Saturday 5 March 2011

Skins - You look at what’s changed and you find a way to own it.

Skins 5x06: Alo.
Yeah, when I was only 17,
I could hear the angels whispering
So I droned into the words and wandered aimlessly about
Until I heard my mother shouting through the fog
It turned out to be the howling of a dog
Or a wolf to be exact, the sound sent shivers down my back
But I was drawn into the pack and before long
They allowed me to join in and sing their song
So from the cliffs and highest hill, yeah
We would gladly get our fill
Howling endlessly and shrilly at the dawn
And I lost the taste for judging right from wrong
So if you're gonna' get made,
Don't be afraid of what you've learned.

Blitzen Trapper: Furr

Relationships between parents and children on Skins are never without complications, but it’s rare that the blame for a terrible situation is evenly distributed. Usually, parents cause damage by being absent, negligent or over-protective – on occasion, the care and love of a parent isn’t quite as much appreciated as might be expected from the sheer contrast between terrible and good parents on Skins (Rich’s father comes to mind). The centre of Alo’s episode the relationship with his parents, and it’s difficult to find just one side to blame for what clearly is a situation far from ideal. His parents run a farm that doesn’t look either profitable or like it has much future and expect him, the only child, to eventually take it over – and, since Alo’s performance in school isn’t good, they see no reason to allow him to continue his education. It is only slowly revealed in the course of the episode that the mother’s strictness (that comes across as cruel, mostly) is rooted in a fear that Alo’s dad isn’t going to be able to continue working on the farm because of an unnamed illness which both parents have kept secret from their son. The parents are sincerely concerned about their livelihood (“There are bigger problems in this world than you and your poxy little friends my lad. You need to try harder, Alo. You are not being fair.”); Alo is trying to, even though rather aimlessly, live his own life, and enjoy the same freedom his friends take for granted.
Skins tackled a similar issue with Sketch – even though the economic backgrounds of the characters are different, they usually have choices about their future (depending on their academic access, but not really on their parents’ situation). Alo and Sketch are limited in their choices
His limitations start with whether or not he can attend his own surprise birthday party (Richard made vol-au-vents!). His parents expect him to work on the farm and utilize the practical if depressing birthday presents he received, but Alo sneaks off to an unseen party, upon which his mother decides that he should not get to finish his education, especially since his “projected grades” (which came with “an application form for Nando’s stapled to them.”) do not point to a successful academic future.

Anne: We’ve decided you’re leaving college. Today.
Alo: What?
Anne: We tried to be reasonable with you, Alo, but last night was the final straw. We tried to give you a choice but you have let yourself down again, haven’t you. From now on, you’re gonna work here with your father so we can keep an eye on you.
Alo: You’re joking? I’m not leaving college, mum.
The scene is played for the comedy, but it’s a cruel moment because Alo gets completely shut out of the decision making process about his future (he is literally sitting on the other side of the closed door to David Blood’s office), and once he realizes that his mother has a made a decision, he doesn’t really actively fight it and resigns to sulking quietly.
David Blood: So here, on the form, where it says reason for leaving, I’ll put simpleton.
Anne: He’s just a bit…
David Blood: Useless? Well, it’s very refreshing to see parents taking an honest appraisal of their child’s limitation.
Anne: We just don’t know what else to do with him.
David Blood: Of course you don’t. And why should you.
The way Roundview manages its students and their issues is always ridiculed and offers comic relief, but like the failing therapists and doctors, and many of the unfit parents, it is just another institution that continually fails to provide a safe environment for the characters of the show. It’s an over-the-top portrayal of what it means for individuals when institutions are undermined in a numbers-game. Alo isn’t the kind of student Roundview needs to meet its quotas, and in combination with parents that do not recognize the importance of education, it lets him down completely.
The point of view of his parents is examined too, but our sympathy naturally lies with Alo, whose choices aren’t that much more irresponsible than those of some of his mates, but he isn’t free to make them. He cares about his parents, too – and his friends don’t really understand when he explains to them that he can’t just let them down, burn down the farm and live his own life, because they can’t relate to his specific situation (Alo doesn’t even manage to explain what is happening to him to his best friend Rich, the closest he comes during the episode is, of all people Mini).
Matty: So where do you draw the line? You’re a person, Alo, not a cow. It’s your life, so you get to choose. That’s the deal.
Alo: I know they’re being shitty. But I can’t just wreck the farm, it’s all they got, and I, you know.
Matty: No. What.
Alo: I love them, and stuff.
Rich: Haha, you’re gay for your parents.
Mini: And what exactly are we doing in this shithole?
Franky: Alo fancies his parents even though they’re making him drop out for free slave labour on the farm.
Matty: You got to do something, mate, cause they won’t stop. They’ll just keep grinding you down till you’re miserable and soulless and just like them.
Liv: You’ve gotta stick it to the man, brov.
Matty knows how it feels to be trapped in a life he doesn’t want by a tyrannical father, but his decision to rebel and leave doesn’t actually threaten his family, since nobody depends on him.

