My So-Called Life
Season 1, Episodes 5 and 6: “Why Can’t Jordan Read” and “Strangers in the House”
Original airdates: Oct. 6 and Oct. 20, 1994
Astha: Greetings, all you ’90s nostalgia enthusiasts! This week, Kriti and I delve into the reasons behind Jordan’s inability to read well and investigate whether “Strangers in the House” concludes with Claire Danes being gagged and handcuffed.
Title: “Why Jordan Can’t Read”
Kriti: So, following our last lackluster episode, I’m pleased to report that the next two installments are back on track, tackling the significant themes of love and death.
I’ll begin with the episode with everyone’s favorite title, “Why Jordan Can’t Read.”
First and foremost, I’m fairly certain we never discover the exact reason why he struggles with reading; we simply learn that he can read but not very well.
This revelation propels the Jordan/Angela relationship forward as she becomes his confidante in this matter, courtesy of the letter she penned for him—a letter she never intended for him to read in the first place (bad Rayanne).
The episode’s journey, from “I’m completely over him, so I wrote this epic letter” to “I’m totally into him,” and finally landing on Angela’s heartbreak, beautifully encapsulates the all-consuming experience of a first crush being realized and then shattered.
We witness Claire Danes’s exceptional range of facial expressions, from her radiant smile (which had me thinking about the Homeland season two premiere) to her tearful countenance.
If there were an award for the best-crying face, Danes would undoubtedly win every time.
Angela’s hair even joins the emotional display, transitioning from bouncy to limp while she waits for Jordan to visit her.
It’s endearing to see Angela being wonderfully awkward with all of this, from practicing how to say “hi” to dancing outside her house after sharing a successful kiss in Jordan’s car.
It has taken some time, but Jordan is gradually evolving into a more well-rounded character.
I wonder if the intention was for us to only know as much about Jordan as Angela did. In the beginning, he was nothing more than the boy who leans, but as Angela gets to know him better, so do we.
While he ultimately disappoints Angela, he doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who is comfortable meeting the parents.
However, that didn’t make the scenes any easier to watch, where Angela is all dressed up and waiting for him.
Jordan is the kind of guy who can effortlessly write a love song about his car but seems to struggle to express his feelings about a person in real life.
Yes, I was excited that it was about the car, as you know how much I enjoy the car-related aspects in this show (almost as much as the bathroom scenes).
The misunderstanding perfectly encapsulates Angela and Jordan’s dynamic at this point: she tends to read too much into things, and he doesn’t read enough (which is not related to his actual reading skills).
One person who tends to say too much is Brian, and his inability to filter his thoughts often leads to heated arguments with Angela.
When Angela is dressed up for Jordan, Brian remarks that she looks “like you’re going to a costume party as someone else.”
That’s the sort of comment only someone with social awkwardness would make, and Brian embodies this perfectly.
It doesn’t help that he follows this up by saying he’s disgusted but doesn’t disapprove (of course you don’t, Brian).
Angela talks to Brian as if he’s much younger than her, especially when she tells him that he can’t possibly understand her feelings when it comes to the whole Jordan Catalano situation.
However, Brian does understand, but he expresses his emotions in a very different way. Angela might not be ready to see that Brian is quite taken with her.
My favorite crush of the episode comes courtesy of Danielle, who falls in and out of love with Brian over the course of the episode.
Once again, Danielle provides some of the more lighthearted moments in MSCL, with her swooning over Brian and demanding saxophone lessons.
When Brian finally offers to give her these lessons, Danielle has moved on and hilariously rejects him. (How old is Danielle supposed to be?
I’m not sure if they’ve ever mentioned her age, but I’m guessing around 10 or 11.)
Danielle also plays the role of the annoying little sister to perfection by informing Patty and Graham that Angela is in love.
This week’s unexpected crush comes from Rickie, who appears to be so infatuated with Jordan that he knows his entire schedule.
It’s not that it’s implausible for Rickie to have kept this secret, but you’d think there would have been some evidence of it by now.
Once again, this places Rickie on the fringes; he’s living vicariously through Angela, especially when he keeps saying things like, “that’s just what I would do.”
We continue to explore the contrast between reality and fantasy. Our perceptions often don’t align with reality, as best illustrated by the contrast between two scenes.
First, in the bathroom, Rayanne confesses to Sharon that she feels emotionally detached when she’s with a guy.
