My So-Called Life
Season 1, Episode 15: “So-Called Angels”
Original airdate: Dec. 22, 1994
Astha: Welcome back to our biweekly discussion about Brian Krakow and the people in his life.
Before we dive in, let’s highlight a significant revelation we recently uncovered (credit goes to Les Chappell, even though Kriti had this information for months and kept it a secret): Bess Armstrong (Mrs. Patty Chase) played the lady who gave Roger Sterling LSD on Mad Men this season. Mind. Blown.
But now, let’s focus on the main topic:
So-Called Angels, aka, A girl resembling Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, portrayed by singing sensation Juliana Hatfield, works miracles.
Kriti had warned me that this episode might be cheesy, and while I wasn’t completely horrified throughout, the final scene pushed it right over the edge.
In case it wasn’t clear when Patty Chase asked Juliana Hatfield how she died, the fact that the girl sprouts wings at the episode’s end should drive the point home.
The episode kicks off with Rickie lying face down in the snow, blood dripping from his face.
Things are getting serious, just in time for the holidays.
We haven’t seen any glimpse of Rickie’s home life up to this point, and that doesn’t change in this episode.
However, we now know that Rickie is regularly subjected to abuse by his father.
Rayanne doesn’t think much of it, but Angela is deeply concerned. She wants Rickie to stay at the Chase household, but Patty isn’t on board.
So Rickie heads off on his own and, unsurprisingly, crosses paths with Jordan Catalano, who, of course, knows the whereabouts of all the cool homeless kids’ hangout.
It’s essentially Hamsterdam, and all the while we’re in that place, I’m silently thanking every angel in Heaven that Jordan never attempted to entice Angela into getting adventurous there.
Rickie moves in, Jordan takes Angela there, and Patty becomes understandably worried.
Then, the cops raid the place, and everyone ends up at church, singing on Christmas Eve.
That’s a quick rundown of the events, but there’s, of course, much more to discuss.
I’m not sure where to begin. There’s the homeless angel (How many teen shows have done a homeless-person-at-the-holidays episode?
I know both Beverly Hills, 90210 and Saved By the Bell did). There’s the teen help line (another teen show trope).
There are the religious and parenting issues. We could discuss how the angel was grungy and in-style for the time, but her grunginess was out of necessity while we high school kids were grungy for fashion.
We could also talk about how everyone worried about where Rickie and Brian Krakow would spend Christmas Eve, but no one was concerned about Jordan, and he ended up alone in Hamsterdam, smoking a cigarette next to a couple of lit candles.
However, I’ll begin with the most crucial part of the episode, which is, naturally, the Brian Krakow aspect.
Poor Brian was left home alone for Christmas while his parents jetted off to the Caribbean.
He could have gone to stay with his sister in Denver, but he chose to remain home alone and follow Graham around like a little lost puppy.
Sharon, knowing Brian would have no plans on Christmas Eve, pressured him into joining the teen help line.
He agreed but later changed his mind, and Sharon asked Rayanne to accompany her instead.
Brian became quite despondent about being alone, so he decided to call the help line.
Rayanne answered, recognized it was Brian, and decided to help him combat his loneliness by impersonating a phone sex operator. Brian ended the call (by saying, “Look, I better get off”) feeling a little warmer in his heart.
I thoroughly enjoyed this segment of the episode because when I first heard about the introduction of a teen help line, I simply assumed that the story would conclude with Rickie making a call, Rayanne assisting him, and it would all culminate in an emotional and dramatic manner.
I never anticipated that the show would take the teen help line concept and turn it into a humorous twist.
My So-Called Life ingeniously subverted the conventional notion of a teen help line, and I found it to be a delightful surprise. Kudos.
I ended up writing much more than I originally intended to. What are your thoughts on the angels, Kriti?
Kriti: It’s indeed challenging to prepare for conversations with deceased individuals who may or may not be angels.
While the final shot might be a bit overwhelming, I appreciated the symbolism of the guitar case as wings.
The Chase family seems to have a peculiar connection with the deceased, especially after this episode and the Halloween installment.
It’s as if they laid the groundwork for shows like “The Ghost Whisperer.”
Given that it’s a Christmas episode, there’s a degree of fantastical elements that can be accepted, even if some of the dialogue between Patty and Juliana Hatfield edges close to cheesy territory.
Shifting to Brian, we see once again that, despite coming from a stable home, his parents remain conspicuously absent from his life.
