Thursday 6 January 2011

Skins - This is all my luck. This is what I got.

Skins: 2x08 Jal.

“You’ve got a lot to carry”
“Chris, I’m pregnant. I want to keep the baby. Is that okay? Chris, I’m pregnant, I’m gonna have an abortion, is that okay?”
Jal is trying to make a decision this episode, while everybody else is worrying about something else. Her friends are preparing for finals. Michelle just got back together with Tony and it is as if nothing else has happened in-between: once again, he is all she can think and talk about. The doctor tells her that she has to make a decision. The teachers question her about her future. Her father tells her what she should or shouldn’t do (about Chris, her dad says: “Look me in the eye and swear to me this boy is not going to mess you up somehow.”). And all the while, Jal is struggling so desperately to do this alone, to make up her mind before even going to anyone else about this, and she can’t.

Chris, meanwhile, is keeping secrets too. He is trying to build a life while battling a nagging feeling that he might be running out of time. He prepares a romantic dinner (consisting of burnt toast, a beer, a penis-shaped candle and “Uptown Top Ranking” by Althea & Donna) and asks Jal to move in with him – “I want your stuff to be in this house. What could be better than that?” – which means that Jal has to make another decision. While her friends think about which University they will go to and what to do in the time in-between, Jal has to choose between having a family of her own at seventeen, or having an abortion and going on with her life the way she has planned so meticulously. And it is an impossible decision to make. In Jal’s room in her father’s house, it all comes down to a decision between Chris’ keys and her clarinet.

The one person who sees both sides of the charade and understands (she has seen this coming for a long time, “yours in the post, Jal”) is Cassie.
Cassie: “I haven’t spoken to you in such a long time, Jal.”
Jal: “I’ve got to revise Cass.”
Cassie: “It’s not like you need to. Forget the books, let’s talk.”
Jal: “What about?”
Cassie: “I dunno. Everything. Every little detail.”
Jal: “I don’t know There’s nothing really to talk about.”
Cassie: “I’m really happy, Jal. Things worked out for once. Isn’t that great?”
Jal: “Sid?”
Cassie: “He just left. We’ve been getting to know each other again. A lot.”
Jal: “Cool.”
Cassie: “And it’s lovely having someone who cares about you. All your worries feel lighter when you’ve got someone to tell them to. Yeah? We can carry on pretending if it makes you feel any better. We can carry on pretending, if it makes you feel any better. Treat it like a role play. I love drama.”
Jal: “What?”
Cassie: “Do you wanna play Jal, or should I? Shut up, Cassie. I'm trying to revise here.
I've got so much to do, so little time. Revision, even though I'm going to Music College, I can't help myself. I've gotta revise, cos it takes my mind off being pregnant.”
Jal: “What?!”
Cassie: “All these books. Stops me thinking about anything. Stops me thinking about why I'm keeping a secret from my boyfriend.”
Jal: “Please...”
Cassie: “Or my best friends.”
Jal: “Please don't tell, Cass.”
Cassie: “Secrets hurt.  It's only a matter of time before you and Chris know everything
about each other, Jal. And there's a lot of secrets out there. Breakfast?  Bye.”
For me, this scene recalls Cassie explaining her eating disorder to Sid in the first season: she has a way of confronting people with the truth that makes it impossible to ignore her, or to dismiss her point. She is suffering too, because of the responsibility of knowing both of their secrets and being told, by both Chris and Jal, not to tell. And finally, she knows where this is going to end.

The closest she ever comes to admitting what is happening to her is telling Michelle “Estoy embarazada” – which buys her time, because Michelle needs to look it up in a dictionary before comprehending what she has just been told. The person who does know how to deal with this is Cassie, which is strange since they are probably the two most different characters of the show: Jal, usually with both of her feet firmly on the ground and a very realistic way of dealing with life, always with a plan, never willing to just take a leap of faith, and Cassie… well, Cassie. But Cassie understands that Jal can’t tell because “telling him will make it real and you’ll have to decide”, so she tells a story to Jal and makes it possible for her to leave her own skin for a bit, when they go to a casino (the closest thing to a magic land) where they call themselves Gretel and Esmeralda and try to find a treasure.
Cassie: “You can put any face behind a mask, but be careful.”
Jal: “Why?”
Cassie: “Cause someone else might be pretending.”
Jal: “Huh?”
Cassie: “You might not be the only one with a secret.”
Don’t you get it, Alda? This is nowhere. Nothing matters here. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“What would my mum say? Where is my mum?”

The episode also succeeds in showing how Jal’s difficulties to come to a decision are tied to her own family, to her father who she does not trust because she still doesn’t know what he did to make her mum leave, to her mum, who left her children behind and never called or wrote. She tells her dad that she is pregnant, quietly, and he tells her not to throw away the life that he has intended for her, but she tells him that he has no right to tell her what to do, considering that he fucked up his own life. All the while, in tiny scenes, we see Chris’ side: who doesn’t really grasp what is happening and why Jal is so distant, and whenever the camera lingers on him for a bit, we see that something isn’t quite right (and that he is taking pills, the kind of pills you are supposed to take). And he says it, right before she goes to the audition in London: “I fucking love you. You’ll move in with him, and I could be like dying, and you wouldn’t even know about it.”