Later, Angela refers to Rayanne’s romantic relationships as “real” when they’re actually quite the opposite.
I just realized how much I’ve written, so I’ll pass the baton to you, Astha. What are your thoughts on the episode?
Astha: Where to begin? Well, let’s start with the episode title. I’ve always wished they had titled this episode “Y Kant Jordan Read” in a nod to Tori Amos’s ill-fated ’80s band, but it’s not like My So-Called Life needs to rename its episodes just for my personal amusement.
Interestingly, I recently discovered that there’s an old reading series from the ’70s called “Why Can’t Johnny Read,” so I suppose that’s where the title originated. The more you know.
When it comes to Angela’s feelings for Jordan, I share your sentiment about the trajectory of her crush in this episode.
Even though she has barely thought about Jordan Catalano in the past few episodes (busy with zits and substitutes), she suddenly decides to write him a letter listing all the things she likes about him, claiming she’s so over him.
Then, she makes the unfortunate choice of showing the letter to Rayanne, which results in Jordan finding and reading it.
This turn of events prompts him to open up to Angela, and just like that, she’s head over heels for him again.
It’s like a power of suggestion thing. He didn’t like her before, but now that he’s talking to her and sharing things with her, perhaps he does like her, and Angela is absolutely smitten.
It’s so high school, and I absolutely love it.
I initially began this My So-Called Life journey by admitting that I never quite understood the Claire Danes craze. Well, now I totally get it.
I feel like writing her a five-page letter expressing how wonderful I think she is.
(Coincidentally, I’ve recently become engrossed in Homeland over the past month or so, so my life has been pretty Claire Danes-centric).
Her face is incredibly expressive, and her hair seems to take on the method acting prowess of tiny follicular Marlon Brandos, working their way into our hearts.
She can even make a little dance up the walkway after a kiss feel special. Claire Danes is a national treasure, no doubt about it.
I completely agree with your theory about Jordan and his enigmatic personality. Perhaps we weren’t meant to fully understand him.
Along those lines, I wish the camera hadn’t revealed Jordan sitting in the loft, clearly avoiding meeting Angela’s parents.
I understand they might have wanted to show his internal struggle, his desire to do this for Angela despite his discomfort with parents.
After all, he can’t even read properly. But I would have preferred it if they had left it ambiguous, if he had stood Angela up, and we, just like her, remained unaware of the real reason.
However, that moment was so subtly portrayed and cryptic that we still don’t precisely know the reason, do we?
I suppose I would appreciate it more if Jordan remained a character shrouded in mystery.
Not having insight into his thoughts enhances the vicarious high school experience.
Speaking of personal crushes, my affection for Brian Krakow continues to grow. The scene with him and Angela playing ball was incredibly endearing.
It’s evident that he deeply cares about her, or at least the idea of her. He has built her up so much in his mind that she constantly disappoints him.
If the show had continued for a few more seasons, we most likely would have witnessed a significant Angela/Danielle confrontation over Brian Krakow, unless, of course, he ended up dating Rayanne in the future.
I could imagine them becoming the teenage drama equivalent of Mary Matalin and James Carville – lots of arguments, followed by Maker’s Mark, and then probably some intimate moments that nobody wants to know about.
I wholeheartedly agree that the writers should have hinted at Ricky’s crush on Jordan earlier in the season, although it might have just occurred to them.
Moving on to aspects of this episode that I didn’t appreciate: why did they introduce the “old lady pregnancy scare” with Patty so early in the series?
They’ve already explored the affair storyline and the fashion show storyline, and now they’re delving into the late period plot, which feels too clichéd.
Additionally, I’m not a fan of thinking about Graham and Patty being intimate, although it seems Angela finds it amusing. What were your thoughts on this?
Kriti: I’m pleased that you’ve hopped aboard the Claire Danes train. If you haven’t seen “Shopgirl” with Claire Danes (and Steve Martin, who also wrote the novel the movie is based on), I highly recommend it to enhance your month of Claire Danes immersion.
It also features Jason Schwartzman being utterly charming.
The pregnancy scare did feel a bit rushed, especially after everything else that happened, but there were some aspects I genuinely appreciated.
The scenes between Patty and Camille are consistently delightful, and it’s easy to believe they’ve been friends for a long time.
There’s a natural ease and warmth in their relationship that’s a pleasure to watch.
Once again, Camille plays the role of the voice of reason, while Patty is the one in a state of panic.
