Monday 14 February 2011

Skins - We're in love.

Skins 5x03: Mini.

Skins is so captivating and engaging because there is no distance between the viewers and the characters. For the duration of the episode, we follow them around and we are trapped in their perception of the world. Sometimes there are scenes in the show when more distance would be comfortable, where it would be easier to look away – instead of seeing Chris die, painfully, instead of seeing characters self-destruct – but Skins stays with them, no matter what. It stays close, and not to be exploitative or shocking, but because it lies in the nature of its narrative and mode of storytelling not to turn away.
I thought Franky was a brilliant episode to start this generation, an episode that focused on the character that is still my favourite of the group. Rich was beautifully constructed, visually stunning and very easy to like. But there is something at the core of Mini, something brave and brutal and honest that sets it apart from the previous episodes.

“You are meant to be my best friends”

Mini McGuinness is a construct that takes time. She’s all ritual and control, a hard daily routine to ensure that she can stay where she is: at top, at the centre of attention. She bases her identity on an ideal she assembles from magazines, and when someone else threatens her position, or undermines her, she immediately reacts. When she finds out that Grace has involved Franky (“Oh, I didn’t realize you were still friends”) in the costume-making for a fashion show she has organized, she completely destroys Grace’s plans in front of David Blood (“I fear she’s having some kind of personal crisis.”) – not because she has any particular complaints about the concept, but because Grace has dared to involve someone she considers an enemy without seeking her approval first. Mini has probably been doing this for a while now, but Grace has always come back, always forgiven her – and what Mini hasn’t noticed is that things have changed now. Grace has a new friend, and she has Rich. Both of them have influenced her, and Mini can’t rely on her friends coming back for more abuse anymore – but she doesn’t realize that she is about to lose them because she is so focused on her position in the school’s hacking order, and on her relationship with Nick (who, despite the fact that they’ve only been dating for a month, covers the same amount of wall-space in her room as her friends do).

Grace: It’s just, you’ve been really rude to me. And it’s not fair. Can you just stop being bitches so we can all be friends?
Mini: I can’t believe you just called us bitches. Bitches. See, I told you Liv, major attitude problem.
Liv: That was just uncalled for.
Grace: No it wasn’t. You are meant to be my best friends and you just told everyone that I’m having a breakdown, and I’m not.
Mini: You only have yourself to blame.
Grace only has herself to blame because she dared to befriend someone Mini doesn’t approve of and because she questioned, even if she didn’t intend to, Mini’s authority. She will, later on, make a kind of a peace offer at the after party, but Mini doesn’t even recognize it as such since she is too focused on what has been going on between Nick and Liv.

“This must be true, true love.”
Nick: Do you not wanna know what my surprise is? My dad went away until Saturday. We finally have the house to ourselves.
Mini: Fashion show comes first.
Nick: That’s just another excuse. I’ve waited weeks for this. You said you wanted to next time I had a free … […] I do the fashion show, you stay over tonight.
Mini: You’re the ultimate boyfriend. Oh, bring a friend too. But I might not be in the mood tonight, I’ve just been really stressed.
Nick: Stressed living up to your rep?
Mini: What rep? I’m not a slag.
Nick: From the stories you tell you’re no virgin. ARE YOU?
Mini: I’m just not sure you’ll be able to handle me.
Nick: Babe, you don’t wanna know what I’ve handled.
Mini: I really don’t.
Nick: My exes are nothing compared to you, and I promise tonight will be special.
Mini: Of course. It will be amazing. Perfect.
Everything about this is wrong. Nick, considering sleeping with Mini as a reward for him, rather than something they share. Mini, trying desperately to both live up to the expectations she thinks others have of her (practicing positions from a magazine, training even harder to look perfect) and to uphold all the lies and half-truths she has told in order to shape her image the way she thinks she has to.
This isn’t Nick’s episode, but he isn’t in an easy position either, and also concerned about his image – this is what he complains about to Liv, fearing that he will look ridiculous at the fashion show – and he can’t talk to Mini about anything. He can’t share his fears because he has created a character for himself that he thinks she will like, just as she has done for him (and while they are unable to really communicate with each other, they both know the other’s weaknesses – Mini manipulates Nick by using his competitiveness, he dares her to drink by saying “don’t be boring, babes”). They both have their own house of cards, and it starts to crumble when Mini can’t bring herself to sleep with Nick and Nick discovers that he cares about Liv, who is careless and seems to worry about nothing.
The dog runs up with the heart in its mouth
And drops it bloody at my feet
Roses pester at my ankles
The heart lies bloody at my feet

