The second season of “Skins” starts with a manipulation: the last thing we saw was Tony getting hit by a bus, or, depending on whether or not viewers were following the online content released over the break, Tony opening his eyes in the hospital bed, after he spent weeks in a coma. Now, we open in a church, with sombre organ music in the background: is this Tony’s funeral? Did “Skins” actually dare to kill a main cast member over the summer?
Then the reveal: actually, it’s not really sombre organ music, it’s “Clutch” by Fat Segal, one of those songs you can’t really forget after hearing it for the first time, and there is Maxxie, dancing beautifully with two other people. The first episode starts with the two characters that couldn’t be any more different: The nice guy, the manipulative one, the one barely able to move coherently anymore, and the other so perfectly coordinated. The one with all that energy, the other a damaged version of himself. After Maxxie finishes dancing, he enthusiastically turns to Tony, who is the sole audience of the presentation.
Maxxie: “What did you think of that then? Tone?”At this point, nothing is okay. This distant Tony, who takes forever to focus and react (a “traumatic subdural haematoma with motor and perceptional complications”), is nothing like the confident, cocky guy who introduced us to this generation in the very first episode. Maxxie, on the other hand, is different from all the other characters (possibly with the exception of Jal): He knows what he wants to do with his life. He has it figured out, and we will see him fight for his dream in this episode, while mostly everybody else is just stumbling towards their future.
Tony: “What? Think of what?”
Maxxie: “The moves.”
Tony: “It’s okay.”
The Olivers and the Stonems
The fact that Maxxie and Tony share this episode also provides a telling contrast between their two families. Maxxie’s is, after all the dysfunction we’ve seen so far in this generation of “Skins”, probably the happiest and most loving, although it is implied that they are not as wealthy as most others. The episode succeeds brilliantly in showing how closely tied Maxxie’s confidence is to how his dad reacts to him. When he first gets bullied in the giant apartment building, he doesn’t really perceive it as a threat. His dad is the foreman and almost everybody depends on him, so there is a limit to what they can actually do to him. Some of this confidence crumbles though when his dad is unwilling to support his decision to drop out of school and pursue his dancing career right away:
Maxxie: “I just wanted to ask, is it OK if I drop out of my A-levels and…”Maxxie’s dad argues that dancing can only be a hobby, not matter how good Maxxie is. Maxxie argues that he doesn’t want to give up his dreams for his dad’s more realistic ideas about his future; he, like so many other characters on “Skins”, doesn’t want to end up like his parents.
Walter: “Come back?”
Maxxie: “I wanna leave college and audition for musicals in London.”
Walter: “You're getting qualifications and you're coming to me on the building.”
Maxxie: “But how's a history A-level gonna help me be a builder?”
Walter: “You'll be an educated builder.”
Maxxie: “Dad, I want to be a dancer.”
Walter: “They have dancing every Thursday down the centre. You love that.”
Maxxie: “No, but...”
Walter: “Pastimes. That's what we're into.”
Walter: “The rest isn't for us. Get the dog.”
Maxxie: “Don't you care what I want?! Don't I get to decide?
Walter: “Yeah. You're gonna decide to be a builder who dances in his spare time.”
Maxxie: “I don't want to be a fucking builder!”
Walter: What's wrong with it?
Maxxie: “Nothing. Nothing. I just... I can do this, Dad! You don't think I can do it, do you?”
Walter: ”No, lad.”
Maxxie: “Fucking hell! Thanks, Dad. It's not my fault, is it?”
Maxxie: “That you're stuck in a fucking white van all your life.”
In comparison, the Stonem household is now even worse than it was before: Anthea is quiet and in shock, Jim is loud and obnoxious, and Effy tries her best to deal with everything more or less alone, not just with Tony’s state, but also with her parents’ inability to cope.
I probably like this beginning to the season so much because it succeeds in showing how people deal differently with a tragedy. Jal, Chris and Anwar mostly go on with their life as it was before. They go to parties. They help out Tony a little bit, or as much as they can, but beyond that, none of them really worries. Michelle drowns what happened in booze and random guys who she doesn’t remember the next day. Sid, the one person Tony misses most, the person he asks for immediately when Jal and Chris pick him up at the Olivers (“Where is Sid?”) is staying away too, and Tony doesn’t remember the weeks in which Sid was the only one visiting him at the hospital.
Sid’s situation is even more complicated: the poster of Cassie that is hanging over his bed indicates all the things that have changed since the finale of the first season, but now Cassie is in Scotland and all he gets is letters and videotapes (which he misunderstands; also Scottish drugs). He feels guilty about not visiting Tony (looking at pictures of him in the hospital bed), but he also misses his girlfriend. There is this tiny moment when Michelle and Sid are at the party, and they aren’t even talking to each other, but looking at each other from the distance, recognizing that they are both hurt by what happened to Tony and share an inability to cope with it.
