Season Two Finale
This summer, I stopped in to review the first two episodes of Skins, a British series which aired this Fall on BBC America. And then, promptly, I completely abandoned the series – it was not out of lack of interest, but there was something about the show that didn’t particularly make it “appointment viewing.” If I had to put a finger on what it was, it was that the show’s artistic side (unique to the genre) only occasionally felt like it was elevating this material to something beyond the teen cliche. The weird interrelationship between a really interesting visual and cinematic aesthetic and somewhat less interesting long-run storylines kept me from writing about Skins week by week, but when I did eventually finish the first season I had to appreciate it; while the overall arcs never really caught fire, individual episodes (organized to focus on a specific character) were quite strong, and going into its second season the show had a lot of questions to answer.
BBC America finishes airing the show’s first two seasons tonight, and I have to admit that the second season was perhaps better than the first. I have some issues with some of the individual characters not quite getting enough attention (Anwar, although Dev Patel may have been busy preparing for a certain likely Oscar nominated film I reviewed yesterday), getting the wrong kind of attention (Michelle, who just never clicked in either season really), or feeling like the attention they’re given doesn’t really offer us a proper sendoff (Cassie and Syd, in particular). Considering that the show is switching out its characters in favour of an Effy-led ensemble for the third season, the second season finale has a lot to handle, at least related to fixing these types of problems.
But what buoys the season is that it also does a lot of things right. In Chris and Maxxie it finds its characters most concerned for the future, both of whom don’t find it in the traditional school system due to either dreaming bigger (the West End for Maxxie) or getting expelled (Chris’ excursion into the world of real estate). Similarly, the show chooses Jal as the emotional center, the character who has always been perhaps the most logical and as a result both legitimizes Chris and eventually offers the finale’s most pivotal grounding force. And although getting hit by a bus seems a horrible fate for Tony, it in fact creates a far less obnoxious and more human Tony once he comes to terms with his memory loss and develops into someone far more comfortable in this world.
The result is a season, and a finale, that feels like the show was better organized to take advantage of its artistic side, embracing its almost dream-like state more often and with greater success. This isn’t to say that the finale is perfect, or that I think we’re ready to say goodbye to these characters, but I think it does indicate that the show and its formula has plenty of life and could work well transitioning into new characters.
Chris’ death is something that is undecidedly tragic, and for the most part this episode uses it as a way to bring these people who have been driven apart by one thing or another back together for a final sendoff to their friend. On their way there, the show delves into its usual balance of humour and dourness, and in the tradition of many a funeral scenario finds great slapstick potential in the theft of a coffin. The show knows that Chris was the kind of character who would find enjoyment in this, and it also echoes quite carefully the chase to get a passed out Cassie to the hospital in the pilot. It was a way to say goodbye to this side of these characters, give Syd and Tony a chance to do something together to mend their damaged friendship, and to give them an excuse to shoot a rather elaborate chase sequence.
The reason they steal the coffin is the real purpose here, an initially quite one-dimensional personification of “The Man” in the form of Chris’ father who wants none of his son’s identity to be involves in his funeral. While I thought it was brought in a bit abruptly, I can relate to the anger that Syd and Tony feel at the very idea of not having his friends present: it’s tough when someone dies in between childhood and adulthood, where their family will choose to remember them one way and their friends quite the other. The opposition between the two may have been exaggerated to create conflict, but that opposition nonetheless manifests as a fairly “final” moment for these friends as they begin to head off to their futures.
It is a testament to the show that its strategy of taking reality and either abstracting or sensationalizing it can work so well, but here we get a really well put together structure of remembrance, friendship and eventually something resembling a good-bye. No single character really gets to do much in the episode: while there is an attempt to retcon some involvement for Anwar into the episode (he’s the only character who didn’t get an episode of his own this season), it’s a very general swath of sorts.
This is a bit of a shift from the rest of the season, which was even more compartmentalized than the first. With the first season using its focused structure to introduce us to the people in these character’s lives, this season the purpose was much more thematic: it was about more of a psychological investigation more than it was an environmental one. It resulted in some really compelling television: Maxxie’s rooftop dancing showing the freeing of his soul, Sketch’s obsession with Maxxie and the sheer isolation of her reality, and (while not as affective) Michelle’s frighteningly ultra-modern residence all felt like a deeper look into these characters than we got last season where the show was more about interpersonal relationships.
Where this is most clear is in Tony, who is an entirely different character this year. Once someone who was an instigator, someone whose sheer douchebaggery caused everyone in his life grief, the end of the first season brought Tony to a different place: even before he got hit by that bus, he was running around trying to rescue his sister, and realizing that his actions had created dire consequences for those around him. What we saw in the second season was this actually happening: where Tony became someone whose internal dialogue was suddenly much more active than his external one, and where the distance between their content was much more narrow. I cared about Tony in the second season, and the time spent with Tony felt entirely justified (and often enormously compelling – his sojourn to College was amongst the most abstract episodes and stuck with me as a result).
