Skins (Series Seven)

cassieskinspureCONTAINS SPOILERS

Skins, the popular E4 teen drama, ended this year. At one point there were rumours it would be made into a movie, but as it turned out they did a final series of six episodes, or if you prefer three feature length episodes split as two-parters, each focusing on some of their most memorable characters.  It was initially said this seventh series would be called Skins: Redux as a whole, but that seemed to fall by the wayside by the time it reached our screens.

Each episode was on what had happened to the characters in the years after they had left sixth form. The three episodes were Fire, focusing on Effy (Kaya Scodelario), Pure focusing on Cassie (Hannah Murray) and Rise focusing on Cook (Jack O’Connell).

In Fire Effy is in London climbing up the corporate ladder while working for a hedge fund, and is living with Naomi (Lily Loveless). Naomi doesn’t seem to know what she wants to do,  other than throw stoner parties, though she has aspirations to be a stand-up comedienne, and is still in a relationship with Emily (Kathryn Prescott), though they don’t see much of each other as Emily has an internship in New York.

To be honest, I always found Effy to be a bit of a Mary Sue. She just can’t help being so good looking, popular and charming. This episode at first looks like it’s going in that sort of direction. She spots an error, and her superior Victoria takes credit for spotting it. It’s implied that Victoria is a bit jealous of Effy because she sees her as competition, and Victoria also happens to be sleeping with the boss, Jake. Luckily Effy has a friend works there as a stock market researcher, Dominic. Dorky Dominic has a crush on Effy, so is only too happy to teach her how to read stock markets herself. Then Effy sets things up so that she has to hold an important meeting with a client rather than Victoria, and of course Effy is brilliant at it and Jake promotes her, and it looks like she’ll be his girlfriend eventually too. But from around this point things slowly but surely go bad for Effy.

She struggles in her new job, so knowing she can take advantage of Dominic’s crush on her, she gets him to give her some illegal information. Jake, now fully in a relationship with Effy, encourages her to do more of this so he and Effy can make more money from insider trading. However, financial authorities get suspicious, and smarmy git Jake has no qualms about throwing Effy under the bus. Dominic becomes angry with Effy for taking advantage of him and for the fact he is now in trouble for his role in it. Effy’s actions led her to short-term advantages, but in the long term she is in over her head. It turns out that Victoria is involved with the investigation, and she ultimately tells Effy, not unkindly, that if she confesses and names Jake as her accomplice then it will be better off for her. She’ll still go to prison, but not as long as she would if she didn’t co-operate. This was quite a good story, not least because Effy ended up facing some serious consequences for her actions and her status going from fairly low to very high to much lower than when she started. It had a very good guest cast too, such Lara Pulver as Victoria, Craig Roberts from Submarine as Dominic, and Fonejacker/Facejacker Kayvan Novak as Jake.  But there was one particular aspect of it that a lot of people weren’t happy with.

For many, including myself, Naomi and Emily was the best storyline of series 3 of Skins, and while I’m not really a “shipper” type, they are few fictional couples I’ve rooted for as much as them. Their fate in this episode was heartbreaking. Naomi is diagnosed with cancer, and she decides not to tell Emily as she hopes it will be cured and she doesn’t want to ruin Emily’s time and career in New York. But none of the treatments work, and Naomi eventually learns she doesn’t have much time left. Naomi looks increasingly frail over the course of the episode. Emily returns, knowing that her girlfriend is dying and that so much of the time they could have spent together is now lost. This wasn’t the ending I would have hoped for those characters, but that isn’t really my problem with the episode. Sometimes life is that cruel. My problem is that it is sidelined for Effy’s story, when I think it deserved to be a full story on its own. It carries far more weight. Having such a tragic end for those characters is one thing, but when Naomi was basically a supporting character in Effy’s story and Emily barely appeared, it’s not surprising many fans felt a bit cheated.  I wonder if it was only included simply because Naomi and Emily were popular characters, or if perhaps Kathryn Prescott wasn’t available for more? I don’t know either way, but I think, as well played as the scenes were which we got, there should have been a full feature length episode focusing on them to do justice to it.

Pure was Cassie’s story, and Cassie is a character I can relate to. Well, look at the title of this blog. Any surprise I can relate to someone who likes to put on headphones and drift away in their own world?  But I love a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, especially deconstructions of that like Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and indeed Cassie.

