“You can’t start a fire without a spark. This gun’s for hire, even if we’re just dancing in the dark.”
That quote isn’t actually from My So-Called Life at all, never mind the episode I’m supposed to be analyzing, the only Episode 2 there ever was. It’s from mind of Mr. Springsteen. But it also, in a way, evokes the mind of our leading ladies in this episode, Patty and Angela Chase.
While the first episode of MSCL was mainly focused on Angela’s personal pursuit to no longer be held back by her hair, or her friends, or whatever else was getting in the way of her rebelling from her straight A student persona of yesteryears we’ll never really know (no, flashbacks to first kisses, seen at the start of this episode, don’t count), “Dancing in the Dark” turns the camera towards both her and her mom, beginning what will be an interesting and intersecting journey for them both as women. As the episode develops Angela’s arc involving her mega crush on mega babe Jordan Catalano, it also develops Patty’s relationship with Graham, or at least her struggle to maintain it. Both women are, as Bruce said, trying to start a spark of some sort. The only difference is the age–literally and figuratively–of the flame.
We often think that teenage desire is stronger than adult yearning, simply out of hormones, but it really can be as intense, if not more, especially when years upon years of feelings are added into the mix. That’s why there’s a tragic feel to Patty’s version of wooing, as she attempts to catch Graham’s–and also, in a whole other way, Angela’s–attention with her new haircut, which she hoped would make her look strong like Hillary Clinton, but Graham’s brother Neil says just shows her ears a lot. We know that she’s invested a lot into her relationship with her husband, and because of that, she shouldn’t have to resort to these drastic measures. But at the same time, we also know that Graham has been growing distant, and, in fact, has considered straying totally and fully with the help of a horny coworker and a motel room. But she doesn’t even need to know this fact to feel lost, seeing as Graham doesn’t seem to really want to spend time with her anymore, a fact evidenced by his reluctance to join her in ballroom dancing, an activity that might seem goofy, yet sexy to a young couple just wanting any excuse to touch each other. What’s more is that when Graham actually does show up at the dance class, they’re told they “need to dance with other people,” so as to appease their conflicting desires to lead and not step on each other’s toes.
Interestingly, although this class doesn’t go well initially, it does lead to a tender moment between the couple later on, and one that will convince Graham to not cheat after all (for now, anyway). It also leads to a perfect set-up for the big Angela moment of the episode, as she nervously takes her first step, in several ways, towards doing the horizontal mumbo with Jordan. While the teacher instructs Patty and Chase on how to move in time with each other, her voiceover carries over to Angela as she walks towards Jordan sitting in a car, fake ID she requested through Rayanne in his hand, outside Brian Krakow’s house.
The overarching metaphor of trying to respect your partner’s space while also moving in is very apt to both situations, but especially Angela’s, considering how both she and Jordan act once she’s inside the car. While he immediately goes in for the move and offends her greatly (she laments that he wasn’t listening to her, deciding to plant one on her mid-sentence), she takes a step back when he is clearly ready to step away. While he’s ready to feel the fire, most likely for superficial reasons (we’re not really sure yet), she’s just looking to start this spark and see how the blaze builds from there. That’s why she says, via narration, that she “feel[s] her life going somewhere” when she gets in the car, but not anywhere specific.
There’s a wonderful transition from Claire Danes in this scene, as she goes from revolted to enamoured in such quick time. Much like Patty (and anyone who has had a crush on, or relationship with, someone who isn’t all there emotionally, but definitely is physically), Angela is clearly blinded by the ways that her wannabe dance partner moves her, and Danes communicates this so naturally as her character gazes at Jordan’s shirt. It helps that her accompanying voiceover is so simple and straight out of every girl’s–heck, every woman’s and boy’s and man’s–mind under the influence of lust: “Part of his sleeve was touching my arm. I don’t know if he knew. Then everything started to seem perfect for some reason. The feel of his shirt against my elbow. The fact that I still had an elbow. It was the perfect moment for him to kiss me, for him to anything me.”
Luckily, unlike Patty, Angela doesn’t have enough emotions wrapped up in this person to settle for his fairly lazy advances (poor Brian Krakow, meanwhile, could go to the ends of the Earth–or at least the end of a volume meter–for her, and she wouldn’t bat an eye). But that doesn’t mean she, like Patty, won’t get to that point–the point where she’ll do anything to even just “dance in the dark” with the one she loves–sooner than later, and that it won’t hurt to look at the result (and not in a good way). For now, however, she will live in this moment where she holds the matchbox plainly in her hand. This moment where it seems like there could be a bright-burning future for her and him and–sigh–the show as a whole.
More slices of Life:
- Angela’s dress in the fake ID scene is ‘9os perfection. Like pure Winona in Reality Bites stuff. I have one dress that I think somewhat evokes it, but will never, ever come close.
- Angela and Patty weren’t the only ones trying to please this episode. In one scene where he talks to Rayanne and Angela about Jordan, a clearly insecure Rickie constantly flip-flops between opinions, which might seem hilarious on first watch (“I completely understand,” he says to Angela saying she only wants “the fantasy” of Jordan, before noting Rayanne’s “You WANT [him]” retort has “the ring of truth”), but heartbreaking on reflection.
- This episode is the first time we really get to see Brian alone with R&R, and the result is pretty funny. Although their initial intention is to distract Brian while Angela talks to Jordan, they seem to take a genuine interest in his science experiment and why “there’s a mouse involved.” There’s a clear chemistry between Devon Gummersall, A.J. Langer and Wilson Cruz from the start, so it’s no wonder they all are get paired up in varying ways in future episodes.
- It’s so wonderful that the only other people that Angela has kissed have taken her by surprise (one guy got her suddenly at a wedding, while her camp counsellor took her aside and made out with her in the woods, and a lifeguard just went right in for CPR on the beach). It just goes to show how unaware of her sexuality she is at this point, as well as how strongly she feels for Jordan. While she romanticizes these previous liplocks, even the CPR thing, she takes her first kiss with him much more seriously. She wants it to be intentional, out of genuine like for her and not just the fact that she’s an available girl sitting next to him in a dark car.
- “I have to say, when my father warms something up, it tastes better than when anyone else does.” Heating up leftover spaghetti: our first real hint at Graham’s total cooking mastery!
- While eating said spaghetti with Angela, Graham experiences his first connection with his daughter since that awkward Anne Frank incident. And it’s to bring in the male perspective on things, as he notes, “It’s really…hard to figure out how to be a man. Practically every man I know is still working on it.” (Cases in point: Neil, Rickie, Brian and Jordan.) It’s just too bad we don’t get a true follow-up on the scene that happens right after that and ends the episode, with Angela overhearing Graham shooting down his possible affair.
- Tino Watch (since Danielle is pretty much MIA this episode): He can get you a fake ID. And date it so you were born yesterday.
- Patty and Graham are CONVINCED that Angela has a crush on Brian Krakow. You–and anyone who roots for the nice, kinda creepy guys next door who think of girls as wallpaper–wish, guys!
- IMHO count: 1 (Angela: “But, okay, like in my humble opinion, he’s Jordan Catalano. He’s not gonna do any of this.”)
- Seriously, though, IMHO, Patty looks WAY better with short hair than that heavy wig of a thing. And I’m not just saying this because I like the after-the-fact irony of it all (she wanted to look like Hillary to get her man’s attention, when that very same woman struggled with the same issue with her husband in the face of an infamous intern in a blue dress).
Join me back here Monday, September 8 for a review of Episode 3, or “Guns and Gossip.”