One thing I’ll say for this show: they’re pretty good at switching up the tone from week to week. We’ve finally come to the episode that any of you who watched probably know as the “Rickie is Homeless” episode, and it starts off right away showing us it’s going to be an intense one. We open with Rickie literally coughing blood into the snow in an alley. It’s clear he’s shaken and hurt, and at the very least he’s been hit in the face.
Meanwhile, the Chases are having a pretty idyllic evening setting up Christmas decorations, and Angela picks this moment to ask why the family never goes to church. For a set of parents with an intelligent curious teenage daughter, Graham and Patty seemed woefully unprepared to explain themselves. They manage to stammer out that Graham is a lapsed Catholic and Patty just never really got into religion.
At school the next day, Rayanne and Angela discover Rickie’s bruised face and strange demeanor. Unlike Rayanne, Angela’s worried about him. He’s wearing the same clothes he was wearing last time they saw him, and he’s really hungry. Rayanne brushes it off by saying that Rickie tends to get beat up once in a while, and doesn’t like talking about it. It becomes clear that Rickie not only got beaten up, but he got kicked out of the house. The show was frustratingly vague about what exactly happened, but all you know is that he has nowhere to stay and he’s too ashamed or scared to ask friends, teachers, or other relatives for help. So he spends time after school going from one friend’s house to another’s until he ends up at the Chase’s.
Angela gives him some food and is trying to coax him into telling her what’s going on, but they’re interrupted by Patty and Chase coming home. Patty, who had just told Graham that she wanted to bring religion back into their lives, acts extremely uncharitable and Rickie leaves. Graham points out to her that if it had been Brian Krakow in that same position, they would have let him stay over.
Rickie’s back in the middle of town, trying to figure out where to go, when he runs into Jordan. I’d actually completely forgotten about Jordan’s role in this episode, and the fact that after their terrible non-relationship and breakup, he ends up showing a more caring side. He offers Rickie a ride and tells him he knows “a place where he can crash.” That place is an abandoned warehouse in town that’s apparently home to many dozens of homeless teens.
Now that he’s staying at the warehouse, Rickie stops going to school. I wish he’d gone to school where at least he could have gotten school lunch, but it’s clear he doesn’t want people to know how bad things are. Angela’s upset at school, and she runs into a homeless guitar-playing girl who’s been seen near Rickie throughout the episode. She explains to Angela how hard it is to be homeless during the winter, and that she is looking after Rickie. While she’s enchanted by this encounter, Angela’s still worried about Rickie, and Jordan offers to show her where he’s staying.
The first warehouse scene was the first of two moments that pushed my suspension of disbelief to the limit. So, they’ve set up the town they live in as a suburban small town outside Pittsburgh. Remember just a few episodes ago, all the parents are in a tizzy about a gun being at school? So how is it that there’s this huge abandoned warehouse filled with what looks like a hundred homeless teens that no adult has ever noticed? I’m not saying these things aren’t possible, nor that there is no such thing as suburban homelessness, but I just think this would have come to people’s attention long before the Chase’s overhear Angela talking about it with Brian on Christmas Eve.
Anyway, Christmas Eve has arrived and Angela tries to talk Patty into letting Rickie and the homeless girl come over for dinner. Patty resists, and it becomes clear after a few minutes that they aren’t just fighting about the dinner issue; Patty’s fighting hard against the idea that Angela could ever end up like those other kids. The Chases decide to tell Child Services that the warehouse exists, and they immediately regret their decision. It’s not like they’d done something horrible but it does illustrate just how hard it is to deal with the homelessness problem. Would having those two kids over for Christmas Dinner really have fixed anything? But at the same time, what does kicking all the kids out of the warehouse really solve?
Angela sneaks out to go get Rickie from the warehouse, but it turns out the kids have already been taken out. You sort of think that Angela’s gotten arrested, but instead she’s been brought to a church basement where they’re hosting a big Christmas dinner for the troubled kids. Patty, in a frantic pre-cell phone tizzy, drives and then walks around trying to find her daughter. She notices the homeless girl that Angela had talked to, and follows her to a church. The girl explains that she was once just like Angela, but after a fight with her mom she ran away from home. She also tells her that she died by freezing to death in the winter. The girl disappears, and Patty realizes her daughter is still in the church. Angela, Patty, and Rickie are all reunited at church, during a beautiful singing arrangement by the church choir.
This was officially the first episode of MSCL that has made me tear up upon re-watching. It did kill the moment a little bit when they literally show the girl flying away by flapping her feathery angel wings, though. I was like, we get it, she’s an angel. Overall, though, the last five minutes of the show were really moving, like a holiday episode of a show should be.