Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Skins – Waiting for our lives to start.

Skins: 7x03 & 7x04 Pure.
So I never wrote a letter
I never took my true heart I never wrote it down
So when the lights cut out
I was left standing in the wilderness downtown
Now our lives are changing fast
Hope that something pure can last
It seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what's stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive
We used to wait
We used to waste hours just walking around
We used to wait 
Arcade Fire: We Used to Wait
Some people make plans for their paths in life and follow them eloquently, and sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t but that idea of a path never leaves them. We will never know how Effy Stonem ended up working for a hedge fund, what exactly it was that derailed and took focus from Naomi Campbell, how Emily Fitch figured out what she wanted out of life apart from spending it with the girl she’s been in love with for forever. I never felt like Effy had a plan, if anything, at the end of season four, she seemed even more lost than before, and yet, three years later she somehow ended up with something resembling a career. They have barely anything else in common, but in terms of being unpredictable and without a mapped out future, Cassie and Effy are similar. Last time we saw her, she’d fled from the trauma of seeing one of her best friends die, because sometimes leaving is the only viable option. Sid chased her to New York but Skins left it blissfully open if he ever found her (in a way, the choice to leave and his choice to follow were more important than anything than resulted from it). Now, five years have passed, and Pure actually delivers on an unspoken promise that Fire broke: the past is important, and the way characters, in this case Cassie, talk about it, remember it, carry stories about it into the presence, is essential. The episode starts by mapping out Cassie’s current situation – she came to London a couple of months ago, works a job but has no genuine connections to the people she works with, lives in a flat but the other people who share it don’t even know her name, has no friends, just sometimes her phone rings and reminds her of the fact that her father and her baby brother are struggling to deal with the death of her mother, relying on her to provide a certain kind of balance, asking more of her than she is capable of providing because it’s a choice between the holding-pattern she’s in with the job that doesn’t have any perspective, and the people she has no real connection to, and the apartment that feels more like a hotel than a home, and going back to Wales to take care of her brother because her father, drinking rather than confronting his grief, can’t. Cassie’s life feels like it’s been suspended because she finds it impossible to make a choice; and rather than choosing, she is waiting for something significant to happen, a meaningful connection, that will give her directions and a purpose, because she is unable to make that change happen herself. In a conversation with one of her roommates she reveals that she travelled the US with a friend – until there was nowhere to travel, until it became a choice between leaving and staying forever, and that forever that used to be a problem with Sid (“I’ll love you forever, that’s the problem”) still was, so she returned, and probably he isn’t okay, but also, this isn’t his story. This is the last choice that Cassie made, moving to London, not choosing forever with the boy whose name she isn’t even able to say out loud. 
Cassie isn’t making any choices anymore, she is stuck – but then, things start to happen. A customer at the café shows her pictures that have been posted to a website, pictures of her, taken in secret, that are now becoming popular in the way things do on the internet. They’re of her mundane, everyday life, and the thing that seems to speak to people is the elusive beauty of Cassie, unaware of being observed, the perceived authenticity of pictures that aren’t arranged but merely observant. It’s creepy as well, because they are intruding, even more so when Cassie figures out that the photographer is Jakob, one of her colleagues at the café she works in, and that he has camped out in an abandoned office building across from her house to capture her most intimate moments. 
And this is also where things gets complicated, because on the one hand, this is clearly a violation, regardless of the motives. Jakob argues that his art is pure because he isn’t objectifying Cassie, it’s not about sex, and yet he intrudes without her consent. On the other, this is exactly the insecurity Cassie has always had, why she didn’t eat for a week to be pretty for a date with Sid, and now that this intrusion has happened, she can’t help but acknowledge the beauty that the audience finds in the pictures that Jakob has taken. As revolted as she is initially by the idea that he did this without her knowing, captured her in that way (“Don’t speak to me.”), she starts to consider this as possibly being that thing that she has been waiting for, the connection that has been missing before. The episode never makes that explicit, but part of why Cassie is so drawn to Jakob and the way he sees her is that her father, now entirely caught up in his grief for the loss of his wife, never painted her. She used to be like a ghost to her parents, who were so obsessed with each other that they forgot about both of their children. Cassie is fascinated by the idea of being that person that someone else could find so beautiful that they would dedicate their art to her, even though the way Jakob does this is creepy, and she constantly questions his motives, constantly checks that this isn’t about sex (and Jakob claims that his art is pure exactly because he has no other motive but capturing that beauty, selling these pictures is entirely foreign to him. 
Cassie seems to need to be able to think of this as an option, because at the same time, it becomes more and more obvious to her that her father isn’t equipped to take care of her brother. He is drinking away his grief, failing to send Reuben to school, and Cassie is the one who Reuben turns to with all his concerns, because she seems much better equipped to help than her father. Jakob’s pictures lead to an actual photo shoot, parties, a prospect of success, but all the time, phone calls remind Cassie of the thing that she is still running from. The photographers and models offer money and drugs, but the thing that works for her, that gives her purpose, is being able to be there for her brother when he needs her. 
This is the interesting story, the compelling story. Not Jakob and Yaniv, fighting over Cassie with both their ideas about how she is supposed to live her life (not sell pictures of herself with profit because it goes against the principle of purity, not wait because Yaniv, a soldier, has been to places where you can’t wait). Ultimately, neither of them matter because they are just a distraction from the big question that Cassie is facing: what gives her life meaning? She can’t answer the question at the beginning, it’s why she’s stuck. Making these big choices is always terrifying, but ultimately, Reuben gives her meaning and a purpose, so she chooses to take care of him while her father tries to deal with his grief and get a grip on life again. This is when she realizes that Amanda (another co-worker), the one person she’s constantly ignored, through feeling like the choice was between Jakob and Yaniv’s idea of her, through being drawn into the world of modelling by a girl who recognizes her from the pictures and follows her, through trying to explain herself to Maddie, a roommate who gives up on London and her dreams, provides the insight and help she needs. 
Amanda: You’re gonna do something. Something fantastic. That’s what I was thinking about back there. Something’s coming. Magic. It’s lucky for you.
Maybe everything does matter, in the sense of making one path clearer than the others. Cassie seems to try to see herself through the eyes of all these people, trying to make sense of herself that way – she is beautiful, because the people looking at pictures of her think she is beautiful, she is pure, because this is what Jakob things of her – but what matters is what she sees when she thinks about herself and her future, what makes sense to her. It’s not Jakob’s pictures, or the professional ones in the fashion magazine, it’s taking care of her brother, making a life for herself that way. 
Reuben: Is everything good?
Cassie: Everything’s good.
Reuben: Everything’s good.

