Compared to my drama-filled days of the previous year, nothing remarkable has happened all winter. I’ve been feeling especially numb and uninspired the last couple of days that I’ve stayed indoors. The thought that my mind wasn’t developing in any way bothered me and kept me awake last night. I wanted so badly to feel something and unconsciously searched for an antidote in Skins.
I was 17 when I first watched the renowned UK television series. I remember I was impressed by how raw the whole series was, and I say “impressed” because I didn’t think that all the alcohol, the drugs and the sex were simply vulgar but truly real. In the end, all of those stirring controversy were tools to present a realer-than-real reflection of being human- with complications that come from relationships and insecurities from being unable to answer the deeper questions of life about self-identity, self-actualization and death. After that summer when I finished watching all the episodes, I felt a dramatic change within me. I stopped naively expecting the good from the world and formed a somewhat cynical perspective, but came to believe even more strongly that there is beauty in being human and goodness in struggling to be true. It’s difficult to describe. This series shook my outlook on the world and I think I still carry its influences to this day.
Years later, Skins had a reboot, showing the young adult lives of three of its characters; and I was thoroughly moved once again. It did not fail to maintain that coarse reflection of reality, nonetheless with a warm gaze at humanity at its core. To my understanding, all of the characters face bleak fates in the end, which felt very honest because being an adult in the real world has more disappointments than delights; but there is still hope because you see that the characters make mistakes, comeback and repeat, following their heart all the while, and you still believe in their genuine goodness at the end, which get you to trust that things will work out. Out of the three, Cassie’s story was the one that made me feel the most. I cried so much. Cassie (played by Hannah Murray) was a character that always seemed so alone and this hadn’t changed as an adult. I couldn’t understand all that was going on in Cassie’s world, possibly because she is undeniably one of the most complex characters in the series, yet I could feel her loneliness like it was mine and it was painful. I remembered this pain I once felt, and clicked on the play button to Skins Pure with expectation for familiar emotions and anticipation for new interpretations.
In the original series, I viewed Cassie with the idea that she is essentially a victim of unrequited love. Indifference of Sid and her parents let her down again and again. As an adult, this is something she continues to deal with; and I believe her journey to learning about love is at the core of Skins Pure.
We first get a grasp of how Cassie has changed, or not changed. She’s isolated as always, but she does it more obviously as an adult. Her room is decorated with sheets hanging from the ceiling, which turns her room into a kind of a fortress. Almost all of the shots showing Cassie in her room are framed with parts of the sheets covering some of the camera. Her room is presented as a safe house from all the commotion in the world. Also, outside noise gets muted and a peaceful tune turns on as she puts on her headphones to further consolidate the impression that Cassie intentionally shuts herself from the world.
She is also seen stripping off her clothes in moments of complete freedom. She stands by the window and dances to the night sky. These behaviors suggested to me that she leans towards being natural for comfort. Elements of nature, namely water and air, literally give her peace. Her expression and the non-diegetic peaceful music imply that she wholly enjoys her morning shower. The music continues as she goes to a park and watches kites flying, and rides alone on the bus to work, wiping away the condensation from the window for a clearer look outside. It seems that purity is something she desires and the reason for her self-inflicted isolation.
In moments of panic and confusion, Cassie turns to nature for answers. With rage, she takes away Jakob’s camera and heads straight to the park. She almost drops it into the water, perhaps to “purify” in her own way what she perceives to be the source of harm, but stops as she suddenly lays eyes on a broken kite. She brings it back to fix it, and this suggests to the audience that she has taken nature’s hint not to destroy something pure (referring to the camera and Jakob’s photography) but rather give it a chance to soar.
Another scene where nature guides Cassie’s decisions is when the sheet she has put to cover her windows fall off and she approaches the windows to open them wide with enchantment in her eyes. She lets go of her fears and free once again as she dances to her peaceful music.
