Season 4, Episode 2
April 21, 2017
It is the rite of passage of international Skam fandom.
Given that the series’ global reach grew exponentially only recently, during the show’s third season, most viewers never experienced the show happening in real time. While I knew while watching the show that each “episode” I was watching was broken up into clips released throughout the week, and some of the fan subbed-copies I watched remained separated as those discrete installments, I always had the luxury of playing the next clip without delay, moving from week to week and eventually season to season without pausing.
That all changed this week, as it changed for thousands more last week. After catching up with the first three seasons—which I wrote about here—I became yet another international Skam viewer who had to adjust to a very different Skam experience. While bingeing the show is all-consuming in one way, watching the show in real time is all-consuming in another, but with the show itself replaced by the hour a day you spend Google Translating the transmedia elements and another few hours sifting through fan speculation or chatting with fellow viewers on Twitter.
I have to imagine that those who have been watching from the beginning find new viewers’ difficulty adjusting to the change of pace entertaining, sitting back and watching as those who got hooked watching the show without week-long hiatuses where you have no idea what’s happening to the characters you’re invested in are forced to feel what they felt in seasons past. For me, though, the “full Skam experience” has been more instructive than frustrating, both in terms of getting a better sense of how the show is consumed (read: developing obsessive tendencies) and in terms of understanding how this season is intending to balance its primary and secondary storytelling goals.
That said, though, it seems like even those who got used to watching live last week might have been frustrated by a fairly thin episode, with only 18 minutes for this week’s installment. It’s a decision that reflect a week that was fairly light on significant narrative events, focused instead on some housekeeping as the stakes of the season—and the season’s burden of acknowledging season’s past—came further into focus.
Last week, Skam was focused on establishing Sana’s point-of-view. The show literally starts with a sequence that shows us a train ride from Sana’s perspective, as she people watches on her way to meet up with her friends at Noora’s apartment. It uses this to sketch out the basics of her story: as her gaze drifts across two bros comparing their abs, her prayer app disrupts the moment, the conflict between desire and her faith brought to life in microcosm. The rest of the episode sketches out different elements of this—her mother as the beacon of faith, Yousef as the beacon of desire—but ends on a reinforcement of the central theme as Sana’s attempt to pray during the party is both interrupted by a couple hooking up and happens as Noora and Yousef begin to connect at the party.
There is not a whole lot of plot in week one, though: in addition to Sana’s point-of-view, its main goal is introducing us to new characters, and creating basic themes to follow. The second week, by comparison, seems to carry a more significant burden of establishing an actual narrative engine for the season beyond the inner struggle of the central character. This manifests as the opportunity to buy a Russe bus, which both gives the girls as a group a central mission and also reinforces Sana’s commitment to wanting to be part of a Russe group. Remember, it was Sana who managed to unload the toilet paper back in the first season, and who here jumps on the opportunity to buy the bus despite her general frustrations with Vilde. Sana’s commitment to being part of a Russe group is a huge part of Friday’s afternoon’s final installment, where one of the Pepsi Max girls’ thinly-veiled commentary asserting they are “normal Norwegian girls” activates Sana’s rage center. Beyond earning Yousef’s admiration, being a Russe girl is something Sana wants to prove she can do as a Muslim, and so the bus storyline offers a clear way of exploring these motivations.
That having been said, though, the thinness of the week does pull away from Sana’s perspective more than usual, given that two of the clips this week have very little to do with Sana. Both “The Secret” and “Yousef” are technically ways of reinforcing Sana’s crush on Yousef, but “Feel It Coming” had already pushed that particular button, and we don’t learn anything particularly new through Sana trying to throw Noora off the scent or losing herself working through Yousef’s Facebook page. Instead, these two scenes are there so that we are reminded of the state of stories for Noora and Isak, the two point-of-view characters with unfinished business narratively speaking.
With Noora, this is more straightforward: although “The Secret” refers to Vilde’s terrifying discovery of the self help book, it also refers to whatever happened between her and William in London, which the show has never fully acknowledged. Although Isak and Even were the couple that brought Skam greater international attention, I’ve seen it written that William and Noora were what helped the show break out in Norway, and so there’s clearly an interest in returning to their relationship given the way Noora tiptoes around a reveal before being interrupted by the “plot” conversation that drive the main narrative forward.