His attraction to his next-door neighbors isn’t solely because of his interest in Angela; it’s because that household provides something missing from his own life. Angela is certainly an added bonus.
The conversation by the fire between Brian and Rickie is truly compelling, as Brian genuinely cares about Rickie.
It starts with the usual annoyance exhibited by Angela, but it eventually evolves into a genuine heart-to-heart chat.
I appreciate your observation about the teen help line and Brian, as it’s in moments like these that the show defies expectations.
I also found the Sharon and Rayanne dynamic appealing, and for once, Rayanne’s nonchalant attitude suited the situation perfectly; it’s precisely what Brian needs at this moment.
However, the challenge with Rayanne is that she tends to withdraw when things take a serious turn.
Just because Rickie doesn’t want to discuss it doesn’t mean that Rayanne should disregard it.
Dealing with such heavy issues is demanding for all these characters, and they are each attempting to navigate it in their own way.
Rayanne tries to maintain the appearance that everything is fine, Angela seeks to fix everyone, and Jordan, surprisingly, adopts a more practical approach.
This episode showcases Jordan at his best, which makes me feel less foolish about my teenage crush on him from years ago.
This is the most we’ve heard him open up about his own life, shedding light on his less-than-ideal upbringing.
I appreciate that he doesn’t dwell on his father’s abusive behavior; in fact, he’s oddly pragmatic about the whole situation.
While he acts rudely toward Rickie regarding the candle lighting, he later acknowledges his unkindness to Angela.
It’s a subtle moment, but when Jordan extends his hand and Angela accepts it, the camera doesn’t linger on it, and Angela doesn’t dissect it in a voiceover.
The focus remains on Rickie and not on the nature of their relationship.
Considering that the production company behind MSCL is named “Bedford Falls Productions,” it’s not surprising to find a hint of “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the episode, although the old black and white version of “A Christmas Carol” is playing on the TV.
One aspect that I genuinely appreciate is the honesty in the conversations between Graham and Patty, particularly during the Rickie vs.
Brian discussion. When Patty confesses that it does make a difference that it’s Rickie and not someone like Brian, whom she has known for most of her life, she could come across as hypocritical.
However, her bias, which she acknowledges as wrong, stems from a place of parental concern.
The moment between Rickie and Patty in the church is where my emotional breakdown begins. This episode always brings out the tears in me.
What are your thoughts on Patty’s actions this week?
Astha: Regarding Patty, I can envision this being one of the episodes that individuals use to label Patty as an awful person.
She allows Brian Krakow to join them for Christmas because he’s considered stable, yet she’s hesitant about Rickie, who’s seen as different.
Patty’s knowledge about Rickie is limited. She’s unfamiliar with his parents, unlike Brian’s parents, who’ve been their neighbors for a long time.
So, I don’t believe comparing Rickie to Brian is entirely fair. From a parental perspective, I comprehend her reservations about embracing her daughter’s friendship with Rickie.
I believe her reaction would have been similar if the child in question had been Jordan rather than Rickie.
Therefore, I don’t think Rickie’s differences or his eyeliner-wearing is the sole reason for her concerns.
Moreover, Patty does redeem herself. She genuinely wants to do the right thing for Rickie, aiming to remove him from the streets and the abandoned warehouse.
It’s possible that she immediately resorts to extreme actions, like involving the police before talking directly to Rickie, but from Patty’s viewpoint, this is a justifiable response.
Patty Chase does not strike me as someone who has any reason to distrust the police.
Eventually, she heads to Hamsterdam to rescue Rickie, which shows that she has a compassionate side.
She hugs him, shares a pew with him, and listens to a choir.
Patty Chase might be an overprotective mother, but she also frequently comes around to see Angela’s perspective.
She’s quite understanding in that way.
The part of this episode that deeply resonated with me is the discussion about religion.
Both my husband and I were raised in the Catholic faith, and we’ve had our children baptized.
Although we plan to send them to Catholic school for reasons unrelated to religious doctrine (as neither of us is particularly religious), the topic of God has become somewhat complex for us.
I found it meaningful to witness Graham and Patty grappling with similar issues. The Chases: They’re just like us.
The moment when Jordan holds hands with Angela didn’t even register with me, and I find it somewhat peculiar that her voiceover doesn’t fixate on this occurrence.
In earlier episodes of the season, there would have been extensive musings like, “Jordan Catalano just held my hand!”
But perhaps after nearly having sex in an abandoned house, hand-holding no longer carries the same level of excitement.
