need for more than the merely physical, sensual aspect of a sexual relationship, as we will later learn. But beware: Cold cuts aren't "real" MSCL food, like pasta, or brisket or meat loaf with peas and mashed potatoes, or fritters, or stuff that Graham has made that you load with butter. Cold cuts are sort of "get by" food, below rewarmed spaghetti and above Chinese take-out. So when Jordan goes for the cold cuts, and the jar of dark mustard gets its own scene, we know first, that the emotional power signified by food is not very strong in this context, and second, that the kind of "love" that is associated with sex is very different from the familial love of the dinner table. However, cold cuts will experience some redemption in MSCL's final episode when Jordan returns to the Chase kitchen and gets fed by Patty. End of Digression.
Jordan has come to suggest a rendezvous at a vacant house on Cloverdale that people use "to have a place to go." But while Angela and Jordan conduct the adult business of determining a place of assignation, we are immediately reminded of Angela's transitional status. Angela hears Patty, and intercepts her at the stairway landing. Patty does not suspect a late night guest. She chides Angela for not having eaten with the family, reminding her not to make a mess. As an afterthought, Patty reminds Angela that she and Graham must meet Jordan before they can go out. The exchange is strictly parent to child, in contrast to the immediately preceding conversation between the would-be lovers. As Jordan leaves, Angela acquiesces to a date at the house on Cloverdale.
The next day, Sharon meets Angela on Angela's front porch. Angela asks Sharon about her break-up with Kyle, and discovers that Sharon and Kyle had sex "like, constantly." The Camera cuts to Doctor Skolnik's office and Patty declaring, "Okay, Angela's next." In the examining room, Angela tries to ask Dr. Skolnik about "percentages" of "what is normal" for people Angela's age. Dr. Skolnik guesses what Angela is driving at:
"Angela, look. I think I know what you're trying to ask, and as somebody who has known you for several years, if you need to talk, I am always here. But as your doctor, I have to say, at the risk of being intrusive, I urge you please, use a condom and a sponge."
The camera draws back, showing Angela in bib overalls and tennis shoes, the typical tomboy, her legs dangling over the side of the examination table, which, made for adults, is much too large for her. Again, the dialog and camera contrast the child-adult alternatives facing Angela. At home, Graham unwittingly gives Angela his full consent to go out with Jordan after meeting him at the front door. What Graham does not know is that Angela and Jordan are off to Cloverdale and the vacant house. When they arrive, there are no bedrooms available. They wait.
"It was exactly like when I was waiting to get my flu shot. Only I didn't even get a magazine to read," Angela tells us in voiceover.
In the background we again hear a train horn. While Jordan goes to check on a bedroom, Angela sees Rayanne, and uses Rayanne as an excuse to get out of going upstairs with Jordan.
At school, Rayanne and Sharon briefly discuss Angela and Jordan, and Sharon is left wondering if Angela is afraid to have sex. In the next scene, Sharon has brought "Dr. Linda Shields' Guide to Better Loving," (from the "Camille Collection" of sex aids), for Angela to watch. Their discussion turns to their own sex lives:
"So how did you decide--" Angela asks.
"Look, I told Kyle I wanted to wait until I was ready, and one night I totally was. The only strange thing, is that after that, having sex was like, expected... because like, you can't go back, I mean, it kind of... stopped mattering if I wanted to."
Sharon has de-mystified sex for Angela, or at least given her a framework she trusts for deciding whether to have sex with Jordan. Like Sharon, Angela will wait until she is ready to have sex, but now she is secure in the knowledge that her decision to abstain is both correct and acceptable. In the following scene, Angela sweet-talks Brian out of his bike to go talk to Jordan. Through the window of Jordan's car, symbol of adulthood, we see Angela park Brian's bike, symbol of childhood. Jordan is not happy to see her. She has lied to him and is continuing to lie:
"I'm sorry about Friday night," Angela begins. "I just had this flu shot--" Jordan slams the hood of his car shut.
"Quit lying! Tino told me. Rayanne Graf has been clean for like, weeks. Since the night she almost OD'd. Right?"
"I mean, you can think what you want about me. I never lied! I can't believe it! I let you drive my car!"
For the first time, Angela has been caught in a lie and called to account for it.
"It's so hard to explain, because... it's not going to sound right, because... part of me really wants to."
"This is the whole reason I didn't want to start this in the first place--"
"Why? Because you knew you wouldn't get sex? You'd just be wasting your time?"
"Because you don't get it, okay! You're supposed to! It's accepted! It's what your supposed to do... unless you're like... abnormal."
Angela's lies, and Jordan's expectations, are significant. Angela lies because she lacks the experience to understand that her choice to abstain from sex is a valid one, and she does not yet see any way to defend the choice on its own merit. In essence, she and Jordan have the same -- and not necessarily correct -- expectations and assumptions about what is "normal." Jordan watches as Angela walks away in defeat. Both are unhappy. Later, Angela and Rickie talk about what has transpired. Angela believes her relationship with Jordan is over, and despairs:
"Rickie, I had someone, to be with, you know."
"I know. I can't even imagine it."
"I feel so stupid. My entire relationship with Jordan Catalano, every minute of it, has completely sucked! And now it's over. I should have just had sex with him. Why not? It would have been so simple."
However, Rickie, as he will increasingly from this episode forward, knows exactly what to say:
"But maybe it shouldn't be so simple. I mean, not that I know what I'm talking about or anything, because I've never, you know, experienced this, or what have you. But even if I did meet the perfect person... I just think it should be like a miracle, like, seeing a comet or just feeling like you're seeing one... seeing the other person's perfectness... or something. And if you do it before you're even ready, how are you going to see all that?"