The choice between pregnancy and menopause seems like a lose-lose situation for Patty – one represents the end of her youth, and the other means another child.
The Patty and Camille dynamic gets even better in “Strangers in the House,” but I’ll touch on that shortly.
Graham’s initial stance of not wanting another child and then changing his mind during the test did feel a bit convenient, but perhaps living in a household filled with women influenced his perspective.
I should ask my dad about this since he had the joy of raising two daughters, although it does seem like an awkward conversation!
On the bright side, he made sure both of us got involved in sports as kids, so hopefully, the gender aspect didn’t matter too much.
Angela’s response to the news of the pregnancy scare wasn’t what I anticipated. I would have thought she’d be more disgusted by the realization that her parents still “do it.”
However, I suppose after her experience with Jordan, she’s developed a newfound sense of humor.
One aspect that worked well with Patty and Graham in this episode was their reaction to Angela potentially dating, especially when Patty had to come up with her list of rules on the spot.
I can’t imagine Patty or Graham being too thrilled with Jordan (especially since Graham witnessed Jordan’s reading struggles in “The Substitute,” so he’s aware the kid has issues).
Additionally, Patty’s offer of indulging in ice cream straight from the carton endeared her to me even more, along with her candid statement that she wasn’t there to simply cheer Angela up.
Oh, and speaking of my fondness for bathroom and car scenes, I truly appreciated the amount of time Angela spent lying on her bed.
For some reason, many of my teenage memories of being at home involve me lying on my bed; whether it was reading, watching TV, or simply doing nothing, my bed was undoubtedly my favorite spot.
I’ve developed a theory as I watched these two episodes (and our last entry’s photo caption about Sharon/Rayanne fanfic might have contributed to it) that the true love triangle of the series exists between Angela, Rayanne, and Sharon.
However, it’s not so much a love triangle as a friendship one.
Many moments depict two out of the three having a conversation, and when the third one enters, it becomes incredibly awkward, as if they’ve been caught doing something inappropriate, even though they’re just talking.
They frequently say some version of “it’s okay if you want to be friends with her,” only for the recipient of that permission to deny that a friendship is something that should happen.
In reality, these ladies should be best friends, as they genuinely like each other.
I’m eager to discuss “Strangers in the House,” but before I dive into it, I wanted to pass it back to you.
Astha, do you think my theory about the friendship triangle holds any water, or am I overthinking it?
Astha: I’ve actually seen and read Shopgirl, and I have mixed feelings about both.
I was somewhat partial to the book before watching the movie, which might have influenced my reaction.
Also, I wasn’t in my Claire Danes Love Phase at the time.
Things could have changed since then, so maybe I should revisit the film.
Regarding “Why Jordan Can’t Read,” I particularly enjoyed the scene where Patty had to come up with dating rules on the spot.
As a former teacher and a current parent, I often find myself creating rules and explanations on the fly.
I can totally envision making up a list of dating rules on the spot and then promptly forgetting them a couple of days later. The idea of needing to meet your child’s date feels like a no-brainer.
(This somehow reminds me of Just the 10 of Us—everything leads back to Just the 10 of Us—when Wendy wanted to date an unsuitable guy, so she introduced sweet and nerdy Matthew Perry to her parents and then went out with the rebellious guy later.
Perhaps Angela should have had Brian or someone stand in for Jordan to get around the rule?)
Since you brought up the topic of friendship and the triangle involving Angela, Rayanne, and Sharon, let’s dive into it.
Let’s move on to “Strangers in the House,” which strongly resonated with me.
Strangers in the House
Astha: I had no idea what this episode would be about when I started watching it.
I initially thought it would be a Very Special Episode involving someone breaking into the Chase house and holding Angela hostage.
However, it turned out to be anything but that. It centered on Sharon’s dad having a heart attack and the Chase family taking her in while he was in the hospital.
This episode touched on the passage of time, moving on, and the complexities of friendships that may change but never really end.
It explored how we spend our childhood with certain people, grow and change, and leave parts of ourselves behind, yet we never stop needing the people who knew us during that time.
As I write this, I’m tearing up because I went through a similar situation (sort of). I was in the Angela role, and I didn’t handle it very well.
I’m feeling a sense of regret about it nearly 20 years later. My situation involved my “Sharon,” who attended the same high school.
We had stopped hanging out as soon as we got to high school, and this was mutual. During our freshman year, she approached me to tell me that her dog had died.