Diane Cluck: Petite Roses
Mini finally finds herself in a situation she can’t get out of; back at Rider’s apartment after a failed attempt to stop what is happening by taking Nick’s keys, trapped. She panics about everything: her looks, her breath, her smell – and at the same time, she is desperately trying to get a confirmation that he does love her (“we’re in love”, she told her mum in an earlier scene), that her fantasy holds true.
Mini:  You’re amazing.
Nick: And you’re fucking hot.
Mini: Is that why you’re with me?
Nick: It’s a bonus. You’re sexy. Fit arse. What’s wrong?
Mini: Liv’s panting is ruining the mood.
Nick: At least she’s having fun.
Mini: I can’t do this.
Nick: Babe, it’s been way over a month. What’s the big deal, don’t you fancy me?
Mini: You know I do. I love you.
Nick: Show me then.
Nick can’t even bring himself to lie. SHOW ME THEN. No “I love you too”, or anything that would imply that he actually does. When there is no other way out, her body reacts violently, and that finally makes her the joke of the school the next day (I assume Rider told everyone, even though Mini first suspects Liv), and then slowly, everything she has built up falls apart. She loses control over the fashion show (when Nick says the worst thing he can, when she is already suspecting that something is going on between him and Liv – “Babe, no offence, but this looks way better on Liv”) and David Blood sends her home; she loses track of Nick; she resorts to fully embracing the idea of becoming someone else (Emily’s “fake tan, fake boyfriend” comes to mind) – because when she looks into a mirror and recognizes herself, all she can see is her flaws so she might as well become the “Barbie” with the fake hair and the fake tan. When she finds Nick, she is fully determined to take him home to win him back, willing to do anything, but his priorities have changed – “I can’t abandon the troops. Reward comes from dedication, hard work, passion. You can reward me after.” – and then, she sees the fashion show succeed without her, everybody having more fun in Grace’s and Franky’s costumes and without her commanding every single move.

Love, and real love, is a recurring theme in this episode. Mini is so obsessed with her idea of it that she doesn’t recognize reality, or the fact that other people really love her, people she treats terribly. She confronts Liv at the after-party to the fashion show because she can’t find Nick, she only knows that he has tried to call Liv, instead of answering her increasingly desperate calls.
Liv: Mini, what’s going on with you? You’re freaking me and Nick out. I know you haven’t slept together. Just don’t do it, he doesn’t love you.
Mini: You’ve been bitching behind my back. This is so typical of you, you’ve always been jealous of me. […] Explain why you’re calling my boyfriend, sleeping next to him, dancing next to him on stage. I’m warning you; keep your whore hands away from him.
Liv: I am not going to let you shit all over me, because I know you, and I know that under all of that make-up, you’re just a frightened little virgin. Look. I still love you. But I am the only one. So grow up, okay, before you’ve got no one. Get it together, you stupid bitch.
Mini gets the “I love you” she has asked for from Nick this entire episode from the wrong person.
Georgia Lester wrote both Pandora’s episode and Katie’s in the fourth season. She wrote one of the best friendship scenes in the entire history of Skins – when Pandora, frustrated and angry, tells Effy that she needs to care more about their friendship and about her because she isn’t nothing – and the conversation between Effy and Katie by the harbour, in which two characters that clashed violently before finally came to terms by discussing the difference between fantasy and reality.
In Mini, it’s Franky who almost succeeds to give Mini a different perspective. This whole scene is written, played and directed beautifully – they sit together but are positioned so that they don’t have to look at each other (but we can see both their faces at the same time) – and at the end, Mini finally GIVES something, she stops fighting back.
Franky: You got a lighter? Looks like you’re having a pretty shit time.
Mini: I can’t find Nick.
Franky: Grace is here.
Mini: I know.
Franky: I’m not trying to ruin your life, Mini.
Mini: Could have fooled me.
Franky: When I first met you guys, I thought you were a nasty bunch of self-absorbed, attention-seeking cocks.
Mini: Are you looking for a fight?
Franky: It was hard to see why you were hanging out together. But then I got it. You make each other laugh, you look out for each other; you love each other.
Come and dance.
It takes an outsider like Franky to explain to Mini how valuable her friendships are. Mini’s “I know” when Franky points out that Grace is here just shows that Mini takes her for granted – we’ve seen in the scene before that Grace doesn’t consider Mini a friend anymore. Franky tries again – the same way Grace tried with her in the first episode – even though Mini was so brutal to her before, and for the first time, Mini doesn’t immediately defend herself by deflecting and attacking. When Franky demands the lighter in the end without saying a word, she smiles a bit, like she finally understands something she hasn’t before, and then she goes with Franky. Instead of finishing off the fashion show gloriously with her perfect boyfriend, she decides to go with the girl she has ridiculed in front of the entire school.

