It took two weeks, a whole lot of Rophy doing what Rophy does, and three mega saves from my sister to make this recap happen. I hope it’s everything you always wanted when you started whimpering sweetly for these retro-recaps, my precious muff monkeys.
(P.S. If you haven’t read Rophy’s "Naomi" recap yet, I seriously doubt your commitment to awesomeness.)
As always: series four spoilers all up in this nut.
You know near the end of Emma when Mr. Knightley finally realizes Emma might love him back, and he fully goes, "I cannot make speeches, Emma!" And you’re like, "Dude, you’ve been monologuing like a comic book villain since page three; what do you mean you cannot make speeches?" And then he’s all, "If I loved you less, I could talk about it more!"
That’s what this episode of Skins makes me feel like.
I know I can’t shut up about stories, stories, stories, and Austen and Yeats and Shakespeare and Dickens and one minute I’m talking about dragons and the next minute I’m talking about baptism and now I’m going to throw Keats into it because this is the reason for the one billion words and the infinite circumlocution: "I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affection and the truth of imagination."
We don’t ask for much from TV anymore because at some point it became pecuniary narrative and we never slammed on the brakes to demand more. We just grinned stupidly and bought the Kidz Bop soundtrack and went comatose in front of a gaggle of plastic actors and shallow, soulless, emotionally and intellectually-stunted moving pictures with words. And that’s just … not story.
Naomi has a throwaway line in this episode that’s one of my favorite pieces of dialogue on Skins. She asks her mum, "What is this? Surveillance culture?" And it delights me because I know it’s not an intentional riff on Gossip Girl, but people — Americans, especially — are dead-set on packaging Skins and Gossip Girl together, the same way Americans also shout really loud, really slow English words at people who do not speak English. Like maybe if you enunciate vehemently enough, Portuguese will come out of your mouth.
Gossip Girl really is all about surveillance culture, and when it’s good it’s about how surveillance culture tells the story of the story the characters are telling themselves. You’ve got Chuck trapped in Bronte and Blair wrapped in Austen and Dan pinging around inside of Wharton and if ever there was a Daisy Miller stuck in Gatsby it’s Serena van der Woodsen. Because, I mean, there aren’t many new stories; you’ve got to make it new with the way you tell it.
And then there’s Skins. And certainly there are some types and archetypes — the Hamlet one is spelled out, of course; and the anti-hero/hero thing with Cook; and I think you could make a solid case for Effy as a Catherine Earnshaw — but the way the writers tell real, raw things with courage and candor and absurd, subversive surrealism, it makes it feel like you’re seeing the whole world brand-new again. (That’s why when Skins misses, it’s just so glaring. We’ve been trained to overlook unraveled threads on most shows, but Skins‘ loose ends turn us into psychotic kittens.)
What’s crazy interesting is that, for the most part, Skins is always doing classic narrative in a fresh way — except for Naomi and Emily. Which is what makes their story so exceptional. With Naomi and Emily, the writers tell an old story in an old way. Love is love is love is love. It is wretched. And it is perfect. It can set you free. And it can clip your wings and send you hurling straight into the motherfucking sun. Love is the original story. Tell it — just tell it — and you don’t need a caveat.
And so Skins feels like the future. Naomi and Emily feel like the future, like the time when people stop using TV as white noise and start demanding a revival of the truth of imagination. (A lot of British TV feels like that lately. Dr. Who, for one. And I’m still having night terror about Torchwood: Children of Earth.)
Keats was undone when he wrote his letter to Benjamin Bailey. He said this whole glorious thing about how stories can "surprise [you] with an old melody in a delicious place, with a delicious voice" and how it will make you feel like your soul is "mounted … on the wings of Imagination." He capitalized imagination, so gone was he over the idea that story is the deepest thing in life.
Which is why if I loved this episode less, I could talk about it more. Because it’s an old melody shocking me in a delicious place, with a delicious voice. It really does make me feel like I’m mounted on the wings of Imagination — capital "I" — and the air up here is thin, and it makes me kind of dizzy. Or maybe it’s Lily Loveless that makes me dizzy. I think the real lesson of Emma is that it’s totally, acceptably awesome to fall in love with someone ten years younger than you.