Friday, 29 January 2010

Skins - Like god, but with better weapons.

Skins: 4x01 Thomas.

My, Lisa Backwell (Pandora) wasn’t joking when she said that this season was going to be about consequences, was she?
Anyways – the decision to start the season off with Thomas is an odd one, as his ties to the group are loose and he is mostly associated with Pandora. His episode last season worked: it brought together a group of people that were previously only vaguely friends, facilitated some conversations that would become relevant later that season (especially Naomi / Emily) – and oddly enough, ended with him leaving instead of becoming a real member of the group.
This is probably the reason why “Thomas” this season works when it builds up the tension for upcoming episodes, and is an interesting episode when it presents how the characters have grown and changed since we last saw them, but not when it is only concerned with Thomas.

We start out with someone else, someone knew, and the initial reaction (if you’ve avoided spoilers) is that this is a new character, like Sketch (as it turns out, this will be a relevant association for other reasons as well) in the second season of “Skins”. She takes drugs, then makes her way through a clearly overfilled club, passing all the other characters (who don’t seem to know her). She walks up balcony, and then jumps to her death.
It’s a haunting beginning for a new season, not unlike Tony’s accident was at the end of the first season: while first seasons usually work to establish the characters, the second works to show how they change, faced with the tragedies the writers throw their way (I think the best example for character development is Chris, who I thought was rather superficial in the first season and became one of my favourite characters in the second).


Thomas – a character with a background very much unlike that of any other, as he needs to work for a living (as the bouncer of the club in which the accident happens, he naturally becomes the first person directed affected by it, and we only find out later how other characters might be implicated in this) and lives in precarious circumstances, gets paid a “bonus” for not telling the police that he knew about the fact that drugs were dealt in the club and that it was filled beyond capacity.
The question that starts to emerge at the beginning of the episode is whether Thomas simply bears too much responsibility to fit in with the group. He is confronted with a mother who can’t provide sufficiently for her family (their apartment is so bad that her younger son is constantly sick) and criticizes the hedonism of the British youth, not understanding that Thomas is trying to fit in, to both make friends and a living in that environment.  Faced with the incomprehensible reactions from the others to the suicide (we later find out why Cook and Emily play it so cool), the immigrant community and the conservative values of his mother and the preacher suddenly seem more appealing (so does the pastor’s daughter).
“Thomas, we are you people, and we will never, ever let you down. But we are waiting for you to take the first step. That first step into the wider world”
Apart from the fact that Thomas’ sister totally calls out the pastor for ripping of “Star Wars” here, the question remains whether Thomas can exist in both communities at the same time if they have conflicting values.
“I can’t stand this place. This country – noone understands, nothing makes sense. I can’t, I just can’t.”
Naomi / Cook

Honestly, knowing that the real fall-out of the accident would come next episode, or at least start there, I was caught completely off-guard by the reveal that Naomi was the one who sold the drugs to Sophia (the girl who fell off the railings). Thomas is certain that it was Cook (good continuity there – of course Thomas and Cook aren’t friends), and Naomi just completely breaks down in that scene, breaking up their fight, and finally admitting to it in the pub. This scene is especially interesting because we see how much she changed since walking out of the love ball with Emily: There is the aesthetic decision to make her look more vulnerable with less make-up and more colour-coordinated clothes. Usually, whenever she was attacked or somehow in trouble, Naomi reacted by fighting back, not really caring who she hurt in the process (“rude” is one of the many words Lily Loveless uses to describe her character) – we’ve never seen her afraid before.
Naomi: “Thomas, it was me. I gave it to her.
Thomas: “What? You what?”
Naomi: [...] “I needed the money. I just sold it to someone random.”
Thomas: “She died. She’s dead.”
Naomi: “I didn’t mean that to… please don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell Emily. She would be…”
We didn’t really see Emily and Naomi together yet, but the mere fact that Emily is the first person that she is worried about, not herself or the police, shows how far she’s come in the months that we didn’t see her, and it’s stunningly well-acted.

Just a little side-note her: I thought that Cook and Naomi might become friends, and was looking forward to it (because seriously – who else would Naomi be friends with? Freddie?). But being friends with Cook gets you into trouble, always. But this seems unusually bad judgement on her part, doesn’t it?

Random thoughts:

Thomas mom: “Someone tell me please where to find a virgin in this country?” / Pandora: “Er.. difficult.”

Despite the fact that Pandora betrayed Thomas with Cook, the scenes with Thomas’ mom are still even more painful because it’s her, and not anybody else. It’s Pandora! How can you possibly NOT like her?

It’s also interesting that my reaction to Pandora sleeping with Cook last season was “Oh my, Pandora” but my reaction to Thomas cheating on her is “poor Pandora, how dare you”. Maybe I should be more emotionally involved in Thomas’ plot, but I’m just not (I guess you can’t be equally involved in all the plots of “Skins” – I didn’t much care about Anwar’s either). The interesting thing is: All of Thomas’ friends react in exactly the same way.

In a miserable episode missing the usual humour of “Skins” (which seemed fitting to the serious subject matter, but still), Thomas’ sister was a welcomed respite.

“Yes, because Obi Wan Kenobi is like god, but with better weapons”

Other comic relieves: JJ (Pandora: “Something said to me we need to cheer up. What we need is a Reese-athon. Oh, and I brought JJ” / JJ: “What I like about Reese is she’s a virgin you can believe in.” and the new headmaster (“I will expunge you”).

And the making-fun-of-Americans continues with the Reese-athon (and the ridiculous American accent we hear as they watch “Redneck Bride” after “That Darn Man” – not to be confused with “Kentucky Bride Hitchin'”.
Preacher’s daughter: “Everybody Jesus says shut up. So we were just about to sing a song weren’t we, so what shall we sing?”
Kids: “Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce.”
Daughter: “Those are all people who can’t really sing, don’t wear very many clothes, and get married far too young. What do we call those sorts of people?”
Kids: “Americans!”
JJ’s complete inability to deal with the Panda-Thomas break-up happening literally over his head: very much in-character, and Ollie Barbieri deservces some kind of award for pulling off the Reese-Witherspoon-related lines with a straight face.

Effy – who apparently dumped all the three musketeers (JJ: “The status of the tribe is protected. We’re all happy, right?”) is a gaping absence throughout most of the first episode, and it was really validating to see her come back to Pandora after her painful break-up: for once, Effy is the good friend. And it’s just generally nice to see her come back for her, not for Freddie (who looks like he isn’t exactly emotionally stable without her).

When Thomas finally returns to Pandora’s doorstep to say sorry, she once again proves how insightful she is once you take away that protective shield of weirdness:
Pandora: “You don’t trust me with your thoughts anymore Thomas, and that fucks it.”
Thomas: “But I love you Pandora.”
Pandora: “I know you do, Thomas.”
I wonder whether she would have gotten through that without knowing that Effy would be there afterwards (“good. Eat you pop tart. Well done. He needs to think about what he did.” / “I’m glad you’re back, Eff.”). This makes me hopeful that the writers give Effy a good storyline this season, because wasting all that potential on a doomed love-triangle… is just wrong.

No comments: