Thursday, 10 June 2010

Skins - So I’ve prepared a check-list of things to think if you lose.

Skins: 1x03 Jal.

I don’t think a lot of people appreciate Jal’s first episode. I only really started liking her as a character after “Chris” in season two, although now that I am re-watching the episodes and know what’s coming, I like her way more than I did the first time around. This episode is in the awkward position to follow up one of the best of the entire generation, and it will be followed by another one that remorselessly stumbles forward. Compared to “Cassie” and “Chris”, “Jal” is slow, patient, more interested in small details than stunning the viewer with loud party scenes and grand drama. As an episode, it completely fits the character that Jal is in the group: she is more reliable, more focused, and she has a pretty good idea of what she wants. One of the things that I’d really like to know (and I’ve never heard DVD commentaries before, I don’t even know if there is one for “Jal) is whether it was a conscious decision not to start the episode with Jal waking up, but already in school, practicing the clarinet with an orchestra obviously not a match for her talent. It happens a few times that we don’t start with a character waking up in bed (I’ll come back to that with “Sid”, the season three finale is also a pretty good example).


Jal is out of place. She feels like she doesn’t belong in a particular place several times during the episode – but her way of coping isn’t being awkward, it’s a stubborn kind of resentment, which is exactly why she sometimes reminds me of Naomi, in spite of the obvious differences between the two. They both seem to know what they want and are focused and passionate about their goals, yet they only realize what is truly important when they allow themselves to fall in love, and then they find how hard it is to make the right decisions once you are in love. Jal’s situation is different from Naomi’s: she has this comfortable circle of friends, and she cares about them, even though most of the time she doesn’t agree with their decisions. There is this entire scene that establishes how out of place she sometimes feels: sat on a couch (presumably in the Stonem’s living room), then there is a slow pan out to reveal Michelle and Tony making out, and then Effy watching. She needs Michelle to buy a dress, but Tony always comes first (“We’re just gonna nip upstairs”). Sid, who she meets outside when she flees from the scene, is the same:

Sid: “Is Tony in?”
[Sex noises]
Jal: “Pretty much.”
Sid: “I’ll just wait. You know. Hang out.”
Jal: “Is that all you do Sid? Hang out with Tony.”
Sid: “Pretty much. And Michelle.”
Jal: “Yeah. Michelle. Come on. Going shopping.”
Sid: “I don’t shop.”
Jal: “Shut up. You’ll have to do.”
We learn more about Sid and Michelle this episode than we do about Jal, but we see them through her eyes; we see her uncomfortable her situation is, knowing that Tony is a cheater, that Sid doesn’t see Cassie because of Michelle, that Michelle’s priorities are all wrong. She isn’t as perceptive as Cassie, but at the same time, everybody trusts her and doesn’t expect her to do anything about the things she knows, so she ends up with all this baggage.
This scene also once again establishes that this is a closely-knit circle of friends. It feels so completely different from anything that happened in the second gen (most obviously, the scene in which Emily helped JJ pick out a tie and Freddie talked to Katie in the dressing room).


Later, Harriet talks about Jal’s “background” Roundview somehow rescued her from (“I’ve prepared a checklist of ways we helped you to overcome your handicaps”), and Jal reacts pretty much the same way she always does, with disbelief at how ridiculous everything around her is. “Skins” has such a subtle way of establishing the economic background of the characters. We see Jal’s house and it’s clearly more expensive than anything we’ve seen yet (or will, until Cook’s mum). Her father is a famous musician/producer. She has two older brothers who try to make a living out of music and rebel against their “background” by faking accents, aiming for street credibility and authenticity that just comes across as ridiculous to the viewer (as it is intended to be). Of course, Jal is also trying to get her father’s respect, although she hides it differently, and has a harder time, since she looks like the mother who has abandoned them years ago. Jal practices. She is focuses on becoming a good musician, although she doesn’t want to deal with all the crap that comes with taking part in a prestigious competition. Being the person who says “no” is who Jal is, and her path through this gen is becoming a person who doesn’t. While there is this beautiful image of her and Chris making a deal (with her having the crossed-out no on her forehead), which signifies how she will change, the scene in which Michelle and Jal watch her interview and she answers every single question the reporter asks with no  (“your family must be so proud”) is who Jal is.
Michelle: “Do you have to be so fucking soaky all the time?”
Jal: “I’m not.”
Michelle: “If I was on telly I’d make an effort. Look at you”.
Michelle: “You girl need to learn a few tricks.”
Jal: “Like what?”
Michelle: “Like looking good. It’s what I do.”
Jal: “It’s not all you do.”
Michelle: “It is. You play the clarinet, and I look shaggable.”
I love the two or so scenes of the friendship between Michelle and Jal. The male characters have more consistent storylines throughout this generation, and sadly, the female characters get only few scenes like this, but this is probably one of my favourite moments of the episode, and the first time that I thought I got a glimpse of the person Michelle could be, if it wasn’t for Tony. Of course, this piece of dialogue once again tells us more about Michelle’s insecurities and how she has resorted to being Tony’s shaggable girlfriend (and how Jal disapproves, although she does it like she’s already settled with the fact that Michelle’s self-perception isn’t going to change anytime soon) than about Jal.

Jal, is that you in there?

Naturally, it’s a cliché that the girl who usually doesn’t make an effort just has to dress up nicely and then all the guys notice her (including “You’re gay, for Christ sake.”) For me, the finale of the episode is a bit of a mess because it’s really not about Jal anymore. It’s about Tony, kissing Abigail without Michelle noticing but Jal knowing. It’s Michelle, telling Sid that he is more like a brother to her. It’s about Cassie, dressing up beautifully for Sid, getting him a beer, and Sid completely ignoring her and being a twat (I am in the minority disliking this pairing massively, right? WHY?). It’s about Maddison Twatter, trying to get back at Sid by hurting one of his friends, luring her into a dark alley with the help of a seemingly nice guy (an idea “Skins” will return to shortly) and smashing up her precious clarinet (“it’s just you and me”, Jal said earlier). This moment is significant for Sid, because for the first time he realizes that actions have consequences, which is the function Mad has in these early episodes, just like the only useful thing Johnny White does in season three is make Cook realizes that there is something inside of him that he can’t control, that is so dangerous even Cook himself is freaked out by it.
Of course, in the end it comes back to family, her brothers willing to get beaten up for her sake, Jal watching her father make music so that, for a tiny moment, we see that she admires his talent and desperately wants him to see hers as well. Jal gets a new clarinet, and it’s back to the beginning, and as Mad Twatter pays the prize for attacking the daughter of a powerful and connected man, Jal takes a deep breath to play her piece in the competition.

Random Notes:
I admire “Skins” for making such a quiet episode so early into a new show. Larissa Wilson works so well with this material, and it’s such a different challenge than Hannah Murray faced in the episode before (or Joe Dempsie will, in the next).

The black out after Jal takes the breath, before even a single note is played, is among my favourite last scenes in any episode (naturally, the cat flap is out of the competition). I knew before the credits ran that this was Bryan Elsley’s writing.

Doug is going to be in season five. Right? RIGHT? (I forgot that he actually scored with the wacky music teacher. Oh well.)

Mike Bailey is basically playing himself, right? He does it so well. While this episode is supposed to be all about Jal, it’s hard not to mention all the brilliant slapstick-moments Sid is given here: when he hurts himself on a zipper in the dressing room (after awkwardly avoiding looking at Jal), when he explains in detail how exactly Michelle and he would happen.

Jal says “deal with it” to the mirror (Naomi!). I noticed that there are many tiny references I missed before in the second gen, not just visual ones.

Chris fake ID: C. Mapplethwaite PhD. WITH A MOUSTACHE. Once again, Bryan Elsley, you do weird humour so well, why the fart jokes in 4x08?

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“Has he shown you his special slider yet?”
“Ring me back when you’re actually not being penetrated, okay”?

Seriously. She is like a Naomi from a different dimension. 

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