Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

My So-Called Life: "Self Esteem" & "Pressure"

Image for article titled My So-Called Life: "Self Esteem" & "Pressure"
Image for article titled My So-Called Life: "Self Esteem" & "Pressure"

Looks like I started doubling up on the MSCL episodes at just the right time, because together "Self Esteem" and "Pressure" cover the entire arc of Angela and Jordan's very short-lived romantic relationship: from secretive hookups in the boiler room, to their confrontation at the Buffalo Tom show, to their debut as a public, holding-hands-in-the-hallway couple, to Jordan meeting Angela's dad, to their visit to an abandoned house/makeshift motel, to their teary (for Angela at least) break-up. These episodes also both center around, well, self-esteem and pressure, two issues that are the subject of the majority of the pamphlets available in every guidance counselor's office. But although the main focus of both "Self Esteem" and "Pressure" is Jordan and Angela's relationship, the two themes resonate in ways both subtle and not-so-subtle for nearly every character on the show.


"These girls. They're just so smart and yet…" Angela's geometry teacher complains to the new English teacher, Mr. Katimsky, when another teacher comes along and finishes the thought for her, "It's called low self esteem," she says. Just in case you didn't know what the episode was about.

Though it's not just high school girls who suffer from bouts of low self-esteem–a fact that this well-paced episode expertly hammers home. Angela's geometry teacher, for one, appears to be a long-time sufferer. When her crush, Mr. Katimsky, fails to pay attention to her, she immediately thinks it's a reflection on her. "I just made such a fool of myself," she tells her colleague, with shades of adolescent insecurity. (Later on, we find out Mr. Katimsky's lack of interest has nothing whatsoever to do with the Geometry teacher, and everything to do with the fact that he's gay.) The adorably stammer-prone Katimsky, however, is more interested in helping Enrique Vasquez, aka Ricky, live up to his Drama Club potential–something that Ricky is at first unwilling to recognize, despite Ricky's propensity for theatrical flourishes like, "He's driving me stark, raving mad!" [Faint. End of scene.] In the end, though, Katimsky manages to inspire Ricky to be proud of who he is by Katimsky's own example: "Don't let the fact that your English teacher's a dork stop you from fulfilling your potential." Only a few stammers later, Enrique is adding his signature to the Drama Club sign-up sheet.

Mr. Katimsky isn't the only beacon of confidence and security in this episode. Hallie Lowenthal, the "loud, obnoxious" woman in Graham's new cooking class is another. While Graham is nervously reviewing recipes before the first class, afraid he won't measure up, Hallie shows up to the class proud of her supposed failings ("My fiance hates my cooking.") and unafraid to "raise a stink" about Steffan Deiter, the tardy, drunk, hard-to-follow, celebrity chef. "We deserve better, " she reminds Graham, using a line that will echo throughout the episode. In the end, she's the impetus for Graham developing confidence in his cooking, so much so that he accepts a position teaching the class when Steffan bows out.

Other characters who deserve better, according to their friends/family: Patty and Angela. Patty's dad tells her that Graham is "sponging" off of her, and she should just hire a headhunter to find him a job, since Graham obviously isn't trying. Patty puts him off, but later wonders if her father was right. Is she being supportive, or allowing herself to be used? Meanwhile, Angela's more experienced friends, Sharon and Rayanne, know that Angela's make-out trips to the boiler room, and Jordan's "The fact that we come here…let's keep it, like, our secret" speech, mean that Jordan is definitely using Angela, and she's letting him do it, to her detriment. Angela tries to prove them wrong at the Buffalo Tom show, with heartbreaking results. "Um, you're kind of crowding me," is the only thing Jordan will say to her, causing the patented Angela Chase crumple-face-cry-and-flee. That night, Rayanne stands up to Jordan for Angela ("Would it kill you…to maybe treat her halfway decent. Cause, you know, she deserves it. And she's not going to wait around forever."), but the next day, Angela stands up to Jordan in the boiler room, throwing his withering line back at him: "Why are you like this?" "Like what?" he echoes, stunned. "Like how you are!"

Still, Jordan doesn't realize what he's lost until listening to a cursory interpretation of Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 in Mr. Katimsky's class later that day, prompting him to seek out Angela and hold her hand in front of, like, everyone. Maybe there's a reason high-school adaptations of Shakespeare are so popular?

Grade: A

Stray Observations:

—List of meaningful things Angela and Jordan said to each other mid-make-out, in case you ever find yourself in a boiler room: "There's a tiny leaf in your hair." "Was that your stomach or my stomach?" "Your cuticles look like little moons."

—It almost goes without saying, but Brian also deserves better than to be at Angela's beck-and-call to explain Geometry to her. Though the closest anyone comes to telling him so is Ricky, when he rolls his eyes and all but says, "Come on." In response to Brian's excuse, "Well, I might just stop by. Just to, like, take a study break."

