Monday, 21 March 2011

Skins – Whatever comes, we have a good go at it, because it is all we can do.

Skins 5x08: Everyone.

The season finale of every new generation is a critical point. It reveals if the characters were sufficiently developed and how well the stories connect to each other. The first finale created a completely new starting point for the second season, changing the relationships of the characters via horrific accident. The third season ended as torn and divisive as the second generation always was: with two different stories that weren’t connected at all, and two sets of characters that didn’t have many overlapping moments until the very end of the generation, which already hinted at the seemingly inevitable insularity of the fourth season.
The fifth season has a recurring theme – choice and identity – and forged unexpected relationships between very diverse individuals, deconstructed characters by forcing them to reveal themselves behind their masks, and destroyed existing bonds to build new ones. The main goal of this episode is elegantly hidden behind the more blatant and pressing stories that have to be solved in a relatively short period of time: Grace and Rich are busy trying to get married, Matty, Liv and Franky struggle with their respective conflicting feelings, Mini discovers her own feelings for Franky and expresses them mostly with over-protectiveness, and Nick tries to avoid working out his issues by being constantly drunk and drugged, but is reminded of his good qualities by Alo. Behind all the storylines, the ark of the episode is leading this diverse group of characters to the same place, even if they choose different paths to get there. They all arrive at the finishing line changed by the journey, but in a manner that brings them together as a solid group of friends, united against a world that provides more obstacles than opportunities.  The final episode of the fifth season is a twist on the road movie, a journey that shapes the relationship of the characters and helps them grow, both as individuals and as a group.

Well it takes real guts to be alone
Going head to head with the great unknown
But there is no sweeter sound, on the kings round I'm bound
And just waiting for your chance to come

Noah and the Whale: Waiting for my Chance to Come.
The beginning of the journey sets up the characters and their individual travails: Grace practices both her vow and her father’s signature. Rich wakes up tied to the roof of the van in his boxers. Alo wakes up in the van (with a plastic version of Grace), from Rich’s screams. Mini comes home from her morning fitness session and looks at a picture of Franky on her phone – zooming in until Matty is out of the picture, and then looking at herself in the mirror, realizing and acknowledging what is going on. Franky, at the same time and while putting the finishing touches on her bridesmaid dress, is quietly smiling to herself because she has decided to do something about the glorious fucking headfuck thing – and while Matty has only left a note in Liv’s bed, Franky leaves one on his (“My head’s fucked. WHAT IS THIS.”), setting up a situation that will inevitably leave someone unhappy.


Mini: Stay away from Franky today.
Matty: What are you? Her bodyguard?
Mini: No, I’m her best friend, and I’ve been looking after her.
Matty: Is she okay?
Mini: No, she’s not okay, okay? You’ve made her ill.
Matty: I haven’t done anything.
Mini: We all have to make an effort today, and that includes you, amazingly. I mean, you’ve done a pretty good job ignoring her calls, so please don’t fuck with her head today. Promise me?
Matty: Yes. I promise.
Mini: Good. Toodles.
It’s interesting to see how different Mini is when she is in love: she used to be incredibly protective of herself and of her status, but now all that has been transferred. Now she is looking out for Franky, her “best friend” – but the line between justified protectiveness and jealousy is thin.
The girls meet up at Grace’s and admire Franky’s artistic abilities when she reveals the gorgeous wedding dress she created for the bride. It’s one of my minor qualms with the episode that Mini’s and Franky’s shared interest for fashion, even though they come from a completely different starting point, wasn’t made more obvious in the actual episodes, and hints at their shared work on the dresses would have also helped to substantiate the “I’m her best friend” line.
The scene in which Franky and Mini both change into their bridesmaid dresses parallels the horrifying dressing room scene from the first episode: Franky is still insecure, but Mini is completely transformed now. Instead of the “is this an actual choice” and the “earth of oddness”, she has a hard time concealing her admiration for Franky, and actually embraces the fact that Franky can wear the boxers and the gorgeous dress (“you smooth while I pull?”). Mini McGuinness, the girl who hid all her insecurities behind a façade for a good part of this season, has progressed to a point where she can help others with their issues, and she sees the world with different eyes now.
Franky: Do I look like a dick?
Mini: No, you look amazing. Now, remember what I said…
Franky: I deserve better.
Franky talks to her shoes, but Mini lifts up her chin because she is being completely serious about his – only that she is at a loss for words for a bit, and who knows what might have happened if the boys hadn’t arrived in their Beatles suits, ready to deliver the couple “to the slaughter”.

