WARNING: This review will contain spoilers
That’s a bit more like it. After the disappointment of Skins: Fire, we’re on firmer ground this week with co-creator Bryan Elsley taking on writing duties for Skins: Pure. And I’m happy to say that the programme is finally back on form.
Almost everything is a vast improvement on last week. The story of Cassie being stalked by a mystery photographer is both interesting and engaging unlike the turgid hedge fund plot of the last two weeks, the pacing’s more solid and consistent (though still not perfect sadly), and the whole thing feels just that little bit closer to the spirit of the original programme. There’s also no forced drama bomb before the credits which works a lot better.
The only real issue with the plot is that Skins has sort of done this story before. Series 2 saw Maxxie being stalked by a girl named Sketch who frequently took photos of him in the early stages of her infatuation. Though this episode takes it in a bit of a different direction which is a welcome change and keeps it fresh enough for those familiar with the Maxxie and Sketch storyline.
There’s a very mild flaw in the episode’s pacing with the reveal of Cassie’s co-worker Jakob being the stalker coming just a bit too early. It would have worked better as a reveal closer to the end credits (though not so close as to be a clichéd cliffhanger), allowing for some more tension of the stalking to be developed and for us to see more of how it affects Cassie. As well as giving us more than one scene of her investigating the stalking which was interesting angle on her personality as we see her not taking things lying down or being passive aggressive as in the past.
But the best thing about it that is really feels like Skins again. At its heart, it’s a simple and personal story that’s ostensibly about a situation but is really about the characters. And that really comes into its own in the final scene as Cassie and Jakob open up to each other and find some degree of friendship and fulfilment in each other with no sexual component to the relationship. It’s a real meeting of minds and personalities that’s been missing from Skins for a long time. In a way it’s reminiscent of JJ and Emily’s friendship in his Series 3 episode.
There’s also a closer connection to the past than expected with Neil Morrissey reprising his role as Cassie’s father Marcus and a phone call from her little brother Reuben, both of whom only appeared Cassie’s Series 1 episode. There’s also a reference to what happened to Cassie after Series 2 that not only remains ambiguous enough to allow the audience to draw their own conclusions about whether or not Sid found her but also offers a good explanation for why she went back to the UK: if she hadn’t ended the relationship she was in, it would have gone on forever. Which suits Cassie’s personality perfectly. We also get a faint reference to her anorexia, which is a nice little callback that reminds us that the character’s roots haven’t been forgotten.
And speaking of character, Brian Elsley has done a stunning job in subtly evolving Cassie’s personality. She’s more stable and self-assured and feels more grown up but not so much that she’s too far away from her original characterisation. In Sid’s Series 1 episode, Anwar quipped “I bet she bangs like a ferret on acid”, and given that she was psychologically disturbed and used a lot of drugs you could well believe that. But here we see that she’s given up drugs and the one time she does have sex, it’s because of a fear of being alone after discovering she was being stalked, and she’s confused about doing it. We’ve also got moments where we see how isolated and alone she is, that she’s damaged at heart, and that she needs love and validation. She’s the same Cassie in terms of what makes her tick (though her constant desire for power seems to have gone) but at the same time she’s grown up. Which is exactly what these stories are trying to achieve.
Of course, this wouldn’t have been conveyed nearly as well if it wasn’t for Paul Gay’s direction and an excellent performance by Hannah Murray. As always, Murray does a terrific job of performing Cassie in just the right way. Not completely confident or vulnerable but fluctuating between the two. Also, the large number of scenes featuring Cassie alone with no dialogue really give Murray a chance to shine as it’s her giving a wholly physical performance that we focus on rather than the dialogue of characters in other scenes.
Other than story and performance, the biggest plus of this episode is that there’s a lot more technical experimenting than in Skins: Fire with lots of very different ways of staging a scene such as part of a scene with Cassie and Jakob outside of a café being shot from inside the café with suitably muffled sound.
It really feels like it’s trying create as accurate a representation of the world as it can. As though we’re a silent observer in Cassie’s life. Especially in the scenes where she puts on her headphones and there is suddenly no diagetic sound whatsoever. We don’t even hear what music she’s listening to. All we get is the incidental music. It’s that brilliant attention to detail that really makes this episode a technical marvel. And finally, after one of these headphone scenes, we get a swooping aerial shot of London traveling across the city and panning up to the sky that’s obviously CGI but is still absolutely gorgeous in the way it’s constructed and presented.
This episode finally put Series 7 on track with the earlier episodes and was a great reintroduction to Cassie. Let’s hope that this is the standard of the next three episodes. Welcome back, old school Skins. We’ve missed you.
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