Sunday, 30 January 2011

Skins – New start, yeah?

Skins: 5x01 Franky.

I walked away
from everyone I know
I looked around and thought
this must be what it's like to be alone
awareness fell on me
my bones my bones
I felt my ribs
my bones my bones
I’m mud I’m muddled up
if it breaks I’m done
I had to be brave
you gotta be brave
I had to be brave
you gotta be brave
I had to be brave
you gotta be
don't seem like no choice to me

Strange Boys – Be Brave
Franky Fitzgerald – eyes wide open as her narrative starts, accompanied by her song that is about all the fears she faces connected to the new start she is about to have in Roundview. Even before we know exactly what happened in that past life she left behind (her room is still mostly carton boxes, and she sleeps on a make-shift bed on the floor), we get a feeling of how she navigates the space she inhabits: cautiously, fearing that something might catch up with her. She dresses and covers the mirror with a jacket before she can examine her own reflection too carefully. One of her two fathers reminds her that this is supposed to be a new start – that she is supposed to blend in, to prevent something awful that happened before from happening again.
Franky is caught between trying to become as invisible as one can without actually possessing superpowers, and still being herself – and being herself means looking different than the other girls in school, something she is reminded of violently in the beginning of this episode. She is attacked by a bunch of mean kids and makes a spectacular entrance into the Roundview school grounds, immediately catching the attention of the Queen Bee Mini McGuinness (“has the circus come to town or what?”). Doug puts her into gym class and burdens her with discarded clothes because she doesn’t have her own. Then, she undergoes the torture of the girls’ locker room and once again clashes with Mini (“Are you like in fancy dress or is that look like an actual choice?” / “Earth to oddness, what are you staring at”).

Franky / Mini
Franky: Look, if you’re gonna start shit can you please get it over with now because I’ve got enough grief before and…
Mini: Start shit?
Liv: What grief?
Grace: Before like Oxford, or past life before, cause I had a dream two Sundays ago that I was a slave actually working on a plantation and that I was…
Liv/Mini: Shut up, Grace.
Mini: No hard feelings.
Mini: You know, you’re pretty fucking…
Grace: Badass
Mini: So, Franky Badass, fancy hanging out later?
In Franky’s perception of the world, everything is a potential threat, and she is completely surprised when Mini, Grace and Liv invite her to join them. The feeling escalates as her tabula rasa turns out to be impossible because the internet never, but it is there from the beginning – the way she interacts with other characters, always defensive and expecting to get hurt. She visualizes the constant fear in her video – the dummy that is a stand-in for herself threatened by every-day objects that turn into monsters, a helpless creature in an antagonistic universe.
The episodes also establishes that Mini is kind of the same, even though she reacts completely differently to the constant fear of ridicule – Franky meets everybody with extreme caution, and Mini constantly searches for weak spots. Mini reacts whenever she sees her own position threatened: initially, when Franky dares to humiliate her on the hockey field, when Grace and Liv embrace Franky (Grace literally pulling Franky in when they are randomly dancing, leaving Mini behind), when Franky gets praise for her new outfit. She invites her to the party but insults her in the same sentence. Mini is preoccupied with her own social status, and deeply insecure. She states towards the end of the episode that she only befriended Franky to make fun of her – but in these first scenes it seems like she actually admires Franky because she dares to stand out (even though it’s not necessarily voluntary, it’s just who she is). Mini puts so much work into her appearance, into staying on top, and Franky does everything “wrong”, but still manages to convince Mini’s friends that she is worth to belong to their group, because she is a nice and open person with the kind of bravery Mini lacks. They admire her – and Mini reacts particularly violently whenever Liv and Grace point out something positive about Franky’s look (“You totally got like fuck-me eyes”, says Liv).

“You need to start trusting. No person is an island. You need to make an effort this time.”