Once again, Angela's decision to not have sex before she is ready has been ratified by a peer. At this moment, Cynthia Hargrove emerges from a stall to confirm that Rickie is exactly right. Together, the scenes with Sharon and Rickie put into context the aspects of emotional bonding and responsibility for the emotional and physical well-being, for both partner and self, which were so subtly introduced earlier. Where Sharon gave Angela permission to not have sex, Rickie validated her decision to abstain. We must not lose sight of the fact that no adult does that for her -- Patty and Graham appear oblivious to Angela's dilemma; Dr. Skolnik follows the party line and tells her to use protection. So much for detractors of MSCL who claimed the program "advocated" teenage sex.
As Angela has struggled with her decision to not have sex, so also has Jordan. We know this because he returns Brian's bicycle; it is a symbolic acceptance of Angela's decision. But Jordan is not just returning the bike. This we know because he troubles himself to bring the bike back in the first place, and because he asks if "she" is home, and comes into the house to talk to Angela. Jordan has come to apologize.
Although Angela and Jordan seem to be breaking up, they are actually redefining their relationship. They have accepted Angela's decision to abstain, which is what she feels is right for her at that moment. Thus, Angela's declaration that "sex made your whole life start" indicates that in the crisis over whether to have sex, they are leaving the notion of doing what is "expected," and in that moment, their relationship actually begins. Jordan's agreement is indicated in reference to the metaphor of driving as he says goodbye:
"Just uh, don't take your turns too wide or anything. I'm sure you won't."
Angela understands exactly the import of what Jordan has said:
"Sometimes someone says something really small, and it just fits right into this empty place in your heart."
Quietly, they say their final good-byes:
"Bye," Jordan says. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Clearly, the relationship, although changed, will continue.
GRAHAM THE DOMESTIC/RESTAURATEUR
At about the middle of the episode, we enter the Chase household, where Graham is preparing dinner -- for the cat.
"You always buy the cat nicer food than I do," Patty says.
Neither we nor the alleged cat could expect any less from Graham. But what does Graham expect of himself? As Graham dishes up the cat food, he plays the role of domestic provider, as he has since our first glimpse of him in the Pilot episode. But Graham has been offered the chance to open a restaurant with Hallie, and, like Angela, he faces a choice that presents a departure from the past and clash between what is expected and what feels right. Significantly, Hallie tells Graham about her restaurant idea when Patty is absent. If Patty had been present, we might have expected her to take the lead, discussed the idea briefly as a good hostess would, then dismiss it. But with Patty absent, the idea has time to ferment in Graham's mind. As Hallie and Brad drive away, Patty and Graham acknowledge that the restaurant would be a great adventure, but a great risk. The prudent, the expected decision, would be to maintain the steady, secure course.
Although the idea of a restaurant seems to have been put to rest, it arises as Graham is watching the "Guide to Better Loving" video, which he believes belongs to Patty. Patty truthfully denies having ever seen the tape, but Graham doesn't believe her:
"Why would I get a tape like this?"
"Uh, because our sex life has become routine and mechanical," Graham says, repeating a line from the tape.
"Do you really think that? That our sex life is mechanical? That really hurts my feelings."
"Oh, Patty... Why do you take me seriously when I'm not?"
Patty wonders how she can tell anymore when Graham is serious, when first he's talking about going into the restaurant business, then he isn't. In truth, there is no problem with their sex life, but there is a problem:
"You don't believe that a restaurant I cooked for could possibly succeed, that's it, isn't it?"
"That's not true."
Graham's observation may be more true than Graham would like, or Patty would admit. The argument echoes the argument between Angela and Jordan: Graham cannot yet articulate his desire to open a restaurant or to defend the validity of the choice, neither are quite prepared to let go of the old expectations. Patty and Graham walk away from each other, each dissatisfied. There is an element of ironic humor as the sultry voice of the video narrator talks about sharing intimate secrets as we see a shot an empty bed, but the empty bed provides a unifying image: As with Angela and Jordan, there will be no sex. Perhaps in reaction to Graham's tongue-in-cheek comment about their sex lives, Patty comes home early one afternoon so she and Graham can steal some time together before Angela and Danielle return from school. On the sofa, their romantic interlude is interrupted by the ringing telephone. Their thoughts turn to Hallie Lowenthal and the restaurant, but this time, in a different vein:
"I know you think things have gotten out of hand around here -- I mean with me," Graham says.
"I don't think that..."
"No... they have been. but I think actually it's good."
"So do I."
"I mean, I may not know where it's going to lead--"
"I know. It'll work out. I have faith in you."
The conversation is supportive and gentle, and like the conversation between Angela and Jordan it parallels, it redefines the relationship between Patty and Graham. When Patty and Graham part in the bedroom, they are at odds, but on the sofa, Patty is ready to support Graham if he decides to go into business with Hallie. Patty and Graham retreat from their love-making, but they nevertheless have shared a moment of intense intimacy. On the sofa, Graham is in a position to overhear Angela's woes, first with Brian, then with Jordan. It is a poignant moment for Graham, because he realizes that if Angela is grappling with whether to have sex, she has taken a clear step towards womanhood. However, Graham's presence ties the two plots thematically. Both he and his daughter have been called upon to make a choice that was right for them in the face of expectations. As the episode closes, we see Angela, on the bicycle, trying to ride no-handed. Finally she accomplishes the feat, which requires sufficient speed and balance. It is a metaphor for where Angela finds herself. In voiceover, Angela provides the most appropriate moral for the episode:
"People always say how you should be yourself, like 'yourself' is this definite thing, like a toaster or something. Like you can know what it is, even. But every so often, I'll have like, a moment, when just being myself in my life, right where I am, is like, enough."
Copyright 1997 William E. Blais.
All Rights Reserved.