Hiatus Hangups: The Uncertainty of Skam’s Midseason Breaks

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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.

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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.

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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.

Cultural Observations

  • 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.
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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Hiatus Hangups: The Uncertainty of Skam’s Midseason Breaks

  1. Isa

    I binged the first three seasons in two days and I assumed they just do the american midseason thing. I found the last episode upsetting and a bit painful so the hiatus gave me the chance to distance myself from the series and readjust my expectations.
    I also want a meaningful explanation of the Yousef-Noora hook up but mostly because Noora has never been a hook up kinda girl. I have always found her cautious and removed. Did she hook up with Yousef for a reason or could she have hooked up with anyon? I understand she’s hurt but did she really think William was waiting for her by the window?

    • I really don’t think Noora was being remotely rational, but it’s hard to get a clear grasp on her logic in a season where we don’t have her POV, so I’ll be curious how they square that circle.

  2. grallonsphere

    In my opinion they cannot gloss over the immediate aftermath of E5. Perhaps through Sana having flashbacks of conversations with Isak, Noora, her brother? There’s is also the buss meeting where she is to be excluded and that was slated to happen on Monday May 15th.

    For the record, and as an enthusiast from outside Norway, I’d like to say I’m no great fan of the live experience, especially when it comes to social media, which I dislike a great deal. Thankfully there are sites now devoted to lining & translating the snippets of conversation going on on Instagram/Facebook/ etc.

    As for how I spent my time during this hiatus well other than indulging in constant rewatch of the Gullrutten interviews to marvel at Tarjei’s beauty. I also ended up on various sites to speculate about several theories – one of which centered on Youssef being gay- it would be consistent with the ‘reverse theory’ since he’s been presented as Sana’s love interest from the beginning.

    • I saw bits of that theory, and while I think there’s a story logic for it I’m not convinced they would be willing to undo so much of the storytelling—the show has never really done a “twist” of that sort, and I feel like it risks creating distrust from a storytelling perspective.

      It’s fascinating to me, though, that you’re someone who is against social media, but has still connected with the show. I have to imagine there are others even in Norway who have just watched this as a “normal” TV show, but the live experience definitely pushes you to consume any and all content as soon as possible, so the go-betweens you speak of are crucial ways that all can engage with the show during the live viewing experience.

  3. I won´t say the hiatus depicts the shows realism that much, because you always know it is things you don´t see. Noora and Eskild are having many conversations in the kollektiv without us getting a clip, because that is the contract wth the viewer. Because these are real people! Hiatus is more of an extension of that deal. And it is the right decision when it is the price you pay for getting the season (and weather) right. I mean, when O helga natt was released it was no snow, but dark, misty and rainy just as in the clip.

    I guess what really depicts the realism is the fact that they release these hiatus-trailers with not-yet-aired clips, because, hey, that is like timetravelling!

    I am a Norwegian and I have watched it in realtime since episode 2 in season 2. The season 2 hiatus was rather blissful, episode 5 ended with the Noorhelm kiss on the bridge. The only uneasiness was the thing with Vilde watching, but that was minor. And after the credits we got the text «Watch Noora and William make out even more at skam.p3.no». And the trailer was the two of them making out from different clips further down the road. Just one nitpick, maybe you got it wrong due to homemade translations, but Noora does´t «reveal» for William that she does´t want to have sex before marriage. She says «You know I´m not having any sex before I marry» in a teasing manner.

    The season 3 hiatus was rather horrible, because you felt so bad for Isak. What you do in the hiatus is analyze every single line ever said, and every reference ever made. After «Bros» was released (last clip in ep 5, se3) they released a hiatus-teaser, which is worth watching. http://skam.p3.no/2016/11/05/14-11-16/ That teaser was under intens investigation for the whole 10 days, and the fans came to some reassuring conclusions on who and what there. I guess that was what comforted us during that break.

    What did we get now in the season 4 hiatus-trailer, it seemed to just list all the trouble!

    • Whoa, I use “depict” the opposite way. I meant “I won´t the hiatus conflicts the shows realism…” Can I not edit my own comment here?

    • You can’t edit comments, sadly, but I knew what you meant! And you’re technically right, but on some level the show’s argument is that what we don’t see is not pivotal or important to the point-of-view character. But the idea that this would imply to the week after THAT cliffhanger is a huge stretch: it’s true we don’t see anything, but the idea that nothing worth seeing happened in the past nine days pushes the bounds of realism in a way that “not seeing Sana and Isak in class” doesn’t, if that makes sense.

      Sadly, past season content is geoblocked outside of Norway (and maybe some neighboring countries), and I can’t find that particular teaser anywhere else, but that’s definitely one way they try to shape conversation. But you’re right that this hiatus doesn’t have that same sense of reassurance, which is a meaningful distinction. Thanks for your insights!

      (As for William and Noora, you might be right! I wouldn’t say it’s a dramatically different reading, as William doesn’t really react to it or pressure her in any way. But for me, it was a teasing “Oh, did I forget to tell you that?” not “Don’t you remember we talked about this,” but the point remains basically the same. It’s just there to remind us of her choice not to have sex to make what happens to her land harder.)

  4. Mai

    From what I noticed, the season 3 hiatus had a greater impact on viewers – primarily because as you said, Isak alienated everyone in his life one-by-one and it was understood by the audience. There was a very tight focus on his point of view too (which amplified his own emotions), and I think that’s the key as to why there was much greater engagement at the time.
    Throughout the whole season there were viewers wondering how Isak was doing at that moment (“is he sleeping? Is he drinking enough water?”) and waiting for a clip to drop so they could get a glimpse. Lack of updates typically happened whenever Isak was depressed/isolated, so it added to the feel of realism (which proved to work when viewers collectively mirrored his own emotions, experiencing his highs and lows in depth). The hiatus fit well into that, considering how sluggish the week of the 6th episode felt (via sparse updates which highlighted the lead’s isolation as well as his lethargic mood).

    One of this season’s main complaints that I’ve seen is that Sana isn’t being focused on enough, many viewers expressed they don’t feel as if they’re in her shoes, but as spectators from the side. I think the S4 mid-season cliffhanger emphasized that even more, as fans keep expressing they’re just “waiting for the show to be back” and that is the most common sentiment going around.

    • I like the distinction between being emotionally invested in the character outcome and just “wanting the story to continue.” Both are valuable, and in a way it’s logical that the final season would move more toward narrative resolution than a more general investment in character arcs. But it’s definitely a case where the emotional dynamics are more dispersed, and lower in priority to the general uncertainty.

  5. Sara

    I actually think the season 2 hiatus was the best narratively integrated one. To me, it’s clear from the level of physical intimacy that Noora and William have reached (and the fact that she has to remind him that she doesn’t want to have sex (I think she says “I told you, I can’t have sex before…”,), i.e. they’ve had that convo already) that some time has passed. As a side note, I seem to remember there being a post on Williams instagram profile on Noora’s birthday, which was during the hiatus. So technically there was some transmedia content, although outside of the skam page.

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