'Skins' recap: 'I hope we live to tell the tale'
The first -- and perhaps only -- season of MTV's "Skins" ended as it began, with its most mysterious character, Eura (Eleanor Zichy). Tony's younger sister, who made only a few brief appearances in the previous nine episodes, seems to embody everything dark and creepy about the show: Not only does she tend to bring a parental nightmare of a party everywhere she goes (vomit, vandalism, staying out till it's time to wake up for school), but she is also completely, unsettlingly silent.
Well before Eura utters a single syllable, we learn what Tony's been up to since Michelle exiled him from the clique: absolutely nothing. He's been lying in bed, lamenting his fate. Oh, and he's been writing a cocky love letter ("Don't say you didn't want me") to Tea, which Eura mistakenly delivers to a livid Michelle. Later, Tea calls Tony to apologize for making him fall in love with her -- a pretty gracious move, considering he's the one who's been so pushy about their relationship.
But Tony is forced to spring into action -- and enlist the help of all the friends who have deserted him -- when he gets a text from an unknown sender that reads "took ur lil sista." He knows he can't turn to his short-fused father for help, so he shows up at Stanley's, and, after pleading his case, they round up their friends, who reluctantly agree to help find Eura.
Suddenly, everyone simultaneously gets a message bearing the photo of a strange symbol and instructions to meet the captors. (What is this, "Pretty Little Liars"?) Chris recognizes the symbol as the logo of a club he's been to. When they get there, it all looks like your average "Skins" night out: teenagers are dancing, a live band is playing. Then, a chilling image of Eura appears on a huge screen. Desperate and terrified, Tony gives in and calls his dad, who can't make out what his son is saying over the din of the party.
Stanley, meanwhile, has finally decided to take action on his own, without waiting for Tony's go-ahead. He sneaks into the club's VIP section, where he finds Eura sitting peacefully at a table. And finally, she speaks. It turns out she orchestrated the entire "kidnapping" in an attempt to get Tony out of bed and back with his friends. In a show of crazy-girl solidarity, Cadie let Eura stay over at her house the night before, to throw Tony off the trail. "It's you he loves," Eura says, claiming Tony has looked up to Stanley for all the years they've been friends. "And the boy-girl. He loves her as well," she adds.
It is odd, and more than a little bit un-P.C., for Eura to refer to Tea as a "boy-girl." But the writers must have put the phrase in her mouth for a reason. If Tony loves Stanley and he also loves a "boy-girl," then maybe it isn't Tea (who seems to finally have figured out her own motivations) who needs to spend time reflecting on her sexual preferences. Maybe it's Tony. A psychoanalyst would, at the very least, be interested in why he seemed so intent on lending out his girlfriend to Stanley.
Although I've tried not to spend too much time comparing American "Skins" to the original British "Skins," it's impossible to talk about last night's episode without mentioning its source material. After three solid episodes that were successful precisely because they diverged so boldly from their predecessor, the finale was a watered-down version of the two showstopping final episodes of the U.K. show's first season. And it illustrated all the problems with trying to force the American series to emulate the British one. (Readers who don't want the first season of British "Skins" spoiled for them should skip the next paragraph.)
In the second to last episode of "Skins" U.K. Season 1, Eura's counterpart, Effy, also goes missing. Unlike Eura, though, she really is kidnapped, by a guy who wants revenge on Tony. He drugs Effy to the brink of death, makes nauseating demands, and then finally allows Tony to leave with his sister. The episode ends with Effy in the hospital, surrounded by her family, and Tony on the brink of realizing he needs to be a better person. But he never gets the chance. In the finale, he finally tells Michelle he loves her -- and then promptly gets hit by a bus. We don't find out whether he lives or dies until the first episode of Season 2. The cast members do, however, unexpectedly burst into a heartfelt rendition of Cat Stevens' "Wild World" that illuminates better than any expository epilogue the challenges and disappointments the kids face. The sequence could have been cheesy, self-indulgent and irrelevant (Cat Stevens? Really?). Instead, it turns out to be oddly moving.
This is all to say that those two episodes exemplify everything that makes British "Skins" a unique and fascinating show: They were dark and randomly cruel but also whimsical and romantic. The American show's writers may have intended Eura's faux kidnapping and Stanley and Cadie's performance of a different anachronistic song, Tears for Fears' "Shout," as playful nods to the British series. ("Mad World" seems like a more appropriate choice, but I guess that song belongs to "Donnie Darko" now.) Unfortunately, these weak imitations felt more like a step back for a show that was finally starting to come into its own. The decision to make Eura so similar to Effy (a universally beloved anchor of the show's first two casting cycles, played to perfection by Kaya Scodelario) feels particularly misguided.
"Skins" Season 1 has been nothing if not uneven. But all in all, I've enjoyed it more than I've been frustrated with it, and I still think it's one of TV's most unique and important shows about teenagers. I hope MTV will give this cast and these writers a chance to finish up these characters' stories without relying on the crutch of "Skins" U.K.
Now that the season is over, and the future of the series is still up in the air, let's take a look at where we leave each of the main characters.
Tony: Unclear. He's been depressed, gotten beat up and confessed that he loves Tea. But has he really learned his lesson about narcissism and manipulation? And does he truly have some sexual orientation-related epiphanies in store?
Stanley: For the entire episode, he's gone back and forth over whether he loves Cadie or Michelle. Though Cadie has urged him to take control of his life and do spontaneous things, and he's taken her up on the challenge (hence the "Shout" performance), it's Michelle he's kissing when last we see them. Honestly, I love Stanley, Cadie and Michelle so much that I'm not even sure who I want him to end up with.
Michelle: The prettiest girl in school has had to handle a lot of rejection recently. Is she pursuing Stanley because he's safe and worships her and she doesn't want to be alone, or has she actually realized she's in love with him?
Tea: In her phone call to Tony, it seems that Tea has come to some conclusions about what she was doing with Tony that don't have much to do with her sexual orientation. She liked that she could control such a powerful guy, but she doesn't love him, and she feels terrible about what she's done to Michelle and Betty. Although she's been afraid to give her all to Betty in the past, she ends the season by climbing into the hospital bed where Betty is recovering from surgery.
Cadie: In a conversation with her therapist, we learn that Cadie's struggling to figure out what is and isn't real in her life. And now that her "sports addict" boyfriend, Warren, is gone, she needs a sign from Stanley to know that they're not just "a story we like to tell each other." She gets it, in the form of a kiss and the "Shout" duet. But what will she do when she finds out that Stanley and Michelle went home together?
Chris: With Abbud's parents selling their home, Chris has been unceremoniously evicted from his treehouse and decides to move into Tina's vacant apartment. We don't see any real resolution, but Chris does end up staying with Stanley the night they find Eura. Perhaps that means he's ready to move on.
Daisy and Abbud: We see frustratingly little of them in this episode, but one thing is clear: Their "no-strings-attached" sex has grown into much more than they expected. And it's a good thing, because they make an adorable couple. Now, if only Abbud can manage to avoid getting sent to Muslim reform school...
Eura: Something about Tony's depression and this scheme has made her want to talk again, but we barely learn anything about her in the last few minutes of the episode. Will we ever know who Eura really is?
Photo: Eleanor Zichy as Eura. Credit: Jason Nocito