Was Series Seven Of Skins Even Worth It At All?
For its final ever series, Skins said they'd bring back our favourite characters. It was a great idea on paper...
Warning: this is a recap — there will be spoilers.
Skins series seven consists of six episodes, and is divided into three two-episode arcs each focusing on a beloved character. For the final instalment we have Cook from generation two – whose second episode aired this week.
Out of every arc series seven has given us, James Cook’s — Skins Rise — is the one that feels the most connected to what has come before.
It’s timeless, almost: this two-parter could have taken place six months after series four left off, or six years. Finally, after having to force ourselves through most of Fire and all of Pure, we find ourselves spending time with a character we recognise – and out of the three arcs, Rise is the only one to allow its protagonist to directly address the issues we left them with years ago.
Cook — played by Jack O’Connell, and one of the most interesting characters the show has ever had in its arsenal – is the same old smart-mouthed lad he ever was, though a little wiser and lacking a lot of the bravado of his youth. When we last left him, he was locked in a battle with the man who had murdered his best friend, so when Skins announced they were bringing him back, all fans knew it could only mean one thing: Cook would be living with having taken another man’s life.
It’s hard to pinpoint at what point this arc stops feeling like an episode of Skins. When we meet Cook, he’s a drug dealer working for the gangster Louie (brilliantly portrayed by Liam Boyle), who seems like more trouble than he’s worth. On the run from his previous life, he’s carved out a comfortable living for himself in Manchester, and found a girlfriend of sorts, Emma. But after sleeping with Louie’s girlfriend Charlie, vomiting up party drugs, and watching Louie’s number one henchman drown fellow lackey Jason in a pool, Cook’s on the run again.
Cook’s progression to a drug dealer makes sense; he’s a natural born salesman, and knows no fear. Sure, the drowning incident is disturbing, but it’s not until Emma’s parents are missing, presumed murdered, that you start to realise Skins is heading down a path that it’s never trod before.
While Fire and Pure flirted with some of the dark themes that we’ve seen play out in earlier seasons, Rise takes Skins to a level it’s never previously reached. The show has always dabbled in sadism and brutality, as far back as the first series when Tony was almost forced to rape his sister, Effy. Jal’s encounters with Mad Twatter (which we see echoed in Johnny White in the next generation) were also pretty scary — and then, of course, was the darkest moment in the show up until Redux: the murder of Freddie in series four.
If any character were to take the show to this new extreme, it would be Cook; he’s always been a loose cannon. When Cook screamed at the man who’d murdered his best friend Freddie — “I’m Cook!” — before the lights went out on him for the fourth series, he demanded that the audience take him seriously as a threat. But Skins has never failed to temper the darker moments with the light, and all the serious moments have always seemed so absurd that it’s been easier to read them as satire.
But it’s hard to read Rise as satirical. Watching the second episode in the arc, you have to wonder if the creators of the show simply felt like making a horror movie instead; perhaps, aware that this would be the last of Skins forever, they decided to pull out everything they had and go for broke.
But with none of the humour or light-heartedness that typifies the show, this just doesn’t feel much like Skins anymore. You can’t even call its new direction sensationalist, and sensationalism is the vice of choice for the Skins crew. Instead, the show has become something else entirely. In this new version of Skins, the villain is not a send-up, nor a cliché; he’s only vicious. And the final half of the second episode is so beautiful and gripping that it’s not until Cook and Charlie find Emma’s body hanging from a tree, and you are jolted out of the spell you were under, that you realise you have no idea what you’re watching anymore.
It’s not until the familiar revengeful roar, when Cook finally confronts Louie — “I’m fucking Cook!” — that you remember.
So are we content to leave Skins behind forever on that note?
While the Redux idea was exciting, bringing back our old favourites would only have been worthwhile if we could do them justice. In terms of cinematography, the show has certainly outdone itself in series seven, with each episode stunningly shot, and raising the bar for the next. And with Effy and Cook at least, the writers managed to capture the same spirit that originally drove the two (sadly, the same cannot be said for Cassie).
Mostly though, the heart of Skins has always been its teenage protagonists. The show’s schoolyard setting held it back from exploring a darker agenda, but when the opportunity finally arose to tread more adult territory, the execution left a lot to be desired. Maybe the fragility and indestructibility of youth is necessary to the show, or maybe the Skins writers have just lost their touch: the friendships that were so vital to the first six series are almost completely invisible here, and without any well-developed relationships to ground it, series seven simply fails to engage.
There’s been some moments in Skins: Redux that have brought something new and exciting to the show and it’s characters, but they’ve been few and far between. So if it’s alright with everyone, I think I’d like to go back to thinking of Naomi as alive, Effy as not-going-to-jail, and Cassie and Sid as living happily in Albuquerque somewhere. And when the seventh series comes out on DVD, I think I’ll pass.
Sian Campbell is a Brisbane-bred freelance writer, literature student at The University of Melbourne and co-founding editor of online lit journal Scum Mag. She blogs and tweets and still plays Neopets.