Saturday, 13 February 2010

Skins - Whatever you’re doing, you can stop. All you gotta do is stop.

Skins 4x03 Cook (and some additional notes about Emily)

I don’t really know where to start with this episode. It showcased how different from the average “Skins”-episode “Emily” was. “Cook” leaves the claustrophobic confinement of entering every scene (the only exception was the small bit between Freddie and Effy, but even then, Emily was the one to give meaning to their exchange, asking whether Freddie could ever truly trust Effy) from the perspective of one character. I’m sure that this was a narrative decision, but it was painful to see Naomi only through Emily’s eyes: first, with the awe and idealisation of love, then, step by step, with an increasing sense of suspicion (when every conversation, phone call, gesture suddenly becomes something potentially hinting at a betrayal). “Emily” wasn’t about why Naomi cheated, or how she justified to herself that she never told the truth – it was about Emily, slowly discovering that she doesn’t know the person she loves, and can’t stop to seek out the truth, even if she knows early into the episode that this will eventually lead to disaster.
The scene that started this season is haunting every single episode. Even though we did not know Sophia (but I’d argue that the show did a pretty good job of fleshing her out, both by letting her voice narrate the “Love on the Train”-story and with the little trailer available on the website, that gives you a sense of how trapped she felt with a family that did not respect who she was and what choices she wanted to make), her death has repercussions for every single character that we’ve followed so far. Naomi slept with her and gave her drugs (I think it’s a wise choice that she doesn’t attempt to explain why, because I’m not sure she is supposed to know that), Emily, while delving into her life, discovering her room and her secret box, identifies with her to an extent (as some people have pointed out, the most blatant parallel is Sophia’s choice of a Blondie-song for her suicide note and the Blondie poster on Emily’s side of the room – but more importantly, there’s the unsupportive mother, the inability to communicate with her sibling, the fact that her family tried to force her into a life she did not want, and that she had a secret life, hidden away in a box, and was in love with the same person as Emily).
Cook’s connection to her death is more subtle. In the beginning of the episode, he pleads not guilty to beating up the boy who happened to be in the way when all his bottled up feelings about Effy exploded at the party, after seeing her kiss Freddie. This scene facilitated Emily’s decision to further pursue the truth about Sophia (realizing that keeping it all inside, only pretending to be happy, ultimately leads to destruction), and in Cook’s episode, it becomes the one event through which he finally realizes who he has become, and what the consequences of never being responsible for one’s actions are.

“Ruth says you’re her greatest creation. A walking conceptual installation. That’s cool, man”.

