Tuesday 2 March 2010

Skins – This is me, happy.

Skins: 4x05: Effy Freddie.

Introduction / Synopsis

This episode will haunt me for a while. I’ll probably have to go back to this review later and add or revise things – but if I wait until all the thoughts have settled, until I am really sure what to think of this episode, the show will be over and I am at least trying to get these reviews out before the next episode airs, because that’s the whole point (writing them not knowing yet what will happen).

Freddie and Effy are living in their own little world while Anthea is in Italy: They have turned Effy’s home in to a drug den, which they apparently haven’t left for weeks in the beginning of the episode. Things start to go wrong when Freddie has to leave to attend a disciplinary meeting: we realize that Effy is having a breakdown and even less happy than her previous conversations with Cook and Katie indicated. Freddie uncovers the truth slowly, but finally figures out that she is suffering from a mental illness. As his mother committed suicide in a clinic suffering from something similar, Freddie tries everything to protect and save Effy, but ultimately has to realize that he can’t – when she tries to commit suicide, and is brought to a hospital. In the end, Freddie walks away from her and breaks down in front of Cook, telling him that he can’t imagine a future without her – and Cook tells him that the future isn’t important, it’s “going further” that matters.


Everytime I think about Freddie, the first thing that comes to my mind is Naomi’s interpretation of “Hamlet” in his episode last season:

Naomi: “Hamlet's basically a teenage boy. He's got these desires, but he doesn't have the bottle to reach out for them. So he goes mad and wanks off about Ophelia and ends up so boring that somebody has to kill him.”
Josie: “I'm not sure that's right. There's no wanking in Hamlet.”
Naomi: “Mmm. Yeah. There is. Loads. Only they call it soliloquising.”
The first thing about this piece of dialogue from last year is clearly that this could not happen this year. It feels like it’s from a different show altogether, one that was light-hearted – the Naomi since “Emily” does not seem very much like the girl who was so amused watching someone else struggle with love.
The second one, and this is a bit more complicated: Freddie and Emily share one thing – since the first episode, they’ve been single-mindedly chasing one thing. Emily was all about Naomi, from the first moment we see her staring longingly at her at the school assembly, until we realize that this is what the struggle with her twin is about. But for Emily, chasing Naomi is more than just having a happy relationship; it’s asserting her own identity, getting away from the overbearing sister, fighting for the right to be herself. Naomi was the catalyst for this struggle, but there was more to this than just the sweet love story.
Freddie, on the other hand, has been single-mindedly chasing Effy. His one unique fact about himself in Kieran’s class: “I met a girl I liked today. She’s like… beautiful. That’s it.” And that’s it. We don’t find out much more about Freddie in his own episode, except that his father is struggling to keep his family together after the mum disappeared (did we find out that she committed suicide then? I don’t think so, it remained unexplained I believe), and that Freddie resorts to infantile behaviour when he can’t express his emotions verbally, which happens a lot. Effy does manage to severe the links between him and Cook, but I am struggling to call that “character development” or a “story arc”. I went into this episode feeling like I did not know anything about Freddie, except that he really cared about Effy. More to the point, I knew that he cared about Effy, but had no clue whatsoever why she loved him back.
Comparing the two “epic” love stories of the second generation of “Skins” to each other is a little bit unfair, but it’s warranted, especially since “Emily” and “Freddie” share another unique fact: They were both about a different character. “Emily” was about what Naomi had done, and Emily slowly finding out. “Freddie” is about Effy’s state of mind, and how Freddie slowly finds himself caught in a situation that he can not handle, even if he doesn’t admit this until the very end (when he is literally screaming for help, after forcefully breaking down the bathroom door). It’s an interesting decision by the writers not to tell the story of the betrayal from Naomi’s perspective, and not to show Effy’s mental breakdown from her own point of view. It’s also a bit of a venture, as both developments came completely surprisingly (Naomi’s cheating after her declaration of love in “Katie and Emily”, Effy’s mental health issues that she seems to have known about all these years that we’ve seen her) and in combination with not getting into Naomi’s or Effy’s head, turn them into strangers at least until they get to tell their own story in the future.
