Thursday, 2 February 2012

Skins - Rich, I haven’t got long.

Skins: 6x02 Rich.

There is an inherent danger in the romantic idea of making your life into a story, which is was what Rich proposed to Grace: sometimes, when you try and make sense of your life by fitting it into stories (and in the case of this episode, into one specific story, as written by Shakespeare), your interpretation of certain events might be flawed, and as you struggle to become the hero of that story you think you are starring in, you lose sight of what is really going on. 
The story that Rich thinks he is trapped in: Grace and he are star-crossed lovers, brutally kept apart by outside forces. David Blood goes to ridiculous lengths to keep him out of Grace’s hospital room. His parents want to drag him away on a holiday to distract him and maybe find him a new, non-comatose girlfriend. His best friend doesn’t grasp the gravity of the situation and doesn’t understand why he runs off to try and see Grace (“What if today’s the day she wakes up”) instead of practising so they can start their music revolution. 
Rich’s perceptions of the world match the story. He doesn’t have access to Grace’s hospital room and he hasn’t talked to her doctors, so he has no idea if she is getting better or not. David Blood has previously been established as a veritable villain who isn’t above blackmailing and threatening others to get what he wants, so he fits in well too. The only piece of the puzzle that is missing is Grace – and Rich, much later, tells Alo that “Nothing works without her, Alo, none of this.” – so when Grace unexpectedly calls him from her room as he is standing in front of the hospital, everything is arranged precisely to fit that story. 
Rich: Grace?
Grace: Rich.
Rich: Grace, are you all right, can you hear me?
Grace: Why aren’t you here?
Rich: I tried. We all did. Your dad won’t let us in.
Grace: Then try harder, Richard.
Rich: What? 
It’s all there. Rich is the hero trying to get to “the love of his life” (he repeats it over and over to the nurse), David Blood is the evil villain keeping them apart, first by having Rich thrown out of the hospital after he manages to infiltrate Grace’s room, then by taking her away to Zurich. The episode seems to be about uniting the two star-crossed lovers: at one point, it goes so far as to suggest that this will become a communal road trip, the gang raising money to travel to Paris and find Grace in a city of millions. 
This isn’t a story about how love conquers all, or maybe it will be, at the end, but this episode doesn’t tell that story. I still haven’t decided if it works, because of course, part of the intention was to have the shocking reveal at the end for the sake of the viewers, and I think on that level the episode doesn’t entirely succeed (Although I am really interested: did any of you really think that Rich was talking to Grace? If you did, did Grace seem strange or out of character?). Rich clings to it and I think that works well, because he has limited access to information, is losing his mind and the alternative is so horrible that no one at any point of the episode even mentions that possibility (What if she isn’t getting better? What if the day of waking up never comes?). A villain is an obstacle that can be overcome with bravery, dedication, patience, heroism – but that’s not how life works (and of course obviously that’s the point where I bring up The Body, because I always do – that awful moment when you realize that the most horrible thing is not having choices, that it’s not actually a fight to be won). 

