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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

My So-Called Life: "Why Jordan Can't Read"

Illustration for article titled My So-Called Life: "Why Jordan Can't Read"
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Illustration for article titled My So-Called Life: "Why Jordan Can't Read"

"I thought at least by the age of 15, I would have a love life. I don't even have a like life." –Angela, in her natural, contemplative state, i.e. lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling/camera.

The thing about "Why Jordan Can't Read," the seventh episode in the series, and the episode when things finally start "happening" between Angela and her dopey, choker-wearing love, Jordan Catalano, is that we never actually find out why Jordan can't read. We find out that multi-page letters beginning "Dear Jordan" that Jordan finds discarded on museum field trips are too taxing for him to read. We find out that Jordan doesn't have dyslexia, aka "that backwards thing." But we don't find out any more about Jordan's illiteracy than we have to, which is something I'm very grateful for. Dwelling on how Jordan slipped through the educational cracks, or delving into his family life (or lack thereof) would have sunk the episode into after-school-special territory, or morphed the show into an episode of teen soap Fifteen, and the scene where Angela realizes Jordan is illiterate ("You couldn't read it," she almost whispers to Jordan's back) is mercifully about as far into that cheesy territory as this episode is willing to go.

"Red" would have been a more appropriate title, since it's that song–Jordan's paean of appreciation for his cherry-colored convertible–that underscores both the highs (Angela being pseudo-serenaded by Jordan at the Frozen Embryos rehearsal) and lows (Angela curling up on her bedroom floor after having been stood up by Jordan) of Angela and Jordan's brief relationship in this episode. Of course, "Red" also provides some comic relief. When Jordan sings it for Angela, the warble in his voice is almost country. Who knew that guys who wear chokers could be so emotional? Also, as mentioned above, it's about his car, which is pretty funny in and of itself.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The episode opens with Angela musing about love in the highly romanticized way favored by most teenagers. "Love is when you look into someone's eyes, and you go all the way into their soul, and you both know." Deep (literally and figuratively.) But Angela isn't just romanticizing for romanticizing's sake. She's collecting her thoughts about love, more specifically, her thoughts about her love for Jordan in order to write them down in a letter in the hope of getting the thoughts, and Jordan, out of her system. She brings the multi-paged letter on a class field trip to the museum, and, because she's proud of her breakthrough, she gives the letter to Rayanne, who promptly loses it.

A word about the field trip scene: it's paced so well, and it perfectly captures that "intense" and "loose" feeling that accompanied leaving school grounds in the middle of the day on a weekday—From the frantic teacher running around telling everyone to stay with the group, to Sharon and her jock boyfriend making out in the sculpture gallery, to Brian lurking around, observing others, to Rayanne flirting with the security guard. That montage of everyone wandering around the galleries doing their own things is one of my favorites in the series.

At some point, Jordan sidles up to Angela while she's feigning interest in a sculpture, and says, "I've been humming this tune all day." Which tune? "Red," of course–only Jordan would walk around humming a song he wrote–and he casually invites Angela to come and hear his tune for herself sometime. Eventually, Angela does, along with Rayanne and Ricky, only to be virtually ignored by Jordan the entire time–except for a stirring performance of "Red." But Jordan isn't all teenage-boy selfishness, and car love songs. He also has the capacity to learn. When he and Angela are sitting in "Red" outside her house talking, Jordan proves that he does care about what Angela says, at least sometimes. "You know those guys?" he says. "What guys?" Angela responds, clearly mesmerized by his mouth. "Up in the mountains. Who make snow? I'd really like to do that." Angela only has time enough to say, "Like, part time, or…" before Jordan kisses her. But when they separate, he apologizes for interrupting her–a nod to their previous, somewhat-disastrous make-out session. Jordan may not be able to read, but he can learn!

Following a short happy dance up her walkway, Angela is quickly lifted to the heights of love-induced delirium. The next morning, she hums, and giggles, and drinks coffee like Jordan, and asks her parents if she can go out on dates. Patty rattles off a list of requirements, including that she and Graham must meet the boy first. After asking Jordan out in the most awkward way possible ("Hearing that song makes me kind of want to see the movie again. [hard stare]." Jordan: "Oh! Right. We could do that.") Angela prepares to have her parents meet Jordan. Wearing her finest crochet top, and a fair amount of make-up she awaits her chokered prince–but the only one who shows up is Brian Krakow, in fine negging form: "How come you look like that?" he says to Angela, almost accusing her of something. "You look like you're going to a costume party dressed like someone else." Angela parries back, telling him that Jordan's coming over, and then fully crushes Brian's spirit by telling him, "You think you understand, but you don't. You just analyze everything until it barely even exists." (Pot, kettle, Angela. This from the most introspective teenager in TV history.)

But Jordan never does show up (we find out later that he "Just wasn't in the mood, you know…she makes everything so complicated.") and so a humiliated Angela ascends the stairs to her room, only to sink into a deep state of love-induced depression, complete with crumple-face cry and a melancholy version of "Red." Angela bounces back somewhat by the end of the episode–learning that Patty had a pregnancy scare certainly helped. Unlike Jordan, however, it seems that Angela doesn't really have the capacity for learning–at least not when it comes to Brian. She is so blind to his feelings towards her, that she tells him he knows nothing about pining for someone, "I cannot wait till it happens to you, Brian," she says, smiling, inches from his face and fro. "I am going to laugh and say 'See. See. I told you so." Afterwards, Brian probably went home to have a crumple-face cry of his own.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations:

—At the end of the "Red" scene, Angela and Jordan are silhouetted in the darkened rehearsal space in a way that echoes the way Angela and Brian were on the street in the first episode. Except, of course, Jordan is in Angela's position, and Angela is in Brian's position now.

—I don't have much to say about the B-plot of this episode–Patty's pregnancy scare–except, "I didn't put the stupid thing in….my diaphragm." Ah, diaphragms, the number one birth control choice of people in movies and TV shows. I'm pretty sure they're the only ones who actually use them.

—"There are other reasons to hate [Rayanne] without dragging in her sex life." True, Sharon.

—"[Sigh] That's exactly what I would do." Poor Ricky. Forget Brian, Ricky knows the ins-and-outs of a truly hopeless crush.

—Angela wanted to take Jordan to see The Bicycle Thief, which is hilarious for two reasons: 1. Picturing Jordan at a black-and-white De Sica film, and 2. Picturing Jordan struggling to read the subtitles at a black-and-white De Sica film. Not the best movie choice for someone who can't read, Angela.