WARNING: This review will contain spoilers.
This is the way Skins ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper. Last week’s taut urban drama has basically been replaced by Skins Does Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1. That’s what it feels like in a nutshell. Half of it is Cook, Emma, and Charlie on the run in the woods in a really slowly paced runaround with the episode’s villain that abruptly jumps to a climax. Which, as well as being flawed in itself, is a really disappointing way to pull off the programme’s last ever episode.
Unfortunately, the idea of exploring Cook’s personality post-Series 4 (which was a prominent theme in Part 1 and should be the focus of the whole story) is largely ignored in this episode. The only moments where it gets a look in is where he discusses the possibility of murdering drug dealer Louie and says that killing “Feels like nothing”, and the climax where he slips briefly back into his Series 4 finale mentality but holds back from committing murder this time. Beyond that, the episode is mainly written as a tense thriller that sadly lacks any real tension because of the slow pacing and most of the really dramatic stuff (such as a leading character’s murder) happening offscreen.
This also stops there being any proper development between secondary characters Charlie and Emma apart from a very brief scene that sets them up as possible love rivals in another story element that never really gets the chance to grow before the episode ends. But since the plot of a possible love triangle between Cook, Emma, and Charlie is pretty half arsed, it at least doesn’t end up being a rehash of Generation 2’s Love Triangle Of Doom.
The biggest character flaw in this episode though is Emma. Just Emma. Apart from providing a place for the main characters to hide, she does almost nothing other than have sex with Cook and be so hysterical that she has to be given Valium just so she won’t give away the group’s position to Louie. She falls asleep from the Valium just over halfway through the episode and, apart from a brief shot of her briefly opening her eyes and stirring while semi-conscious, the next time we see her is after she’s been kidnapped and lynched offscreen. In this episode, she’s nothing but a sacrificial lamb and is just there to die so the audience can think “The bad guy killed a character we’re supposed to like. I really hope he gets what’s coming to him”.
Also, wouldn’t a kidnap and lynching scene add a lot of drama to this episode? Actually witnessing Emma dying should have been what tips Cook over the edge rather than seeing the body hanging from a tree and then walking straight past it because he’s so focussed on revenge. A much more powerful version of events would have been Cook, Charlie, and Emma all being knocked out and abducted, and then Cook and Charlie coming to, only to find themselves restrained in some way while Louie hangs Emma.
On the technical side of things, the camerawork is nothing spectacular but the use of very low lighting in all of the night scenes works well, especially in a scene that takes place in a deserted shack in the woods where almost all of the light in the scene comes from a lighter used by Cook and Charlie. Though, in other scenes, the colours are a bit muted which gives those scenes a bit of a drab feeling, but that does fit well aesthetically with the snow-covered woods where the episode’s latter half takes place.
The soundtrack is serviceable though largely unremarkable, but one track that stands out is a rap played during scenes of the main characters escaping through the woods. It’s not your generic celebration of excess rap piece and the lyrics do have a fairly deep meaning that suits the story but it just doesn’t fit with what we’re seeing onscreen. Had this been included in last week’s episode, it would have slotted in nicely because it would have complimented the aesthetic of urban Manchester. It doesn’t suit the considerably more rural aesthetic of a snow-covered wood or create a tense enough atmosphere for the scene it’s played over.
Another minor niggle but still one that bears mentioning is the use of dream sequences, following on from last week. But rather than being a stylistically shot look into Cook’s disturbed psyche like last week, this episode’s dream sequence is performed and shot as though it were a scene that actually happens to the characters. Except that one of the characters in it is drug dealer Jason, who was murdered in Part 1.
Dream Jason advises Cook to abandon Charlie and Emma, and run off alone. Not only is this scene annoyingly reminiscent of the constant hallucinations of Grace in Series 6 (though considerably less stupid since it’s explicitly shown that this is a dream) but Cook says outright in his opening narration that he didn’t like Jason, and their most notable interaction in last week’s episode was Jason beating him up. Which begs the question of (even though it’s a dream) why would Cook be so convivial with him and even take his advice. But the real issue with this scene is that it’s basically pointless. Right after the dream, Cook wakes up, realises that Louie has abducted Emma, and we jump more or less straight to the climax; meaning that Cook won’t take Dream Jason’s advice, rendering the scene completely moot. Though Dream Jason’s head being wet since he drowned is a nice artistic touch.
Even though the scenes directly following it are absolutely woeful in how they’re written, the climax is the best part of the episode. Cook’s monologue while facing down the barrel of Louie’s shotgun has some gravitas to it and the way it’s written and performed does give the feeling that Cook has matured but still has elements of his earlier characterisation. Despite it directly drawing inspiration from the awful climax to Series 4, it still works pretty well and the fight between Cook and Louie that follows it is well coordinated and feels very real and animalistic. It’s just a shame that the episode’s end can’t match it, as Cook and Charlie part ways after calling the Police, leaving a conscious and presumably able to walk Louie alone and completely capable of escaping and continuing to be a complete monster.
Also, special mention once again has to go Liam Boyle who continues to play Louie as an affably evil villain who’s completely at ease with what he does, and refrains from overplaying the character, which makes him seem unpredictable and like a more genuine threat.
Despite a well written and executed climax, this was an ignoble end to such a decent programme. It was pretty much just three twenty-somethings milling around a house and pub for twenty minutes and running around the woods for another twenty minutes with a final ten minutes to wrap it all up. It doesn’t do anything big in terms of character or story which is one of its biggest problems. It just plods along trying to be dramatic until the climax.
If Rise Part 2 was just another episode, I’d probably be less dismissive of it and treat it as a run-of-the-mill misfire. But unless there’s a revival at some point in the future, this is Skins’ last hurrah. An episode that features a single returning character, doesn’t really do a lot, and doesn’t contain any of the themes, messages, or general content that was at the core of Skins.
That is ultimately its biggest failing. As a finale, it feels far too disconnected from what it’s finishing off and is a hugely disappointing way to round off the programme after seven series. A very disappointing end but one that’s not without a few good moments.
This article was first posted on August 6, 2013