The Uncertainty of Skam‘s Midseason Breaks
May 18, 2017
When I wrote my first reflective piece about catching up with Skam, I noted that it was a fundamentally different experience: not only was I watching a deeply specific Norwegian series from the perspective of a North American viewer, but I was also missing out on the real-time elements that are central to the show’s narrative.
This was a blanket acknowledgment that by binging the first three seasons, I wasn’t getting the full Skam experience, which covered me for my relative ignorance to the different social elements being posted to the show’s website. However, when I wrote this, I had no idea that there was a key element to the series that I had been entirely ignorant to: the midseason hiatus.
It’s logical: making Skam has to be an all-encompassing job, between production, post-production, and the transmedia elements being posted throughout the week. The hiatus gives all involved a chance to take a breather, and potentially even make some course corrections on the plans for the rest of the season. Ranging from ten days to two and a half weeks, these breaks seem like they’re probably primarily there to serve the logistics of production, but they also have an undeniable impact on the audience. Suddenly, after being sucked into the ongoing drama and awaiting each day’s content with baited breath, Skam’s audience is forced to sit with the characters’ predicaments for a longer period, and await resolution when the series resumes.
I was warned about the likelihood of a hiatus earlier this season, so this week’s delay didn’t come as a surprise: indeed, as I wrote in my review, I actually presumed there was a hiatus based on the cliffhangers in the episode before I came back online and confirmed my suspicions. But what was interesting to me was that I suddenly realized how weird it was that I had never noticed any of the previous hiatuses. Given the the show retains its real time structure after its hiatus, there is—I presumed—a significant chunk of time missing from each season that I never registered. Shouldn’t I have realized that there was a two-week gap? Or was I wrong in my presumption, and there was no gap at all?
And as I’ve followed some of the online discussion during this season’s hiatus, I realized I wasn’t the only one who was a little confused about how hiatuses work, which inspired me to revisit past seasons to discover just how these hiatuses engage with the show’s narrative in advance of discovering how season four will handle its hiatus beginning on Monday.
Upon closer investigation, I can say two things definitively about the Skam hiatuses. The first is that they definitely create a gap in the narrative, as evidenced most conclusively by season two. In the first half of the season, episodes both before and after the hiatus take place on clearly marked days on the calendar: the Easter weekend episode before, and Constitution Day after. In order for these dates to line up, we have to accept that there is a 16-day break between Noora and William’s kiss at the auction and Noora waking up in bed with William before discovering his brother in his kitchen. While Halloween and Christmas offer similar guideposts for the first and third seasons, the show never depicts Christmas itself, and so it’s harder to pin down any specific dates during those seasons.
However, the second thing I can say is that there is very little evidence other than these dates to support a gap in the narrative during the hiatus, seemingly by design. In the first season, despite picking up ten days later, the girls are still debriefing on the Halloween party as though it is news, which you would have thought they would have discussed the previous week. In season two, Noora and William are having a conversation that seems like their relationship is fairly new, as Noora reveals she is not having sex until she is married, which seems like something that would have come up in the previous two and a half weeks. Within these two examples, we’re given the sense that the main characters have withdrawn somewhat from their situations—Eva avoids discussing the Halloween party out of guilt for making out with Penetrator Chris when she thinks Jonas cheated on her, and Noora’s relationship with William is still something of a secret as she works out how to tell Vilde (who knows anyway, but she doesn’t know that). But while this reading would make sense if you were actually watching live, the way the show has the characters reacting to events from before the hiatus means it is far more logical when binging the series to read it as happening in the immediate aftermath. I never would have thought, in these two examples, that there was a gap, even if an argument could be made.