So let’s start with what worked, because I have a history of entering anything Freddie-related prejudiced, and let’s just begin with something positive this time. If I was to pick an idea that permeated this story, than it’s how Freddie, seeing his mother commit suicide after his dad decided that he could not take care of her on his own and put her into a clinic, could not bring himself to ask anybody else for help when he saw the same thing happening to Effy. This was executed brilliantly. There are so many wasted opportunities in this episode, moments in which Freddie seems to be reaching out to someone (his grandfather, Cook, even T. Love, the internet, when he sees that Anthea is talking to the police and decides to run away with Effy), but ends up trying to carry the burden alone in the end. We saw how complicated his relationship with his dad is, who is honestly trying (and is, compared to Anthea, an exceptionally good parent) to talk to his son, but Freddie never forgave him and blames him for his mum’s death. The small scene between Freddie and Karen in the hospital was particularly well done: anybody who has ever spent a long time in a hospital, waiting to hear news about a loved one, knows how hard it is to go back there, that it brings back all kinds of memories. In the scene, they are both folding the origami swans that their mum had made hundredfold, and even in that state of mind Freddie bothers to fix Karen’s incomplete one. The moment when Freddie comes out of Effy’s hospital room and his first instinct is to hug his dad, because he understands for the first time that he really fought to keep his mum “in this world”, as his granddad said, and just couldn’t do it alone, is heartbreaking.
Effy, on the other hand, has once again been dealt worse cards: Anthea’s speech about how Effy was a “beautiful bomb” when she was born, a bundle of energy, something to marvel at and to be terrified of, completely scared me. This is a mother completely inadequate. We’ve seen Effy taking care of her ever since season two – and here’s Anthea admitting that she doesn’t know how to deal with her daughter any better than a random boy at school, who must have a similar impression of Effy, watching her from a distance – it’s not the speech of a loving mother, but of a stranger, merely observing. But Anthea has the nerve to say, “So I think I’m prepared for this”, after all these years of not being prepared for ANYTHING. This is a mother whose best moment so far on the show was saying “you really are beautiful”, as if she had only just realized it for the very first time.
Freddie: “Did what I could, granddad. I did everything.”
Grandfather: “I know you did, son. But you need help. You can’t take this all on yourself.”
Freddie: “I’m gonna have to, granddad. Noone cares. Nobody.”
Grandfather: “I know that’s not true.”
Freddie: “No I don’t think you do, actually.”
Grandfather: “I do. You care, and that’s what’s killing you. What use are you going to be doing this to yourself.”
Freddie: “I don’t give a fuck. I can’t let this happen again. I’m not gonna let this happen again.”
Grandfather: “Do you have any idea how hard your dad fought to keep your mum in this world? He fought.”
Freddie: “NO he didn’t. He gave her up, granddad, he let her do it. He bottled it. He fucked it up. Granddad. We all fucked it up.”
Grandfather: “No, he did the best he could. And that’s what you’re going to do. You think the world of this girl, eh.”
Freddie: “I really love her granddad. I can’t manage without her. She’s like nothing… I’M not ready to lose her yet.”
Freddie: “Do what you have to do. Just for a bit. She needs help. Live to fight another day, eh?”
I don’t actually blame Freddie for telling her that she had to rebuild Effy on her own, because his grandfather was right when he said that Freddie had to know when to quit before it destroyed him too. There are things you can’t handle, even if you try hard, even if it breaks your heart to have to give up.
Freddie’s path in this episode was well handled. He slowly realized that what he perceived as complete bliss was actually the beginning of the end for Effy. It’s these small moments of emotional disconnect, when Effy acts inexplicably, when she is just a little bit off at the beginning. This was done well. I also agree with the decision to have these elements of estrangement in the episode, as Freddie goes deeper down the rabbit hole with Effy: the subtle terror underlying the “goodbye”-party scene, the chasing away of the zombie-like park strollers, the completely out-of-the-blue-carnival with Angel Katie dancing on a float and Cook, recent prison escapee, as the devil. There is no point in asking why they would be there, or why the carnival would be happening in Bristol: the point is that this isn’t quite the world Freddie recognizes as his own. Effy is “head-fucking” him and this is the prize he is paying for being with her – he has already trouble fitting in with his own life the way he knew it before he realizes how bad things are, when his little conversation with Freddie and Thomas seems like they haven’t seen each other for ages and don’t really know how to talk to each other anymore (the element of estrangement, in that case, was Thomas and JJ talking French).