Franky tries so desperately not to be visible or to stand out, and yet she becomes the centre of attention again and again this episode. The assignment she gets from the strange English Lit professor sums up her own struggles – “Does choice define identity?” – and she solves the assignment with a kind of experiment when she puts on different clothes the next day, clothes that get her a completely different kind of attention (among other things, an approving smile from Mini’s boyfriend Nick).
“If you can choose your identity, cause I tried today, and now I feel kind of less like me and I mean I’m not exactly over the moon about being me in the first place. But now, I think I kind of like it less when I’m trying not to be me. Cause I just wanna like, just be.”
Mini very consciously collects possibly incriminating information on Franky once she starts considering her as a potential threat – Franky, on the other hand, doesn’t even realize how close to home she hits when she answers the question of why she wouldn’t wear the dress Mini picked out for her with “Do I look like a bulimic fucking Barbie”. This is like quiet, patient, kind Emily, lashing out on Katie and causing much more pain that Katie could ever just with words: it’s the equivalent of “Nobody hits me over the head with a rock, loser” – Franky unintentionally finds Mini’s weak spot and Mini’s revenge is brutal, and comes at the precise moment that Franky thinks she has finally figured out a way to both be herself and somehow fit in (Grace greets her speech with an enthusiastic “Yes We Can”). The past catches up with her.


One of the problems with pilots is that some of the characters will inevitably not yet seem to be full characters, but rather narrative devices – Alo and Rich mostly function as comic relief in this episode, the viewers don’t really have a chance to form a very good first opinion of Nick, and Liv doesn’t have any scenes that put her into a different context than that of Mini’s friendship. Matty is an even more complicated example: he shows up out of nowhere (even though the fact that he was introduced as the “mysterious” character in everything that happened before the pilot), he tells Franky that she is beautiful when she is completely convinced that she isn’t, and then, having made an impression and influenced Franky to make a decision about who she wants to be, he disappears into thin air. He doesn’t really resemble Effy (who would never admit to liking someone this particular way), but he functions the same way she did in the second season: Meddling, but not really getting involved himself, influencing. At this point, he might as well be some kind of mythical creature – completely unimpressed by and unafraid of Franky’s gun.
Franky: Go. Go away, please. I said, go away.
Matty: Is it real?
Franky: Do you wanna find out? It’s a re-drilled replica. It shoots bullets, okay?
Matty: Bullets for bitches.
Franky: What?
Matty: Is this how you have fun?
Franky: Can you just leave me alone?
Matty: Go on then.
Franky: I don’t have to take this shit anymore.
Matty: No, you don’t. BANG.  […] You’re beautiful.
Franky: No. No, I’m not. I’m a no-good shit magnet. I’m nothing.
Matty: So why do I see a glorious fucking headfuck thing?
Franky: Who are you? Don’t.
Matty: See you around. Remember to aim straight for the heart next time.

If the dynamics between Franky and Mini are the core of the episode and possibly most of the season, Grace is the magical and unlikely character that balances them out – and the fact that her character works is probably what surprised me most about this episode, because it really shouldn’t. She says ridiculous things. She seems to be from a different century. Not unlike Cassie or Pandora, the reason why her character works is because the actress portraying her takes her seriously and is perfect for the role. Grace is perceptive about other characters (she tells Franky that Mini is sorry, “deep-down, she just doesn’t know it yet”), she is earnest and insistent about her friendship with Franky because she likes her, so she doesn’t hold back (and waits, like one Emily Fitch, in Franky’s room when she doesn’t really expect it).
It’s both Matty, daring her, and Grace, telling her that she wants her to be her friend – Franky decides that she is going to go to the party, and not give up on this new life before it has even begun. “Let’s go. Now”, she tells the uncovered mirror.

“I’m staying. I’m not going anywhere.”

There is literally nothing Mini could say to Franky that she hasn’t heard before. All the things Mini fears deeply have already happened to Franky, and that gives her a kind of bravery that sets her apart from the other characters.
Franky: I think you’re great. Billion miles better than this bollocks place. And I really feel that we could be mates. Fucking awesome mates.
Mini: They’re not your mates. They’re my mates. We only let you tag alone for jokes.
Franky: That’s not true, Grace.
Mini: Speak up, Gracie.
Franky: We’ve had laughs, didn’t we?
: You must have been tripping, Frankenstein. Now get the fuck out of my party.
Mini doesn’t give in – this would be too easy – but Liv seems to be more likely to follow Franky, and Grace actually does run after her (again, like one Emily Fitch, she asks her to come back). Skins always has groups of unlikely friends, and this episode actually allows us to tag along as such an unlikely group forms – Grace follows Franky who is about to run away, Alo and Rich, who have so far served as the comic relief of the episode, kidnap her, and finally, Franky is welcomed into a version of Bristol in which she can exist as herself, not as someone else’s idea of who she should be – a place where she dares to undress and jump in. If you never take the first step, you can not go too far.

Random notes:

My initial reaction to this episode was untarnished enthusiasm; part of the reason is probably that Franky is a character I relate to, while the characters the two previous openers focused on (Tony, Cook) were never among my favourites. Also, Dakota Blue Richards is brilliant – I actually expected the acting to be awkward but there isn’t really one particular moment in the episode that I felt was awkward acting-wise.

Dakota Blue Richards mentions in the Behind the Scenes that Franky’s clothes dictate the way she moves, and that’s a really interesting aspect of her character.

The meta-narrative of Franky the Artist worked really well in this episode (as it did with Sophia – I always thought that her narration of both the Unseen and the “Love on a Train” story did an incredible job both at explaining her character and at advancing the story)

Isn’t it a nice change of pace to start a season of Skins with a loving and functional family – parents who are both fiercely protective but also supportive?

The one scene that I thought didn’t work so well in the episode is the “frolicking” in the shopping centre, but it very nicely showed that Mini is afraid of losing control (she hesitates to take the drugs and only joins in when Franky takes them first, she doesn’t immediately join in the spontaneous dancing and subsequently feels left out).

JESSICA SULA! I think we can’t be friends if you didn’t grow to love Grace by the end of this episode. I kind of expected people to be pissed because she vaguely resembles a wild mix of Cassie-Pandora-Emily (but in a really good way), but apparently other people liked her just as much as I did.

“Peek-a-boo Mini-moo”.

Grace: Is this like Wallace and Gromit?
Franky: After the apocalypse.

Franky mentions that she used to have a best friend who “went young offenders”, one of Franky’s dad says that they’ve only “been blessed with her for two years” – I wonder how much of Franky’s past will be examined in this season of Skins, because there seems to be plenty of drama apart from the mobbing in Oxford.


If I’d never seen interviews with Freya Mavor, I would probably hate her character at this point in the story; on the other hand, Mini doesn’t exactly HIDE her insecurities very well – unlike Katie Fitch, who took ages to be taken apart, she is so obviously self-conscious and vulnerable. I’d love to see why.

“They got married in an army uniform. Twisted or what?”

“SOZ, don’t speak mumble, WHAT?”

If Rich is such an elitist metal head, what was he doing trying to get into Mini’s party?

I didn’t particularly mind Alo and Rich and their function as clowns; after all, it’s how Chris started, so they could still go pretty much anywhere.

Also, kudos to the most quotable teacher in the history of Skins:

“This is my mum, sandwiched between Dickens and Nabokov.”

“This is the original punk, Charlotte fucking Bronte.”

“No. Fuck is good. Fuck is poetic expression for the unsayable soul.” (Hear that, MTV?)

“You just took a great big dump on the grave of Jean-Paul Sartre.”

This is actually the third time that “Heart of Glass” has been on Skins. Maybe it’s some kind of insider joke.

So I guess David Blood multi-tasks as the girls’ hockey coach and head of college? I miss Harriet.