Season three is a little different: Isak’s withdrawal is more pronounced after he goes through a lot of emotional turmoil in the wake of his Romeo + Juliet moment with Even. He goes from the bliss of first love to offending Eskild as he tries to discuss his sexuality, being shamed by Emma for not being more open about his sexuality, and then being heartbroken as Even shows up to the party with Sonja. In retrospect, it makes sense that he disappeared from school for a week following his fight with Mahdi and his breakdown after the party, and that adds an extra layer to his conversation with Jonas. However, the same principle applies: when watching the episodes after the fact, it’s more logical to read it as Isak having fallen out of contact for the weekend instead of an entire week, and nothing in the story really requires you to read a gap into the story.
It’s clearly a creative decision on the part of the production, although one that arguably disrupts the show’s realism. A compromise would be to use transmedia elements to give a clearer sense of how the characters are tentatively approaching the aftermath of the cliffhanger created by the hiatus, but the show has chosen radio silence, which hasn’t really been a huge issue until this season. In the first three seasons, the show successfully created moments that functioned as effective cliffhangers for the audience watching live (or so I presume, given the show has only grown more successful over time), while also transitioning smoothly to a non-linear viewing audience who could watch the season without any major disruption. But I am skeptical that the same can be done for the fourth season, where the scale of the cliffhanger is so much more significant.
In the first three seasons, the events of the “cliffhangers” are all isolated to the point-of-view character. It is about Eva’s guilt, Noora’s secret (and, I suppose, Vilde knowing it), and then Isak alienating everyone in his life one-by-one. And there are clear parallels with Sana, as she is the only one who knows the Pepsi Max girls intend to kick her off the bus, and kept her feelings about Yousef to herself such that Noora would have no idea she was causing her as much harm as she is. But when we factor in the fight between Elias and Isak, we find a situation that would 100% have an immediate aftermath, and which we are going to join in progress ten days later based on the precedent set by past seasons. While I can see why Sana might avoid talking to Noora or Yousef in the wake of what went down at the karaoke party, is it really realistic that Sana had no meaningful conversations with Elias, Isak, or Even about what happened during that fight? Would Sana really not reach out to try to apologize on her brother’s behalf, or perhaps get her brother’s side of the story to better understand what is happening?
We obviously don’t know yet how the show intends to handle this cliffhanger, but I would argue that past strategy would struggle to pass the test of realism the show has set in front of itself. The show doesn’t need to acknowledge every real world calendar event—they skipped over Eurovision, for example—but it feels important that the passage of time be something that carries meaning in the real-time nature of this story. In past seasons, the show has been vague about how much time has passed, and largely “unpaused” the narrative in ways that allow for basic exposition to remind viewers of where the story sits. But this season, it feels like we should have missed some significant things in this ten days, and so I’d personally like to see the show “grapple with the gap” as part of its storytelling as we reengage with Sana’s story.
Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that part of why this question seems more important is that this is the first time the global following the show gained in the wake of the third season is all watching in real time. I’ve wondered a few times when writing about the show how much the production is adjusting its approach in order to acknowledge that fanbase, and it seems plausible—if not necessarily likely—that this hiatus could be handled differently as a result. Or, it’s possible the show will simply push the bounds of verisimilitude and suggest that all of the characters came to a collective agreement to avoid having the big conversations about what went down at the karaoke party until the hiatus was ever, an inelegant but ultimately not show-killing choice if it comes to pass.
- I’d be really curious to hear from any viewers who watched live during early seasons about how the hiatuses were received at the time—I have to imagine this one is being felt more acutely, based not only on the larger audience stuck in limbo and the combination of the fight and Yousef’s betrayal.
- Obviously, there has been a lot of speculation about why Yousef would hook up with Noora, and the show definitely has to provide some type of explanation. However, as pointed out in the comments on my review, it’s potentially just because he’s a teenage boy, and I’ll be curious if the show avoids providing specific context and instead just lets that be part of the reasoning.
- How did everyone spend the hiatus? Did anyone rewatch the season thus far, which would be a pretty quick process? Did people spend any time speculating on social media? I’ve mostly just been over-intellectualizing with the above, as per usual, but I’ll probably rewatch episode five before Monday.