Thursday 8 March 2012

Skins - And it’s just not love if someone doesn’t love you back.

Skins: 6x07 Alo. 

I’ve been thinking about Mini’s “you find a way to own it” a lot lately. It’s really good advice, because whenever something horrible happens, sometimes people have this way of expecting a specific reaction, like, “this is how I would handle this”, and they measure you by their standards. The point is: everybody has a different way of coping. There’s probably objectively wrong ways to deal with a situation – awful, self-destructive ways – but there’s also just as many different individual approaches that are all valid because everybody has to figure out their own limits. You can’t suddenly become somebody else entirely in the face of a catastrophe. Or if you do, it’ll probably eventually go awry because escaping your own skin is just impossible. That’s why the rock was such a powerful symbol in Alo’s episode last season: his dad tells him that it can’t be moved, but he proves himself, he finds his own way, and it works. He’s putting in the effort, he tries, and he succeeds. He needs this moment more than any other character because he is constantly underestimated – his mother keeps his dad’s medical condition a secret from him because she doesn’t believe in his ability to cope with it. 
And I’m really not arguing that growing up and becoming an adult can be reduced to one significant moment. It’s not this ultimate threshold and once you’ve crossed it, you never look back. Maybe it for some people, I don’t know, but at least for me and in my circle of my friends, it seems to be more of a gradual shift, with loads of contradictory developments, where I feel grown-up in some respects but also kind of still like an adolescent in others. I would have never expected Alo to suddenly be the responsible, serious character simply because he has to shoulder more responsibilities than some of his friends – but this episode regressed him to a character who never lived through last year’s events, someone who is desperately clinging to his fictional role model, Peter Pan, for inspiration, and is still stuck in that stage where running away from responsibility is the first thing that occurs to him. Will Merrick does an incredible job with the material he is given, but this episode failed spectacularly because chronologically, it would have made more sense if all of this had happened last year – to the Alo who hadn’t yet proved that he could be trusted and relied upon. And again, this isn’t about characters being taught valuable lessons about life that they take to heart, because that’s not what this show has ever been about, but if the characters are no longer allowed to grow with the thing that happen to them, then nothing that happens has any meaning. If shocking, edgy stories become more important than the effect they have on the people that live through them, then I honestly can’t be bothered to care about this show anymore (except I do, I always do, that’s the problem). 

I think it’s significant that the episode uses Peter Pan, the story about the boy who chooses not to grow up, and completely disregards the most significant aspect of that story: he isn’t just a coward who chooses not growing up over being with the girl he loves; more importantly, he argues that the only way she can be with him is to live the life he chose, to live by his rules, to give up her own world for his. This is what Peter Pan wants from Wendy, and it’s what Alo demands of Mini, who is so weirdly on the fringe of the episode, always waiting for a sign that she can trust him with her secret. This is the grievance he shares with Rich: they used to have jokes, “and now it’s just reality drama bullshit”. Rich is weirdly complacent (And also just plain weird because remember how his girlfriend died and then he disappeared and now nobody talks about it and he is just this strange presence without an actual story of his own? Yeah.) and tells Alo he can do better instead of calling him out on his bullshit, and advices him to find somebody else – which he does. Poppy is the literal manic pixie dream girl, who is all jokes and no reality drama shit, at least until Alo realizes, mid-intercourse, that she also inhabits a suspiciously pink room decorated with posters of horses and pre-teen pop stars and worse, a school uniform. 
It’s one of the weirdest thing Skins has ever done because it’s played for the situational comedy, like, Alo freaking out about accidentally statutory raping a 13-year-old girl. The rest of the episode just keeps playing into this strange idea that this is ridiculous and absurd (oh look, another team of hilariously incompetent police officers!), when in fact, it’s fucking horrible and awful, because it’s one of these things where the line between being an adult and being a child is actually pretty clear: once you’ve reached a certain age, it’s your responsibility to ask basic questions like, “do your interests include teeny boppers?”, “do you still go to school?”, “will sleeping with you lead to a felony charge and being socially ostracized”, and I don’t really know how to properly articulate how severely Skins fucked up, but it was pretty horrible all around, especially towards the end when Poppy was presented as the petulant child who only wanted to get back at Alo for being mean to her and her dad’s righteous outrage was ridiculed as OTT. And I get that the point of this was to show that Alo is so very keen on never growing up that he ends up with a girl his mental age, and then when he witnesses their party he is meant to understand that this is the creepy and gross reality of being Peter Pan, that ultimately, the only people who live up to that idea of not having any responsibility are actual children, and if you want to attain this ideal you’ll end up in prison and with no friends on facebook. I really, really wish the show would have found a different way to make this point – or, perhaps, actually built on what happened last season instead of trying to redo it, just without any of the emotional payoff and a creep-out-factor so high that I doubt I will ever again care about Alo as a human being.   

