Same Old Sana?: Skam Season 4, Episode 3


Season 4, Episode 3

April 28, 2017

We are still early in Skam’s fourth season: it has only been three weeks, and the “story” as it were has only really just begun. It is premature to suggest that the show is or is not living up to the previous seasons, especially as someone who binged the previous seasons and has a blurry sense of their narrative pacing as a result.

That said, this week’s episode reinforced for me how Sana is different from the previous point-of-view characters. As I noted in the article I wrote about catching up on the show, each season’s point-of-view serves a different narrative function: the first season is an introduction to Eva, the second season contrasts Noora’s outer confidence in season one with her insecurities, and the third season pays off a developing narrative about Isak happening in the margins of seasons one and two.

Season four, however, doesn’t have a clear narrative function yet, as it has yet to give us any particularly new insights into Sana’s character. Over three seasons, Sana was drawn as an opinionated and motivated Muslim who wants to be a part of Norwegian culture while still respecting her religion’s belief system. Although the character’s no-nonsense approach made her a fan favorite both within the central group of girls and in her Biology partnership with Isak, ultimately her “story” was more or less about the seeming incompatibility of her religion and her social life…which is also the central conflict of season four. While it’s an interesting conflict, and took a twist at the end of this week’s final clip, there isn’t that same sense of discovery that felt central to each of the previous seasons, at least thus far.

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This is not to say that seeing Sana’s story from her perspective isn’t meaningful, but thus far it’s really only been used to soften the character through her relationship with Yousef: all of the “private” moments we see tend to revolve around her romantic life, beginning with her fixing her lipstick in the mirror upon hearing he’s visiting his brother, and then continuing as we see her interacting with him in person and through Facebook messages. Even her moment of vulnerability with her mother this week is mostly about Yousef, despite there being a lot more on Sana’s mind that feels more central to her character. The show is structured around romantic relationships, and so this work is integral to the season as a whole, but I keep waiting to feel like I’m actually seeing Sana’s inner perspective, instead of just another scene of her “in her feels” with Yousef.

The final scene in this week’s episode is, obviously, a twist in that particular story: Yousef is Sana’s knight in shining armor when her father discovers a stray vodka bottle from their hasty cleanup, and we get what seems like a repeat of many scenes before, as Sana carefully constructs her words in a conversation with the object of her affection. I appreciate these scenes, as I did with other characters: the juxtaposition between her emoji-ended message and her measured expression is very Sana, and a nice detail in what is an anxious moment. And when Yousef reveals he’s not actually Muslim, it reframes the season’s narrative effectively: rather than representing the safety of a Muslim boy she likes, he is now a non-believer who will test her faith in different ways, and I like this wrinkle in the story.

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But what I’m actually most interested in is why Sana is so motivated to be a part of a bus, and to be the bus boss, and to achieve her goals in this space. Although I suppose it is thematically appropriate that we wouldn’t immediately gain direct insight into her life given how closed off she is, the show is spinning its wheels a bit in this area. Given the buildup to holding the bus meeting at Sana’s house, and her parents being conveniently out of town, everything that happens in this episode was too predictable, from the PepsiMax-er putting too fine a point on Sana’s contradiction to her parents—gasp!—showing up back home early and causing her to scramble. This is obviously my first time following along with the transmedia, but in this case the foreshadowing was closer to choreographing, and while the Yousef twist changes the script we’re still in the same place we were with the story that strikes me as more complex at this stage.

This week’s other major development, albeit one happening on the margins, was the continuing saga of “What happened between Even and Mikael?”, reinforced both by Even’s mild interrogation of Sana and by a Mikael-centric episode of “Hei Briskeby.” It’s a story that is built on the format’s ability to withstand retroactive continuity: technically, because we have such a limited perspective, they do have the freedom to create a history between Sana and Even that just didn’t come up in Sana or Even’s interaction with other characters, without any specific evidence to contradict it. And thus the show has a way of continuing Isak and Even’s fan favorite story without it seeming completely disconnected from what is happening with Sana.

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That said, this retcon has consequences. The first is forcing Sana to “share” her season more than any other character, which might speak to the lack of development in her character beyond how she had been defined previously. The second, though, is more central: why did neither Sana nor Even bring this up previously? Why would Sana willingly hide her past knowledge about Even? Why would Even want to continue hiding whatever happened with Mikael? These are tantalizing questions, perhaps, but they’re also potentially indicting ones, if the show doesn’t provide proper justification for them. The vagueness of their conversations serves the culture of fan speculation that was on it the second Mikael showed up and has been ahead of this all along, but it also calls the character of Sana and Even into question, something the show will need to address effectively for this retcon to function as they intend.

To reiterate, this is not a suggestion that this season has fallen off the rails: none of what I cite above is the show off on an irredeemable path, with no way of pulling the stories together effectively. Past seasons have demonstrated Andem’s skill at respecting these characters and understanding how to thread their stories together in affecting and effective ways. But this season has Andem in unchartered territory in terms of narrative expectation, and so far Sana’s story is operating beneath what I would have identified as its potential heading into the season (with emphasis on “so far”).

Cultural Observations

  • Although the “Hei Briskeby” vlog serves the basic function of foregrounding Mikael, it also serves as further insight into the difficulties of being Muslim in Norway—the “punchline” is that Mikael was in the wrong building, but the content is more focused on the idea that your name could be enough to keep you from getting a job, which continues the more political messaging from the “Police Reactions” vlog that preceded the more “plot-heavy” SMS episode. I’m enjoying this element of the Vlogs, and look forward to seeing how they develop both connected to and independent of the main narrative.
  • Although the bus meeting was predictable in its outcome, I was a bit surprised we saw only a brief interaction between Sana and Noora, and no other interaction between her and Vilde and Eva. I was sort of expecting we’d start the episode with just the four of them before everyone else arrives, to get a sense of their respective feelings about the whole situation, but that clearly wasn’t in the cards.
  • Sana is the first central character who has a functional relationship with both of her parents, so I thought it was interesting that they never actually showed us Sana’s mother in focus during her first appearance, as though they were preparing us for the first parent since Eva’s mother whose presence is a significant part of the story to come.
  • The carrot peeling meet cute is a really well-constructed scene: beyond some very clear shipper fodder with the song on the radio and the physical proximity between them, they also get to introduce some important exposition about Yousef (he can cook, he works in a kindergarten) that frames Sana’s perspective of him accordingly. It also creates the setup for the twist, where his perfect compatibility falls apart.

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