She wanted to tell me because I knew her dog and was a part of her past, unlike her new friends who didn’t share the same emotional connection.
I remember responding with something like, “Yeah,” and being emotionally distant, much like Angela was with Sharon.
I didn’t know what to say or how to define our friendship. It was too complex, even just to sit down with her and share a moment of grief about her dog.
Despite the fact that I’m sure she hardly remembers this incident, I still feel awful about it. Friendships among girls can be incredibly challenging!
My son has emerged from his bedroom and wants to play, so I’ll pass it over to you, Kriti. What are your thoughts on “Strangers in the House”?
Kriti: I arrived home from work earlier than expected and decided to open a bottle of wine and share some of my thoughts on this emotional and wonderful episode.
You truly captured the essence of the episode’s themes: the impact of the relationships we form as we grow up, even when we don’t anticipate it.
I’ve been in the shoes of both Sharon and Angela, and while I haven’t experienced moments like the ones in the show or your own personal story, I know the feeling of being in a familiar yet strangely alien house or bedroom.
There’s so much that changes about your bedroom, and so much that remains the same (usually the furniture stays constant while everything else evolves, like posters and the clothes lying around—plus the absence of toys).
This one room alone can represent how comfortable you used to be with this person and how awkward it is now.
I appreciate that Angela wasn’t portrayed as the perfect person in this episode.
They allowed her flaws to shine, and her attempts to fake her way through the situation made sense given the state of their relationship.
The confrontation between the two friends brought tears to my eyes, especially the “sometimes I miss you so much” part.
This is one of the reasons why I’ve developed my friendship triangle theory.
Present-day me is more interested in the friendship dynamics than the romantic aspects, and I’m wondering if the friendship themes felt too close to home when I was younger for me to fully appreciate them.
Rayanne’s efforts to do something nice for Sharon may have involved cutting class, but it seemed to come from a genuine place.
If Rayanne’s mother was correct in her assessment that Rayanne wants to be like Angela (in a way), then forming a connection with Sharon is necessary.
We don’t know Sharon’s dad, whom we’ve only glimpsed on a hospital monitor, but it’s significant that he’s okay because we’re acquainted with everyone who would be impacted if he were to pass away.
The adults in the episode go through different stages of coping: Camille remains composed, Patty is instantly emotional, and Graham feels numb and experiences a mini mid-life crisis.
It’s been apparent from the start of the series that Graham isn’t satisfied with how his career has unfolded, and this situation really drives the point home.
I’m delighted that Patty is the one who lets him go for his own benefit. (I truly can’t comprehend why I used to dislike her so much.
I was unquestionably mistaken.) For once, there’s no tiresome “can a woman have it all?” debate; instead, it’s the man facing a “what now?” scenario. I adore this storyline.
I haven’t addressed Brian yet, but I’ll leave it at this point. Oh, and I had to look up Just the 10 of Us because I wasn’t familiar with the show, but it does sound like a clever dating strategy.
Astha: The heart of the show truly lies in its female relationships. Angela, Rayanne, and Sharon.
Patty and Angela. Angela and Danielle. Patty and Camille.
I find all of these relationships significantly more captivating than anything involving the interactions between the women and men (including Patty’s issues with Graham).
When the show originally aired during my high school years, everyone was talking about Jordan Catalano, but he barely registers on my radar.
This show is predominantly about the experiences of being a girl and navigating through life (not just high school) with all the baggage that accompanies it.
These episodes, “Strangers in the House” and “The Zit,” are two of the most insightful episodes focusing on the female experience that I’ve ever seen.
In regard to Sharon and Rayanne, as “more mature” teenagers, I believe they are an even better match for each other than Sharon and Angela, or even Angela and Rayanne.
They both have more experience with guys and are no longer in the super-crush, daydreaming phase that Angela is in.
They share a Sam and Diane chemistry, but I think beneath it all, they respect each other and would like to be better friends.
Angela is currently getting in the way, but maybe once she gets a boyfriend, it will open the door for Sharon and Rayanne to solidify their friendship.
The content involving Brian in this episode was largely filler. We didn’t receive a substantial amount of new information here.
It’s clear that Brian enjoys it when girls want to talk to him, he engages in some peculiar behaviour in the band room, and he is very infatuated with Angela.
Also, Kriti, you are probably better off not knowing about Just the 10 of Us.
I’ll see you in two weeks when we delve into My So-Called Life’s Very Special Halloween episode.