And then, just for additional shits and  giggles, for some inexplicable reason Franky has convinced herself that fixing Alo and Mini will somehow magically improve the horrible year they are all having. 
Franky: I know about you and Mini.
Alo: Yeah. And?
Franky: Mini likes to think she’s a complicated girl, Alo, but she’s not. When she says no, she really means yes.
Alo: That sounds a big wrong.
Franky: Focus, Alo.
Alo: Mini needs you.
Franky: She doesn’t even like me.
Alo: Doesn’t matter. You have to get her back. Don’t you get it? You two are like the only good thing to happen this entire crappy year. So stop fucking it, Alo.
Alo: How am I… You know Franks, I really cannot deal with this bullshit right now.

WHEN SHE SAYS NO, SHE REALLY MEANS YES. From the character that, only a couple of episodes ago, was raped by a psychopathic drug dealer (but we don’t talk about that anymore, do we, Skins?) This is something I utterly and completely loathe: the idea that Mini doesn’t know her own feelings, that everybody else knows her better than she knows herself, that there is anything even remotely romantic about Franky playing Cupid, trying to get Alo to try just a little bit harder. If Skins were a new acquaintance, then this would be the equivalent of “I recently voted for right-wing extremist party”. Like, you can probably compromise on films and music and television but this is where the show crosses the line from bad to irresponsible writing. 
Alo’s “It’s not love if someone doesn’t love you back” (and right after Poppy called him out on being a hypocrite, too!) moment was like… I don’t know, I had this short moment of hope that this would provide him with perspective, but then the episode went on like it never even happened, like the statement doesn’t apply to Mini because despite her protestations, Alo is convinced that she actually loves him so when he tells Poppy he doesn’t love her, it’s real and justified, but when Mini tells him to back off, she is merely denying her own secret feelings and must be further pursued so that she finally admits them. And again, he uses the word “head-fuckery” to demean the feelings of a female character, blaming Poppy for manipulating him (and it’s even worse when you remember how this started, the innocence and promise of “glorious fucking headfuck thing”).
He tries to run away, fails, sleeps in a playground, and then has a surprisingly insightful conversation with his uncle about his role model. 
The thing about Peter Pan is, boy, he is a coward. He had the chance of a lifetime and he bottled it. He fucked off back to Neverland and all alone forever he was by his own hand. Poor old Wendy, she had to grow old without him. Fucking tragedy if you ask me.
 Here is the unspoken problem that I have had writing about this storyline: I think my reasons for thinking that this relationship is toxic are valid. Maybe I haven’t explained them well, and I am always ready to hear counter-arguments. Uncle Dewe’s insight only works if Mini really is Wendy, if she is secretly in love with Alo and only waiting for him to prove that he is reliable to reveal her feelings, if everything that she has stated about how she feels about him is wrong. And that still doesn’t solve the problem of Alo’s aggressiveness, of how controlling and possessive he is of her. Mini’s story isn’t the story of the girl who waited. It can’t be, because this would reduce a complex character to this one single thing that is actually about somebody else entirely – it’s “I met this girl I liked today” all over again, except this isn’t actually how she was introduced. Case in point: 
Mini: You finally found a girl the same mental age as you, but seriously Alo, what is wrong with you?
Alo: You’re what’s wrong with me. I’m not just a lame Michael Cera. You can’t treat me like a bitch and expect me not to fall in love with you. It’s not fair, Mini.
Mini: Who said I was in love with.
Alo: Don’t do that. Don’t revert back to that Mean Girls McGuinness bullshit, okay. I hate that girl. I want you. I know you Mini. I know you’re afraid. You’re terrified of being alone, but guess what; I’m not your dad.
Mini: It’s not that easy.
Alo: How is it not that easy? What could be easier than you and me? What are you so afraid of?
Mini: I want you to go, Alo.
Alo: No.
Mini: Leave now. Get out. Get out of my room,