Franky and Matty (and Mini and Liv)
“I’m sorry, okay? Here’s your answer [Something I can’t stop.]”
Some of the personal issues start to escalate once it becomes too obvious that the intetions of the characters are contradictory and conflicting. Mini watches Franky watching Liv and Matty (“What the fuck were you doing back there” / “I don’t know, Mini, okay?”), Liv watches Matty include Franky by offering her drugs and, in the course of the episode, gets increasingly more desperate to try and make this awkward triangle work in order to protect their relationship.
The complicated feelings undermine the small and random moments of fun in the episode (an innocent beer fight turns into an actual attack, by Mini, when she starts to realize that Franky is slipping away).
Matty: What was that for?
Mini: We got a friend’s wedding to get to, Mr ‘I don’t give a fuck about anything or anyone’.
Matty: You’re wrong. I do.
Mini: What about our agreement?
Franky: Mini, what agreement?
Mini: You deserve better, remember?
Franky: Have you been saying shit behind my back?
Mini: I told him to stay away, okay?
Matty: Let’s go. I see you at the church.
Liv: Come with us. If you like.
Mini: No way, she’s staying right here.
Liv: Come on Franky.
Mini: Franky, I… I’m trying to protect you.
Franky. Mini, I’ll see you later, okay.
Mini: He just wants to fuck you and fuck you up.
Franky: Good.
The entire exchange is a collection of conflicting emotions: Liv realizes that she can’t avoid Franky’s presence in her relationship either way so she might as well just invite her to come along. Franky just wants any kind of resolution, even if it means getting hurt, and Mini doesn’t share how she really feels, and stays behind – and she feels violated by Mini’s breach of trust because being talked about behind her back is exactly what has made her past so horrible.
Franky, Liv and Matty take drugs together and it is a revisiting of Liv’s episode – it almost feels like they walk through a door into a different world once they’ve taken the drugs, and everything they encounter seems slightly skewed, a little bit weirder than usual. They are travelling through a different world, even if it’s just the countryside, and it’s a shared adventure (“This is what we do” is what Liv says), but the dynamics don’t quite work. Liv feels like this world is Matty’s and hers and they are sharing it with Franky, until she realizes that Franky seems to feel perfectly at home there already and is just as well adapted to survive in it as she is (and she notices that Matty notices – “Impressive” / “Have you done this before?”). Liv quietly and sadly starts to recognize that the bond between Matty and Franky might be stronger than the one between her and Matty (especially when she sees his reaction to Franky as she seems to enter a completely self-contained world in the odd party hall), and she tries to fix it by including Franky (“Game on, Mattster”) – but Matty doesn’t allow the threesome to happen.
Liv: Why did you stop me?
Matty: She isn’t a fucking experiment, Liv.
Liv: I thought that’s what you wanted. I’m trying to fix us, Matty.
Matty: I want you. I love you. But…
Liv: But. It’s not enough, is it? And all the chemicals in the world can’t make it enough. I’d swallow razor blades to see you smile, but even that wouldn’t do it.
Matty: Liv, please, let’s just catch her up.
Liv: I don’t want her with us now, okay.
Matty: She’s off it. She’ll get lost.
Liv: And I won’t?
Matty: No, Liv. You’ll always be okay.
Liv: And that girl will always be lost.
There is an issue with what is shown and what isn’t here, because from what we’ve seen of these two, the razor blades line comes out of nowhere. I would have needed to know how Liv feels before the episode, and they could have easily worked that into a conversation with Franky or Grace or even Mini and it would have worked, but like this, it’s an odd statement, not unlike Franky’s 9/11 speech. I think it doesn’t completely work. It works on the level that Matty sincerely likes her but it’s more nostalgia for that one brilliant day than anything else and they can’t replicate it, while he feels this intense connection to Franky that goes beyond anything. I have issues with integrating that statement about the razor blades with what we’ve seen of Liv’s character so far (and her characterization has been a bit all over the place for the past few episodes). Laya Lewis’ acting in the scene is wonderful, but the line doesn’t feel true. On the other hand, Liv was willing to swallow an entire bottle of vodka to preserve a friendship, so maybe she does see herself as a person who sacrifices a lot to save a relationship. I just don’t think she is a character that relies on hyperbole to share her feelings because she usually just expresses them honestly and directly.