—Graham: It needs something. Hallie: Yeah, like, a taste. She's so exuberant and immediately conspiratorial in this episode that it's a wonder Graham didn't fall for her sooner.

—"There's something about Sunday night that really makes you want to kill yourself…" This Angela-ism is a long one, but it's by far my favorite.

—Jordan's sidekick–the "Boner" to his "Mike Seaver," if you will–in this episode is played by Jared Leto's brother, Shannon. His most insightful line: "They're like weird, you know? Both of them."


One of the things that's so striking about Angela and Jordan's boiler room make-out sessions is how innocent they were: lots of delicate French kissing, and little light kisses on Jordan's hands and eyelids, and never even a hint of a wandering hand. They were more romantic than sexual, which is maybe why it seems a little fast when in the next episode Jordan's already pressuring Angela to have sex. Granted, we don't know exactly how much time is supposed to have passed between Angela and Jordan's first public hand-holding and Jordan trying to talk Angela into doing, you know, it in his car in a parking lot in broad daylight, and there's only so many chaste boiler-room make outs one person can take, but it does seem like they went from kissing directly to sex.

It certainly seems that way to Angela, who is so unprepared for sex she can't even say the word "sex" to another person, even a doctor. She can barely even say "do it" to Jordan without laughing, and he's the one she would be doin' it with. Still, she can think about it, leading to one of MSCL's best voiceover montages: "I couldn't stop thinking about it. Like, the fact of it. That people had sex. They just had it, like a rash, or a rottweiler. Everything started to seem, like, pornographic, or something. Like: Ms. Krisnowski has sex. So does Mr. Katimsky. They both have sex. They could have sex together. Like right now. I am like the sickest person."

Soon, however, sex becomes not just an absurd idea, but something real and concrete and knocking on her door in the middle of the night in the form of Jordan Catalano. He makes plans with Angela to go to the sex house (FYI: if you leave your empty house on the market for too long, teenagers will find it and turn it into a sex house) in the grossest way possible: with a double entendre. "Like breaking and entering?" Angela asks, walking right into it. "No. Just entering," Jordan replies. Eww.

Angela tries to find a way out of doin' it. First she asks Sharon how Sharon got out of having sex with Kyle, only to learn that Sharon didn't. ("You had, like, intercourse?" Angela asks incredulously. "Like, constantly," Sharon replies.) Then, when Jordan comes to pick her up, she tries to get Graham to tell her that she can't go out, to no avail. (If only he knew they were going to the sex house.) Eventually, while awkwardly waiting around with Jordan for a room to open up at the sex house, Angela's perfect excuse, Rayanne, shows up. Angela mumbles something to Jordan about being concerned for her drunk, drunk friend, and follows Rayanne out of the window and away from having to either talk about or have sex.

Sharon then brings Angela her parents' "Intimacy" tape, in the hope of making Angela feel more comfortable about the idea of sex. It's a nice idea, and a very funny tape, and it works in the sense that Angela realizes she has to talk to Jordan. So she borrows Brian's bike and rides to Jordan's garage, only to find out that he's not interested in hearing her nosexcuses anymore, and that he doesn't understand her unwillingness to do it. "You're supposed to," he says, "It's accepted. It's what you're supposed to do. Unless you're, like, abnormal." Cue the second Angela Chase crumple-face-cry-and-flee in as many episodes.

The next day, as Graham "sleeps" on the couch, eavesdropping for some reason, Brian comes over looking for his bike, and ends up counseling Angela, reminding her that not all boys only care about sex. Soon, Brian leaves, Jordan arrives to return the bike to Angela, and Graham has a front row seat to Jordan/Angela's teary break-up, complete with poignant driving metaphor. "At least you got in some driving practice, " Jordan tells her. "Just don't take your turns too wide. I'm sure you won't." And thus ends the ballad of Angela and Jordan. For now.

Tellingly, the last shot in this episode is Angela riding Brian's bike. No double entendre.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations:

—Other people feeling pressure in this episode are: Graham, being pressured by Hallie to open a restaurant, and (at least at first) Patty NOT to open a restaurant. And then there's Sharon, who hints at how having sex can lead to pressure to continue to have sex: "After that having sex was kind of expected. You can't go back. It stopped mattering whether or not I wanted to."

—Early on in the episode, there's a little bit of subtle foreshadowing from Patty. She tells Angela about snacking late at night, "We're not running a restaurant."

—The stilted interaction between Jordan and Graham and Hallie her fiance is very funny. Hallie: "You would probably know. If you had [a major]." Jordan: "Yeah. I probably would have gotten like a letter or something."

—Brad: such a fiance name.