Thursday 27 May 2010

Skins - Look up if you like me.

Skins: 1x02 Cassie.


“Cassie” is only the second episode of “Skins”, yet there is an argument to be made that it is the most outstanding of the series. While “Tony” had the hard task of giving a lot of exposition on these characters that are meant to have known each other for some time, “Cassie” is the first episode that really delves into the premise of “Skins”: we spend an hour in the mind of one of the characters, and get their subjective perspective, their specific state of mind. Cassie’s mind is a very special place, and the beginning of the episode sets this up: as she wakes up, in the middle of the complete food-.fight mayhem of Michelle’s house, she emerges like a mysterious creature, seemingly unfazed by the chaos around her. She puts on her clothes, her make-up, and walks away like something from an entirely different world. She is untarnished, clean, which is maybe exactly her issue: she is trying so desperately not to get involved, to stay in control over everything (whenever something gets out of control, she just stops eating until she’s taken to the hospital) – while everybody else makes a habit of spinning out of control.  It only takes one scene to show how much she cares about other people’s happiness: she cares enough to give good advice to Anwar, to tell Michelle that her mum is coming back even though Michelle doesn’t take notice, to give Sid a kiss on the forehead.


The thing about Cassie is: she remains in her own world until the end of this generation. She struggles so hard to accept the limitations and rules, but in the end, she doesn’t: She runs away as far as she can because there is no way that someone so sensitive could deal with the death of a friend, with the fact that the person she loves is never, ever going to love her back the same way. Not taking anything for granted, because everything is precarious, everything is fragile: it’s already happening here. She watches all the people in the bus eat, like it’s the most normal thing in the world, but she doesn’t take a single bite until the very end of the episode. When she enters her home, it’s like she’s invisible. Her parents are wrapped up in each other (literally), and rely on her to take care of the baby, which she does lovingly, but there is no real space for her. When she mentions that it’s her final day at the clinic, her parents barely take notice, and it is almost like they didn’t even realize she had a problem in the first place, much less wondered what they could do to help her solve it. There is also the proposed theory that Cassie’s body image issues might have their roots in her parents’ disturbing exhibitionism.
One of the threads that “Skins” returns to again and again is the idea that due to the absence of reliable parents, the characters try to find security in other relationships. Cassie is struggling to find people to rely on here, and the person she finally turns to, the person who does not fall for her tricks for avoiding eating, the person who cares enough not to walk away, isn’t one of her friend, it’s the taxi driver. Allen tolerates that Cassie puts the weights into her pants to pass the test, but no her fake smile (“hey, don’t give me a smile, not that smile, okay?” /
“Okay Allen. Love you.” / “I love you too tiny.”).
I think one of the most remarkable things of the episode is that after leaving Michelle’s house, Cassie is on her own for a good part of the episode. In the second episode of a new series filled with characters we do not know yet, one of them carries the burden of guiding us through her life all on her own, and Hannah Murray does it incredibly well.

Oh, those crazy health-care professionals…

Really, we should have seen John Foster coming from miles away after Abigail’s mum demonstrated so beautifully how self-absorbed, uncaring, wacky and massively more fucked-up than their patients psychologists are. She is a brilliant contrast to Allen, who cared, and in small scene we see her in, we also see that she is equally irresponsible with her own daughter Abigail (“You failed to comply with my wishes regarding parties and carpets were damaged”), when she tells her to just take her medication because she doesn’t want to talk to her anymore. The “big family” she wants to provide for Cassie to fall back on if things get back again is there for her, “providing you have the arrangements in place for the fees”, and calls after six cost double, thank you very much. I wonder whether Cassie actually realizes that thanking her in the most honest way possible, and kissing her on the forehead, would throw that woman completely. Cassie isn’t exactly a character who is honest at all times, but she knows the potency of secrets and how damaging they can be.


