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Angela's World

3.4. Episode Three: "Guns and Gossip"

Original Air Date: September 8, 1994

"If we all did what was in our hearts, the world would grind to a halt." -- Angela


Angela must cope with rumors that she had "complete sex" with Jordan Catalano while Principal Foster pressures Brian to identify a gunman in the school.


This episode examines Angela's complaint that people believe what they want without regard for the truth. The "triggering" events are the circulation of a note alleging that Angela had "complete sex" with Jordan, and the discharge of a gun in the school, which Brian has witnessed. The distinction between "guns" and "gossip" is one of public versus private, as Brian contends with pressure from school authority while Angela struggles with personal feelings.

Gossip: Angela's Soul-search

Angela's first brush with the fallout of the note comes in the Girls' Bathroom, as Rayanne and Rickie gently chide her about the rumor. In gym class, the fallout is not so gentle, as the boys openly leer at her. Rayanne encourages her to consider her new reputation for being a girl who puts out "a positive thing," but Angela is not so sure. She is sure that she is receiving unwanted, and unwarranted, attention.

Ironically, the counselor assigned to help the students through the gun "crisis" actually exacerbates the problems of the only truly troubled student she sees.

"People say things about people and it doesn't always mean it's true," Angela tells the counselor, thinking of the note. "I just think people want to believe things about people and so they decide certain things are true, and they don't even ask. It's not fair."

As Angela fights back tears, the counselor dispenses her wisdom:

"Usually people latch on to things when there's a kernel of truth."

The next day, the counselor's belief about "kernels of truth" is proved correct as Jordan approaches Angela in the hallway. In voiceover, Angela fully admits feelings she has been trying to hide and deny since the pilot episode:

"That's when the change happened. Just like that. Somewhere in those few seconds I knew my life would never be the same... I knew then that the rumor was right -- Not in actuality but in my heart because at that moment, I would've done anything, I wanted him so much."

But as soon as she finds the ability to articulate her desires, she discovers her inability to act upon them. Jordan suggests that since everyone already thinks they've had sex, they might as well go ahead and do it. Nonplused, Angela can do nothing but walk off, torn between thoughts and actions.

"It's such a lie that we should do what's in our hearts. If we did what's in our hearts, the world would grind to a halt."

Angela's feelings for Jordan, which she has tried so hard to keep private, have become public knowledge. Ironically, the rumor of having had "complete sex" with Jordan is patently false, making nonsense of the counselor's statement, yet Angela knows that her private desires would make the rumor true, thus vindicating the counselor. Retreating to the Girls' Bathroom, Angela learns the source of the rumor: Brian. She confronts Brian, who is facing the same problem, that people believe what they want. Brian tells Angela the rumor was hatched inadvertently, but compares it to Angela using his house as a rendezvous point to meet Jordan:

"You lied, too. When you said you didn't know anything about Jordan coming over that night, because I've thought about it for like fifty hours. You knew it, didn't you? You used me... You just did what you wanted to and didn't care what damage it did to anybody else."

"What damage did it do to you?" Angela asks, oblivious to what we already know and can see so well in Brian's face.

As if to answer Angela's question, the scene cuts to Angela and Jordan on the stairs. Angela seems almost ready to agree to have sex with Jordan, but he tells her that they don't mean anything to each other. Angela is devastated, Jordan oblivious.

"It's the least I could do," he says. Indeed.

The false rumor also fuels unwanted attention from Patty, who is already near panic over the idea of a gun in the school. (Although what she wants doesn't seem so unreasonable: "A place where the children can grow up and go to school without being afraid of guns or AIDS or serial murderers.") Patty attends a PTA meeting where she meets Rayanne's mother, Amber Vallone, an outspoken "forty year-old girl." Amber spreads gossip about the kids as though she were one of them, passing to Patty the false tale that Angela and Jordan are an item, and strongly implying that Angela and Jordan are having sex.

Patty returns from the PTA meeting more panicked than when she went, and confronts Angela about Jordan. Ironically, while Patty's interrogation exacts no new information from Angela, Angela gleans, more or less accurately, what Amber told Patty.

"I hate everyone," Angela declares, her anger directed at Patty.

Patty, although chastened, apparently continues to believe that Angela is having sex. She again confronts Angela, this time in a self-consciously casual manner, knocking on Angela's bedroom door and strolling in, as though trying to make the sole purpose of her visit an afterthought. Angela finds herself discussing what is at the root of the rumor with the person with whom she least wants to discuss it, and who, it seems, most wholeheartedly believes it. Patty interprets Angela's reticence as denial about the dangers of teenage sex. Finally Angela blurts out:

"Mom, I'm not having sex, alright! Really! I'm not even close -- to an embarrassing degree!"

The confession relieves Patty as much as it distresses Angela. As clumsily invasive as Patty's efforts are to understand what is happening with Angela, her meddling clearly arises from her desire to safeguard Angela:

"It's just so hard, not being able to protect you."

"Ah, but you can't."

Indeed, she cannot. Angela understands that the truth about her lies in her own heart, and she cannot control, and cannot hide from, what others perceive the truth to be. Patty must accept that she can no longer shield Angela from the dangers of the world, whether loose talk or guns.

Guns: Brian's Problem and Solution

Brian's troubles loosely parallel Angela's. He becomes the subject of a false rumor, that he saw who fired the gun. His status as "eyewitness," although undeserved, changes people's outlook towards him, as he is suddenly attractive to the opposite sex. However, he attracts the attention of an intrusive authority figure, the martinet Principal Foster. But Brian's dilemma is fundamentally different from Angela's. Brian is not dealing with a problem that exposes his inner thoughts to the world; he has some control over his destiny. He goes to Principal Foster and lies, (he says he cannot identify the two persons involved, but he clearly saw Rickie), and tells both Foster to find another way to solve his public relations problem. Brian's solution reveals bravery, but also a depth of understanding of the world which is more fully revealed by his relationship with Rickie.

Gun and Gossip

Brian and Angela's Relationship with Rickie Angela's problem resolves as she comes to terms with her innermost feelings. Brian's problem resolves in a direct confrontation with the authority figures. The polarity between Angela's private "gossip" problem and Brian's public "guns" problem is reconciled in their respective relationships with Rickie, the boy of ambivalent sexuality. In this episode, we get the first real glimpse of Rickie's life. In the hallway, he gets roughed up by punks because they believe he is gay. In class, as the teacher leads a discussion towards the party line, Rickie asserts that some people may carry guns to protect themselves. ("Say I was threatened -- and I'm not saying that I am -- I'd be packing in no time. No time at all.") Rickie's personal problem is also a public one.

Looking for refuge after her crushing encounter with Jordan, Angela finds Rickie in the back seat of his cousin's car. In a conversation echoing the one between Angela and Patty in Angela's bedroom where Patty tried to pry words from a reticent Angela, Angela unconsciously follows Patty's lead and tries to get a reticent Rickie to talk about the gun incident. In both cases, the initiator of the conversation believed the rumor about the other was true, while the other person knew the rumor was false but in their heart wished it was true. Finally, Rickie explains about the gun, then admits his insecurities about his friendship with Angela. All Angela can do is embrace him.

"It's weird how something has to happen sometimes, to see how you actually feel about someone," Angela says.

So, Why Guns and Gossip?

"Guns and Gossip" is by far the most difficult episode to analyze in terms of its relationship to the whole story of MSCL. However, viewed in the context of all nineteen episodes, it becomes clear that "Guns and Gossip" plants the seeds of two important relationships, the change in another, and introduces a major theme.

As the kids walk into school -- now through metal detectors -- Rickie tacitly acknowledges Brian's choice to not implicate him. His relationships Angela and Brian have begun in earnest. Ultimately, and whether or not Angela realizes, Rickie will become her best friend. He will also become Brian's. While Brian will generally fumble through personal relationships, his friendship with Rickie will become increasingly a trusting, man-to-man relationship which culminates in their exchange of their most guarded secrets.

There is also the subtle beginning of a change in Angela's relationship with Rayanne. Sitting on the steps waiting for Brian's interview with Principal Foster and the police to end, Rayanne Angela's and Brian's dilemmas in terms of their entertainment value. She sees no lasting consequences to the rumors. More importantly, she sees no effect the rumors have had on her closest friends, Angela and Rickie, although we have seen their profound effects. In simple terms, Rayanne cannot comprehend the consequences of action. Angela, however, flatly rejects Rayanne's point of view. This difference will define the relationship between the two girls from this point forward.

Finally, by merging the private with the public, "Guns and Gossip" introduces a major theme to MSCL, Angela's awareness of the world around her. Here, she meets the symbol of the body politic -- the police -- with a start, but, as explained more fully below, the second half of MSCL will be acutely aware of the world at large. Ultimately, Angela's coming of age will be the meshing of her private and public life.

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)"