Alo: Okay. I’ll go. I love you and I know you love me too and when you’re ready to admit that you come and find me cause I’ll be fucking waiting, however long it takes.
The looming question is, how is this different from Emily’s “I know you’re lonely” (and I mean… that speech… is pretty literally exactly Alo’s speech, isn’t it?) There’s a subtle line between persistence and stalking, and to me, Emily is the former and Alo does the latter, and “I hate that girl. I want you.” makes all the difference. 
And yeah, I mean, then there’s Franky, last season, asking Mini to try and to be kinder because there definitely is a part of her that hides her vulnerabilities behind cruelty (and this is also what Franky recognized in her early on, because she isn’t entirely unfamiliar with this), but that’s not actually what she does when she tells Alo she doesn’t love him back, is it, because she doesn’t do it to be mean or to be cruel, and she didn’t trick him, she was always very clear about what she wanted out of their relationship. 
Mini: So, you’re living in a playground now. Smart move, farm boy. You look like shit.
Alo: Yeah well, you should see the other guy. He’s totally fine.
Mini: Been looking for you everywhere.
Alo: Why?
Mini: Just trying to make convo. Come on, useless. Let’s get you home.
Alo: I’ve really fucked it, haven’t I?
Mini: Yep. To be fair, it is quite an achievement to screw up so epically.
Alo: Cheers. What?
Mini: Nothing. Nothing.
Alo: You were gonna say, I fucked up with you as well. I fuck up everything, it’s true.
Mini: I wasn’t sure what I wanted.
Alo: Yeah, well, you were right not to be sure. I’m just a fucking quarter bottle of disappointment, me, ain’t I.
Mini: If I had a problem, like a really big problem, what would, would you help me? Would you stand by me? Would you help me?
Alo: What? What is it?
There is a sincerity in this moment that has been missing for such a long time (and the acting, in spite of all my issues with the writing, is just gorgeous in this scene), and there is a glimpse of something that could have worked, but it disappears immediately. I think Mini is genuinely trying to figure out if Alo is someone who should be involved in the decision about the baby, and that question exists separately from the one and only thing Alo is concerned with, which is whether she loves him. She is asking him if she can trust him (which, you know, is a really good basis for love?), and he is never actually responding to that question, and instead focused on this other thing that he has been obsessed with this whole year. 
The phone rings, and just like that, Alo is absolved of his problems, given a second chance, and Mini slips away quietly into the night because this isn’t the reassurance that she needs so desperately for any of this to work. He shouts after her, and then takes another swig of the bottle, sitting on his ship all alone. 

Random notes: 

Like, objectively, Franky is so totally enthusiastic about Mini’s kid, and she’s there and supportive when she isn’t making strange speeches about how Mini’s feelings about Alo don’t matter because she can just pretend and then things will be fine: but is this really where this season is going? Alo dropping out, and Mini and Franky taking care of the child because that’s the connection they have now (which could be potentially interesting if done well because they share their abandonment issues, there are all these mostly unexplored parallels between them, but I really don’t trust the show anymore to tackle this in a meaningful manner)? 

Also, for what possible reason would Franky have to hide in Mini’s closet (WITH HER KNICKERS ON HER HEAD) except for one pretty obvious one. There is a secret alternative version of this season creeping in through the cracks in which these two have been sleeping together for months and nobody knows. 

Also, just as a sidenote, but there’s a lot of wasted potential here too because Mini’s eating disorder and her issues were about control, and staying in control, and not losing control, and now she is PREGNANT, which has to affect her in a more severe way than it would other characters, right? Except nothing that was established before still matters, so no, it doesn’t, but sometimes there are these glimpses of how certain stories might have gone if this season had still a bit of consistency left and it’s horribly frustrating. 

