Monday, 28 February 2011

Skins - This is a depressing book about an anxious young man.

Skins 5x05: Nick.

I will never pick a favourite generation of Skins. Sometimes I think it’s the second because it was my introduction to the show and when someone puts me on the spot and really doesn’t give me any choice I’d probably still pick Naomi Campbell as my favourite character - but then I’ll see a first season episode and there is this immediate emotional reaction to it – it’s not even the actual episode that sparks this, but the opening credits. There is barely any other show where one image or one note of the theme song leads to a flashback of everything that I love about it, but Skins comes as a package. The cinematography, the music, everything about it is unique.
I couldn’t pick one generation, but at this point in the season it is hard not to admit that the third one had a stellar start. Even the characters that I thought would be difficult to like aren’t just interesting – I’m not just waiting to find out what is going to happen to them, or how they will redeem themselves – but I sincerely root for them, and this is in part because I understand them better this early into the season than I ever grasped Tony, Michelle or Katie. This season has also been incredible in portraying conflicts that don’t have an outside source, but are facilitated by the relationships between the characters, and making them believable even though some of the characters haven’t known each other that long and we have only just met them.


When the first clips for Nick’s episode came out, I thought that generation three had finally relied on something that made previous generations’ early episodes difficult to enjoy: the OTT villain character. Leon Levan seemed like the kind of character to follow Madison Twatter’s or Johnny White’s footsteps, the kind of inexplicably evil character that isn’t terrifyingly dangerous (even though he is usually perceived as such by the characters), but strangely comical in the eyes of the viewers. This disconnect between how the characters reacted to them and how the viewers were made to perceive them always bothered me, and it makes the first few episodes of the first and the third season hard to revisit (this also seemed to be an issue in Abbud’s episode – Abbud is terrified, but we know that his fear is caused by the drugs and don’t actually fear that something might happen to him).
The thing is: Leon Levan is nothing like this. There is an underlying sadness in this family that David Blood hints at – an absent mother that Nick, Matty and Leon never mention, like a blank spot in their past that is influencing how this family interacts. Leon is a failure as a life coach (one of his patients commit suicide after he tells him that “suicide is for quitters) and as a father, but there is also a hint that his failure to connect to his son in any other way than as a tyrannical, emotionless coach might be rooted in whatever happened to his wife. Nick and Matty cope differently with the situation. Nick has shaped himself in the image of his father, embracing his ideology, following his rules. Matty is breaking all the rules (and has to sign a contract containing a comprehensive list before being allowed back into the house), but there is a very strong connection between the brothers because they are basically both stuck in an almost unbearable situation, and nobody on the outside understands what they are dealing with every day (“You’re my big brother, we’ve had beefs, yeah, but fuck that shit. You said sorry, that’s all I needed. We move on. Agreed?”)

Leon: See that, Matty? That’s can-do attitude. Now, you follow these rules, do just as I said, you can be just like Nick.
Matty: We all need a role model, right.
Leon: Was that sarcasm?
Nick: Dad, chillax. Look at his face, it’s super sincere.
Leon: Yeah, it better be. Sign it.
Nick needs this connection with this brother because he can’t deal with the situation home otherwise; but this also means accepting that his brother is with the girl that he loves because he can actually share things with her that he can’t with Mini. He pretends like he wasn’t serious about Liv to Matty (“Me and her, it was a thing. A bit of fun. Nothing else. Yeah, she was into me, but I was just dealing with shit.”), and even though Matty already notices that his brother isn’t being honest, he insists that his relationship with Mini is improving (“Me and Mini, we are deeper than ever. Deep shit.”) – a lie that completely mirrors what Mini told Liv last episode in the kitchen.
Nick is all compromise. He compromises on playing a sport that he doesn’t really enjoy (always putting his game face on before going into the changing room). He compromises on the girl he loves because Mini is the girl he is supposed to be with and the girl he wants is with his brother.

Girfriends and the gang.