Michelle: “She misses you, right? I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I go to see him. I went to see him.”And then Tony is right there, just as Michelle is about to tell Sid that the last thing he said to her was “I love you”. He just pops up, like a ghost, like both of their guilty consciences just materializes.
Sid: “Well, I suppose you deserve some fun.”
Michelle: “Those guys just like my tits.”
Sid: “Oh. Sweet. You're avoiding me.”
Michelle: “You make me think about him.”
Sid: “You're not the only one, Chelle. I was there every day trying to get him to say something. And everybody really, really fucked up and I'm just trying to... to... And nobody comes but me 'cause it's so terrible. You should have fucking helped me.”
Michelle: “All right! When it happened... before the bus... ..he was on the phone and he said something. I don't think he remembers. But he said...”
Tony and Maxxie
Maxxie: “Tony? Are you all right?”This sense of estrangement from himself, the inability to recognize himself, is the worst thing about the accident. There are these tiny moments in which Tony seems to remember something, or in which he acts like he would have before, but it takes so much effort to find his own identity again. There is Effy, helping Tony to sneak out the same way Tony used to help her before (and he says, probably more perceptive than at any other point so far, “Fuck me, you’re just a kid” – something people tend to forget about Effy Stonem).
Tony: “No. Nobody wants me to come out any more.”
Maxxie: “Oh, fuck it. Come anyway.”
Tony: “My dad won't let me go back to college.”
Maxxie: “And mine won't let me leave. We're both bummed, bruv.”
Tony: “Why doesn't Sid come any more? Can't remember when he was here.”
Maxxie: “He misses you, Tony.”
Tony: “I miss me.”
Maxxie: “Come out. I'll get you dancing.”
Tony: “Yeah? You gonna gay me?”
Maxxie: “Hey...Tony's here.”
The episode has a happy ending: Maxxie’s dad tells him that he doesn’t actually doubt his son, he just doesn’t want to let him go because he loves him too much, and he’ll eventually let him make this decision after he finishes college. Maxxie on the other hand explains to Tony that writing his name (which he needs to be able to do to register for college) is like dancing (“You gotta slow it down. Stop trying to write. It's just a shape your hand makes. Close your eyes and just kinda... dance it.”) – and helps him get back this tiny bit of his identity.
It was so refreshing to see Maxxie getting something to do on his own in this episode. He hasn’t really in any of the previous episodes, and here he finally gets his own story, even though he shares it with Tony.
Also, Maxxie quite possibly gets laid more than any other character, doesn’t he?
The moment when Maxxie and Tony ride in the bus, and all of a sudden Tony freaks out because another bus passes them and all the memories come flooding back, is my favourite of the episode. After all the things Tony did to Maxxie and Michelle, the manipulation, how he used them both, the simple hand-holding to console him is so beautiful, and so forgiving. In Effy’s episode in the fourth season, the moment is recalled when Effy suddenly remembers everything on that corner when she sees a bus pass by.
“Skins” never explicitly deals with class but it’s kind of sobering to hear that Maxxie’s mum used to clean for the Stonems.
Effy looks directly at the camera again this episode (when she is using the toiled adapted for Tony’s needs and says “Ooh La La”). It’s such a curious thing. She sees right through everybody, maybe including us, the viewers.
“Skins”, once again succeeding at situational comedy: Maxxie’s mum has to help Sid with his zipper. Chris happens to see it through the keyhole, and of course misinterprets everything.
While Anwar “dressed like a crack dealer” (Oh Jal, I always forget how much I liked her) is a lot of fun, it’s kind of sad that he never really transcends this. There is a bit of a serious storyline coming up in the very last episode, but that doesn’t really suffice to make him a fully developed character. Also, Jim Stonem’s disapproving look ALMOST matches Jenna Fitch’s.
When Anthea tells the horrible joke at the dinner table, I almost kind of like her. This, and the scene when she bathes Effy, are a little bit redeeming.
I only realized that Tony actually laughs at the joke Anwar makes about Jal (“Watch out or they'll take your tits into care.”), not Anthea’s, the third time I watched the episode.
LOOK, IT’S LITERAL DISTRACTION CAKE.
This is my favourite party scene in “Skins”. The music (“Organ Donor” and “Artefact” by DJ Shadow) is perfect. The old building in the woods looks so mysterious and beautiful.
TONY CAN’T PLACE YOU, ABIGAIL STOCK. Deal with it. The way Effy just blows off Abigail is exactly how she deals with Katie Fitch in the third season.
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