Random notes: 

Apparently it’s even more difficult when I do like an episode but at the same time intensely dislike parts of it. I just really, really wish that writing about Skins didn’t require talking about creepy, manipulative, controlling, stalking male characters as much as it has since season six. I’m sick and tired of it, and I’m exhausted by constantly wondering if the narrative is on my side, if the writers are aware of how fucking awful these characters are. It doesn’t matter what Jakob’s motive is, taking pictures of people, stalking them, and then publishing the pictures without their consent, is creepy. It’s creepy to try and set terms about what Cassie can and can’t do with her body. This is Nick and Matty and Alo all over again, with a side-dose of Dom. And “can you be friends with a boy and not fuck them” – feels like a betrayal of the entire first generation. Of course you can.  

I think this episode may have been perfect if it had been more eloquent in calling Jakob out on what he’s doing, because the scene when Cassie first realizes it’s him and confronts him is perfect – that palpable disgust and feeling of being used and betrayed. Nobody cares about poorly constructed triangles of doom. 

There is also a really interesting moment between Cassie and Jakob in Wales, when they’re visiting Cassie’s dad – she is clearly distressed over how her father is dealing with his responsibilities, getting drunk, shouting his grief and anger against the wind, and she stops Jakob from taking a picture of the moment, because it would betray the authenticity of the emotion. There’s an untold story in these episodes about whether a picture could ever be authentic, especially if the photographer doesn’t fully comprehend the emotions of his subject (because Jakob doesn’t understand that it isn’t about her dad failing Cassie, that it’s about the fact that she feels responsible for Reuben regardless, and loves him, and gains meaning from that).