There is also a power in deciding when and how to share a secret with someone. Sid once again stumbles accidentally over some truths here, even though he’s too daft to realize that he is still carrying HER lipstick (“the essence of women.”) around on his forehead.
Cassie: “You love Tony.”
Sid: “Pardon.”
Cassie: “You love Tony. You always talk about him.”
Sid: “Do I?”
Cassie: “I mean, it’s cool you’ve got someone to look up to.”
Nobody needs to tell Cassie any secrets because she already knows everything. It takes Cassie infinitely more bravery and trust to be with someone than anybody else because she knows everybody’s secrets and faults.
Among the many, many favourite scenes that have cumulated over the past four years of “Skins”, I think I’d still take this one over every single other one (yeah, that includes vital parts “Naomi”, sorry Lily.) Cassie trusts Sid. She explains how she doesn’t eat. At the same time, she tells Sid that Mad Twatter has his student ID. And it’s magic, really, much more impressive magic than anything JJ ever pulls off.
Sid: “How do you do it?”
Cassie: “What?”
Sid: “Come on Cass, I mean you never eat anything, I mean your parents must notice or something, I don’t know.”
Cassie: “I like you Sid.”
Sid: “OK”
Cassie: “So I’m going to show you. You have to do a lot of talking, I’m good at talking.”
Cassie says “I’ll keep waving at you until you stop looking at me”, which sums up everybody’s way of dealing with her: everybody realizes that she has a problem, but nobody does anything about it. Within the few minutes that lead to this moment, two people have remarked on her body (Michelle in her sleep and Malcolm, well in her ear-shot), but nobody ever asks her if she is okay. She somehow manages to be the centre of attention and invisible at the same time.
Cassie: “There you go. Job done.”
Sid: “That’s impressive.”
Cassie: “Cheers.”
Sid: “But aren’t you kind of lying to everyone.”
Cassie: “I’m so better. I got discharged from the clinic.”
Sid: “It seems a bit fucked up.”
Cassie: “What?”
Sid: “I just said it seems a bit fucked up, that’s all.”
Cassie: “Oh wow. Well you see… it’s like nobody’s fucking business. And it’s not exactly like anybody cares. So.”
Sid: “I care.”
This moment defines both of these people for me, because for once Cassie is defensive and it’s this tiny glimpse behind her façade, which we usually only get in these small moments when her defeat is written all over her face, but she never says anything. And Sid once again just stumbles, accidentally, over the one important thing to say, and he doesn’t even realize how essential “I care” is for Cassie. He doesn’t realize that knowing someone else’s secret comes with a certain responsibility.
Tony comes crashing into this important moment like he always does. When Tony enters a scene, he is meant to draw all the attention away from the other characters – but Cassie steals his moment. Tony says “You know what Sid. Someone I wonder why you even bother to get up in the morning. You are such a complete and total waste of time and…”, and she pours coke all over him which is something that should never happen to Tony fucking Stonem, to be ridiculed in front of everybody.
The fact that Cassie just wills Sid to be the person who sends her these messages is already an indication of how asymmetric their relationship is going to be in the future. She needs him to actually care, but it’s not really enough.
Cassie: “It’s like totally cool what you’re doing, but it won’t make any difference.”
Sid: “Huh.”
Cassie: “The texts you’re sending. Your messages.”
Sid: “What are you on about, Cass: I mean I’ve got a few problems here of my own.”
Cassie: “I know but thanks anyway, for trying.”
Sid: “Cassie I haven’t been sending you any messages.”
Cassie: “I.. I thought you liked me.”
Sid: “What?”
Cassie: “Nothing.”
He breaks the spell when he points out to her that nobody has been sending her any messages, that this has all happened in Cassie’s mind (the fact that we, the audience, saw all these messages as well, is exactly how “Skins” is supposed to work: we see what is happening from the perspective of the character, no matter how flawed or unreliable their perception might be. We are in JJ’s world in “JJ”, and when we see Freddie absorbed in Effy’s precarious state of mind, the harmless picnickers in the park actually become zombies).

Who wants you to eat?

It’s probably the same slightly obscured perception that turns Cassie’s family into complete strangers when she returns home: she sees them celebrating with champagne, without her, and they appear to be this happy family, a family not missing anyone. Cassie is so painfully unhappy, but there is no place for her to show her true emotional state anywhere. She does not belong here. At the end of season two, she’ll decide that she doesn’t belong into Bristol, into this circle of friends, into any kind of conventional future, but here, it’s enough to have the right phone number available (and it’s not Dr Stock’s). She doesn’t even have to explain to Allen how she avoids eating because he just sees it, and he doesn’t walk away like Sid does in the earlier scene the moment Tony asks him to.
Cassie: “There’s somebody I like. I thought He was sending me a message. Texts and thing, but he wasn’t.”
Allen: “What was the message?”
Cassie: “Eat!”
Allen: “Alright.”
Cassie: “Wasn’t you, was it Allen.”
Allen: “I don’t tell you what to do, Cassie. I’m just a taxi driver.”
Cassie: “So, like, who’s telling me to eat?”
Allen: “Who wants you to eat?  […] You got permission.”
Cassie: “I haven’t got a knife and fork.”
Allen: “You don’t need them.”
Cassie: “No. What kind of day did you have?”
Allen: “Fine.”
Cassie: “Have you got any more good tunes?”
Allen: “Love you Cass.”
Cassie: “I love you too Allen.”
Allen: “So. Eat.”
And it’s like the “I love you” gives her permission to finally eat, because all she needs is for someone to care enough and it’s not her parents, it’s not the doctors responsible for her, it’s not Sid or any of her friends, but “just a taxi driver”. And seriously, I didn’t get over that until the end of the series, because Sid still had so much growing to do to be even remotely qualified to find her there in New York.

Random thoughts:

Just because I kind of really don’t care about that part of the episode: Sid is freaking out about Maddison Twatter, he becomes a substitute teacher, and nobody can help him at all (and the scene in season four’s “Freddie” with Doctor T Love is a total “homage” to Angie not having a clue what to tell Sid).

I hesitate to ask but who exactly decided to make Chris’ cock a running joke? Not that I mind, it’s way more subtle than the “hey, let’s lighten up the post-Freddie-got-killed-with-a-baseball bat-atmosphere with fart jokes” thing they tried to pull off in the fourth season finale.

There is a post-it saying “Reminder: I can’t remember.” on Michelle’s fridge that always makes me smile.

I remember that I liked Anwar much more in the early stages, when we only got these glimpses of him being trapped between two conflicting worlds:

Anwar: “I’m trying to pray to my god here Cass.”
Cassie: “Oh. Wow. Is he listening?”
Anwar: “I hope not. Otherwise he knows about all those pills I nicked last night.”
Cassie: “Think quietly.”

Of course Sid, little lapdoggy Sid, would be sleeping on the floor while Tony and Michelle share the bed. “Skins” was really driving that home as much as possible early into the season.

Somehow, the portrayal of contemporary artists in “Skins” isn’t exactly…flattering? After Cassie’s dad and Cook’s mum, I’m fully expecting a sociopathic installation artist to surprisingly kill a main cast member in season six. DON’T DO IT, JAMIE, THERE IS STILL HOPE FOR YOU!

I had this weird feeling of recognizing both of Cassie’s parents but apparently I’ve never seen them in anything else.

“Fucking Jamie Oliver” is a “smart-arse blonde fucker”. Marnie the fishlady knows what she’s talking about.

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