Grace: I want you to think a way out of the predicament, Richard. This is your moment, to show me what you’re made of. Promise me, Rich.
The things that Grace says – and I don’t think that it makes a difference if she is meant to be Rich’s fantasy, and therefore his interpretation of her, or if this is more of a supernatural spirit thing like Tony’s descent into the underworld - work on both levels. They feed into the story, beckoning him to overcome the obstacles, to solve the problem, to prove himself – and at the same time, they hint at something more serious. They ask him to prepare, almost, for what will happen at the end of the episode. 
“It’s just young love. It’s not real” says Rich’s mum – and isn’t it interesting that the comic relief character of the episode, the one that is so oddly over-the-top, brings up the concept of reality? She is referring to the validity of Rich’s feelings (and that fits the story well, too: adults not taking the young lovers seriously, telling them that it will all fade over time, as if “love” were ever something that you can put into perspective), of course, not to Grace herself, but still – it’s like Alo, later, telling Rich that he is “just seeing things” at the party and of course he means it to apply to that moment but really, it’s about all of it. 
So Rich moves into the abandoned villa because David has taken his daughter to Zurich, and he watches some childhood Super 8 films of Grace, going backwards in time (and in retrospect I think we are meant to realize that they were lying around because the Bloods were watching them also, before leaving, while Grace was in the hospital), and then the episode repeats the pattern that the premiere established: he has quiet moments, trying to connect to Grace through the things that are important to her – recordings of her dancing, her music jewellery box (Für Elise, the same as the ringtone for Grace on his phone…) – and every time, something manages to break in, quite literally. First it’s Alo, arriving and gambling his way in with some weed, then it’s Mini McGuinness, then it’s band practice. It’s like that moment in Morocco, that last moment of peace, that was interrupted by the sounds of the distant party.
Grace: Rich, I tried to ring you.
Rich: When are you coming home, Grace? Because I need you.
Grace: Rich, I haven’t got long, they are moving me again, dad won’t tell me where.
Rich: Your fucking dad wants to split us up. Run away.
Grace: It’s not that simple.
Rich: Just run away.
Grace: He’s my dad.
Rich: Meet me in Paris.  
Again: This is Rich interpreting it as this particular story – “your fucking dad wants to split us up” – and Grace performing both as the character he expects her to be in that context, the girl he needs to rescue – and the messenger of things to come. 
Rich finally leaves the mansion and Liv provides some much-needed perspective – except she doesn’t, actually, because Liv makes it even more into a heroic-rescue story (because she’s Liv, and she doesn’t passively wait for things to happen). I love this scene because it is a tiny bit of relief from the absolute emotional horribleness of everything else – Rich going mad, the lack of connection between him and Alo – but it is also a bitter reminder that there are no simple solutions for some problems (and Liv is also voicing the audience here: can’t we go back to how we were after the almost-wedding? What happened?) 
Liv: Let me get this straight: you broke into your college principal’s house, started living there and wearing his clothes?
Rich: Alo started it.
Liv: Jesus Christ! Why haven’t you rung me?
Rich: Huh?
Liv: I’ve been going off my nuts because my best friend’s been in a coma for four weeks and nobody could be arsed to ring me tell me that she left the fucking country.
Rich: I thought Mini would have told you.
Liv: Mini knows about this?! What the fuck – she can’t pick up the phone?
Rich: Maybe her mouth’s too full.
Liv: What?
Rich: Nothing.
Liv: Everything’s mental since fucking Morocco. Can’t we take her dad to court or something,
Rich: I don’t think it works like that.
Liv: What the fuck is wrong with you? I thought you were metal.
Rich: Yeah, I thought I was too.
Liv: You’re not the only one who misses her, you know. What the fuck has happened to us all? Where are my friends?
The idea that all they need to do is fill up a car with petrol and go to Paris… it’s a diversion. It plays into the idea that this is a story about defeating a foe, the story that the characters want, the story that the audience wants. 
For a bit, it seems like that story might be true. Rich and Alo play to an ecstatic crowd. The house is wrecked; revenge against the villain therefore accomplished (“I hope they burn it down”, says Franky), and Rich pursues someone he saw in the crows up to Grace’s room, the only peaceful, untarnished place in the house – and there she is, waiting. 
Rich: I came to find you.
Grace: After you thrashed my house.
Rich: It got out of hand.
Grace: Everything does, sooner or later.
Rich: Yeah, where is he, your dad?
Grace: I left him behind. He can’t get past things.
Rich: Like?
Grace: Like I… probably love you.

Rich: Here you are again.
Grace: Here I am again.
And this is the one time that Rich wakes up on his own, not because something from the outside intrudes, but peacefully, and he goes downstairs and marvels at the destruction, and his phone rings again, somewhere (how often do the characters in this episode repeat that they have no reception?)…
Rich: Hello?
Grace: I had to go.
Rich: Yeah. Why?
Grace: You know why, Rich.
Rich: No. Come back.
Grace: I can’t. Isn’t everything beautiful this morning? Everything is so beautiful.
Rich: I don’t understand.
Grace: I love you, Rich.
And then she’s gone. Rich looks at his phone and sees that it was probably broken ever since he first threw it away, and he realizes that this was a different story all along. 
It wasn’t the story of the evil father, trying to keep his daughter away from the world – maybe it once was, but it isn’t now. Now, David Blood is sitting on the stairs of his wrecked home. 
David: You fucked my house up I see.
Rich: Sorry. Where’s Grace gone?
David: I’m very sad to say… Actually she died yesterday afternoon.
Rich: I just spoke to her. I speak to her all the time.
David: Me too. What else is there to do?
Rich: She never woke up, did she, from the accident?
David: That’s why we went to Switzerland, to see if they could wake her up. I just wanted to try it, you know.
Rich: So all this time, she was…?
David: They said there was nobody left inside. I thought, what would she think of me for turning off the stupid machine thing. What would she think.
Rich: She would have thought that you were her dad and that’s what you were supposed to do.
Rich: She loved me. And I…
David: Yes. That’s why I’m here.
What else is there to do? You spend all this time staring at the machine and listening to doctors who repeat vague predictions over and over again, worst case scenarios and probabilities, but mostly you’re stuck with the numbers and telling yourself that you are doing everything you can just by being there. It’s fucking awful. So David’s story was taking his daughter to Switzerland and waiting for a miracle, and in the end, he was had to make that one impossible decision. And you’d think that Rich would rage and scream, but he doesn’t, because he finally understands. He tries to comfort David because at this point the only thing that they have is their shared grief. 