“Skins” has always done a great job at creating awful, dysfunctional, incapable, irresponsible, self-involved parents, and Ruth Byatt quite possibly leads this list of fail now, even topping Effy’s, Pandora and Emily’s (the Fitch-family just channels over-protectiveness in the worst possible way) mums, Cassie’s self-involved artist parents, and Chris’ absent ones. There were some unexpected tender moments in past episodes between children and parents (JJ’s mum was adorable, both Naomi’s mom and Emily’s dad had some words of wisdom to spare, although the two latter examples still can’t provide their children with what they need – a good example of how to deal with being in love, or a supportive home).
Ruth simply has no redeeming qualities. It was interesting to see how much Cook has worked on becoming the antithesis to her. Who would have thought that Cook comes from an upper-middle class household, that his mum lives in a mansion and is “the greatest conceptual artist since Duchamps”? He has cultivated his working class image so well. The most important distinction is: his mother is pretentious, and he is trying to be as authentic as possible. She is an awful artist, a terrible mother to Cook’s little brother Paddy, a drunk, and infantile.  Cook has never tried to excuse his actions by talking about his reasons, so it’s all the more surprising that he comes from the worst family possible. Even though he is a violent, aggressive character, it’s still remarkable that he turned out as well as he did (in the season finale last year Freddie was the one telling him that he was better than his dad because he did not leave the people he loved behind). Essentially, “Skins” portrays these teenagers as people who have to define themselves in relation to each other, but never with the safety net of a supportive family. In some cases, they prove that they are better people than their parents, that they can make better decisions and be more loveable human beings.
This episode works almost like a journey where each station provides Cook with another insight into who he is – into who he wants or doesn’t want to be.
Possibly the most important person in this episode for Cook is his little brother, Paddy (where do all these episode-saving siblings come from all of a sudden, “Skins”?). Paddy clearly idealizes his big brother: he wears the same clothes as he does, and the first time we see him, he is playing “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead on Guitar hero, which was the song that introduced us to Cook in the first season. The first thing Cook realizes, trapped in his mother’s mansion, is how horrible the situation must be for him. He left him behind when his mum threw him out (after he sold her wedding rings for dope) – and now he has to put up with his mum’s very audible affairs, pizza as the only available food, and bottles of Champaign all over the place.
Paddy: “Will you go to prison?”
Cook: “I might.”
Paddy: “But. If you say sorry, won’t they let you go?”
Cook: “I’m not sorry.”
Paddy: “Why not?”
Cook: “Never say sorry kid.”
Paddy: “Why?”
Cook: “You’re not a pussy, are you?”
Paddy: “No.”
Cook: “We don’t play that game, do we? Don’t play anyone’s game.”
Cook first realizes that this isn’t true when he sees his brother, who has taken his advice to heart, brought home by the police. He doesn’t realize the consequences of his own actions, but he does see that his example leads his brother towards the exact same path that has landed him in prison. The idea of “not playing anyone’s game” is also relevant in his later exchange with Naomi: When you’re in love, you lose this certainty, this independence. And both of them can’t actually deal with it.
The scene in which Cook returns to school after being in a holding cell for the night is also well done: we see how he composes himself, after seeing Effy kiss Freddie through a glass window, to be able to put up an act, to play the disaffected, tough guy that he usually is. We see him before he puts on this face, and realize that he pays a prize for this. He turns to JJ, Naomi and Emily (who aren’t talking to each other – Cooks asks “what is it with you two” and we don’t know yet either) and asks them to go away with him, but they turn him down. JJ, still black-eyed from Cook’s attack, is visibly shaken, but Cook doesn’t even remember that he knocked him out. When Effy and Freddie offer to go with him, he naturally turns them down. Then he gets expelled by David Blood, who attacks him with pepper spray (“Reasonable force utilized in self-defence”), a move that comes as sudden and unexpected as Thomas’ was in the first episode of the season (how many more of our heroes will be expelled by the end of the year, I wonder?).
Guilt is another theme here. We will probably never find out what exactly happened on the night that Sophia killed herself, but Cook has a flyer of her with him, and when he leaves school, he sees the shrine – and visits Naomi. The connection between Cook and Naomi this episode is relevant because both deal with the same problem: they can’t deal with the consequences of their own actions. Things both did because they were in love and didn’t know how to handle the emotions (Naomi because it was too much at once, Cook because Effy chose someone else over him).
Naomi: “When did you get so sorry for yourself Cook?”
Cook: “Huh?”
Naomi: “We can talk about her. It’s why you’re here, isn’t it? We gave that girl Sophia drugs.”
Cook: “I didn’t give her nothing.”
Naomi: “And I had an affair with her as well.”
Cook: “What? “
Naomi: “Now she’s dead. That’s why you’re here. You feel bad.”
[…] Alright. Wanna know how I feel. I feel fucking terrible. My girlfriend won’t look at me. I could cry every minute, I feel shit, and all I can do is feel it. DEAL WITH IT.”
Naomi is projecting here. She feels bad because she gave Sophia drugs. I don’t think Cook realizes why he is there, or that he feels guilty about Sophia’s death. While the second scene between them is better written, there is the essential “All I can do is feel it” line – Naomi, the character who always deals with issues by confronting them, by being active and sometimes rude and aggressive, who thinks and talks about her problems, but tries to avoid “feelings” as much as possible (by running away), is forced to do the one thing she’s not very good at: wait.

“Doesn’t anyone owe me anything?”

The idea of saying sorry for something you’ve done wrong is also very important in this episode: Cook tries to apologize to the boy he beat up but can’t actually bring himself to say the words, and is turned down.
Even the corny and cliché reveal that Ruth went all Mrs Robinson on Freddie on Cook’s 15th birthday (like I said: nothing redeeming at all about this woman) leads to a meaningful scene. Cook talks to Freddie, and Freddie says sorry. At some point while Cook says “It’s fine. Sorted. Everything’s cool”, he realizes how important being able to say sorry for what you’ve done wrong is, that’s it’s a kind of absolution to forgive and be forgiven for something. Freddie tells him that he is the one who beat up JJ (“He loves you Cook. Well, that’s all. And I love you too.”). This scene becomes all the more important in the final exchange with his little brother, after Cook decides that the situation with his mom is impossible, and takes him away, although he isn’t allowed to leave the house past 7 PM:
Cook: “I fucking love you Pads. Its you and me, mate. No one else understands.”
Paddy: Yeah. Fuck everybody. Fuck Mom. Fuck everybody. Everybody else is a fucking tosser. I hate them.”
Cook realizes that he does care. He sees himself reflected in his brother and doesn’t like what he sees.