The problem is that he never really gets to go anywhere new: he ends up back into some sort of a relationship with Michelle, a rote response that doesn’t feel as progressive as it could have been. Michelle as a character doesn’t go anywhere: she pines over Tony, she sleeps with Syd (a storyline I never liked), and she never feels like her life is anything but an enormous Michelle pity-party. Tony and Michelle is a relationship that never worked to begin with, but this season was romanticized in such a light that I didn’t buy either party’s involvement. It’s an example of how the show has elements that are quite strong, and yet eventually kind of peter off into something cliche.
This goes for Cassie and Syd as well, to be honest, an on-again off-again relationship that never clicked all season. Cassie turned into a self-destructing mess of a character at one point, angry and emotionally distraught at almost every turn. As long as she and Syd were playing this back and forth game, it felt like she was in the same rut she was in before: here was the character who had gotten the most psychological attention in the first season, and yet now she was relegated to a raving ex-girlfriend. The season rectified this situation by placing her at the center of Chris’ struggle, and eventually rushing off to New York to escape the tragedy and find her own way. That episode was another of the season’s most interesting and abstract, where Skins managed to craft a more interesting “starving artist romantic interest” cliche than Gossip Girl in a single episode and showed us the way in which Cassie’s abandonment issues are something deeper.
The problem with Syd is that he was once the romantic, someone who held onto love and kind of stumbled his way through this world, but he felt off all season. His relationship with Michelle felt false because it had always been an unreachable dream, and when they were having sex in a bathroom at one point it felt so enormously off with his character. Syd is one person who has never really evolved: his personal episodes never felt particularly emotional largely because we spent so much time on his perspective of Tony and Michelle in season one, and even attempts to define him her based on his father’s death never really clicked. His eventual position at season’s end, reconciled with Tony enough to know that he has to rush off to New York and oh so conveniently walk right past where she is in that Diner, feels like a bit of an oddly open-ended saga.
I like that in some ways: I don’t want this season to feel like it was all just contrived delays to the inevitability of Tony/Michelle and Syd/Cassie, neither of which end up happy and together in the end. But considering that these characters (outside of the occasional cameo) aren’t coming back in the show’s third season, it seems a bit odd to leave everything hanging as they did, especially with Syd and Cassie. Their journey in New York felt like it needed an ending: I didn’t need a play-by-play, but wouldn’t it have been nice for Cassie to see Syd out that window and have some type of a reunion? I know the show doesn’t do happy endings very well (see: Chris’ death), but it felt odd that the one thousands of miles away wasn’t given some kind of resolution.
Comparatively, the episode did too much to tie off others. Anwar had the most questions during the episode, not getting his grades and being left in limbo. He goes to Sketch, who was mostly underutilized after being introduced early in the season, in an attempt to define his future, but eventually the show writes him off as he runs off to live with Maxxie and his new boyfriend. In storylines like these, you realize what we miss when we’re so focused on other characters (in this instance, Jal and Chris’ pregnancy and his medical emergency) – where did he meet his boyfriend, how did Anwar begin to descend into this position academically, etc. The two of them got a raw deal: despite Maxxie starting off strong, he disappeared eventually and Anwar in particular became a walking clone of Maxxie before eventually fading away himself.
It is in finales like theirs that “Everyone” both reminds us that the show hasn’t been focused on everyone this season, and that if we’re really saying goodbye to them it seems simultaneously too complicated and too convenient. While I think that her showcase episode, and her time spent caring for Tony, did a lot to warm me to Effy (who I liked anyways) as the protagonist for the show’s third season, this doesn’t change the fact that more needed to be done for us to be able to say goodbye to the characters we might not see again. As a eulogy to Chris, and a final emotional moment for Jal, the episode brought to a close that period in these character’s lives: but as a final goodbye to an entire class of students, I don’t know if it really did everything it needed to do to serve “Everyone.”
I still have faith that the show has a great deal of potential, but I felt like for a show that’s entire structure is about being able to investigate characters further this finale really did very little to serve the same purpose. If it meant to leave us hanging and without any real answers about their future, then it did its job: but I don’t think that was how to transition to a new set of characters, and that the idea of a cycle wasn’t necessarily established well enough for us to move on to another set of similar archetypes. I look forward to seeing the way the show manages it, but nonetheless feel as if we’ll have too many unanswered questions about this set.
- I thought that the funeral scene was enormously well-staged, although I could have done without the fireworks – generally, all of the Jal stuff (from Michelle’s trip to the Aquarium to her discussion with his father at his grave) where the kind of thing that felt very final, but unfortunately not overly inclusive with the rest of the show’s characters.
- Speaking of Chris’ father, I like that he did eventually come around – yeah, it wasn’t exactly swimming in subtlety, but it felt in line with the theme of the episode.