Hey, it’s a new category called “Really, Skins?”

The thing is: I can’t write about this show if I don’t make sense of the main story. If I can’t make it work in some way, trying to figure out what the intention behind it was, at least, I cannot write about it, or else I would immediately descend into that awful place that was the second half of season four, where nothing made sense and every week trying to make sense of it was a nightmare. There were so many things about this episode that severely upset me, and not upset as in “a character I really like has died” or “I want that season five happy place back”, but upset as in angry over the fact that someone thought these aspects of the episode would not completely undermine the emotional truthfulness of the main story. And I don’t get it, because Daniel Lovett wrote Alo’s episode last season and I absolutely loved what he did with the character, it was one of my favourite episodes in a season of favourite episodes, really – but Alo in Rich’s episode makes no sense to me. I do not understand him at all. This is even more… bitter… because in a way, Rich’s story mirrors Alo’s. They both don’t understand the severity of the situation and they react to in by acting out in this childish way while… these horrible things happening are forcing them to realize that the world doesn’t actually work that way. You are not faulted by the awful parental figures and you don’t solve the issues by wrecking and destroying and breaking the rules, basically – that works when the stakes aren’t so high. Alo’s development in his episode was… acting out, inviting everyone to trash the house, and then realizing why his parents were acting this way (and I am not saying that his parents, especially his mum, were doing the right thing  - this actually mirrors Rich’s story as well, because in both cases the issue is holding back information and never giving Alo or Rich a chance to understand how serious the situation is) and, as a consequence, trying to grow up. He moved that fucking rock off the field that he was told couldn’t be moved. And he spent a good part of the episode struggling with the fact that he could not communicate his sadness, his fear, his frustration to his best friend who was just… in a completely different place, and he couldn’t cross the distance. 
Which is exactly what Rich was experiencing in this episode, but it’s almost like Alo never ever went through any of this. The Alo who suggests trashing the house to get back at evil David Blood, who tells Rich to just snap out of his funk, is a version of Alo that I thought had meanwhile evolved into someone else. It’s a regression. It’s fucking frustrating because – well, the episode literally evokes Sid and Tony at the concert, that moment where despite all their differences, Tony understood Sid and was the one person who could provide what he needed – but that connection is completely absent between Alo and Rich. It’s an empty moment because Alo doesn’t understand, and this isn’t just the episode basically setting everybody up to underestimate the situation – because they think Grace is awake, they think all is swell and the only obstacle is David Blood, keeping them apart – it’s something profound missing in this relationship (I don’t know… empathy? Truthfulness?). 
It’s a pattern with this season (and yeah, I don’t want to bring it up again but it was one of my biggest issues with Skins US and I can’t get over it): this argument that Alo’s just being a typical teenage boy and that should explain his behaviour. Oh, his friends may need emotional support but hey, Mini’s boobs are spectacular! And she is totally into his cock! So he’ll just invite her over and they will have loud sex all over Rich’s quiet moments of sadness! Because he is a teenage boy! It feels like this invalidates the characters because the writers don’t take them seriously anymore and that’s just unfair to everyone: the actors who put so much work into them (and the acting was so good in the episode!), last season’s episodes, and the viewers. 
The same thing goes for Mini, too. I am almost more frustrated with her because we are trapped so entirely outside that understanding her actions or her emotions is just… impossible, at this point. Maybe she is heading towards a massive breakdown. Maybe this will all become meaningful in retrospect eventually, but for now, it makes no sense. Grace is “her best friend”. She’s been in a coma for four weeks. So when she finds out that Grace is awake, her reaction is… “yay” and “sorry I didn’t call, I was distracted by Alo’s cock”. That’s the same character who was so fiercely protective of Franky last season, who had this intense and complicated relationship with Liv. Who are Alo and Mini now? I don’t know, and I’m forgetting why I should care if nothing from last season is still valid. 
And then there’s Rich, who… I mean, there is a limit to the “he is going mad” excuse, basically. When someone you love has just spent weeks in a coma, your first reaction isn’t “cool, you’re awake, so we can have sex now?” (twice!). It just isn’t. I’m willing to give this one to Skins because maybe that’s just Rich’s brain, trying to create that “all is well” situation (but what does that say about Rich, that this is his primary concern?), but in the context of the episode (and especially the context of the reveal at the end), it’s creepy and disturbing in a way that I don’t think it was intended to be by the writers and I don’t think it fits in well with the way Grace and Rich’s relationship was portrayed previously. Remember when Skins used to find ways to write about sex in ways that were meaningful and actually added to the characterization? 

