Season 4, Episode 9
June 16, 2017
Season four was never just Sana’s season.
From the moment Julie Andem announced that season four would be the end of Skam, the expectation was clear: if this was going to be the end of this story, then there was to be resolution for the entire cast, especially the point-of-view characters from previous seasons. In advance of the season, I identified the challenges this presented, and watched as season four played out in acknowledgment of those difficulties. For better or worse, season four was designed to address these complications, engineered in order to use the point-of-view structure to deliver on what Andem believed was necessary to bring this story to a close.
What season four became was a season that featured a lot of what makes Skam distinctive, with many great scenes of observational drama and introspection. However, it was also a season that struggled to stay in these moments, often forced to abandon the isolationist storytelling of previous seasons in favor of “plot” for the first time in its run. Sana’s character had a clear model for a Skam season: only she understood the struggles of balancing her faith and her friends, and the struggles of negotiating her religion while wanting to be a part of Norwegian culture. But while these themes became the anchor of season four, and the source of its best moments, they were not simply captured within the day-to-day experiences of life in Oslo—they were instead filtered through those numerous melodramas, pulling the show away from what it does best often enough to justify covering more narrative ground in anticipation for the series’ conclusion.
Disappointment Was Inevitable
It has been interesting to see the diverse responses to season four. There is clearly a lot of criticism, but it comes in various forms. When fan sub source Skam English announced they were discontinuing providing subbed clips due to their “disappointment” with the season, they were attacked under the presumption that it was due to Isak and Even’s storyline being marginalized, when in truth it was an objection to the show’s treatment of “mental illness, Islam, and racism.” While some are frustrated by the fact that Sana was forced to share her season with both Isak and Noora, others are frustrated there wasn’t more for those characters.
This is not surprising. The nature of Skam’s distribution means that the English language responses—the ones I have access to, and see come across social media—are going to vary greatly depending not only on each individual’s relationship to the show and its storylines, but also their respective entry points. A large part of the international fandom came to the show in season three, and watched season four through the frame of Isak as the show’s protagonist, even though the Girl Squad shares that role given the continuity across Eva, Noora, and Sana’s seasons. This created a different burden for Sana’s season, in addition to an influx of new international viewers who may have been drawn specifically to seeing a Muslim protagonist. When you combine all of this with the way fans claim a text as their own and become invested in certain outcomes—shipping particular pairs, wanting particular developments, etc.—you have a fandom that was never going to be across-the-board happy with the way a final season played out.
Perspective vs. Scale
Personally, I wasn’t necessarily invested in any particular outcome, and so I wouldn’t say that season four “disappointed” me in any particular way. However, as a critic it became clear that the season was pulling away from the show’s potential, struggling to use the isolated POV format to tell a larger story. It actually reminds me a bit of my issues with the later Harry Potter books: as Rowling expanded the story to be a much larger political struggle, the close first-person perspective that served the early books so well became a burden, as it felt like we were being robbed of insights that would make that larger story resonate more successfully. As Sana’s story became more complicated, encompassing her friends, Pepsi Max, the Boy Squad, and the Balloon Squad, it reached a point where telling it exclusively from Sana’s perspective was untenable. It became frustrating that Sana wasn’t asking logical questions that could have resolved situations faster: the altercation between Elias and Isak was spoken of in riddles for no clear reason, as though Sana’s “isolation” required her to ignore what seem like basic human instincts for clarity.
Every POV character has made frustrating decisions at various points in the series, but Sana was faced with so many external stimuli and was rendered too stubborn by the show’s inability to have her pursue these questions lest the narrative move too quickly. Between the bus drama and everything that happened at the karaoke party, the show blurred the line between Sana choosing to withdraw from her friends and Sana willfully gaslighting herself in order for the narrative to be doled out over daily clips and weekly dramas, which I never found entirely believable.
Plot vs. Character
In this way, season four is a failure of plot: the bus drama was predictable when watched alongside an active fanbase, and it was never entirely clear why the Pepsi Max girls were so terrible (racism? Mean Girls being Mean Girls?) or why the girl squad would even briefly doubt their friendship with Sana as was suggested by the bait-and-switch in Episode 8. It was clearly the show trying to “clean up” the bus storyline that had been so much a part of the series but wouldn’t get traditional resolution due to the series concluding before their third year. While the ensuing drama helped the show make a general anti-bullying message, the machinations required to get us to that point never felt like they served the show overly well.
However, I wouldn’t say the season is a failure of character. There are some muddled lessons in Sana’s story—it is weird to hear her self-improvement being framed as “I need to stop presuming everyone is prejudiced toward Islam” at a time when anti-Muslim terror is so present in the news—but the show meaningfully explored the specificity of Sana’s relationship with Norwegian culture filtered through her religion. Sana’s burgeoning relationship with Yousef provided the season with some of its best segments, and although it was tarnished by an unnecessary and fundamentally misleading “love triangle” with Noora, I appreciated that the show let Sana have a “romance” on her own terms.
The idea that it was necessary to create a love triangle to slow Sana’s interest was frustrating precisely because the show had already introduced a compelling barrier—Yousef’s disassociation with Islam—which dealt with the season’s key themes, in addition to Sana’s general disassociation with hookup culture. Sana working to reconcile this may not have been as “dramatic” as her belief that Noora and Yousef were hooking up, but it was more in line with the show’s strengths, and something I wish the show could have anchored itself around. There’s a version of this season that’s just Sana struggling to understand her relationship to Yousef against the backdrop of normal, day-to-day teenage troubles, and I think if you isolate out that material this does provide a strong storyline for Sana, if one that was occasionally diluted by the plot happening around it.
Season vs. Series
As I watched the conclusion of episode nine, delayed by a trip away from the internet, I was struck by how it resolved the entirety of season four’s storytelling. Through the curveball of Yousef’s impending summer in Turkey, the show pushed forward the timeline of their relationship, building to a charming date that feels like the beginning instead of the end, able to leave fans to fill in the gaps of what happens when he returns. The tension between the Balloon Squad and the Boy Squad had been resolved in the previous episode, and this past week Noora and William’s reconciliation happened primarily off-camera without much in the way of drama. It stands primarily as a restatement of relationships that are important to Sana—her friendship with Noora, her bond with her mother—and a chance for her to reflect on what she’s gone through, and move forward accordingly.
And so I wasn’t shocked when this week’s final episode began with what appears to be a daily shifting point-of-view, designed to give us glimpses of the POV characters that might have been, and the stories Skam never got to tell. It’s a decision I will need to evaluate once we see how the entire week plays out, but for the moment it shows a clear interest in providing a true “series” finale in the buildup to the Eid party on the weekend. It’s a lot of pressure to put on this final episode, and already we’re seeing the challenge of suddenly creating canon where fans were previously able to fill in the narrative gaps. But it shows that in addition to threading details about past POV character arcs into the season—Even’s backstory with the Balloon Squad, Noora’s estrangement from William—there is a clear acknowledgment that the final season requires a shift in approach.
The issue, I think, is that this shift in approach was identifiable throughout the season, as the eyes of the story were always pulled toward resolution despite a format that has never actually been designed for resolution. The fact that we never got perfect closure on Noora and William’s or Isak and Even’s relationships—that was part of the show’s realism, reinforcing that these stories didn’t just “finish” when the season ended. But with this being announced as the final season, the show started showing its intention of tying up loose ends, and everything new the show introduced felt like a too-sudden escalation that we knew would disappear sooner rather than later.
This is not to say that what the show introduced in season four was without value: the Balloon Squad, for example, made for a great introduction, both fleshing out Sana’s story and providing content in their own right in the Hei Briskeby transmedia elements. But in the grand scheme of things, season four was a balance between telling a solid Sana story in and around a series of plot developments designed to pile in as much resolution as possible, rushing ahead to some key milestones (the bus) while looking into the past to address leftover story points. And thus it becomes a season of hypotheticals: would it had been better received if it hadn’t been announced as the final season until the end of episode nine? Would it have played out differently if there hadn’t been such pressure to resolve past seasons given the global success of season three in particular? Was Skam season four ever going to avoid being a disappointment once it was designated a final season, or were there creative choices that could have balanced both Sana’s story and the resolution expected by sections of the fanbase?
We’ll never really know. I do expect that those who binge-watch season four after the fact will experience it very differently, and that there will at some point be viewers who don’t know it’s the final season when watching. But for those who were “in the trenches” with the show, season four was a complicated experience, which will come to a close this week with the pinballing point-of-view journey to series’ end.
- I’m not super convinced we needed the Guru Advising clip, truth be told, but it was a nice swan song for Eskild nonetheless.
- I spent a lot of time comparing the show to Skins when writing about its potential U.S. adaptation, and the format for this final week is really leaning into the comparison.
- It will be interesting to see what the show does in these shifting POVs for Even and William, who seem like two likely candidates, and whose perspectives on their relationships we’ve been denied by the tight focus on their partners. We never got to really see Even in any meaningful way after getting clearer details on his falling out with the Balloon Squad, so the show has some work to do there to clarify that.
- Sana and Yousef’s first “date” was simple but effective: I especially liked how we got to see the other side of Sana’s phone call to Yousef in the Hei Briskeby video, which continued the show’s great work capturing the aesthetics of amateur YouTubers.
- It feels like Andem went into this season wanting to emerge with an “explanation” for some of Sana’s hardness as a character, settling on a cynical view of how people perceive Islam and Muslims generally. I’m not super convinced that this was necessary, and don’t like the idea that Sana needed a rebooted attitude in order to grow as a person, so I’m hopeful this final episode resists suggesting a significant change in her personality as a result of the season’s events.
- Sana’s mother gives her a speech that might read as an attempt to belittle her relationship with Yousef, but I thought it was mostly intended as an effort to remind a teenager that nothing you experience as a teenager is as big a deal as you think it is. Yousef might be Sana’s one true love; he might also be one small stop on a much longer journey, as far as we know, and that’s good advice even if it’s not the “follow your destiny” advice that might fit a typical romantic rising action.
- I want to know if the swan was scripted or improv, because when it came up to them I was deeply concerned for their safety, and appreciated it was part of Sana and Yousef’s goodbye message. Swans are dangerous, folks.
- I liked the phantom musical reprise of “I Feel It Coming” activating Sana’s desire to reinstate the date—nice use of the show’s soundtrack as part of its diegesis.