In the case of Isak and Even, though, it arguably represents the week’s biggest contribution, and perhaps a justification for the shorter running time in the main narrative. “Yousef” may be about Sana zoning out after receiving Yousef’s message, but as she zones out the audio is Isak and Even having a domestic conversation, something the show typically wouldn’t be able to do given the shift in perspective. The scene actually breaks the perspective rule—if there really is one—by joining Isak and Even in a moment of intimacy before Sana enters the room, an acknowledgment that fan service sometimes trumps the show’s central conceit. But when Isak rejoins Sana, he makes a connection that fans had made the week previous: Elias’ friend Mikael is the same Mikael who was once friends with Even, and Isak and the audience have questions. And the next day, “SMS Roulette” is prominently placed into the show’s transmedia, and features a carefully constructed moment where Mikael’s past with Even is serious enough to bring the game to an end.
The “Hei Briskeby” videos are not technically part of the show, but they’re a more significant “text” than the other transmedia, and could arguably be counted as “clips” in their own right if they are going to have this level of story content. I appreciate how the videos extend the show’s investment in verisimilitude, structured very much like traditional YouTube videos, and performed with a great eye to spontaneity. They appear improvised even if they’re not, making me wonder if they are sort of loosely structured around certain story points that need to be hit, and the actors are improvising the reactions from there. Regardless of how they’re performed, though, their function here is to give credence to fan speculation, while creating even more questions that are designed—as always—to keep fans engaged, and especially to keep the fans watching primarily for Isak and Even feeling like their story is still moving along despite having to move along in the periphery.
The refocusing on Noora and Isak, though, comes at a point where the tension between the past and the present is only growing. While this week’s episodes still contribute to Sana’s arc, that arc remains largely stagnant, with Sana largely treading water as the show turned its attention elsewhere. This is not unprecedented: there was a similar scene to “Yousef” in season three, when Isak—struggling to sleep with his anxiety over his sexuality—is kept up by Noora having an extended conversation with Eva about her relationship with William. These scenes are effectively exposition about an entirely different story, but the presence of the POV character allows that exposition to play as a glimpse of their state of mind as well, albeit without much in the way of progression. However, Sana is forced to share her story with two other unresolved narratives, whereas Eva all but disappeared in season three (and even Noora was pretty marginal), and so I think it’s fair to be somewhat concerned about Sana having to share her season in a more significant way.
It is too early to say whether the show is going to have problems balancing these stories, but the 18-minute episode feels particularly slight when you consider how stretched thin it was in terms of the central narrative. It’s possible this imbalance will be corrected through a longer third episode, and that it was just a matter of how they broke the story (with perhaps lengthy Saturday or Sunday episodes forthcoming), but it comes at an awkward time for the season, which suddenly feels like it slowed down just as it was building momentum. If you are a fan who was already ahead of the Mikael story, this week’s episode is mostly just a tease about William and Noora and a bus storyline that is only just getting started. Is this unreasonable for the second episode of the season? No, but it feels unreasonable for viewers who just binged three seasons and are used to a very different pace of storytelling, another byproduct of the show’s delayed audience now watching the show in real-time as it is intended.
- So, real question: how seriously am I supposed to take Skam’s chronology? Because everything about the “SMS Roulette” transmedia doesn’t track: the timestamp on the texts with “Anine” in the video suggest 2:25pm, but Vilde didn’t message Sana about it until about 7:45pm? The delay was somewhat necessary given that there needed to be time for the video to be edited and uploaded so that Eva could add it to the conversation for context, but because I am nothing if not a stickler for verisimilitude I want to know if there’s just always going to be a logic gap in the timing of certain events.
- Like many, I’ve been forced to resort to Google Translate for the transmedia, since there’s often a delay—understandable, these people are doing it for free—before official translations. My general rule for this has been that whatever Google translate gives me is worthwhile in terms of getting basic story details, but fairly useless at capturing characterization or specific wordplay. Still, the times I’ve stumbled onto content immediately after it’s been posted has been too tempting not to try to figure it out on my own.
- 320,000 krone is $37,000 USD, which…I’m confused about everything to do with the financial viability of the Russe system.
- Although we met Eva’s mother in season one, season three very actively avoided depicting Isak’s parents despite them playing a pretty key plot function, so it will be interesting to see how Sana’s mother—established here as unaware her daughter is in a Russe group—plays into the narrative moving forward.
- I expect I’ll be doing weekly write-ups from this point forward, and welcome any and all conversation—it’s the heart of any transmedia show, and yet always somewhat complicated given the language barriers, so if you have any thoughts leave ‘em in the comments below.