Cook / Naomi

Emily does not say a single word this episode. We can only assume how the scene that ended “Emily” went last week: Emily explained that despite the fact that she can’t stand Naomi’s presence, she can’t possibly return home. The resulting arrangement is heartbreaking (and while I didn’t feel sorry for Naomi at all last episode, I want to hug her this time. The Pain. Is Awful.) When Cook calls her, she is crouched on the couch, putting as much distance as possible between them, watching Emily sleep. We’ll only find out how bad things are between them next episode, but here, we get a glimpse of how painful it must be to be so helpless.
I’ve rooted for Naomi and Cook to become friends ever since Naomi’s episode last season. Somehow, they bring out the best in each other. The second scene between them finally gives Naomi the chance to speak up on her own terms: this isn’t from Cook’s perspective; this isn’t through Emily’s eyes.
Naomi: “We didn’t kill her, you know. She killed herself. Doesn’t help though. I still spend every day feeling like I wanna puke.”
Cook: “How is Emily?”
Naomi: “Angry. So lonely. It all means not [so?] much to you, doesn’t it?”
Cook: “What?”
Naomi: “Life. You just live a bit harder than everybody else does. You splash about. You wallow in it. Like you can’t lose a moment.”
Cook: “Yeah, I’m well odd [hard?].”
To a certain extent, she envies him. Being in love for her means that every action has a consequence, and she can’t “splash about”. Lily Loveless conveys this sense of silent desire so well, to live without having to face the outcome. I take the kiss as a sign of trust and friendship, nothing more. The times when Naomi questioned her sexuality are long gone. She is just looking for comfort, for something to bridge the awful distance that is so awful in both the scenes she shares with Emily.
Cook: “Thing is , Naomi, you splash about, other people get wet. I don’t give a fuck or anything, it’s just you get bit, you know…Fuck sake, I’m never gonna get to bone you, am I?”
Naomi: “No, I love someone.”
Cook: “You and me both, girl. You and me both.”
“I love someone” is such a tiny statement, but looking back at Naomi’s path since the first episode in season three, it’s magnificent. Cook admits that what he does has repercussions.
Friendship is the one element that has been missing from this generation of “Skins”- The portrayal of the three musketeers has been all about how one girl can break up a friendship, Effy and Pandora’s friendship was shown as precarious because Effy is not invested in other people – it’s just nice to have two people connect this way. I hope there’s more of it in upcoming episodes. I didn’t even realize how much I missed it until this scene.

“You’re too fucking smart for most people.”

The final part of the episode is Cook’s redemption. He doesn’t just face up to the consequences of his actions, he also burdens someone else’s sins. I wonder what the fall-out of Cook bailing out Naomi will be, but it’s telling that the grandest gesture is reserved for his character. Effy finally comes to talk to him – but only after he admits to his sins. I don’t think that it’s brutal when she tells him that she loves Freddie, she is just trying to tell him that he is still a good person, she just happens to be in love with someone else. (“How is the love”/
“It a bit of a head-fuck, to be honest. Not simple. I know you’d understand that. I’m giving it a go. That’s what I always loved about you, Cook. Brave.”) In the end, he is forgiven by his friends, who come to his trial.

Random notes:

Ugh. Accent. It takes me three times as long to transcribe Cook’s dialogue, and even then, I don’t get everything (what did he say to Naomi after she said “She’s dead. That’s why you’re here”? I got the willy-waggle part, which was a reference to her episode last season, but the rest might as well have been Russian)

Jack O’Connell’s physical presence in every scene is remarkable.

Cook won’t be in the upcoming episodes then?

I said I wanted a scene in which Freddie didn’t do something groan-inducing: I kinda liked when he and JJ utterly failed at cheering up Panda. JJ’s epic speech about love (he actually used AIR QUOTES for love) and Freddie’s awkward patting of the knee were so hilarious (yet sad. Because seeing Panda sad is unbearable).
JJ: “You know, love is really overrated. I’ve never even had a girlfriend, and look how happy I am. Inbetween minor psychological breakdowns. Sure all the serotonin, endorphins and sex feel good, but really, “love”? An illusion. Can’t last. Nope”.
Freddie: “Nicely done.”
The over-the-top toughness of the school representatives, impersonated in David Blood (the name! and he actually slips Cook his card this episode), reminds me of Daria’s Ms Li, who collected DNA samples after minor misdemeanours. There is a good tradition to show how ridiculous school administration can be within an over-all serious series.

I wonder whether Duncan’s moustache and Cook’s sentimental looking at Effy’s pictures on his phone were supposed to be references to the first season. There are some parallels between Tony and Cook: both do things just because they can, because they enjoy the drama – and that’s probably a good part of the reason why Effy was drawn to him in the first place (while Freddie is the opposite).

There was one shot of Cook in prison in which he looked exactly like the famous shot of Lewis Thornton Powell , the one that Sarah Vowell described so fittingly as "hey, this guy is kinda handsome / oh, so he was one of the people who planned Abraham Lincoln's assassination then? Huh.". 

I love how Duncan’s only comment about all the season three drama is “Is this Oprah? Tell me something worthwhile!”

We find out that Naomi didn't just kiss Sophia. Which was obvious, but Emily decided she'd heard enough after seeing that picture in Sophia's diary, she did not turn another page. 

Effy says she is in love. I want season two Effy back, who said “Love, what is it good for, absolutely nothing”. But maybe we are all never quite as smart as we were as kids (but wouldn't it be amazing if the finale of this season was a reference to season two, when Effy in one giant masteripiece fixed EVERYTHING?).

Preview  for the next episode: OMG. My ability to form complete sentences has vanished. I always thought that Katie had a lot of unrealized potential, and I have a feeling that the writers will make up for not giving her enough to do last season. Also: there is a clip  from next episode online on e4 that I can’t even start to describe, but it looks PAINFUL. Someone needs to hug Naomi.

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