The Travels and Travails of Mini McGuinness
Mini: I’m worried about Franky. We shouldn’t have left her. Something’s bad’s gonna happen and I can’t stop it now.
Alo: If anyone can, McGuinness can. Go, or you’ll regret it.

Thus, Mini McGuinness begins her lonesome travels through a strange world, looking for Franky Fitzgerald. There are two camera shots of her, trying to navigate a space that is alien to her, which perfectly capture how completely forlorn she is (one when she enters the town, the other when she is alone in the woods). There is a palpable contrast to how Liv, Matty and Franky deal with this world – and how they successfully move in it – to how Mini fails (“It’s called grunge revival, okay. Ground swallow me whole, please. Oh, erm. Hi. Have you by any chance seen two girls and a boy?” / “Bugger off.” / “Er, rudeness.”), and yet, she doesn’t give up.
I think that part of Mini’s transformation takes part on that journey, when she is alone and feels completely alienated in these strange places. The feeling is so intense that she runs to embrace Liv, willing to put away all their issues out of sheer relief for having found someone she loves in the midst of all the complications.

Mini: Where is… everyone else?
Liv: Like Franky? … Your girl crush is so blatant.
Mini: What? … Where is your man then?
Liv: I think I’ve fucked things up. Big style.
Mini: So…where is he?
Liv: Looking for her.
Liv KNOWS (and doesn’t seem surprised – she does, after all, have “surprising” stories to tell about Mini) and Mini doesn’t bother to deny it (and I take this as proof that the thought was fully articulated in her mind, that she KNOWS that she is in love too, to the extent that she might have written those very words in her diary), and they bond over the fact that they are in love with two people who are, apparently, in love with each other. They connect because of their shared grief, and it overwrites the brutal things they’ve done to each other – they take each others hands to look for the people they’ve lost in the woods.

That girl will always be lost.

Franky is lost in the woods, and things start to spin slightly out of control even before Matty shows up: the noises get too loud, something about the trees or the light is slightly off, and Franky starts to panic.

Matty: You okay?
Franky: I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I thought...Where’s Liv?
Matty: I try to stay away from you and I can’t. Here we are, it’s not random and you feel it, right? […] I really wanna fucking kiss you, but I can’t.
Franky: Then why are you headfucking me?
Matty: Franky, don’t, I’m just as fucked in the head as you are.
Franky: You know when I was six, the teacher asked me to think of something beautiful. I said 9/11, I saw it on the TV in this care home with the sound on mute. The teacher told me how many people had died and all the other kids in the class cried and I knew then that I was… wrong. I guess that’s why my parents gave me up. Because they knew too. Right from the beginning.
From the beginning of this generation I’ve had difficulties with writing about Franky’s character because I identify with her, and the illusion of understanding her motivations lead to projecting motivations and emotions that aren’t actually in the text Skins provides.
The 9/11 speech is, in a way, Franky’s “sometimes I think I was born backwards”. It hints at a more severe issue than simple alienation, an issue with being unable to react the way she is expected to. This goes well with the scene in Alo’s episode when she was watching Matty and Liv, because she is trying to understand emotions by witnessing them (and, as the artist, she is always standing outside the picture trying to make sense of something, and the difficult part is figuring out how she fits into the picture). I understand the intention of the speech, but the problem with this example is that Franky is, if anything, more sensitive and compassionate than other characters – and not, as her description of her reaction to 9/11 would indicate, less so. It’s also ambiguous how she reacted differently: did she feel strange because saw it as an aesthetic event rather than something that happened to those who died? Does she just feel like people find some of the things she does and says strange which makes them abandon her? She has a history of being abandoned and there are probably a couple of traumatic events in the past, but I maybe would have preferred a less solemn speech (but then, I’m the worst person to judge whether or not speeches work, since I seem to have a general problem with them – they always seem a bit too artificial to me. I tend to forget that teenagers sometimes do say these things to explain themselves).
The actual scene is intense and accomplishes what it sets out to do: to portray a character desperately trying to “be normal” by replicating something she witnessed others do, before. The situation escalates when the world surrounding Franky slowly turns hostile, very much like the stop-motion film she made in the first episode: the bird- and tree sounds are too loud, her vision becomes blurred (while Fat Segal’s music subtly turns into something threatening) – until she finally screams at Matty to “get off” her, and runs away.
Franky falls off a cliff and it takes a group effort to pull her back up. Franky might feel like she isn't normal and weird, and she has a history of being abandonded, but she has people now who take care of her and save her when she needs them.The literal cliffhanger is a real threat because it puts one character in danger, but it's also a symbolic test of the newly forged relationships between the characters involved.