Mini claimed that she and Nick were finally really connecting, but they really aren’t. Nick just needs someone to distract him from the fact that he wants someone he can’t have, and Mini still can’t communicate her needs – and the result is, in this case, more comical than horrible as it was in Mini’s episode, but still completely dysfunctional. She doesn’t enjoy herself with Nick, and Nick knows that something is wrong.
It all looks perfect in theory, if he disregards his own emotions.
Nick: Isn’t this great? Two brothers, two best mates, the awesome foursome and the perfect storm.
Matty: Didn’t everyone die in the perfect storm?
Nick: Details, mate. The point is, we’re wet, and… dangerous.
He uses his power as a successful rugby player to get Matty accepted back into Roundview (“I can vouch for Matty, Sir. He won’t step out of line out of respect for me.”), and then he introduces Matty to what he considers “his guys” – even though he is, at best, only on the periphery of the group and neither the group itself or the viewers would necessarily associate him with them. He introduces Matty to everybody, but Matty is already more part of the group than Nick – Liv is his girlfriend, Franky knows him (“You two know each other?” / “We met once” – such a loaded statement, and Franky’s strange reoccurring laugh!), and the group reacts to Matty’s jokes (“After the first few blow jobs you get used to the taste and then it’s lucrative, really.”), while Nick’s statements are followed by an awkward silence. Nick desperately tries to pretend (he also copies the way Matty deals with Liv because it doesn’t, at all, come natural to him and Mini), but in the end, he walks away frustrated, knowing that he doesn’t fit in at all, that he doesn’t have a place in this circle while Matty does – and he has to compose himself, put on his game face, before he can face his team (“ever gonna let that smile falter?”).
His fa├žade comes apart more and more in this episode. He can’t deal with Rider, making fun of both his brother and the girl he loves in the changing room (it’s probably notable that someone disrespecting Matty sets him off more than the remarks about Liv)

Both Mini and Nick have a narrative of success for themselves that doesn’t really reflect what they really want, and in both their episodes, the stories fall apart slowly. Nick is trying too hard to get the wrong things – and he is starting to get caught, too, because Mini finds him starting at Liv and Matty through the windows of the pub and slowly realizes that this isn’t going to go away just by ignoring it, and she gets increasingly frustrated in the course of this episode too, noticing all his little slip-ups about Liv.

The scene that gets its own picspam. 

Nick: What’s the chat?
Grace: We’re planning how we can find Alo a girlfriend.
Nick: Wicked. What the brief?
Franky: The brief?
Nick: Yeah. What are you after? Short time lover, desperate fuck, the love of your life? You gotta set your aim on your pray, know their weaknesses and hunt them down.
Rich: He’s not picky.
Alo: I am. A bit. Well, not really.
Nick: Well great. How about Franky?
Matty: Why not?
Nick: See, it makes sense. They’re the only two people here that are single, so why not the hook up. […] Then we’d all be couples. We could swing and shit.
Grace: Ew.
There is so much in this scene: for once, this is another episode that is very focused on one character, and still there is so much progression in all the other relationships. Nick is the outsider in this group, and he doesn’t realize that there is this unspoken rule that Franky isn’t considered a sexual being by anyone (really smooth move though to describe this whole process while his girlfriend is on his lap though), so his suggestion is a fauxpas (just look at Liv’s face!), and then Matty, Matty who Franky clearly likes, a lot, helps out Nick by pointing out that this isn’t that much of a ridiculous suggestion. Why not Franky? These characters don’t really know each other that well yet, and they really don’t know a lot about Franky, so most of their interactions are based on assumptions; and Matty points out that there absolutely no reason why Franky shouldn’t be thought of as a sexual being (“glorious fucking head-fuck thing”), and then there’s this wonderful hint of a smile in Franky’s face because Matty understands, and Matty lets her see herself in a different light (not that this is, at all, about Alo). This scene lasts for a couple of seconds and it’s so full of meaning and potential.

Mini and Liv

Liv leaves because she can’t bear it anymore, and Nick immediately runs after her – and this is the last straw for Mini.
Liv: Nick, let’s not do this.
Nick: Do what?
Liv: You know what.
Nick: I’m just, you know, checking that everything’s alright, that he’s…
Liv: What?
Nick: He smashed up our entire house. He goes crazy and I don’t want that to happen again. Not to you.
Liv: Good one, I see. You’re worried I might get hurt. That’s it. Nick, what is this? Do you have a problem with me seeing your brother?
Nick: I don’t have a problem. I just wonder what it means for us.
Liv: Us. Nick, there is no us, there never was.
Nick: Come on, we had good times.
Liv: We fucked. Twice. And I wasn’t even fucking you, I was fucking Mini.
Nick: I don’t know what that means.
Liv: No, of course you don’t. Nick, she knows about us, and she’s still with us. Don’t you think that’s fucked up?
Nick: We’re fine. We’re better than ever.
Liv: If that’s what you think then you two deserve each other.
Mini is pissed because she realizes that the thing between Nick and Liv isn’t over; ignoring it and pretending she didn’t know didn’t make it go away, so she decides to take revenge and dances with Rider (the best friend; the guy Liv slept with), and finally, Nick can’t compose himself anymore. He can’t pretend, and all the anger that has accumulated in the course of the episode comes out (it does after Rider insults Matty though).
Nick: What the fuck are you doing?
Mini: What am I doing? This is me, so this is my fault?
Nick: This isn’t cool. You’re out of order.
Mini: Why. Cause I danced with your best mate? […] Don’t suddenly act like you care.
Nick: I do.
Mini: If you care then why did you fuck my best friend? Fuck you. Fuck you, Nick.
“Sorrow found me when I was young”
Nick: Everything’s so fucking easy for you, isn’t it? I’ve worked my arse off, I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do and you just walk back in like nothing happened and fuck up my life again.
Matty: I’m not the one fucking you up, Nick.
This conversation takes place on a rugby field, the place Nick is supposed to feel most like himself; but he doesn’t, because even there, Matty is winning.

