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'Skins' recap: Happiness is a warm pill bottle

February 8, 2011 |  7:00 am

Britne oldford

The "crazy" teenage girl generally takes two forms in pop culture: There's the depressive type, prone to moping around, writing sad journal entries, cutting herself, or maybe even attempting suicide. And then there's the girl with an eating disorder -- an anorexic or bulimic perfectionist, desperate to impose some control on a messy, adolescent life.

Cadie, this week's protagonist on "Skins," incorporates elements of both archetypes. (In fact, her predecessor on the British series, Cassie, was a poetic, ethereal variation on the standard bulimic.) She's been institutionalized, and her pill binges seem to fall somewhere between desperate means of escaping from difficult situations and suicidal cries for help. Throughout the episode, we hear that Cadie is supposed to have obsessive-compulsive disorder and any number of less-specific symptoms. But no one seems to be quite right about -- or even understand, on a rudimentary level -- what's wrong with Cadie.

We see her talk to three very different psychiatrists over the course of a few days. The first, a stiff, professional-looking, middle-aged woman calls her bluff when Cadie says she's happy. "My vagina has the look and feel of turkey jerky," Dr. Moore confides, by way of urging her patient to embrace her youth.

Cadie knows how to manipulate the next shrink -- a woman who looks like she listens to a lot of Enya in her spare time -- into prescribing her a pile of pills. She makes a big show of freaking out over birds, which she supposedly obsesses over and finds oppressively filthy. Out comes the prescription pad when Cadie confides that a close encounter with one such creature has left her feeling murderous.

Finally, a third psychiatrist, Dr. Rich, listens to a vivid fantasy Cadie has about shooting her father and makes an unexpected suggestion: "Have you tried not taking drugs?"

Perhaps because overmedicating teenagers has become the norm, Dr. Rich's proposal seems radical. And, in what the therapeutic profession might call a "breakthrough," Cadie decides to give it a try. Later, at home, she reaches for a pill but decides instead to masturbate to a picture of Stanley, who she says is her boyfriend but who only invites her to a party (as a date, he grudgingly agrees) so she'll bring drugs.

But despite the constant psychiatric care, propensity for reckless behavior and the fact that she's internalized her own supposed craziness, Cadie's biggest problem can't be found in the "DSM-IV." Like any teenager, she needs support from her parents, and she just isn't getting it.

Cadie lives in a big, beautiful house. Her dad, who she adores, is an artist. She's desperate to spend time with him, but for the most part he ignores her in favor of his work. Even on a day off, he'd rather go hunting alone than do something with his daughter.

Her mother is even worse. A former pageant queen, she is constantly on the phone, scheming about her career. (At one point, Cadie overhears her mom telling a friend that her daughter is "a little bit kooky and a little bit flat-chested.") So narcissistic she'd make any one of the "Real Housewives" look like a saint, she's constantly prancing around in a bikini and bragging about what great shape she's in. Cadie's mom is preparing to appear on a reality show called "Pageant Rematch," which means she's extra concerned with making sure her daughter hides her quirks and takes her medication. Instead of listening to Cadie, she dispenses bits of impatient advice, such as "Emotions aren't real" and "Smile like you're pretty" -- empasis on "like."

With parents like that, it's no wonder Cadie has to tell her problems to strangers and take pills to numb her pain. And considering that her undiagnosed friends slug vodka to get through the school day and pop psychedelics in the face of parental desertion, she doesn't seem appreciably more messed up than anyone else.

Take Michelle, for example. When Cadie shows up at her party, sober but toting a vast selection of prescription pills for her friends, Michelle's young mother and her boyfriend are playing the cool parents, supplying margaritas for all of the kids. It's clear Cadie isn't the only one suffering from the lack of a strong parental figure.

The crew doesn't waste time digging into Cadie's stash, leaving her with only a few, scarily powerful purple pills that she's heard will knock you out for days. She keeps them, and they come in handy later, once Stanley has disappeared to smoke a joint and masturbate on Michelle's bed, all the while murmuring about his love for her. (Yes, for those of you who are counting, this makes two self-pleasure scenes in one episode.) Of course, he falls asleep and Michelle catches him.

Soon enough, fueled by blue pills meant to "intensify emotion," the Michelle-Tony-Tea love triangle rears its deceptively pretty head. When he finally gets Tea alone, away from a lesbian who says things like "Your friends are just, like, gender coercive," Tony confronts her about their hook-up. "You felt something," he insists, and she admits that she did. But Tea, who still feels guilty about sleeping with Michelle's boyfriend and must be having some confusing thoughts about her own sexuality, isn't about to give in and become Tony's girlfriend. There may be real feelings between them, but it's still a power struggle.

As Tony leaves Tea, Cadie stops him in the hallway, having overheard everything. "You can't keep doing just whatever you want," she tells him. It's pretty good advice, for a crazy girl. Then, in a fit of conscience, Tea comes clean to Cadie: "Stanley invited you here for your drugs."

Stricken, Cadie gains control the only way she knows how. Earlier, in a creepy scene straight out of Sexual Harrassment 101, Michelle's mom's boyfriend snuggled up to her in the hot tub, coming on to her with pervy innuendos and the promise that teenage boys have no idea what they're doing. Cadie ran away from him then, disgusted, but now she willingly accepts his advances. With Michelle's mother and Stanley both passed out outside, Cadie gives the older man a purple pill.

By the time Stanley senses something is wrong and rushes inside to find Cadie, she's straddling the woozy boyfriend. "This isn't fun. This is crazy," Stanley tells her. "I care when you lose it." And although he's still hung up on Michelle, he clearly regrets using Cadie. I bet she's been waiting years to hear "I care" from anyone. Now that Michelle has told Stanley she's not interested in no uncertain terms, might something finally happen between them?

Still, Cadie doesn't seem terribly heartened by Stanley's words. At the end of the episode, we find her half-dressed and semi-catatonic on her bed, in a room that looks something like a rock club the morning after a wild show. Her mother bursts in with the news that the reality TV people have come early, is repulsed by the mess she finds, and demands that Cadie take her medication.

Trapped and heartbroken, she swallows pill after pill: the blue one, the yellow one, the potent purple one, a white one. Cadie ends the episode exactly as she started it, medicated into a state of flat, empty-eyed apathy. "See?" she says. "I'm happy."

Your weekly top five parental panic moments:

5. Cadie talks her psychiatrist into prescribing piles of medication.

4. Cadie trades pills with another overmedicated girl.

3. Michelle's mother's boyfriend tries to seduce/molest Cadie in the hot tub.

2. Cadie brings enough prescription drugs to the party to keep everyone high for weeks.

1. Cadie doses and climbs on top of Michelle's mother's boyfriend.


Full Show Tracker coverage of "Skins"

-- Judy Berman
Photo: Britne Oldford as Cadie. Credit: Jason Nocito