Friday, June 29, 2012

Great Moments in Television: Skins Series 1, Episode 8, Effy


Before you get all huffy, I’m talking about the UK Skins, not that thing that was on MTV and shall never be spoken of again.

For those who are not familiar, Skins is a UK show about a group of sixth-form (essentially the last two years of high school in the British education system, where students are prepared for A-level exams, which are used in university admissions) friends who party, fall in and out of love with one another, and try to figure out the meaning of it all. Each episode focuses on one of the core characters (and sometimes one of the fringe characters), presenting the world from their point of view, so that individual episodes can be stylistically distinct.

The show takes huge artistic risks, which sometimes pay off beautifully and other times fail spectacularly, but it always manages to capture the desperate intangible yearning of being an almost adult.

Sneaking in
This yearning is captured especially poignantly in Effy, the focus of Series 1, Episode 8. Effy is the younger sister of Tony, the popular, good-looking center of the core group featured on the show. The first glimpse we get of Effy is in the first episode of the series, as she arrives home early in the morning in heavy makeup and a skimpy outfit, and signals to Tony, watching above from his window, to distract their father so she can sneak back into the house. Right away she and Tony are established as teammates against their unsuspecting, boorish parents.

Scrubbed clean for breakfast
Effy appears at breakfast in a school uniform with her face scrubbed clean, looking too small, thin, and young to be the girl who stays out all night so often that she has a system for sneaking back in at dawn.

Coy Effy
There’s something else about Effy, which only slowly becomes obvious as the series continues: she doesn’t speak. The only person who notices is her brother Tony, who seems to give his tacit approval of the experiment as an interesting form of rebellion. Her parents, who are wrapped up in their own affairs, are too busy projecting their image of Effy as a perfect innocent little girl to see who she actually is. Her friends, as we find out in her episode, consist of a girl who talks so incessantly that Effy wouldn’t be able to speak even if she wanted to, and a cast of young men who want to sleep with her. Once in their company, Effy’s silence shifts from stubborn and angry to coy and seductive. The young men, like Effy’s parents, are projecting what they want onto her silence, but the conclusions they draw are very different. In this way, Effy simultaneously controls the image she projects to the outside world and gets to feel safe and superior, knowing that her true self is locked away deep inside where no one, except maybe Tony, can see.

While Effy exerts power in her life by retreating from it, Tony has been actively manipulating his friends, as if to see just how far his good looks and intellect will take him. He’s not a bad person, just someone who has gotten so swept up in an exploration of his own power and intellect that he has forgotten there are other important things in life, like the feelings of the people you care about. In episode 8, Tony is reaping the consequence of his actions, as one after another, his friends let his calls go to voicemail. Unfortunately, Tony’s power plays have darker results, and he begins getting messages indicating that his sister is in the power of someone who wishes to do her harm.

Effy herself is on an extended urban adventure and blissfully unaware of all of this. After she sneaks out of her house (which isn’t hard, she pretty much just walks out the front door), she arrives at a warehouse where a bunch of dudes are driving forklifts, weaving in and out of the aisles in a kind of manufacturing ballet. Soon she is hanging from the ceiling in a harness, swaying gently back and forth, making out with a young man, and taking some drugs. The police arrive and arrest them, but they are bailed out by friends and are soon in the back of a van, doing more drugs. They end up at a rave at an athletic club, where they run into Josh, who is unknown to Effy but known to us as the boy who Michelle dated after she broke up with Tony.
Fun with forklifts

Swinging from the ceiling

The rave

Josh shoots drugs into Effy’s tiny arm, and we reach the culminating moment of the episode.

Skins is full of teenagers drinking and drugging, but Effy is even younger than the main characters, and we now know that she has been sneaking out every night partake in drugs far more serious than the ones her big brother and his friends have been doing. She has seemed to be in control of her life, alternately manipulating her parents and her boyfriends into behaving how she wants them to, but when Josh sticks that needle in her arm, things change.

You see, Tony got jealous when his ex Michelle dated Josh, so through a complex series of actions, he made it look like Josh had naked pictures of his own sister on his cellular phone. Michelle dumped Josh when she found them. Now, Josh is using Effy, the one person Tony truly cares about, to get revenge on Tony. He has been leading Tony around all night, taunting him, eventually bringing him to the rave to find his sister, collapsed on the floor in an overdose.

Josh, the mastermind
But even before the whole nefarious plot becomes clear, we know that Effy has lost control; once the drugs hit her system, she opens her mouth and, for the first time in who knows how long, speaks.

So what does Effy say? “Sometimes I think I was born backwards. You know, come out my mum the wrong way. I hear words go past me backwards. The people I should love, I hate. And the people I hate...”

This speech makes it clear that as an audience, we too have been projecting our own fantasies onto Effy. She is not in control and she never has been. She is confused and unhappy, and her silence is a desperate attempt to navigate a treacherous world.

The episode ends with Effy unconscious in a hospital bed, with the doctor assuring her family that she will be fine. Effy is silent once again, but her haunting words cast a specter over the episode: “Sometimes I think I was born backwards...”

(All images from Skins series 1, Episode 8, Effy, on E4)

No comments:

Post a Comment