Rich and Grace

Even though the wedding is what brings all these characters together, the bride and room are in the background of the episode – but they make their very own journey towards the church. The journey is about how it changes those who take it, and the facilitators of that change are the people the characters meet on their way. Grace and Rich meet married, and their experiences don’t exactly contribute to their enthusiasm for the wedding. The couple in the car is particularly significant because they very much function as a reminder of how things might turn out – the husband used to be a roadie for Napalm Death (Rich starts the episode in a T-shirt by the band that first brought him and Grace together), but now he is resigned to wearing his henna tattoos and driving a ridiculous car with a crafted angel statue on top, listening to what Rich must consider horrible music. His wife is “raising the fruits of his loins” (thirteen of them), with no discernable interests of her own. Rich takes it worse than Grace because he was already forced to give up one item of his identity in the beginning of the episode, when the “trim” turned into a full-blown Justin Bieber hair-cut (“Trust me, mate. Grace is gonna love it.”), and is currently wearing a suit from a Beatles tribute-band Alo’s dad used to be in.
Grace and Rich are both afraid that they will destroy each other’s individual dreams and turn into the couples they meet on their way to the church – that they, to an extent, have to give up their identity (and, subtly, the episode also shows that the relationship between Grace’s parents is slightly dysfunctional and unbalanced in their completely different reaction to Grace’s decision).
“Everything has gone wrong” – Grace and Rich are waiting for their friends to arrive for the ceremony and they are both plagued by doubts about the whole thing, even though they don’t really talk about it.
Grace: They’re supposed to be our friends.
Rich: It’s just us now.
Grace: This is so not what I dreamed off. Why did you cut your lovely hair?
Rich: I asked for a trim. Guess I look the part, I suppose. Mr and Mrs Mainstream.
Grace: Did you actually think that’s what I wanted?
Rich: Grace…


Nick: It’s the smell of a loser’s death.
Alo: You’re not a loser. A bit of a prick, but, peel away that prick and there’s a good man in there.
The happy ending isn’t Grace and Rich getting married: it’s all of them, united at the church after their journeys, standing up against David Blood because they truly care about each other. Nick, the character whose main contribution to the episode so far has been comic relief, a character who was on the side-lines since his own episode and aimless without Mini or rugby defining him, is the one who delivers the grand speech (because Alo told him he could be that person if he tried).

Nick: Yeah. I fell. Down a reeking k-hole, actually, but these guys caught me. It’s what mates do, cause it’s screwed up out there. I don’t know if you’ve been outside lately, but it is. But we have a go. Whatever comes, we have a good go at it, because it is all we can do.
David: Right then. So be it. But we shall take no further part in this ridiculous melodrama.
Rich: So are we gonna, you know, get married?
Grace: Don’t ever cut your hair again.
Rich: Okay.
Grace: It will grow. You are still my metal man. My own tin man.
Rich: So things are good, right, with us?
Grace: Yeah. So. Do we really need to change things?
Rich: Well, you could just take me to be my boyfriend.
Grace: Totally.
“The tin man” – because Grace has been raised on fairy tales, and they’ve successfully found a way to write their own meaningful story which doesn’t require an actual wedding after all because they’ve got their love which doesn’t corrupt their individuality and identity, and their rugged group of friends to keep their company.

Fucking awesome mates
“Hark. I sense merriment afoot. Let’s go.”
This is the conclusion of the fifth season of Skins, the halfway point for generation three: friendships are important because they provide love and safety in a fucked-up world, and sometimes the preservation of friendships is more essential than anything else.
Liv: It’s not your fault. We had a good day, didn’t we?
Matty: What?
Liv: The day we met. I don’t wanna fuck with that memory anymore. […] Let’s just. See it out in style.
I LOVE this conclusion, because it fits what we’ve seen of Liv so far perfectly, and this is also one of the few moments in which Matty wasn’t mysterious and intense. He seems like a normal teenager rather than an enigma for a bit, realizing that Liv is right.

Mini: Are you okay?
Franky: I used to… beam myself away. Go somewhere in my head where I felt less…weird.
Liv: You’re not. […] Who would have thought, the three of us sharing a peace pipe.
Mini: Let’s try not to fuck it this time.
Liv is back to being the supportive and loving friend she was on Nick’s porch, telling Franky that she could be whoever she wanted to be and she’d still be loved – and then Grace comes outside and pulls them right into the not-wedding afterparty, but Franky stays behind for a bit.