Alo doesn’t rebel against what his mother forces him to do (knowing from experience that it won’t do any good), but he doesn’t actually comply either, instead he settles for passive frustration (and distractions). The frustration is two-folds. On the one hand, he sees the miserable situation on the farm that is probably never going to change and his dad, settling (the unmovable rock that has always been there even though it makes working the field harder is the perfect symbol for his dad’s resignation), on the other, he sees his individuality completely denied –
Alo: Rags doesn’t like baths.
Anne: He’s farm property, he likes what the farm tells him to like.
Alo: Yeah, a lot of that going around, isn’t it.
Anne: Everything that boy touches turns to shit. You’re a disgrace, Aloysius Creevey, you’re a disgrace to me and you’re a disgrace to this family.
Owen: She’s right, mate. You need to sort yourself out.
He accidentally blows up the cow. The escalation of the situation doesn’t happen because of an active and intended act of resistance, but because of Alo’s carelessness, and he learns brutally that he still has a lot more to lose when his mum takes away all his possessions and his dog.
Alo: Dad, she’s taking my fucking dog. Look, I don’t care about the van, or the computer, the telly, whatever, just not Rags. Alright? Alright, dad? Please.
This is the point when Alo’s passive acceptance of his destiny ends.

Grace and Rich

One of the greatest achievements of this season so far is how subtly all the other relationships are developed in episodes that don’t actually focus on them, especially Grace and Rich. Rich’s transformation is clear in the scenes when nobody is watching him and he is just obviously happy and content (and wearing a ridiculous smiley happy face). The easy and slowly growing relationship of the two is also a stark contrast to Nick and Mini, because neither of them is pretending or trying to hide.
Rich: Why didn’t you run?
Grace: I didn’t want to mess up your hair. I love you quite a bit, Rich.
Rich: Eugh,
Grace: You remember the other day, when we were going to…
Rich: Yeah.
Grace: So tonight then?
It’s not complicated. It’s no fake “desperately trying to lose their virginity because it is expected”. There’s no drama. And it doesn’t even happen on camera – it’s a beautifully understated moment when Alo goes over to Rich and the only indication of what just happened is Rich’s complete and utter bliss and almost giddy happiness. This is probably not going to last long, considering Skins affinity for Joss Whedon-like chaos and destruction, but so far, it’s one of the sweetest relationships on the show ever. 