“What’s the plan, Peter Pan?”

Doug: Most of it we had to confiscate or incinerate, here’s the rest. 
Also with the most pathetic oggy oggy oggy yet. 

Somehow I really don’t think that Rich would come up with the epically stupid idea of ringing Poppy to make things better. Like, if anyone in the group (apart from maybe Liv) could actually put this into perspective and maybe provide actual helpful advice, it’s Rich. Not that I have even an inkling of an idea what helpful advice in that particular predicament is, but CALLING POPPY WAS JUST INCREDIBLY IDIOTIC. 

Alo is completely alone now that Rich is unwilling to run away with him (he even evokes the “Lost Boys” of Peter Pan) – “People say that they can’t run away from their problems, yeah, they just weren’t really fast enough.” 

When watching the episode for a second time, I discovered that some of the songs really improve when played in fast forward. 

Mini: You slipped, fell, and molested a pre-teen girl? 

Queen Olivia to the rescue (cuz hope springs eternal, etc.). 


Anonymous said...

I think I've been enjoying this series a little more on the whole than you've indicated you have in your reviews (despite the numerous problems and annoying character retcons), but this episode just broke all of that for me. The manic pixie girl cliche, the retread of Alo's story (and his overall regression this series), Poppy using sex as revenge, just everything. The "when she says no, she means yes" line Franky gave made me actually gasp. And his treatment of Mini ("I'm not just same lame Michael Cera, you can't treat me like bitch and not expect me to fall in love with you.") playing the "nice guy" you owe me your dedication crap. And that he said Mini was his problem just because she dared maybe be her own person and have her own feelings. I just, ugh. After Series 5 I was really excited, and Series 6 has just thrown it away, despite glimpses of a better story underneath. It's a shame the show is ending on a sour note. And sorry for the length of my comment, this episode just really got to me, and I needed to vent.

cathy leaves said...

Thanks for the comment, sorry for the late response!
I feel like the only way this season could work is if the next three episodes are used to call out all the characters on their bullshit and completely take apart all their actions from previous episodes. Nick and Alo need to be called out on being creepy and manipulative, I want someone to point out that Franky's weird "you are the only good thing that happened this year" was the result of her trauma (and it would just really be great to see what happened to her in her own episode addressed in some way). At this point, there are too many loose ends to fit into just three more episodes, and it just feels weird how little some of the characters have appeared.
I don't think I've ever been so disappointed with a show before. It's been almost impossible to finish the reviews because I hate writing about things that I don't enjoy, but it's also depressing to see something I used to love end this way, with people quietly losing interest.

Anonymous said...

No matter how bad the writing this season gets (and it's pretty dire, to be frank), one thing the show hasn't lost is its absolutely brilliant directing.

I don't know what they do to make such an obviously low-budget show look like a gorgeous art film every episode. The US Skins remake lacked coherent writing, but its bigger sin was its lack of any trace of visual style. Once that goes, then the whole Skins ship can go sink.

cathy leaves said...

I agree! The cinematography in Morocco felt a bit off to me, but everything else has been stunning. I've probably been pre-occupied with the more frustrating aspects in the previous episodes but I really started noticing how beautifully arranged the scenes are in Liv's episode (also major props for the choice of clothes and accessories).
I think Skins US suffered massively (in addition to the bad writing) from taking place in an unnamed city. Bristol plays such a central role, and recognizing places and this strange sense of nostalgia whenever the show revisits a spot that it has used before are really special.

Julipy said...

"(And also just plain weird because remember how his girlfriend died and then he disappeared and now nobody talks about it and he is just this strange presence without an actual story of his own? Yeah.)"

I think that the most painful thing of the whole episode for me was Rich's portrait. He's empty. Irrelevant. And where did all his metal clothes go? GAH! This season is so awful and inconsistent... I seriously can stand it for the fact that I can read your reviews and agree with each and every single word.

Julipy said...

The whole "WHEN SHE SAYS NO, SHE REALLY MEANS YES." paragraph... is just... AMEN. I was thinking the same while watching this nonsense.