Cassie is now working as a waitress, until one day she finds out that there is a website of photographs taken of her which she didn’t know about. Someone is stalking her. She works out that whoever it is taking pictures of her took some from an abandoned office block across the road from her bedroom window. She finds out that her stalker is Jakob, a chef who works at the same cafe as her. Cassie finds the photographs beautiful, and eventually, as weird as it sounds, decides to let Jakob take more photographs of her and strikes up a friendship. The photographs catch interest, not least from a modelling agency, and Cassie does a photo shoot for them. Jakob is unable to accept this change, and it becomes more apparent how messed up he is. Cassie the next day goes back with another co-worker Yaniv, who she’d had a one night stand with before. Later on Jakob texts an insulting message to Cassie so Yaniv goes outside and beats him up. Cassie tries to stop it and leaves. Yaniv releases that it’s all over for both of them as far as Cassie is concerned, telling Jakob “It’s OK, it’s finished, that’s all we get”.

Meanwhile, Cassie is keeping in contact with her father and younger brother Reuben. Her father has become an alcoholic and is finding life difficult after the death of Cassie’s mother. Cassie is angry with him because he isn’t looking after Reuben properly. Ultimately her father plans to move to Italy to sort of himself out and wants to take his son with him, but Cassie believes that Reuben should stay and have some stability, so she will look after him.

It’s hard to recap the plot of Pure because there isn’t much of it. It’s more a series of pretty images, such as the photographs of Cassie just being Cassie, her modelling photo shoot with elaborate hair and make-up, a colourful kite Cassie finds in a tree and mends to use again, the scenes at a beach with a windswept lighthouse under gloomy skies. Then there’s the scene of Cassie stood at a balcony looking into the night sky while a showbiz party goes on above her. It’s an episode that is more about character of Cassie, and all those images illustrate something about her. The relatively loose plot is perhaps also appropriate for Cassie. She acts a bit like a leaf on a breeze, drifting wherever it takes her but not landing there. But by the end she finds a purpose in her life, to look after her brother. Having something to focus on seems to make her more content than she had been, and she is the only returning character that gets anything resembling a happy ending. Many people hoped Sid would make an appearance, which would have been nice. We get a non-specific reference to him though.

In Rise, Cook is now a drug dealer in Manchester. He is still running from killing the psychotic Dr Foster. What is strange about the episode is we know Cook better than any of the guest characters, but to them he is the one who is mysterious. Cook has a sort-of girlfriend, Emma, and he is working for a small-time crime lord called Louie. It’s also hard to recap the plot of Rise, but unlike Pure the problem is there is so much plot. It’s not exactly complicated, but it’s has a lot of twists and turns. So, I’ll try and keep it as straightforward as I can.

Louie asks Cook to drive his girlfriend Charlie, and Charlie starts coming onto Cook but he refuses. Later at a party, it turns out Charlie is having sex with Jason, another one of Louie’s henchmen. Later still, Cook and Charlie have sex, and then they are called to meet Louie at his house, where he announces that he knows Charlie has been sleeping with someone else, and has Jason killed right in front of them. Cook decides to run away with Emma, and Charlie joins them. They go to Emma’s old family holiday home, where unbeknownst to Emma her parents are staying. Louie tracks them down, and Cook decides they have to keep running from him. It’s not outright stated, but it’s heavily implied that Louie murders Emma’s parents, so Cook, Emma and Charlie have to hide in the woods. The next morning Emma is missing, and they find that Louie has murdered her. We then get a final fight between Cook and Louie, in which both end up with bloodstained faces. Cook wins, but decides not to kill Louie and instead leave him for the police to deal with. He tells Charlie to drive off and that they probably won’t see each other again. He stays with Emma’s body before walking away.

Rise is certainly action packed, and goes into darker territory than the other two, but it’s not always great to watch. The only vaguely likeable one of the guest characters is Emma, and annoyingly she ends up being little more than a sacrificial lamb to show how much of a bastard Louie is. The tone is relentlessly grim. We get a couple of moments of comedy, both between Cook and Louie. Louie calls Cook to ask him to pick some stuff up for him, and Cook thinks he means drugs, but he just means eggs, bacon and milk for breakfast. Then in their final battle Cook manages to taunt him despite everything. “At least I had fun fucking your missus. Straight in her sweet spot”. That part is also one of the few times Cook as we knew him comes through. He is a lot more controlled and has less energy than the character we are used to, which is kind of the point of the episode. He’s become numb due to his experiences, and the events in this episode will probably push him deeper down that way. It’s a bleak way to end the whole series.

I’m not sure these episodes were satisfying as such as a close to the whole series, but as drama in their own right they were fine. What they did do well was make each one different, (other than a recurring theme of love triangles) and suitable for each character. They also had songs written especially for them.

Fire had ‘You, My Everything’ by Ellie Goulding, which was a fantastic glossy electronic dance track, and suited Effy as a glamorous high-flyer.  Pure had ‘Start Again’ by Gabrielle Aplin, which was a gentle melancholy acoustic guitar song which reflected Cassie’s state of mind. Rise had ‘Stolen Youth’ by Roots Manuva, a grimy hip hop track which fitted Cook’s situation.

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