The fall-out of Nick’s episode mostly takes place in the background and in the quiet moments in-between. Nick has moved on and is flirting with a random girl at the party, Mini enters the scenery late, looking slightly out of place in her outfit, and unsure about where her place is now. She is looking for a new context and a new narrative now that she isn’t the perfect girl with the perfect boyfriend anymore, and that open space provides for some of the most interesting (and unlikely) interactions in this episode (it’s almost like she sees the world with new eyes, in a way). The first person she talks to is Franky, and this actually reverses their roles from the first episode completely, when Mini was the settled character with the established circle of friends and Franky had to figure out her place.
Mini: Hi babes.
Franky: Alright?
Mini: Yeah. Except I try to not touch anything. Who’s your crusty boyfriend?
Franky: Fuck off, he’s Matty’s mate or something.
Mini: Oh, I see. We wouldn’t want Matty getting jealous, would we?
Franky: What the fuck are you on about?
Mini: I’ve seen the way you look at each other. I say go for it. Liv would do it to you in a heartbeat.
Franky: You know what. Mini, I’m trying really fucking hard to show people that you’re not a complete bitch.
This is, in a way, the escalation of the pub scene in the previous episode (“why not Franky?”). I have a couple of theories about Franky which, at this point, really aren’t founded at all because Franky doesn’t share this aspect of her personality. She gets defensive (like she did in the first episode) even though Mini wasn’t attacking her.
It’s the “Liv would do it to you in a heartbeat” line that sets her off because Liv is Franky’s friend (there’s that genuine smile at her when Franky walks away from Mini). At this point, Franky is the person that connects Mini to the others – Mini isn’t friends with Alo or Rich, and she is still fighting with Liv – and Franky’s one condition has always been to recognize the importance of friendship and to stop the backstabbing and the name-calling.
But this is also a turning point for Franky because somebody else noticed (and it’s usually Franky who notices these things when they happen to others), and I don’t think that she has her own feelings for Matty figured out at all at this point.
Franky walks off to dance by herself close to the people who’s friendship she cherishes, and Mini sees Alo with her new un-prejudiced eyes and there’s a genuine smile, for the first time, when she sees him dancing ridiculously by himself, and then she goes over to DANCE with him (Nick’s “she can’t dance” and her decision not to join the others in the shopping mall and Franky’s “Come and dance”), with the guy she wouldn’t have talked to in the beginning of the series, much less associated with him.


Franky goes off to dance by herself but the guy doesn’t leave her alone, and she pushes his hands away but he still won’t let her be, and finally she pushes him and he pushes back (“Dyke”) and it’s the worst thing ever because of Franky’s history and because she has just started to feel safe in the little family she’s built for herself. 
Liv: You alright? What was that, in there?
Franky: Just some prick.
Liv: Franky… what’s the deal?
Franky: What do you mean?
Liv: I mean, like, do you like boys, or… coz no one cares. Fuck, I could tell you some stories about Mini that would surprise you. People get curious, is all. […] Fair enough.
This SCENE! It’s a brilliant set-up because usually Franky is the one who appears out of nowhere when someone is in this situation – in the first episode, Grace appeared suddenly when she tried to disappear instead of facing a problem, and now it’s Liv, and while it is a kind and surprising gesture from Liv, it also adds another layer of complications to this conversation because of Matty. The way Liv asks is wonderful – at first assuring Franky that she isn’t in any danger regardless of the answer, and then actually asking the question (people always assume things about Franky, they never ASK). Franky doesn’t answer and, and these are theories, I think there isn’t an answer. I think Franky is fascinated by people in general and attracted to a spirit she recognizes in people, not by their gender, and at the same time she is a bundle of complexity and issues – bodies are complicated, sex is complicated, attraction is complicated – and she just spent years being defined and tortured by gossip and rumours. She feels so uncomfortable in the situation that she almost tries to disappear and at the same time she doesn’t run away because Liv is a friend who she trusts (and Dakota Blue Richards and Laya Lewis are so brilliant in the scene – there is no way of even remotely capturing the complexities of their body language in words), and then Liv reaches out to her and kisses her on the hand, because it’s fine that Franky doesn’t have an answer because she is still safe and among friends.
Franky watches people and tries to make sense of them and is genuinely interested in them – I think this is the driving force for her art, too. She walks up those stairs in Nick’s house and can’t help but watch – sex and bodies and lust, it’s all complicated – and maybe Franky has issues with the transition from being the observer to actually becoming an active character in the story. Franky is trying to understand this situation and how she fits into it without the camera that usually allows her to frame people. It’s difficult to interpret this scene without any knowledge about what is going to happen in the next few episodes, and when all we have is Franky’s reactions, but no explanations or any insight into her thoughts.