Nick goes home and finds his father ready to leave because one of his clients has committed suicide, and just like Leon didn’t recognize that Warren needed more and different help, he doesn’t see that Nick needs him (and this moment mirrors Liv’s with her mum, who also didn’t recognize what her daughter needed).
Nick: Dad, I need to talk to you.
Leon: The state of you. You got a game tomorrow, what the fuck are you playing at?
Nick: I’ve had a bad night.
Leon: You’ve had a bad night because you chose to have one or is this my fault too, is it?
Nick: Dad, I need…
Leon: Fuck’s sake Nick. Grow up.
Nick did everything right but he doesn’t get anything back in response, and he doesn’t get anything he wants, either, so he breaks all the rules in the contract. He smashes up the house with his dad’s golf club. Matty offers to take the blame, and Nick runs away to go on his very own trip – but where Liv had fun, and truly connected to someone, his just goes wrong and makes him feel even more terrible. He tries to talk to Liv but she tells him that “I don’t know what you need, but it’s not me.”, then he sleeps with a random woman after, for the first time in this episode, really admitting that he isn’t okay (“Are you alright? You look… fucked.” / “I am, yeah. Fucked, I mean, not alright.”) – but he does this while pretending to be his older brother, who he thinks never has to try to get what he wants.  He feels guilty and also kind of used by her (“I want to feel something, Matty”), and probably reminded of the fact that his mother is strangely missing from his life when he sees the pictures of her children.


Mini ended up on a playground in her own episode, pondering the meaning of friendship and love. Mini and Liv destroyed their own friendship as children were playing around them last week. In this episode, Nick, after a horrible night, is on the swings in a playground when Franky comes along; Franky, who always happens to just be there and is perceptive about other people because she cares about them.
Franky: You look like shit, you know.
Nick: Yeah. I think I managed to fuck just about everything up. You know that I’m… That people think I’m a dick. And sometimes, you know, I am. Sometimes I do things I know I shouldn’t and I do them anyway cause… Fuck. Why do I do them?
Franky: You’re not a complete dick.
Nick: Thanks.
Franky: So. What are you gonna do now, man? Well, I’ll leave you to it.
“I’m done. […]I can’t be happy in that house”

The next morning, Nick is done with pretending and with putting on his game face. Everything fake about him is gone; he’s lost everything he had, and he has to figure out what he really, actually wants, not what everybody else expects him to do.
Nick: I’m not playing.
Coach: I can see that.
Nick: Ever. I’m done. That’s it. And I need to sort some shit out and I’ll go crazy and I’ll end up fucked up and alone and I can’t be like that. And rugby, rugby isn’t helping. And actually, I hate it. And I hate the bullshit. The bullshit, the nonsense, and Rider, I fucking hate Rider. And I hate… I hate too much at the moment, coach, and I need to stop. But I don’t hate you, coach, so I wanted you to know.
Coach: Well, if that’s the way you feel.
Nick: It is, I’m sorry.
Coach: So. What are you gonna do about it?
Nick: I’m leaving. And I’ll find my brother and we’ll leave. I can’t, we can’t be with my dad anymore, coach.
Coach: You’re gonna run away, is that it?
Nick: I’m not running away.
Coach: Yes, you are. It’s all very well, seeing an injustice, Nick, that’s the easy part. What you do next is the hard part. It defines a man.
Nick: I can’t be happy in that house, coach.
Coach: You wanna be happy, is that it, yeah?
Nick: Yeah.
Coach: You know who this is? [shows him a picture of Nelson Mandela]
Nick: Yeah, of course, but…
Coach: He’s a happy man, respected. Everybody loves Madiba, he’s fair, and peaceful, and friendly. But when he was your age, he was a right angry fucker. Furious, yeah. He blew things up, fought and fought and fought against the shit he came up against. He never ran away. They had to lock the bastard away to try and stop him, and even then he fought.
Nick: I don’t know what you’re saying.
Coach: I’m saying I thought you were stronger than someone who runs, Nick. Stand up for yourself.
Nick: I am.
Coach: No you’re not. Just saying that… You’re a coward.
Nick: FUCK YOU, Coach.
Nick respects the coach (Skins has also been consistent in Nick’s admiration of fictional coach Taylor from FNL in the online content). The coach has replaced the father who never listens and whose help never goes beyond the simple one-liners that help promote his book – and the coach knows exactly how he can motivate Nick. Running away is the solution Matty had to his problems, but Nick isn’t Matty, and he has to find his own way of dealing with his issues.
Instead of running away, Nick goes home to his dad to confront him, and Matty is right there with him, supporting his brother.
Nick: I did it.
Leon: I don’t believe you.
Nick: I don’t care what you believe.
Leon: I see. You’re standing up for yourself. Is that it? He’s got to you. See, I know you Nick, and you wouldn’t have done shit if it wasn’t for him.
Nick: No. I wouldn’t have done shit if it wasn’t for you. None of this would have happened if you would have just… FUCK. Stop being a cunt.
Leon: So what, you’re ganging up on me, are you?
Nick: Yeah. Yes we are.
They burn all of his dad’s false advice outside, the things Nick has used to shape his life around. NEW BEGINNINGS, and there is a hint of the first honest and sincere smile on Nick’s face. 