Probably my favourite dialogue in the episode: 
Reuben: Dad’s on the beach and he’s sorry.
Cassie: What for?
Reuben: Shouting and crying.
Cassie: Is everything alright, Ruby?
Reuben: I was missing mum this morning and dad said I could ring you and you would make me feel better.
Cassie: And do you feel better?
Reuben: Yes. Because you love me.
Cassie: That’s right, Ruby.
I genuinely enjoyed the first part of Pure – it’s gorgeous, aesthetically, the cinematography, the way small things are remembrances of past Cassie episodes (the bus ride, especially, the way it opens with curtains, finally, properly, someone waking up to open a new chapter) – and Hannah Murray is amazing in all of it, which is perfect, because I’ve always felt like the moment that Skins truly became itself and proved what it could do, in terms of impact, was her first episode. 
Amanda: Aren’t you handsome?
Reuben: I’m six.


Jardley said...

Cathy, my comments gonna be broken down into multiple comments, cause I'm way past the character count limit by more than a thousand and change.

It was only after reading this: "She used to be like a ghost to her parents,who were so obsessed with each other that they forgot about both of their children." That strings of memories came back. Online confirmed what I remembered that her parents used to have sex all the time, and I do blearily remember her father painting her mother naked. Before that line I couldn't remember if we ever saw Cassie's parents back in Skins gen 1 or her father's face, what I remembered was they sent her to a center for anorexia? Cassie for the most part was curious & a bit of a mystery to me. I never felt strong feelings toward or against her the way I have with Effy especially.

I found I wanted to watch Pure over and over, that there was still so much to pick up another time. And that wasn't what I felt with Fire. In Fire, in order for me to try to understand the story it required of me to create my own assumptions of what happened in the years prior. Cassie felt from the get-go seemed like it was picking up where it left off. It was believable that she would find herself in London not London specifically but I could believe in a girl who didn't find what she was looking for in a place she escaped to and was now living her life sort of coping and passing through life even though I would've wanted her to be okay now. I'd want all of them to be okay now. And it was believable that she wouldn't be friends with any of those from before because of how I view Cassie from the past which was that I didn't really feel she was connected to any of them really. They didn't seem like friends with her, just people she somehow hung out with. Except Effy.
Fire felt like the writers omission of the past people was a conscious, deliberate choice that they just wanted us to go along with.
I think your use of the word "suspended" as to what Cassie's life is here is agreeable. I didn't immediately find the one word it was when watching the scene where I think it was Yaniv who said she didn't want a boyfriend but I think that fits. Cassie doesn't at the moment want to really be immersed in life. It's to me why she turns away when she's noticed as the girl in the photographs at the concert instead of embracing it with these people. Yet, she feels a thrill about her image being up there.

Jardley said...

With what you've said about Cassie feeling purpose in being there for her brother, I can believe that. And agree if what you're saying is that she finds the most meaning in taking care of her brother. But, I don't think I can believe that that is the central thing she's been running from or is what is putting her in limbo in her own life. I moreso look at what's happening with her family as happening to them & because it's her family, she ends up having to deal with it especially when they are relying on her to pick up their pieces. I understand & see that Pure has examples that support your argument she's running from her family's mental state & doesn't want to have responsibilities in it in many scenes like the party scene where she turns away from that experience and picks up her brother's phonecall. I see the turning point is Cassie making the choice to be there is when she yells at her father that Ruby needs to go to school. That the end completes this arc by her vocalizing not only that she'll take her brother but looking like she feels she made the choice that was waiting for her all along.
But, I think the family stuff is a faucet of the things Cassie is running away from. I don't think it's why she left New York and I still think that the thing Amanda says is waiting for her in the future doesn't revolve around Reuben. I don't think she'll turn down maybe a career in fashion modeling or at least I can see her in it. For me that felt natural (again the difference with Effy and the hedge fund) though it's played out to me in TV cliche where a fashion photographer comes to the character. "Opportunity happens to her instead of the other way around"
I think still Cassie has to figure out what purpose she has for her own life. What's she running away from in her life, what is it that's causing her to avoid being active in it, having friends, being a ghost in her home, not seeming to want something with someone else, and doing the same thing day after day. Maybe she's jaded from the love in NY and is trying to rebuild herself while at the moment not giving herself over to anyone. I say this with the way she treats Yaniv & the coworkers in mind. Not really the overall of her story. She only freely gives herself to Reuben & Maddie. Maddie I suspect because Maddie appears to know or understand things, is ahead of the game & Cassie wants to learn something from her, so she gives parts of her truth to someone who will just assess it and won't react emotionally about it. The way she can't with anyone from her past, Yaniv, Jakob, the coworker who always seems to want to talk to her & definitely not her family.
I hadn't picked up on Cassie's "if it didn't end it was forever" playing on “I’ll love you forever, that’s the problem" because I hadn't rewatched any of Cassie's episode so didn't remember the line. I think that confirms that they were together in NY but part of me wanted the guy she was talking about to be anyone.
I didn't like that “can you be friends with a boy and not fuck them” it's just such an old cliche, it reminded me of When Harry Met Sally and that was emphasized in Maddie's answer.