But Mini doesn’t have a happy ending. On the dance floor, the very moment the music starts to get so loud that it drowns out any conversation, she sees Nick and Liv coming out of a closet together, both dishevelled, and she knows exactly what happened – and the first instinct she has is to tell Franky, who is watching everything – “You didn’t just see that, okay?”, because she can ignore it, she can uphold her fantasy and pretend like nothing ever happened and Franky is the only person who realizes that she would be lying to herself. At that very moment, when Franky is trying to figure out the situation and is probably considering what she can do, she sees Matty watching her watching them, and it’s almost like she is happy because he isn’t a fantasy after all, he actually exists, but it only takes that short moment of not paying attention and Mini is gone.

“Let’s blank today out, it didn’t happen. None of it happened. Please.”

Instead of attacking Nick for sleeping with somebody else, she asks him to take her back to his, to forget everything that has happened, and he does, even though he knows that Liv is a better match. Mini, who he knows nothing about, who doesn’t trust him enough to tell him her secrets, is still the girl he considers the hottest in school, the girl that he can show off with.
Nick: Mini, anything you wanna tell me.
Mini: I love you. Anything you wanna tell me? You love me too, don’t you?
Nick: Yeah. I love you too.
It’s not romantic. There is no connection.
Sometimes Skins just doesn’t look away just because it would be the more comfortable thing to do.
The “I love you” is a lie, one of many, and in the end, the thing Mini has been afraid and that should be beautiful because she is supposed to be in love is horrible and painful, and Nick is gone the next morning because it didn’t mean as much to him as it did to her, and he doesn’t even bother to pretend.
Don't be afraid, it's only love
Love is simple
Don't be afraid, you're already dead
Love is simple.

Akron/Family: Don’t be afraid, it’s only love.
She walks home with her smeared make-up and her torn dress, and then she plays the “he loves me, he loves me not” game quietly with a bouquet of yellow roses on a children’s playground.

“It’s like looking in a mirror!” / “You wish”

Early into the episode, Mini’s mum says “you don’t wanna end up like me” – and this is Mini’s biggest fear. Her mother is alone, sleeping around, she doesn’t have “true love”, and the fear of ending up like her is why Mini creates the fantasy of the perfect boyfriend.
When she walks home from Nick, she suddenly does become the mirror image of her mother – just as dishevelled as she is, with her shoes in her hand, after a night spent with someone random. All she ever wanted was not becoming this person that can’t find true love, and now, all that is left for her to do is walk in her mother’s footsteps to the door of the tiny house in a row of identical and similarly dreadful ones. 

Random notes:

There is now a Mini-shaped hole in my heart. RIDICULOUS. HOW; SKINS; EVERYTIME.

This was one of the most difficult reviews I’ve written in a while, probably since Sid’s second season episode.

There are so many subtle things about this episode: Nick tells Mini that he will “get some food in. For breakfast” – and we’ve already seen how one of Mini’s breakfasts look, and how devastatingly many things there are she can’t lose control over.
Both Freya Mavor and Sean Teale do an incredible job with how their character’s faces change when they aren’t being observed: Nick shows his frustration (or ponders how all of this feels somehow wrong, which he later articulates to Liv) when Mini doesn’t look but immediately covers with a laugh when she does, Mini just looks completely, devastatingly fearful.

I hated Liv in the scene with Grace and I thought it seemed out of character (if that can be said this early into the season), since she silently disapproved of Mini’s cruelty in Franky’s episode but didn’t dare to speak up (while she is now actively participating in the taunting) – but then she reminded me so violently of Katee Sackhoff’s Kara Thrace in the scene with Rider back at his apartment (“except for your personality, maybe you should just stop talking. Good boy”) that I decided to like her no matter what. She’s intriguing though. I want to know what motivates her.

Talking about “out of character” – Franky laughing, seemingly, about Mini after the rumour has spread through the school also seemed odd to me, but maybe she wasn’t laughing about Mini at all and it was just her perspective.

Rider: Stop prettying and start cleaning. Where’s the fucking Demestos?

The cinematography of this entire episode was stunning, but I really noticed it in the scene when Mini realizes that Nick and Liv have been sleeping together on the floor – we see them from above, looking more like a couple than Mini and Nick have in this entire episode, and she stares down at them from her bed.

I really wanted to stab that fitness teacher in the face. “Good girls don’t swallow”. Mini really has nobody in her life she can rely on, apart from Grace and Liv, and she doesn’t even realize how terrible most of the people (and things) she does listen to are for her.

“What is this foolish nonsensery?”

Grace and Rich finally kiss when Grace decides that she is no longer Mini’s friend and can therefore stop caring about whether Mini would approve or not. Alo is ridiculously enthusiastic about the whole thing.

THAT SONG THAT PLAYS DURING THE ENTIRE PARTY SCENE – The whole episode had incredibly fitting and wonderful music, but Fat Segal’s track is so pitch-perfect for that entire scene, it leaves me speechless every time.