Random notes:

SEAN TEALE! I never, ever thought I would grow to like Nick, but… THIS CAST!

Sebastian de Souza, mastering the art of the perfect "the fuck is this" expression since 2011.

“Success in life is only as important as the people you share it with.” – Nick’s path in this episode mirrored both Mini’s and Liv’s, but this line from the coach actually reminded me a bit of Rich – part of Nick’s frustration is that he can’t share his passion with anyone, and his success in rugby is meaningless because he doesn’t actually connect to his team mates (or to “the group”) and his dad never shows up at the games (“Will dad be there?” / “Yeah. I mean, I hope so, but he’s really busy, so. Yeah.”)

“We’re gonna gang-rape failure” – NEVER, EVER USE RAPE AS A METAPHOR FOR ANYTHING ELSE. Like Alo’s constant usage of “gay” as an insult, this is a realistic portrayal of how male teenagers communicate – and at least, this time Nick was called out for it.

Matty: I was thinking of getting a job, actually, something that lets me do my music.
Leon: Drop music, where’s the money in that?
Matty: There isn’t, that’s why I need a job.

It’s probably important to remember that Franky is a DJ. Skins produces a lot of content that should be considered canon online and I find it hard to keep up with this, but I think it was indicated that they might have had a conversation about music on twitter.

“Of course I can’t eat the chocolates”. MINI. I don’t really understand why I don’t hate her, but I really, really don’t.

Liv: Don’t.
Mini: What?
Liv: Whatever it is, just don’t.

I actually enjoyed that the episode did not explicitly deal with what happened between Mini and Liv. Mini seems keen on reconnecting with Liv (and, to be perfectly honest, this is kind of how I remember the drama in my circle of friends – people were angry at each other a day or so and then everything was forgotten) – but Liv KNOWS that whatever is wrong between them isn’t going to go away by ignoring it.

The scene in which Nick is looking through the window at Matty and Liv in the pub actually reminded me more of Mrs Moon, glaring at JJ (“I’ll call the police”) than Effy in 4x07, even though it was clearly meant as a reference to the latter)

I wasn’t happy with the coach using Nelson Mandela as some kind of metaphor for Nick’s issues but I found it less troubling the second time around, probably because I’m not completely convinced that the coach actually saw parallels between the struggles for civil rights and Nick’s struggles against his own inability to ask for what he needs and to know the difference between what he wants and what other people expect him to be; but only used this to motivate him into doing something about the horrible situation he is in, instead of running away which probably wouldn’t have gotten him very far. On the other hand, this is probably the right moment to point out that there are some situations in which running away is the ONLY thing to do, and it’s not cowardly at all, and I’m not completely convinced that the coach was really in the position to judge what Nick’s situation was. 

Reasons why Nick is going to get killed:
  • Matty pointed out that everybody dies in The Perfect Storm.
  • He wore the striped shirt.
  • He ran away.
  • That kind of looked like Freddie’s house, and they burned stuff.
There was an article on witch house in the current issue of Spex so I looked up some of the bands before the episode aired; and then, Salem and White Ring were featured in the episode. Zeitgeist is haunting me. (also, Doe Deer by Crystal Castles)

Here’s the trailer for the upcoming episodes. This is going to be one tough break between seasons, guys.