Pure felt much more like the old Skins

cathy leaves said...

Thanks so much for the comment, sorry for replying so late, it took me a while to work through Rise or at least decide to let it be.
Of all the three episodes, I thought this one was by far the strongest, in spite of the issues that I have with the middle part. It makes more sense for Cassie not to have these connections to the past, and I agree, she never seemed to have a very close relationship with any of the other characters, except maybe Chris right before he died. There's also a great contrast here between the way Naomi seems lost and unable to find a life and the way Cassie's is, because it makes much more sense for Cassie, who never had any definite plans (and was so ready to run when it was necessary because her attachments to life, both in terms of family and friends, were so loose).
I really like your interpretation as well. I agree that Cassie is running away from many things (and it would have been interesting what exactly happened that made Cassie decide against the "forever" with the unnamed boy aka Sid - and yes, not being a big fan of Cassie/Sid, let's say it could be anyone - if it was something he did or her inability to commit to that yet). She is definitely not ready to start something new, and Yaniv and Jakob both work as incomplete characters that way (like they are two halves of something and Cassie doesn't want both in one person? I don't know.) The relationship with Maddie reminded me a bit of how Cassie used to be with the other girls in the group, like maybe it reminded her of how it used to be to kind of share things, but in the end it's Amanda who comes out of nowhere and seems to have a better perspective/is more insightful than Maddie, or maybe it's just about Cassie realizing what kind of people she needs in her life, which is also a part of growing up.
I'm not sure about the great thing in her future, but it's good that they left it open. At least she seems happy for the moment, that's something, and for some people it just isn't a career or a conventional choice to make a family.

And yes. Pure made sense, I think you can go from Cassie's season one episode to her season two episode to this one and it's a full story about someone growing up.

Jardley said...

I agree with you seeing Yaniv and Jakob as maybe two halves of something. They definitely felt like heightened extreme versions of a type of person and not a whole person.

I still have no feels about watching Skins Rise and it's not for any particular reason. Just no motivation to watch it.

ohwowlovely said...

Maybe she was running from everything and just trying to find a place or person where she fit in, properly, which ended up being Rueben. As you said, she was out of place at home and with her group of friends in gen 1, so maybe it took her longer to feel "at home" as such, in her heart (now I'm just being soppy lol)

The question of can you be friends with a boy without fucking, well that just makes me think of the one friend she did fit in with before, Chris, and who she then witnessed dying. As much as she loved Sid, I think she always knew he wasn't "right" and that's why she knew it was a problem even when he thought they were ok again.

I also think maybe, and as you said we all have our own interpretations and that's good to discuss, when she said they had travelled until there was nowhere left to travel, maybe she meant it more of their relationship, it had travelled it's path, rather than travelling distance of the country, maybe it was easier for her to phrase it that way. Maybe she tried all she could until she knew "forever" wasnt gonna work, even as much as she may have wanted it to.

I'm glad her story ended (on screen anyway) with hope. I think Cassie could be the perfect person to take care of someone, she of all people would know how important it is to be cared for, since she never was, and I think she'd know from that the right ways to do that. What she missed out on, I hope she can regain by giving that to someone else. And not a Sid, but someone who will appreciate it and love her regardless, as children tend to do. Ok, I write too much sorry! Hannah with hearts!!