My So-Called Life, “So-Called Angels” – Here’s an offbeat theory: Do Brian Krakow’s parents actually exist, or is he concealing them in the attic, “Psycho”-style?
Kriti: I do believe that directing any negativity towards Patty is regrettable because while she can be meddlesome, her intentions always stem from a good place.
She’s resolute, which sometimes leads to ill-advised decisions, like her confrontation with Amber concerning Rayanne’s potential drinking.
As you mentioned, Patty does eventually make amends, but not before engaging in a heated argument with Angela.
The scene during the table-setting task transitions from Angela’s initial excitement to her uttering the one remark she knows will affect Patty: “This girl, she could be me.”
At this point, Patty doesn’t consider it a remote possibility, but her conversation with the angelic Juliana Hatfield (I know) forces her to acknowledge that it could indeed be the case.
The conversation about religion and Christmas is adeptly handled, and I appreciate how Graham and Patty become flustered and stumble over their words as they attempt to explain why they don’t attend church regularly.
In a way, Patty desires the family to attend together, not only for the religious aspect but also to engage in a shared family activity.
Danielle, once again, adds her priceless touch to these scenes, particularly when she meticulously notes the ages at which Angela received specific gifts, a typical habit of younger siblings.
Graham’s jest about Brian’s parents having sex only once is indicative of his smugness, suggesting that he and Patty are more intimate frequently (ew).
Additionally, it highlights how Brian’s household is rather dismal (perhaps “Psycho”-style!), to the extent that Patty can scold Brian when he randomly shows up, and it still feels more inviting than his own home.
Alternatively, he might just enjoy being scolded by the Chase women.
Regarding the gifts under the Christmas tree, I wonder if there might be a new flannel shirt for Angela.
It turns out that “All I Want For Christmas Is You” was released in 1994, so I can imagine Angela secretly enjoying this song.
Astha: Ha! Danielle. I briefly thought that Graham had left her at home when he went to the church to fetch Angela.
In fact, I made a note in my thoughts, “Poor Danielle. Always abandoned.”
She’s the Chris Brody (a reference to “Homeland”) of the Chase family and gets no recognition.
But then, she suddenly appears in the scene. It’s a Christmas miracle!
I found it endearing how she took note of Angela’s Christmas gifts.
I did the same thing, and I’m the older sibling.
Here’s a fun tidbit: during my high school years, I consistently asked for flannel pajama pants.
They were all the rage in the mid-’90s, and I was convinced they’d attract plenty of boys looking to cozy up.
However, I never received flannel pajama pants, year after year. But my brother did! (So boys could cozy up to him?)
I’m still harboring some resentment about this, as you can probably tell.
And I believe Brian relishes the attention of any female at this point. He undoubtedly has some significant mother-related issues to work through before eventually marrying Angela.
I appreciate your query about the presents under the tree. There has to be a new flannel shirt in there.
Also, I’m trying to recollect what I wanted back in December of ’94, aside from flannel pants, of course. Probably Doc Martens, without a doubt.
How about you? What were you wishing for in ’94?
Kriti: I tried to recollect what I might have received in 1994, and considering it was my first year of secondary school (I was 12), I imagine I was aiming to appear a bit more grown-up.
I distinctly remember receiving some purple Doc Martens one year and believe it could have been in ’94.
They were incredibly cool. I recall that my sister was irked that I got a TV in my room at a younger age for Christmas than she did (I was 14 when I received mine, and she was 16).
I can envision that Christmas can be a challenging time for parents, as they strive to select gifts that will please all their children.
I think the best year was when both of us got Gameboys!
One aspect that struck me as odd while watching the show was the absence of the theme song (a relevant topic after the recent Hall of Fame induction).
I understand why shows often skip the regular intro, and in the case of this episode, it can be genuinely effective and unsettling.
In a way, it makes it feel more festive and like “a very special episode,” particularly because it features Rickie crying and bleeding in the snow.
He’s utterly alone, despite being surrounded by shoppers who don’t seem to give him a second glance.
Astha: The absence of intro music definitely caught my attention this time, and it gave me the impression that the episode might take a much darker turn, especially with Rickie’s blood at the beginning.
I hope the show doesn’t leave Rickie’s story hanging here. What awaits him after Christmas? Does he return home and continue to face abuse?
Do Rickie and Brian Krakow decide to share an apartment, away from their neglectful and possibly abusive parents?
Could Jordan Catalano join them and smoke on the fire escape? I can’t seem to stop myself from writing My So-Called Life fan fiction. It’s a compulsion.