Tuesday 13 August 2013

Skins - What happened to you?

Skins: 7x05 & 7x06 Rise. 
I think the wrong people got a hold of your brain
When it was nothing but a piece of putty
So now try as you may
But you will always be a tourist, little buddy 
Titus Andronicus: The Battle of Hampton Roads 
One thing I’ve learned is that you should never look back, the past is dead and buried. You get nothing from living there. It’s all about today. But I’ve been having these dreams. In them nothing’s real, nothing’s solid, everything’s fantasy, fucked, an illusion. In these dreams, I’m a life that’s already gone by. Today means nothing. Today is just a ghost that’s haunting me. I’m at the end of the world, on the edge of things, and I think about letting go. I think about falling. My name is James Cook.
Years ago, Cook killed a man to stay alive and because that man had taken the life of his best friend, and then he ran away, from the police and the memories. He once told a different friend that he had to keep moving because it was all he had and would ever have, except now, in Manchester, he has stopped in his tracks and changed his skin – saying no to drugs, to girls that look like Effy Stonem if you squint, to impulsively changing a situation just for the sake of it, for the excitement of it. As a loyal employee of a drug dealer, every choice he makes is unlike the path he used to choose, and still, the past is haunting him. He’s almost managed to build a conventional life – a job that he approaches seriously and solemnly (even if it’s selling drugs), loyal to his boss, a girlfriend that he sort of goes home to, but the nightmares and the things he left behind in Bristol still catch up, even if it’s differently than he expects – that constant hum of being scared that he has accepted as part of his life - because it’s never the police cars, the sirens. It’s the random, terrifying violence itself that finds its way back, when his boss Louie finds out that someone who works for him is sleeping with his girlfriend and has him drowned in an in-door swimming pool just for that disloyalty. It doesn’t matter that Cook has become someone else, because fragments of that moment between him and Foster will never completely disappear, and he can’t outrun them, even when he hits the road with his girlfriend and Louis’ girlfriend, making a choice to protect these people against someone who resembles a demon from his past (to the extent that Louis is at his scariest when he seems quiet, because a monster like him is never quiet on the inside, and Cook knows that well). 
Emma, Cook’s girlfriend, doesn’t look at him and see that he has become who he is because of what happened in the past. Charlie, Louie’s girlfriend and now also on the run from him, does see it, but misunderstands completely because she sees the fact that Cook has already killed someone as a possible solution to their problem, while Cook understands that killing someone isn’t a life lesson that makes him stronger in the face of this challenge. It doesn’t give him strength, just the knowledge of what it feels like when things get so out of control, and that fighting someone like Louie is never fair. He chases them because regardless of how far they’ll drive, he’ll remain unshakable. He kidnaps Emma’s parents, and the only trace of them is the gunshots ringing through the woods. He steals Emma the very moment that Cook betrays her a second time, and strings her up on a tree in the fields for everyone to see. 
And maybe this is the point: Cook killed Foster, and learned that some monsters can’t be killed, can’t be outrun, so now that he is facing Louie, he makes a different choice, one that contradicts the scenario that Charlie laid out for him. He doesn’t kill Louie when he has the chance, he calls the police, because taking a life wouldn’t make up for the loss of Emma (presumably, taking Foster’s didn’t help with Freddie’s loss, even though of course we never address the past so directly). He leaves Louie there to confess a murder, and Charlie to outrun her own demons, and walks off on his own. 
You think you know death, but you don't, not until you've seen it, really seen it, and it gets under your skin and lives inside you. You also think you know life, stand on the edge of things and watch it go by but you're not living it, not really, just a tourist, a ghost... and then you see it, really see it, and it gets under your skin and lives inside you, and there's no escape, there’s nothing to be done and you know what? It's good, it's a good thing and that's all I've got to say about it.
Random notes: 

I really don’t know what to say. Maybe it’s a bigger thing, this, another trip into the underworld like Tony’s, that is more about how those years that Skins has always been about never quite fade away, than this specific story. I feel like I’m done with this show, and maybe that was the whole point. 

With Jamie Brittain, it’s always take it or leave it but sometimes these endless homages to other filmmaker aren’t half bad. Lynch in the beginning sets the tone, really. 

Gorgeous cinematography, music, acting, as in the other two. Something about it made the cold palpable (it was also a good reminder that these episodes should have been aired back in January or February), and if nothing else, giving Cook such a physical episode made a lot of sense, especially with a Jack O’Connell who’s grown even better as an actor in the years that have passed. 

On the other hand, it’s another collection of odd missed chances. Jason coming back to Cook, haunting him, giving him false advice, but no reference to the presence that led him to the discovery that Foster had killed a different friend, a best friend (just a reminder of the fact that Skins doesn’t bother with whether you believe in ghosts or not, it’s just important that the characters sometimes do). 

I quite liked that moment in the beginning when Cook was selling drugs to students and murmured “fucking kids”, because he knew he used to be one of those kids and no he isn’t any longer, and also he isn’t anymore any kind of “we” the way all these characters used to be (in fact nobody except Naomi and Emily are, anymore, not Cassie, not Effy, even though arguably Effy never really was). 
Charlie: I would think once you would have jumped in without a second thought.
Is this the point of these three episodes? That once, Effy would have seen right through the people she works with, Naomi wouldn’t have lost her focus like this, Emily wouldn’t have left for New York, Cook wouldn’t have said no? 

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