Growing up.
Alo: Come on then, dad, let’s have it, shall we? Why don’t you tell me exactly what mum thinks.
Anne: Owen, don’t.
Alo: Oh, sorry mum. Does he need your permission first? Look at you. You’re ball-less, and miserable, and fucking…old. What are you gonna do, ey? What are you gonna do?
Alo finally voices all his frustrations and his dad collapses – he didn’t know that his dad was sick, because his parents tried to protect him from this, when it would have helped him to understand their decisions. Instead, his mum shuts him out completely – his dad goes to the hospital and Alo stays back, and when he goes to Nick’s party, he doesn’t connect to anyone because nobody would understand – until somebody kind of does, and it’s the one person that has just had her entire life turned around and is trying to fit into a new situation.
Mini: You okay, farm boy?
Alo: I think I fucked up.
Mini: It’s only a bit of flour and eggs. Can’t say the place was a palace to begin with.
Alo: No, like, really fucked up. It’s just, when did it all get so fucking hard.
Mini: Well, That’s what happens. But you adapt, don’t you? You look at what’s changed and you find a way to own it.
Alo: I think I’ll just go and see Rich. You’re actually alright, aren’t you?
Mini: Yeah? I’m alright. I thought you were fucking off.
Mini, who was all “I try not to touch anything” at Alo’s house, touches his shoulder and provides comfort and a valid insight that resonates with Alo, especially after he finds that Rich is now in a (very happy) place he can’t relate to at all. “Keep thinking it, mate. Me and you. We’re growing up and it’s fucking awesome. This is it, mate. Fucking living. You alright?” – which isn’t what Alo is experiencing. Initially Alo wants to return to their shared childhood dream of running away and becoming roadies, but Rich has moved on, and the words sound ridiculous to him even as he speaks them. Growing up isn’t this wonderful happy place for Alo where everything finally falls into place, it’s having to accept that there are limits to his freedom because his dad “has got a bad couple of years coming”. Alo has to go home and figure out how he can “own” the new situation if he doesn’t want to end up completely frustrated and alone – and he DOES love his parents, leaving them isn’t actually an option.
Alo: Where is he?
Anne: Like you care.
Alo: Of course I care, mum.
Anne: If you cared, Alo, you wouldn’t have done this to us. You knew he wasn’t well.
Alo: No, you didn’t. You don’t tell me anything.
Anne: Can you blame us?
Alo: I’m sorry, mum.
Anne: I just don’t know what to do with you anymore, Alo.
Alo: I’m gonna try, okay. I’m really gonna try to be better. But you need to try too. Sometimes you make me feel so fucking useless. But I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna grow up.
So he removes the unmovable rock from the field. Nice one, Alo.

Random notes:

The scene between Franky and Liv is… I have this list in my head of scenes that will always stay with me that define the brilliance of Skins (and justify all those hours spent watching and capping and desperately trying to find words that are never really enough).

Despite the solemn tone of the review that just happened (no idea where it came from, to be honest), the episode was actually REALLY REALLY FUN for the most part, and it was the good kind of ridiculous fun that didn’t actually negate Alo as a serious character, which has always been one of the issues in Anwar’s characterization. Also, WILL MERRICK!

“Get in my gob you big yellow bastard.”

BANANA PORN. Ultra-wank. Appearance of a new issue (since the old one’s tragic demise in Cook’s locker fire) of Asian Fanny Fun, on a string, used as a lure by Liv. A pig (pullover), and improper images were drawn on faces.

Grace dances with one of the lingerie models when she enters the pub.

Alo hugging Rich without meeting any resistance was a cute little moment – Rich actually does compromise (“I don’t do hugs”) when it’s important and necessary.

MILK BOMB WAR. I love these scenes that were just obviously really entertaining for the cast and crew to shoot.

Nick standing up for Franky at the party – PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT EACH OTHER AND TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER. Eight favourite characters, seriously (or, like, seven and one glorious fucking headfuck thing – I think I might have to dust off that old banner and put a new name on it).

Mini is maybe not completely straight (even though I took Liv’s remark about the “stories” as an indication of drunken snogging, whatever is going on between her and Franky is a bit more complicated) 

“Greetings. Welcome to Chez Levan. The old boy is off conferencing and Matty said we should party, and I said, yes, why not, that’s the kind of guy I am.”