And I don’t know why I love this scene so much because I feel ridiculously invested in Mini McGuinness’ happiness, but I do.

Franky and Matty look at each other from the distance, the way it all began. And then they start exchanging messages instead of talking.

Franky: RU OKAY?
They finally smile at each other because something has been mended, an agreement has been reached, and they embrace without it seeming problematic. It’s the beginning of something. It reads like “Let’s figure this out together until we’re both fine”.

Finally, they all celebrate their existence together as Dog is Dead play on stage:

We’re a mess. We are failures. And we love it.

Random notes:

There were so many subtle parallels to earlier episodes that it’s really hard to believe that Mini’s framing of Franky when she’s looking at her picture only happens to look exactly like Franky’s framing of Liv, Grace and Mini, shortly before she worked up the courage to go and talk to them in the first episode.

Mini is also wearing some items of clothing that look like they might have come out of Franky’s wardrobe (especially the suspenders). I’ve always had a hard time accepting some of the online content (not the Diaries and the Webisodes) as canon, but from Mini’s twitter account it’s obvious that they’ve been spending a lot of time together since Grace’s episode, working on the bridesmaid dresses. (“@franky_fitz is my saviour. So much talent in someone so small x”).

Dakota Blue Richards revealed in an interview that the precious treasure chest of a waste basket in the Skins cutting room does now contain a kiss between Franky and Mini (set during the beer fight scene). 

What exactly was Nick doing with the traffic cone?

Nick and Matty “organising” the booze was very reminiscent of Matty’s “do we need money”. Mysterious Matty Levan never does.

“Well done Alo, it’s a dead end.” – The DELIVERY OF THIS LINE. It was kind of hard to still see Rich under the Alex Arnold hair cut, but somehow, the delivery even won from the contrast between the words and the person delivering them.

Franky drawing the smiley face on the car window with lip stick – “Everything will be okay” – was one of my favourite moments in the episode, since it was both reminiscent of Grace putting make-up on Franky’s reflection in the first episode and of Grace, desperately promising her friends that everything would be fine to keep things together, only to realize she couldn’t keep her promises to everybody later.

I suppose someone wasn’t too happy with David Cameron’s austerity policy?

DAVID BLOOD RUNS LIKE A TINY LITTLE PONY. I found his character awfully OTT in season four, but I’ve been enjoying him, and Chris Addison’s performance, a lot this year. This also must have been the ugliest and most obvious bug in the history of cheesy detective stories.

Grace composing herself to get ready and face her father – beautiful. “I’m not your little girl”. David Blood tries to frame her as the victim of corruptors, thereby denying her ability to make choices for herself, but Grace doesn’t let it happen.

Matty carries Mini when they run over the picturesque fields towards the party - I am really curious about their dynamics in the next season. This doesn't really feel like another triangle of doom is being set up.

I was… maybe… possibly considering admitting that Mini might maybe be my favourite character now, and this really surprised me. I still relate to Franky (and find Dakota Blue Richards acting incredible), but there’s something magical in Freya Mavor’s performance of the character and in the expressiveness of her face.

Matty… I seem to have considerably fewer issues with Matty and Franky, together, than most of the people invested in these characters (judging from analytical to right-out hateful comments), but the thing with Matty is that we don’t know him. He hasn’t gotten his own episode yet, so most of what we’ve seen of him was through the eyes of other characters, and there was only a handful of moments that I felt were really revealing something about him (when he begs Nick to asks their father to let him stay, his reaction to Liv breaking up with him). I feel like Matty’s mostly served as a plot device for other characters (the same function Effy had for Tony’s development in the first season) – which was clearly intentional, to preserve his mysteriousness, but the hard part for the next season is going to be turning Matty into a real character.

And look, here’s a category for stuff Nick says and does while in his f... reeking k-hole:

“Leave the angel alone, Nick.”

“Maybe they’re post-apocalyptic savages that will eat them alive and make, like, pants from their skins and a fucking glockenspiel from their bones and shit.”

“You gonna teach me that trick, mate, with the shit.”


Nick: But Nick needs a calm-down cuddle.
Mini: See you at the church, Alo.
Nick: Hoe bag.

Nick: I’ll die here alone, it’s what I deserve. Save yourself and leave me to the bears.
Alo: We’re in Somerset, Nick.
Nick: To the fucking squirrels then.