WARNING: This review will contain spoilers.
From a reviewer’s point of view, this episode is a bit of paradox. In some ways it’s a big improvement on last week but in other ways, it’s a lot worse. The dramatic beats are considerably stronger since things of note are actually happening, allowing for more powerful emotions to be brought into play but the whole thing is pretty scattershot and has an ending that is carried off incredibly poorly. But I’ll get into that later. For now, let’s look at the positive stuff.
Whatever issues I may have with this episode, I have to heap praise on the storyline of Naomi having cancer. Last week I derided it as an attempt to have a drama bomb before the credits but writer Jess Brittain really comes into her own here with some beautifully written two-hander scenes between Effy and Naomi and most notably of all, the scene where Naomi discovers that her radiotherapy has failed and that she has to move on to chemotherapy. The whole thing feels incredibly natural and Lily Loveless’s performance is excellent. The same goes for the scene where she goes into an MRI machine and is too scared to let go of Effy’s hand. The sound design was also very proficient in that scene with the noise of the MRI machine filling the air, providing a real sense of foreboding.
Sadly, the same can’t be said of the insider trading story which only has slightly more tension than last week thanks to the prospect of arrest and imprisonment becoming factors, is still pretty bland, and feels divorced from the broader themes of Skins. Though that should be expected to an extent given that Series 7 follows the characters into adulthood.
Despite that, throughout the episode there is some decent character development. We see shades of the old Effy and how she can be a toxic influence on her friends with the mention of how knowing her has changed shy strategic analyst Dominic for the worse, and we also see her more vulnerable side with her naivety being a big factor in her relationship with hedge fund trader Jake. Dominic also gets a lot of development as we see him become a bigger part of Effy and Naomi’s lives and a true friend to Naomi during her illness. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more of that thanks to so many plot elements being in one episode. That aside, there’s also a lot of story-driven change in Dominic as Effy being investigated for insider trading (which he had a hand in) brings him out of his shell more and makes him more aggressive and assertive, so much that he tries to have sex with Effy. Something you wouldn’t expect him to do based on the previous episode.
Beyond that, Naomi’s battle with cancer affects the characters’ personalities in a strong way and we get slightly more insight into Jake but not really enough to elevate him above being little more than a generic villain. But there is one huge flaw about the characters in this episode: Emily. I’d comment on her personality but I don’t really feel like I can since she’s in the episode for about three or four minutes at most with her being put on a plane back to New York shortly after her return and only coming back five minutes before the end of the episode. The episode’s B-plot is about the love of her life dying of cancer and she’s barely in it. Both the character and the talents of Kathryn Prescott are woefully underused to the extent that she’s almost at the very bottom of the credited cast members. Having said that, in the few scenes she is in, Prescott is excellent as always.
While this episode has its high points, there are more than a few negative aspects to it. The widest ranging flaw is the pacing, which is terrible thanks to the large amount of material crammed into one episode. It feels like it simultaneously goes nowhere and everywhere with the stories progressing to an extent and then abruptly finishing thanks in part to the time skip from the insider trading and cancer plots just getting started in the autumn, to the winter where everything’s turning to crap and the stories are about to enter their final stages.
There is simply far too much story here for a single episode. Just one more episode could have let the characters and stories breathe enough for a much more satisfying build-up and conclusion rather than the whole thing being so rushed and uneven, and having the most unsatisfying Skins ending ever.
Another side effect of the poor pacing and excess of story is that some things get started out and are never revisited. We see Naomi performing at another stand-up gig over the opening credits where she does much better than before, using her cancer as a source of material. Which gets one mention in the following scene and is then never spoken of again. And midway through the episode when Effy is riding the crest of the wave and living the high life thanks to her insider trading, she starts leasing a luxury flat for herself and Naomi that is never seen or heard of again. But as I keep saying, my biggest gripe is with the ending.
This is because we have a new champion for the worst Skins ending ever, ladies and gents. I could cope with the ambiguity of the endings of Series 2 and 4 (Though not the “Pandora and Thomas go to Harvard” rubbish but that’s beside the point) but this really takes the biscuit.
The most glaring fault with this ending is that very little of it is shown but we’re told everything that’s going to happen thanks to Victoria and Naomi taking on the role of the Exposition Fairies. Characters who rattle off what’s going to happen for the benefit of the audience because the script is so poorly structured that there’s no room to show the ending in depth.
We’re explicitly told that Naomi’s cancer is terminal yet her last appearance is in her hospital bed with Emily where she’s still very much alive, Jake’s arrest is arranged between Victoria and Effy but happens largely offscreen, Dominic is never seen again after his aborted attempt to have sex with Effy but we’re told that he won’t be arrested, and the episode ends before the full procedures of Effy’s arrest and trial begin even though we’ve been told that she will go to prison. We are told the character’s fates instead of seeing them played out properly. Which is very poor storytelling.
And it’s even more infuriating because not only is it the final end for these characters but because their fates are pretty heavy stuff. If you decide to give a character terminal cancer, actually have the brass nuts to show them dying rather than their final scene being them lying in a hospital bed with their girlfriend, mouthing the words “Thank you”. Showing Naomi dying in Emily’s arms would have been an incredibly powerful scene and following it up with Effy being sent down would have been the perfect amount of closure. Even another dose of ambiguity would have been better than this.
The cancer story really lifted this episode above last week’s by actually giving it some real dramatic weight. That alone comes close to making the awful structure less of a prominent fault but that fails to an extent thanks to the infuriating ending, which is what really does this episode in. An extra episode or two, and more time spent on developing the script and wheedling out the faults could have brought Skins: Fire closer to the level of the rest of the programme. Instead, it’s largely bland and poorly structured with only a few stand-out moments. A big disappointment.
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