“I’ll play the fucking Webern”

The two scenes that show Jal exceeding at things, in spite of the incredible conflict she is going through, are probably my favourite of both of her episodes: she stubbornly plays the difficult piece perfectly, leaving the board amazed and with their mouths open, and then she just leaves before the accompanying piano has even played the final note. While she plays, we see the rest of the pieces for this episode fall into place: Chris goes to sleep, Michelle comes to their door to ask whether Jal has made her decision yet (“She always does what she’s supposed to do.”, is Cassie’s response), but she and Cassie still can’t talk to each other because of what happened.

When Jal comes home to her dad’s house, she finds her mum, and she explains to her that she left because it seemed easier than taking care of her children, easier than the everyday business of being a mother. She had a choice. At some point during this conversation, Jal realizes that the only thing she can’t become is a bad mother, and she throws her own mum out because there is no place for her in her life and she is still trying to protect her brothers. Her mum says: “The one thing your father couldn’t forgive was: I wasn’t honest. I couldn’t tell him.” – and this is when Jal decides to tell Chris, but it’s too late.
Jal [in Spanish]: “I think I’ve finally realized what it means to be grown up. I always wondered, you know? But it’s easy. It’s when you have to decide one way or another, And nobody can help you. If I do nothing, six months from now, I’ll have a baby. People need to know that but they’ll be hurt and angry and I’m petrified. That’s probably why I’m having a little difficulty taking this exam seriously.”
So when Jal makes the decision to tell, and goes to Chris’, she finds Cassie completely freaked out, sitting on the table, hugging her knees, trying to explain all the secrets that she had to keep. It always comes down to hallways in hospitals.
Jal: “Cassie, nothing’s making sense. […]  Cassie, what’s wrong with Chris? […] Cassie, I don’t wanna play anymore. What the fuck’s going on?”
Cassie: I told you. He had a bit of a headache; he just nipped down to the hospital.”
Jal: “Nipped… to the hospital? What’s wrong with him?”
Cassie: “What if I just told him your secret?”
Jal: “What?”
Cassie: “You’re not the only one Jal.”
Jal: “What are you on about Jal, Chris doesn’t have any secrets. I know everything there is to know about him.”
Cassie: “You never saw the pills?”
Jal: “Chris is always taking pills, and I’m always telling him to stop.”
Cassie: “Not those kind. The kind you are supposed to take.”
Jal: “What?”
Cassie: “Because there’s something wrong with you.”
Jal: “What kind of pills, Cassie?”
Cassie: “He fell on the floor, Jal. There was blood in his ear, I didn’t know what to do.”
Jal: “I keep stepping on mines, Cass.”
Cassie: “I know.”
At this point, it’s too late for the truth. Chris is on drugs and can’t properly explain, he just says “Shh. It’s a secret. Noone knows. Don’t tell Jal, cause if you tell Jal, then she won’t move in with me anymore.”, and finally, Jal tells him that she is pregnant, but he isn’t going to remember. A nurse or a doctor tells her about the blood knot – “The hereditary aspect. The brother. The brother died of the same thing.” – and suddenly Jal realizes why Chris lives the way he does, from day to day, fearlessly, and I think one of the things that still amaze me most about Skins is how we can, after so many episodes, still find out an essential aspect of a character that we didn’t even know we were missing before, but it all makes sense. Jal gives him all her luck, and off he goes.

Random notes:

Harriet: “Never in my 25 years as a teacher have I come across a year 13 so utterly, catastrophically, terminally stupid.”
I might have heard something along these lines in my final year at school, so I guess it just happens to be a universal feeling.

Harriet: “We will be centre of excellence, if it kills me, got it?”

I thought Skins captured this feeling before finals perfectly here (Anwar’s “Ignorance is fucking bliss, man, I was fine before. I was totally fine before I started revising.” is exactly what must of my friends felt like before graduating) – and while I watched this, I realized that I actually missed this about the second gen. There results came out of nowhere and were impossible to predict beforehand, and I didn’t really have a sense of them still even going to school, apart from the scenes in which someone was threatened with being expelled, or actually expelled.

It is sad that, at this point, Maxxie seems like a smaller character than Sketch. He does, in a very by-the-way kinda way, introduce his boyfriend James, AND THAT IS THAT. And now he’s a girl with a funky name who will apparently be one of the most important characters in the US version.

Jal’s mum makes her the same food Chris’ attempted and of course it’s perfect, but she throws it away because it is now meaningless.

Cassie always relies on fairy tales. Maybe I’ll get back to that with the apple in the next episode?

I also love that this episode only needs one tiny scene to show that the friendship between Michelle and Jal, despite of everything that has happened, is still as strong as ever, and it only takes one embrace (and it feels… more like a whole thing, instead of something that is way, way too rushed, like the Katie-Effy thing)

Daniel Kaluuya, who wrote this episode, will always have a special place in my heart (and yes, I was pretty excited when he appeared alongside Hannah Murray in Chatroom).

No comments: