Season 4, Episode 10
June 23, 2017
[With its final week, Skam is adjusting its format to shift perspective on a daily basis, moving between a range of supporting characters to bring the show to its conclusion. Given the promise of daily clips, I’ve decided to review each clip as it is released, with a final reflection on the week and the series as a whole to follow over the weekend. You can find the rest of my reviews of this season’s episodes here.]
The choice to start with Vilde is an easy one: she is the character who was most likely to have a POV-season who will never get one, given how the show has played with the vulnerabilities she hides from her friends. Her eating disorder was built into season two through Noora’s observations of it, and what we’ve gleaned of her home life has seemed challenging. There is clearly a season’s worth of material in understanding Vilde, whose ignorance has always come alongside surface-level insecurities distinct from the more guarded POV characters.
Perhaps this is why Vilde never got a POV season: it was always evidently clear that Vilde was never truly “chill,” and thus there wasn’t necessarily a façade to break down in the way we saw with the other characters. Learning that Vilde is struggling to take care of her depressed mother helps put parts of the character into context, but it doesn’t really transform our understanding of the character, or push the show into new territory (especially given it’s not dissimilar to Isak’s relationship with his mother, although the show never explored that directly). In making the choice for the final season, Sana offered a richer thematic palette, while Vilde offers a tragic but perhaps a bit rote take on a teenager forced to be the responsible adult in the wake of mental illness.
What this brief clip doesn’t get to explore is Vilde’s tone deaf comments, which pop up again in “Jonas” on Monday, and define the character. Part of my reservations about a Vilde season was how the character’s cringe-comic role—there mistakenly believing Mahdi is Muslim, for no clear reason—would be reconciled with a POV, so it’s interesting that we see none of that comedy in her episode. My feeling was always that her “persona” with her friends was something of a performance, picked up in the Pepsi Max days and hung onto as a form of social survival, and this clip somewhat supports this, but in its short length can’t dig much deeper than that. It’s the first of what might be a couple of “what could’ve been” clips as the week goes on.
I don’t think anyone realistically believes there’s an entire season to be found in Penetrator Chris—the show’s O.G. “fuckboy” (it’s a technical term) represents a character that has persisted in the show thanks to his occasional (unexplained) appearances with Eva, but is primarily remembered for more prominent roles in the first two seasons. But both because fans took to the character—as eye candy, if nothing else—and there were answers needed regarding his relationship with Eva, it’s logical that he reemerges here.
The clip is a good example of how the POV structure can be used to make a shift in characterization. The show wants to “evolve” Penetrator Chris by having him decide he actually wants to date Eva, and the POV lets us explore this by seeing those moments before Eva wakes up where he’s simply admiring her. Eva has no reason to take his suggestions seriously, but we’ve got at least one moment where he seems fairly genuine, which helps to orient us for his subsequent actions (forcibly introducing himself to her mother, his reaching out to Jonas, etc.). There’s no attempt at showing us parts of his private life that reveal more about his character or showcase some type of tragedy: it’s just a quick moment where we see things through his eyes, and get a sense of how he acts when he’s not being observed by anyone else.
It’s also a hard left turn from Vilde’s clip in terms of tone—where Vilde’s focused on the dramatic side of Skam, here we see the show’s penchant for comedy, as Penetrator Chris wraps himself in the duvet to greet Eva’s mother. The “love me” punchline is quick and simple, the show indulging in the ability for this week’s format to oscillate between high drama and the relative absence of drama after the season’s main conflicts were resolved last week. While the recurring thread of the Girl Squad’s plans to do something for Sana at the Eid party is reinforced, the clip is mainly here to formally reintroduce Penetrator Chris into the cast of characters, and deliver a quick bit of comedy as the week continues.
It is with this clip that Julie Andem makes a more contentious decision. While the previous two clips mainly used new POVs to explore things we had gleaned from previous details, there had been no foreshadowing for Jonas hooking up with Emma, who has played no significant role in the fourth season after being a crucial part of Isak’s story. Here, Skam is using the shifting POVs to introduce entirely new information, and it struggles under the weight of feeling like an arbitrary pairing designed to pull in as many supporting characters as possible.
There just isn’t enough time in this clip to explain why Jonas and Emma are hooking up, or why Jonas is choosing to hide it. Is it because he’s worried about Isak, given the messy relationship he had with Emma (him using her, her outing him, etc.)? Is he still wary of new relationships due to his lingering connection to Eva, who it would appear he was texting with about a shirt he left at her house in the transmedia? We’re never going to get the origins of this relationship, and so we’re left with more questions than answers, and there’s clearly not going to be time to explore them.
Jonas’ is the first clip that feels designed to establish the “plot” of these final episodes. The clip primarily serves to reignite romantic drama, as he gets a text from Penetrator Chris looking for advice about Eva, and Emma goes to Eva—unknowingly?—in search of a friendly face at the Eid party the next day. The Eid party has been introduced as a clear “endpoint” for the series, but despite season four’s drama being resolved there needs to be something for fans to anticipate. The collision of the two undefined relationships introduced in these two clips offers that, although at the expense of really giving Jonas his own spotlight here.
Although often thrown out as a potential POV character, I don’t know if Jonas would sustain an entire season. This clip seems disinterested in any particular motivating factor about his personality: although we were first introduced to Jonas through his essay that opened the series, that never manifested much in the show itself, where he largely operated through his relationships with Eva and Isak. At no point in those moments did I feel like Jonas was hiding something, or driven by something we didn’t understand—there is no mystery to Jonas other than the general enigma of the teenage boy, which strikes me as a weak anchor for a season, and didn’t really even play any role in this straightforward clip.
One of the interesting reminders of season four was the fact that it was Chris who brought Sana into this story: although we never saw the two be particularly close, with Noora emerging as Sana’s closer confidante when we got to season four, Chris has technically known her longer. We got a bit of this at the karaoke party, and again when Sana confided in Chris first about the Saranors account, but still it would be hard to say that Chris was “central” to the storyline of this or any other season. She is a good and loyal friend, but her friendship and loyalty was as part of the squad, and never defined in an individual way.
This clip changes this, although only barely. As with Jonas, there really isn’t a lot of interest in Chris’ inner life, as she is mainly witness to ongoing developments (Emma approaching Eva, discussion of the gift for Sana) and a followup on her scene with Vilde in the first clip of the week. It frames Chris as someone who is observant if not necessarily deeply active: she isn’t like Sana, who would see Noora struggling and give her a lecture on how to deal with her current situation. She knows something is happening at home with Vilde, but she doesn’t know how to confront it, going to the school doctor where Noora would—if she was given the types of insight that Chris is—approach Vilde directly. Chris isn’t like her friends, which is why she hasn’t played as much of a direct role in the show’s storylines, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care, or that she doesn’t do her part in supporting them.
The scene with the school doctor is primarily an excuse to return to one of the most absurdist supporting players (which Skam used sparingly, but effectively in this case), but it also reinforces that Vilde’s situation with her mother is one of the conflicts being set up to be resolved by week’s end. It very much positions this as a sort of mini-season, taking what would have been the central conflict of Vilde’s season and having it play out in microcosm. Chris knows that loaning Vilde money will not be a long-term solution to the complexities of this issue, and seems motivated by their conversation to do something more about it.
In this way, moving to Chris’ POV isn’t really designed to flesh out our understanding of the character: it reaffirms our assumptions (a good friend who often shies away from conflict in ways that limit her involvement in ongoing drama) but then offers a path toward change, a mini-arc that doesn’t necessarily make the character more complex but promises a nice bit of growth to help bring the series to a close.
Of the “love interests” introduced across Skam’s four seasons, Even is far and away the most complex. Although Jonas, William, and Yousef each had their own distinct struggles that made them more than just an “ideal” partner to each season’s POV character, Even’s struggle with mental illness made his story into a significant narrative in its own right. It became a huge part of Isak’s season, as his evolution as a character was marked by his ability to not only come to terms with his own struggles, but also support Even in his. The narrative arc of that season was effectively the transition from Isak’s story being one of isolation to Isak making Even a part of his story, and linking their paths forward together in order to help each other survive the challenges they’ll face.
The fourth season has done little to threaten this. Although the plot required Isak to be jealous enough of Mikhail to get into the altercation at the karaoke party, whatever insecurities were operating there were quickly resolved by the time Isak tells Sana the details. When the plot places Isak in the crosshairs of the Pepsi Max girls, there is no anxiety from Isak about them leaking details of his relationship with Even, or even details of Even’s past. Although we don’t spend a lot of time with Isak and Even over the course of the season, what time we do spend shows them as a couple who has gotten over the macro-level struggles that come with the beginning of a relationship, and moved onto the little fights over laundry.
Accordingly, Even’s POV clip wasn’t going to be a revelation: we understand Even, having seen him at both the manic and depressive ends of his bipolar disorder, and I don’t think there was any expectation we’d see an episode break out at this late stage. It’s clear that Andem is not interested in simply “telling” the story of what happened between Even and Mikhail: the past is the past, it would seem, and whatever drama occurred there seems to have been more or less resolved in the present.
Edit: Well, I spoke too soon, as Andem—cleverly—used a final Hei Briskeby video featuring Even to offer a bit more context for what happened at Elvebakken, in a charming clip that offers a nice resolution to that side of the character. Nice way to cap off the day.
Instead, we get a clearer glimpse into his present insecurities, and how they shape his relationship with Isak. The text conversation he has with everyone before Isak shows up shows how he frets over small details about Isak’s birthday, “exaggerating” the importance of small things and clearly annoying Isak’s friends in the process. This is not a direct manifestation of Even’s mental illness, to be clear, but it reveals an underlying concern that everything about his relationship with Isak needs to be perfect, lest he lose this crucial support system. Even is never going to feel entirely confident about this relationship, or any relationship, which is why he’s having a minor text freakout about details before Isak shows up.
It’s Isak who has a freakout after that, though: after a particularly intense makeout session, a homophobic passerby makes a comment, and Isak’s temper—which we never got to actually see after the karaoke party—flares. In that moment, it’s Even who is there to calm down Isak, holding him back and reassuring him that nothing the asshole said or did was going to threaten them. In this brief clip, we get to see how much Even values his relationship with Isak while also glimpsing how Isak relies on Even. Their “bliss” is not without its challenges, but the show has made the case that two wounded souls found each other, and can build a life out of relying on the other when difficulties arise.
This scene is not the clip’s only glimpse into their relationship, of course: it also created a scavenger hunt for Even’s “birthday video,” which fans had already discovered by the time I came to the translated clip. It’s a gift for both Isak and the show’s fans, particularly those international fans who came to the show through “Evak.” It is glimpses of the life they’ve been living offscreen, distilled to the most romantic and playful and charming moments. It is a fitting “farewell” to the relationship, but needs to be read alongside the glimpses we get of the relationship in the show itself, including today’s clip. It is unceasingly romantic, focused on intimacy and connection, ending with the idea that they have rescued one another and reached this happy place.
But there will be moments—small ones like laundry fails, bigger ones like Isak’s temper—that will challenge this: this is not a “Happily Ever After” so much as it’s evidence that these two are each other’s best chance at navigating the ups and downs of the challenges ahead to work toward that goal. They are still young, and there is still a lot of life ahead of them, but their Skam “ending” is one of hope, a fittingly optimistic conclusion to the show’s most complex love story.
It has been clear from following the (English-language) fanbase of Skam that there is a clear division on the subject of William and Noora: I’ve seen a fair bit of contention around the pairing, often juxtaposed with Isak and Even as the “anchor” of the series’ narrative. OTP to some and DOA for others, the pairing was still objectively central enough that it justified resolution in the final episodes of the series.
Accordingly, I had expected one of this week’s episodes would focus on William, just as we got episodes focused on the love interests in the first and third seasons. However, I wasn’t sure what exactly that episode would try to accomplish. There are two basic tasks it could take on. The first is immediate, focused on contextualizing his return and his future with Noora. Although we saw his return, and got Noora’s perspective on it during Episode Nine, there hasn’t been a great deal of clarity, so a William clip would be a chance to put a button on that story and plot the future of the two characters for those invested in said future. The second, however, would be an attempt to investigate William’s core characterization, returning to his school days or litigating his distancing from Noora when they were in London. While the narrative offered basic explanations for his hookups and his turn to violence, there’s more room to think about a maturing William, and to consider the character’s broader attitude.
But it’s evident at this point that outside of Vilde, these clips are not digging that deep into these characters. The focus—logically, I think—is on short term impacts, here using the POV to show us William’s immediate decision-making. The texts from his father reveal a pending ultimatum regarding his return to London, which he’s clearly putting off. The rest of the clip plays out as a romantic afternoon by the water, as William distracts Noora from writing her speech about Sana (which seems to have been the Girl Squad’s decision on what to give her for a gift). There’s almost nothing to the their conversation/makeout session, but Andem uses it to have William make a clear observation: Noora needs to be in Oslo with her friends, and he needs to be with Noora, so he intends to stay.
That in and of itself is not a surprise: I don’t think anyone realistically expected that the show would split them up after reuniting them, with any tension in fans’ potential OTPs comfortably isolated in Eva’s love triangle for this finale. That being said, I do think that the way the episode constructs William’s decision-making is a good example of the affordances of the POV format. We see William’s texts with his father, but he notably has never told Noora anything about them, and yet gives his father the impression that he did. In just a few moments, Andem gets across a fair bit of William’s thought process: he’s afraid to ask Noora, either because she won’t agree to return to London with him or—conversely—because she will agree to it. William realizes that neither option is desirable, understanding that her relationship with her friends is too important to her, and that he can’t ask her to make that decision. And so he makes it for her, accepting whatever consequences—needing to find a new job? Dude is rich, I don’t think there’s any real concern operating here—required for them to remain together.
As noted, it’s not a particularly surprising act, nor does it do much to invest the final clip(s?) with any greater drama. This is a very simple scene, and lacks the more complicated relationship dynamics of Isak and Even that inflected yesterday’s, but it’s still a good example of the way the POV shift can give us that added bit of clarity and closure on what was unarguably a huge part of the series’ run as a whole. We might never know what role William might have played in the third and fourth seasons if the actor hadn’t left, but his return ended up adding an extra bit of drama to these final episodes, and this offers a nice if ultimately straightforward “resolution” to give us a sense of their future.
“Eskild & Linn”
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead began as a play, but it has evolved into a trope in media more broadly, a way of describing episodes or scenes wherein the narrative shifts to minor characters’ perspective on a story’s events. And on some level, the entirety of Episode 10 has played into this trope, moving its way around the story to show us the perspectives of characters who never got to be the center of attention.
However, there are clearly different levels of marginalization: William, Even, and Jonas were major love interests, while Vilde and Chris were huge supporting players in three out of four seasons. Only Penetrator Chris has really potentially played this type of role out of the POVs explored this week, but he’s basically reframed into a love interest, such that the show is less interested in his perspective on the narrative and more invested in making him a part of it. None of them were what you could call “minor” characters, at least not given their entanglement with central relationships.
With Eskild and Linn, though, Skam gets its true Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Although close to a range of characters—Noora most specifically, Isak to a lesser extent—and in Eskild’s case happy to insert himself into the lives of everyone else, they are decidedly “outside” the main narrative action. There are huge parts of this story they really aren’t privy to, and so they have likely created their own version of events. And in this clip, they are each operating with the concern that the narrative is going to pass them by: Eskild is stressing over the Eid party sensing an opportunity to assert his presence in the larger friend group given Noora spending more time away from the apartment with William, while Linn comes out and expresses her concern that Noora might be abandoning them and moving out.
There’s a comic element to Eskild’s insistence on “dressing up” for Eid per his advice from Elias, but the conversation he has with Linn is both heartwarming and more complicated than I had expected. Specifically, Eskild reveals that he and Linn basically do not approve of William, making them surrogates for those in the audience who have reservations about the pairing. Their insistence that Noora is too good for William nicely undercuts the “closure” offered in William’s clip, reminding us that theirs was not a perfect relationship. Is it possible that they would feel differently if they knew about the sacrifice William is making (including his father cutting him off)? Maybe, but I like that these characters have a different perspective on events based on their proximity to Noora, and that we got the chance to peek into that.
And while this doesn’t dramatically expand on the two characters’ inner lives, we get a nice reminder of the way they rely on each other, even if Linn would never say such a thing and Eskild spends most of his time making fun of her hermit lifestyle. It is unlikely they will ever be close friends with the main characters, relegated to an occasional guru visit from Eskild or a brief off-kilter conversation with Linn, but this doesn’t mean they didn’t have a part to play in the series, or that their friendship doesn’t embody the spirit of love—this is all going to come back to love—at the heart of Skam. While it doesn’t do much to advance the “plot” of the week heading into the Eid party, it reinforces that if Noora were to move out, our headcanons should include the fact that Eskild and Linn will still support one another, and Eskild is going to work overtime to ensure that they’re not left behind as the rest of the characters continue their journeys.
One of my central discoveries watching Skam in “real time” for the first time this season was that its foreshadowing is never subtle. The show is not designed to “surprise” you: its storytelling is carefully scaffolded, and while there are occasionally small twists in the story, the broad stakes are going to be outlined in advance of any type of resolution.
As a result, I did not approach “Dear Sana”—the series’ final clip—with any expectation of my mind being blown. There is technically a “twist” in this episode, but it’s one of those twists that simply resolves a story in an expected way a bit differently than you might expect. With a full seven clips leading up to it, we saw every possible story the show was invested in bringing to a conclusion amidst this finale: Vilde’s troubles at home and Chris’ desire to be more active in assisting her friends; the love rhombus between Jonas, Eva, Penetrator Chris, and Emma; Noora’s residential rhombus between William and Eskild,& Linn; and the gang’s letter for Sana as a gift for what she’s done for them.
And we work through them one by one. Chris sits down with Vilde to tell her that she’s there to talk about difficult things, and Vilde promises her that Magnus is there for her, and that Chris’ good humor is more support than she could ever realize. Eskild and Linn make their dramatic entrance and discover Noora has no plans to move out, and Eskild plans a healthy combination of board game nights and orgies. And in the one “twist,” Penetrator Chris and Emma find one another at the buffet, ditching Jonas and Eva and—shock—leaving the two former lovers to reconnect. Combine with drop-ins for Isak and Even planning a summer trip to Morocco and Sana and Yousef texting about his plans to show her Turkey sometime in the future, everyone is in fine spirits when Jonas—in a callback to the series’ very first scene—reads the brief speech prepared by Noora, William, and Isak.
Series finales historically have three functions: to resolve any remaining storytelling, to give some sense of the characters’ future, and to make some kind of statement about what the show meant. This final clip deftly does all three in a fairly short running time, moving from group to group and maintaining momentum right up until the final statement that love—and not just fear—spreads. However, as I hope to expand on in a larger overview of the series, it also extends this statement about the show to its audience, and to the global fanbase. It’s a decision that is a bit jarring at first—I was confused why the montage was shifting from the characters’ footage of story events to off-screen footage of the episodes—but nicely fits into the messages of the show, and the way Skam spent much of this last week serving the fans first. It makes their story our story—well, I’m not sure that it’s ever going to be my story exactly, given I’m far from being a teenager, but it nonetheless support my relationship to this story and its messages.
As I wrote earlier in the week, last week was really the “season finale”: Sana’s story was already resolved, and so this week was focusing its attention on the rest of the characters. But by making Sana the center of attention with this speech, the show is also making an argument about how important she is to the central messages of the show. The speech presents Skam as a treatise on a world of chaos, and how easy it is for people to give up on there being good in that world. It’s a theme that we can track through all seasons—particularly from season two forward—but it’s fair to say that Sana’s story was the clearest manifestation. Sana was victimized, and had to make choices about how to respond: she struggled with that decision, and regretted the one she initially made, but as the speech notes she never gave up. She was tough. She persevered. She forgave. She redeemed herself. And she brought them all together to celebrate, an inclusive group that may not all be friends, but are all united in their belief in love over hate.
Is that an oversimplified thematic statement? Yes. Am I always deeply skeptical about things that end with “the real meaning was love?” Absolutely. However, does it also feel like a fitting end to both this season and the series as a whole?
- I’ve got one more piece to write in light of the finale, but for those who have been reading these reviews weekly—thanks so much for coming along for the ride. It’s been a lot of fun to dive into the show critically for a fanbase that is so invested in the outcomes, and between the distinct global distribution and the transmedia dynamics, this was a rich text that deserves this and more. Thanks for helping justify spending the time to work through it, and I’ll miss the discussion around the show as much as the show itself.
- There’s an inevitable “fan fiction” vibe to these little installments, which is not a slight so much as an acknowledgment that a whole lot of head canons are being busted, which is a harsh note to go out on.
- It seems unlikely at this point we’ll be getting POV clips for characters like Magnus, but if his last moment of glory is his impression of William, it’s a fine sendoff.
- Among the transmedia elements this week was a photo from Jonas’ instagram that was just a model shot of the Boy Squad without shirts on, and I have so many questions about why the characters would post such a thing even while completely understanding why the show would.
- Interesting to see viewing stats on the YouTube translations now that there’s only one primary source for translated clips: there’s a huge jump for the Penetrator Chris episode, which I guess is what happens when you get a bedroom clip?
- It’s notable that Even’s episode is the first to more or less abandon the Eid party as a structuring mechanism—it’s the first clip to fully abandon Sana, despite her logically being present at this party, so it will be interesting to see whose clip we get next, and how it reconnects that thread.
- I’m enjoying seeing Chris’ new direct form of advice—taken from the good doctor—changing her interactions with her friends. Nice bit of continuity.
- Is William’s the first episode to ever violate the POV structure by having us see Noora’s text message from Isak—his desire that Sana appear “strong” in the speech—in addition to William’s? It’s obvious the show wanted to continue threading the “honoring Sana” angle, but I was surprised when the text popped up onscreen.
- It took me a second to realize that William’s texts with his father were in English and I didn’t have to look for subtitles.
- I know it’s self-centered, but I still think NRK included carrots on the Finale Party livestream just to taunt me.