Skins is Skins for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest ones is that it only dabbles in archetypes. Actually, I don’t even think “dabble” is the right word. Skins constructs archetypes to set them on fire. The prim ballerina stands on a table in a pub, dressed like a metal-head, shouting about how Trent Reznor can suck her c–k. The surly know-it-all with the painted-on scowl stands in stands in a shed, choking back sobs, whispering about the rawness of a love she’s felt since she was 12. The arrogant head boy with the perfect physique stands in the middle of a street until he gets smashed by an oncoming bus. The label society gives you, the box the world puts you in, the propaganda you paint for yourself: It’s only a hint at who you are.
So it seems almost masochistic, looking back, that Skins transferred their original cast of characters across the pond. Because Tony was a type of Tony. And Stanly was a type of Sid. And Eura was a type of Effy. The only US character who was a non-UK type was Tea, and I’m still feeling reverberations from the moment when Bryan Elsley set her type on fire.
But Tea was one of my favorite things about this season of TV because when lesbians stopped screaming and bullying like some kind of crazed mob, it got quiet enough that I could hear her. For one thing, I heard her in comments and emails and private messages; a multitude of AfterEllen readers share her voice. For another thing, I heard her in my very own past. And Sofia Black-D’elia‘s performance spoke the real truth of Tea. Skins didn’t set the “lesbian” part of Tea on fire. Skins set her arrogance, her boredom, her personal promulgation on fire. Tony wasn’t the cause of her unrest. Tony was a result of her unrest. And it never had anything to do with sex.
“Eura” opens with everyone broken — including Tea, who is standing on a street corner in the snow watching Betty leave work. (I don’t really think we’ve taken enough time to properly appreciate Sofia Black-D’elia. She’s a genuinely lovely person, soulful and deeply intelligent. And she’s gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous in this snow.) Tea rushes across the street, calling after Betty. She turns on her charm, invites her to coffee. She’s as close to begging as Tea ever gets to begging, but Betty’s got to get to the hospital for some ankle surgery. (US Skins got this working class thing right, I think. Giving Betty a job she has to work at for hours, on her feet, even though she’s got a banged up foot, is a nice touch.)
Betty asks Tea to leave, and so she does. She calls Tony and finally explains everything to him. Maybe she even explains it to herself. She got off on controlling someone as powerful as him, as powerful as her. He tells her her loves her, and she tells him she knows, that was the whole point. She brought the mighty Tony Snyder to his knees. It made her feel omnipotent. But it kind of ruined both their lives, and she’s sorry.
Tea visits a very drugged-up Betty in the hospital. Betty lays it all out. She thinks Tea used her, thinks Tea is a bitch, thinks Tea is cocky and manipulative and strung out on her ability to make people love her — but all she wants, all the time, is for Tea to just crawl into bed with her. She lifts up the covers and invites Tea in.
Tea joins the gang’s rescue mission when Eura goes missing. It’s self-inflicted kidnap, but it gets Tony out of bed. After Stanley’s rousing rendition of Tears for Fears‘ “Shout,” Tea goes back to the hospital and sits outside of Betty’s room and talks to herself about living. Just really f–king living. She tries to leave, but on her way to the door, she gives up and lets go. Control is an illusion. So she strips down and climbs into Betty’s hospital bed. Naked with herself. Naked with Betty. Maybe for the first time ever.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how unfair it is to project all of our grownup wisdom onto teenage characters. Grownup me has absolutely nothing in common with Tea Marvelli. But teenage me? I don’t think any story on earth would have changed my life more than Tea Marvelli’s when I was 16 years old. Tea was never struggling with being a lesbian. Tea was always struggling with the courage to let herself be loved by someone who could break her wide open. And so have I. And so have we all.