Katie and Cook

I’ll reserve judgement on whether or not Katie and Cook were in character this episode for the next weeks, and give the writers a pass for this episode because they were clearly meant to be characters from a Lynchian dream sequence more than Katie from “Katie” and Cook from “Cook”. I thought that Effy’s reaction at Cook’s appearance in her kitchen after the party was in character on the one hand, as we saw the Effy we know and love emerge for at least a second there, not the helpless girl Freddie is trying to save, but the one speaking her mind, saying what she wants (“get him out of here”) – but on the other hand, it seemed to contradict the connection she made with him when she visited him in prison. The episode also took away the feeling of redemption at the end of “Cook”, since Cook decided to break out of prison (really?) to come back with a new wardrobe and an even more destructive attitude (“fuck the future”).
Katie was… the person Effy wanted her to be, probably already in “Katie”, when she tried to reach out to her. Maybe both Katie and Cook are supposed to be what Effy sees them as, not who they really are, although this would be odd considering it’s Freddie’s, not Effy’s episode, and everything else about her was shown from his perspective only, with the camera only staying with her in two scenes after he left the room (the first time to show that she really didn’t want him to leave when she told him to “fuck off”, before he went to his grandfather).


This is what didn’t work. I’m not going to debate whether or not her illness was portrayed realistically, although the point that this seemed to have spawned from the idea that it’s aesthetically interesting to portray the world from the point of view of two characters who are losing their connection to reality is valid, I think. I didn’t mind that the portrayal of Effy losing her mind was clichéd (I thought that both the little scene with her hiding under the bed, clearly tying back to Tony doing the same thing in season two, and the scene in the park, were beautifully done and very well acted). But I do have issues with the concept that Effy has been struggling with this for years now, and she says she has in the scene in the park.
“The moment I saw you, I knew it’d be the closest I’d get to being close. I didn’t know what to do with that feeling. Happiness.” But they know now. And they’re hungry. Really fucking hungry. Because for as long as I know they’ve been chasing me, and now they’re ready, now they’re strong enough to break through. And I can’t fight them. I used to be able to when I was strong but you’ve made me weak. And now I can’t. I can’t.”
I never perceived Effy as damaged. She derives her strength from always being in control, even in the most horrible situations. She dealt with being smarter than most people by deciding not to talk for almost a year; This is how we met her. She took care of Tony when he got hit by a bus. She is curious about people and understands them because nothing escapes her. She cares about the people that matter to her. I see her losing control a bit because she is in love. I see how she would be terrified because she has to revise some of the concepts that she has carried with her for years now (“Love love love. What is it good for?”). But making the argument that everything we have believed Effy Stonem to be was just a symptom of a mental illness she has been struggling with, that everything that made her different was just a protective mechanism to retain her sanity, which Freddie destroyed because she fell in love with him? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t work for the same reasons why I felt betrayed by the penultimate episode of “Dollhouse”, “The Hollow Men”, when Echo’s ability to be herself turned out to be biologically predestined. 
And I really, really hope they manage to at least fix this a little bit in her own episode, because if they took all this away from her character for the sake of Freddie’s episode…

Effy Unseen

In the “Unseen” for this episode, we get at least a glimpse into Effy’s mind. She wakes up in the hospital room, takes a drink of water, and then follows a trail of candy into the woods, being chased by the shadow of a person, finally finding a girl with a terrible mask, holding a stuffed giraffe. Then the man disappears, and so does the mask. The girl gives her the giraffe. She says “I wanna go back. I wanna go back to being you. I’m so scared” to the girl, so this is Effy before she realized that something was wrong. She asks her for a way out. “Stop with the silent shit, I know you can talk”. The girl whispers to her: “cut open the swan”, and when Effy wakes up a second time and opens the swan, she finds “Love you forever” inside, in Freddie’s handwriting.

And finally…

I have to bring up “Emily” again. Some of the scenes in “Freddie” were so strong, so perfectly and beautifully shot. If only they had decided to go for the same claustrophobic spiral that was “Emily”. “Freddie” is inconsistent. Every time a scene manages to build up a particular mood, this feeling of not being able to escape, the intensity of being holed up with one person that is slowly losing her mind and there is nothing Freddie can do to get her out – there is another scene that completely negates this. “Emily” is the only episode of “Skins” that I remember which lacks this one ridiculous element. There are no over-the-top faculty advisors; the Fitch-Family-Wackness is toned down. And it works. I am not saying that they should do without the ridiculous parents and situations altogether; the Johnny Whites and Mad Twatters and David Bloods are an inherent part of “Skins” – but an episode so serious, so sad and emotionally devastating as “Freddie” should have done without T. Love. Probably the scene in which he admits that he can’t help Freddie was supposed to tie back to Sid asking Angie for help, or probably it just seemed important to the writers to establish that not even the faculty staff that should be trained to help students in peril can do anything to support Freddie, but in the end, it didn’t work (it might have worked with Josie. I loved her in Chris’ second episode, because she had an endearing quality, which T. Love clearly lacks). I was fine with David Blood pepperspraying Cook in “Cook”, but “Cook” didn’t end with one of the characters locking themselves into a bathroom and trying to commit suicide.

Random things:

Did anybody else think that Kaya’s delivery of her lines in the first death-collage scene was very, very reminiscent of Hannah Murray’s Cassie? I could have done without the manic laughter and the collage, seriously. Sometimes subtlety is a really good instrument of story telling, people.

Thomas, JJ and Panda are made of win in this episode. I love the unexpected Thomas/JJ friendship (beatboxing! Speaking French!). It’s also a little bit cute how Emily copied Panda’s “dance with a random person to make the cheating boyfriend jealous” and now Panda is giving Thomas an emotionally ambiguous hate-kiss. I just hope that they all get a couple of good scenes until the finale, especially Pandora (oh, WHERE WAS PANDORA in this episode? How is Effy’s best friend not at all in any scenes with Effy in an episode that is about her mental breakdown?)

They should have mentioned Tony. He would have rushed to the hospital from wherever he is now the second Anthea called him. I hope he’s at least mentioned in Effy’s episode.

Katie’s “I don’t mingle with Goths”. I’m not sure whether the Katie after the party scene is actually really Katie, but this was still very very clearly her.


Anonymous said...

Just a note on titling - this was actually, theoretically, Freddie's episode. That Effy pretty much stole it from him says all that needs to be said about him as a character...

flame gun for the cute ones said...

Ah, embarrassing. I knew that. Freudian slip, fixed, THANKS!!