Random notes: 

I apologize that this is such a mess but something about this episode, and I don’t even really know what it was, was so devastating that I really did consider only writing a couple of lines and leaving it at that. 

The final was beautifully acted. David Blood is a problematic character because he was introduced as such an over-the-top ridiculous foe in season four, so I think the emotional depth that Chris Addison achieved with his performance was stunning. And I loved that this moment just stripped both the characters of all their usual defences: David was finally not Professor Blood, and Rich wasn't... angry, or defiant. 

Er, Franky? Is it just me or did Dakota Blue Richards even change the way she voiced the character between the season premiere and this episode, back to how she did last season? Apparently, it really was a temporary body snatcher thing. 

Also, but I think that this might change by the next episode, the group scenes didn’t really fit in with what was portrayed at the end of the last episode (which I found grating because it was the only thing that really worked for me in Everyone…). There seem to be no remaining conflicts after Morocco (except that Mini is… preoccupied) except maybe a weird lack of communication between the characters (which didn’t keep them from partying together). No mention of Matty. Nick didn’t have any lines but the episode continues with the “Franky and Nick are becoming closer”. 

Loads of connections to both Rich’s and Grace’s episode from last season: from Rich trying to crawl his way into the hospital room (“Are we seriously doing this again?”), the fairy tales (baby Grace tells one in the recording, Alo references Pinocchio of all things). 


I liked that David Blood signed his note to the milk man with “Professor Blood”. 

O’Malley. Best thing about the band, really. “You guys look so fucking lame, I’m giving it a sheen of respectability.”

Favourite Alo-Rich moment: 

Rich: Music doesn’t solve anything. 
Alo: Yes it does. Because you told me all my life.

This almost makes me forgive the episode for its portrayal of Alo, because in a way, this is Alo trying to make it better and it just happens to be the wrong thing, also because he doesn’t understand the situation at all (but how can he, since David Blood has made it impossible for any of them). The thing that has defined Rich is his love for music, so this realization is the perfect way to portray his utter misery – he is just encountering how seriously fucked up things can get, so the old remedies don’t work anymore. And Alo is like, no, wait, let’s try, maybe it will help, it’s the only thing I can think of doing to help, so let’s try: and it works temporarily until it doesn’t and things fall apart. 
The entire scene of the group dancing to the song that Rich and Alo are playing… it’s almost like an intentional repetition of the season finale, a reminder of how things ended, that immediately leads into the complete destruction of the… togetherness and community. It’s the theme of the season in a nutshell.

“Have you found your straighteners?” Yes. Yes she has. 

I kind of liked the tiny moment at the party when Mini was randomly snogging a guy and Liv realized that Alo was upset, so she dragged her away, but what I really, really want is for someone to have a conversation with Mini about what is going on with her because this lack of communication is terrible (I think I’ll get my wish next episode, by the way).

David Blood tells Rich that it’s “futile” when he calls the clinic in Zurich – it’s interesting how many different meanings things can have depending on your perspective. 

“Don’t grow up, Gracie. It’s shit.”

Mini: I’m her best friend.
Rich: Well, I’m sorry. I see you managed to fill the emptiness inside though. 
Mini: I wanted to fuck, he’s available. 
Alo: But you like me, right?
Mini: As long as you don’t talk. But this is a secret, alright?  

I don’t know what to make of this, for future reference, etc.

“Mini doesn’t want anyone to know because she’ll fuck anything, and you’re anything. It’s because you’re a fucking joke.”

“I’ll get you some biscuits. Oi, mate can we get some biscuits here please?”

I think future episodes will also not clearly distinguish between hallucinations and magic. ~vague prediction that is possibly wrong.

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