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28 February 2010 @ 08:54 pm
Skins 4.05 Freddie  
Because I mainlined Skins Seasons 1-3 at some point, I've never really talked much about the show on this journal. But with very very little of any interest at all to me to watch at the moment, and with no real fandom per se, it's been one of the few shows I've still felt 'into', and that's despite a fairly uninspiring Season 3. I honestly wasn't sure I'd like Season 4 at all because I was tired of the Freddie-Effie-Cook triangle and especially fed up with Cook. However, absence must have made the heart grow fonder because when Season 4 started again a few weeks ago, I found with relief that I found the show to be compelling and emotionally honest. However, the latest episode, 'Freddie', took me by surprise with its courage and provoked a strong reaction in me because it touched on issues very close to me personally.

I've always admired the show's 'realism'. While superficially it's an escapist teen drama, and while its plots are often overblown and injected with OTT comedy (which sometimes feels misplaced), it's always been more willing to tackle the darker, seedier (and ultimately more realistic) aspects of being a teenager. It also has some great writing and a strong cast, meaning that even characters as 'out there' as Cassie feel like they tap into something 'real'. The show has a heart that is easy to connect to and for all its drama, its extremely refreshing in television, which habitually likes to sell us teenagers who act like mini middle aged swingers, not real teens with surging hormones, crack habits and terrible parents.

Anyway, long preamble to saying that in 'Freddie' I was both thrilled and anxious to see them tackle depression as an overt issue. Even though the signs have been there for ages, I didn't think they'd ever go this far with Effie. And I was impressed. It wasn't an easy watch for me because I was identifying unwillingly with Effie throughout it, even though we were positioned in Freddie's point of view. I've always thought it's really hard to portray depression on television because it makes for some very boring visuals (who wants to see someone lie around in their pjs all day or stab themself with a fork repetitively?). Admittedly mania is a bit more fun. ;) Still, it's very easy for viewer sympathy to flip away from that character because they are being self-indulgent. Of course they are! Depression is self-indulgence on an EPIC SCALE. So I thought Skins did well to have seeded Effie talking in riddles about love being hard in previous episodes, and then to show her more extreme behaviours in this one. We've seen her extreme risk taking before anyway, so it was easy to slide into. And hard to see where the danger first crept in.

The disturbing wall of clipping worked well as an external representation of a depressed person's mind, I thought--particularly one with manic episodes (hell, you'd have to have mania to have the energy to make that!). I liked the nuclear bomb coming from Freddie's face and the sense of inescapable tragedy and doom, ashes, that was conveyed throughout. I also found Effie's paranoia really well presented--with her flipping from wanting to be surrounded by people one moment to not being able to bear their presence the next. All of that resonated with my own experiences, as did the sense of spiralling into one's own head, kind of knowing that was happening, but feeling so strongly that it was 'more true' than the external world, and seeing signs in everything around you.

I was also having massive anxiety about where it was going to end up (pretty much where it did!), and I was willing Freddie to stay with her through the whole episode, which was no doubt unfair. It was hard to be objective.

The backstory with Freddie's mother having committed suicide worked really well for me too, because it gave me a lot of sympathy for him--useful because I don't always find him that accessible. I sympathised with his anger at his father, and I wasn't completely comfortable with the validation in the structure of the episode that his father did in fact have 'no choice'. There are always choices. When Effie cuts her wrists, it may mean that Freddie has 'no choice' but to take her to hospital. However, he still chose to run away: and yeah, I'm irrationally angry that he did.

Irrationally because I totally get that it is not this eighteen year old kids' responsibility to 'rescue' his friend. Nor is it fair for him to have to put up with her emotional abuse because she can't bear to need rescuing. But... BUT ... God, she needs him so badly. She does NOT need her mother, though I can respect that it may be true to Freddie's character to think that having her mother there, loving her, is more important. However, her mother has only ever churned Effie up, as far as I can see. Whereas she opened herself to Freddie more than to anyone ever, and told him overtly that he was the only person she could trust. That betrayal is going to make her recovery harder. I really hope that Cook's little speech (for all I hate Cook: arrgh!) at the end of the ep will make Freddie stick around. It's hard for me to understand that Freddie could take seriously in any way her words to him to leave her when she woke up. That isn't her speaking--it's the illness!!

Since my emotions were flying around chaotically throughout the episode, I also wound up irrationally angry at grandpa, who I thought was very weak in the advice-giving field. :( Sure, he was portrayed as having a less black and white attitude than Freddie, but he didn't *really* say to Freddie that there are degrees of help from medical and social services. Freddie (I felt) really needed to hear that his mother's outcome was not the only possible outcome and that enlisting professional help did not equal 'giving up'. Grandpa fell short of conveying that--he just validated his son's (and grandson's) decision to hand someone entirely into the care of the medical services and then not stick around and support them through that. Poor work there grandpa! Though yes, you're just human like the other characters. Sigh.

I actually felt most compassion for Katie, who knew almost nothing about what was going on but nevertheless acted compassionately to the best of her ability. I don't blame her for letting Effie into the toilets alone--she hadn't been completely brought up to speed because I very much doubt that Freddie said the words 'Effie is going to kill herself' in front of Effie.

Some fabulous imagery in the episode with the clouds, the origami cranes, the Day of the Dead parade of angels, demons and skulls, as well as the washed out drug haze.

So here's the other thing that interests me... this is the second time Skins has portrayed a young woman as being tipped over the edge into madness by love. I don't know how conscious the writers are that that's what they're showing, but in Cassie and Effie they showed two people who already had deep-seated psychological issues and unbalanced behaviour, but who were very charismatic and very passionate, driven to extreme acts by the additional chemistry of being 'in love' with someone. I find this fascinating because I personally believe (and it's a very unconventional belief so I don't talk about it much) that the chemistry of infatuation is very dangerous for some people--particularly those with depression or bipolar disorders. I've felt that first hand--I go completely off the deep end when I'm 'in love'--I've learnt the hard way how dangerous it is for me. I'd never ever seen that captured so well anywhere as in Cassie's arc, and now they've had a second plot centring on a volatile but strong young woman brought down by love.

I wonder if some viewers find it hard to understand. To me it rang completely true that even though Effie's experience is 'positive' (she has won Freddie), it tips her completely over the edge. The highs are too high, in simple terms--they are unsustainable. She lives at such a pitch that when she comes down, she plummets. Cassie, of course, had the bitterer side of love stinging her, but the result was eerily similar. I kind of love that the show has now shown that either way, the brain chemistry of love fucks such girls up. Or possibly mental illness + drugs + love fucks them up. In any case, it's a lethal combo. And this show takes seriously the role of love in that equation, whereas a more preachy show would have focussed on the drugs or the family history.

It's also spot-on in terms of age and gender: statistically the late teens and early twenties are a time when many women experience a major depressive episode, perhaps their first or most extreme, or the one where they get diagnosed for the first time. I can't help wondering how many of them have love as a contributing factor (not that the medicos would ever track that!). Gah! I hope Effie doesn't get fucked over by the medical establishment. *frets* Though that could make for some fun scenes. (Imagine Effie-the-cynic with a psychiatrist!)

Yay Skins for making me feel something.
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