Cassie’s relationship with Jakob is an interesting one. I’ve read many reviews saying they were disgusted that the plot beautified the objectification of women, and they weren’t convinced by the innocent music played over the photography. Yes, there certainly exists objectification, but what is important to discern is that it isn’t done by the series but by Jakob- a character. With his pictures, he creates a beautiful and mysterious image out of Cassie. When Cassie first finds out, she is scared and angered, which are natural reactions to being stalked. She decides to give him a chance, however, because she wants more in life. She wants love. So they make a pact: Jakob can love Cassie and Cassie can be loved by Jakob. What is important to notice here is that Cassie lets him objectify her. She also maintains her agency throughout the duration of their friendship. An example of which is when she says, “Don’t” to Jakob before he presses the shutter to get a picture of her looking out the window from her dad’s room, clearly dictating that she won’t let her personal life permeate her photography. Doesn’t it become obvious that something more complex is taking place when a woman willingly chooses to become objectified? I rather believe that the creators of this series intended to use the beautified objectification of women to strengthen their ultimate claim that love is difficult to achieve, especially when it stems from something so flawed. This agreement is indeed “pure” for their bond stands as their desires can coexist. Their compatibility is made even more believable mise en scene-wise. There are individual long shot of Cassie and Jakob that emphasize their loneliness and purity at heart.
However, their trip to Wales complicates their relationship. The pact worked because Cassie only wanted to be loved and not love back, while Jakob only wanted to love and not be loved back. Through meeting Cassie’s dad, Jakob truly understands Cassie; and Cassie gets that Jakob understands and genuinely cares about her. There are so many instances where Jakob says the right things. The very first instance is where he asks Cassie, “Did he ever paint you?” while looking at a beautiful painting of her mum by her dad. This question reveals how much Jakob adores Cassie, because it underlies that he thinks Cassie is beautiful and worthy to be the model of an art work. His understanding of Cassie’s isolation from her family is evident when he says to the painting, “Took up some room, didn’t you?” In the scene where he talks to Cassie’s dad, it’s almost as if he directly took words out of Cassie’s mouth. In talking to the dad about why he thinks Cassie will never want a boyfriend, he says, “I’m thinking.. maybe you fucked her up? … But not on purpose” and adds “Don’t put [raising Cassie’s little brother, Reuben] on her. You’re supposed to get your shit together.” The kite that Cassie fixed (and apparently gave to Reuben as a gift) flys as Jakob consoles Cassie by bringing along Reuben to cheer her up for the photo shoot.
Then they cross the line: Cassie begins to love Jakob and Jakob starts wanting to be loved. Cassie recognizes that Jakob only really cares about how good the pictures are and how the two feel about them, when she asks him if he sold them after seeing them at a club, to which he replies, “Why would I do that”. The purity of it finally gets across to her and she says, “Jakob, I love you”, to which he replies, “I love you too”. It proceeds rapidly from then. She does a professional fashion photoshoot and receives much adoration. I think she agrees to do it mainly because she enjoys the love, but I bet she felt some certainty that Jakob will feel happy for her, now that it’s clear they love each other. But because they have stepped out of what they first signed up for, they misunderstand and hurt the other, which terminate whatever pure that they had together. Once the tricky balance they built their love upon breaks down, all comes to an end unannounced to leave Cassie broken hearted.
What Cassie experiences becomes more relatable via her conversation with Maddie (played by Charlene McKenna), whom Cassie runs into just after storming out of the office building where Jakob was camping in. What the two essentially talk about is the dreamer’s unrequited love for their dreams, that when you love, it is never returned the way it should. Cassie sobs uncontrollably as Maddie talks about the discouraging reality of the world. Cassie, with doubt about the possibility of a friendly, asexual and pure love, asks Maddie about her thoughts on her relationship with a friend who she sees. To, “Don’t you mind? He’s sort of your boyfriend”, Maddie answers, “London’s fucked up. I mean, I go to auditions for my glorious acting career and nothing ever happens. It’s all fucked. And yet, here we stay, fucked. We’re waiting, you know, for our lives to start”. To my understanding, this is the moment that Cassie concludes the world makes pure love impossible. Although uncertain if this is a message the producers were going for, I felt so much in this scene and the credit goes entirely to the two actors. The vacant look in McKenna’s eyes and Murray’s painful expression were elegant to say the least.
Maddie is an important character for Cassie, as well as for the general plot. Cassie distances her from everyone, including Maddie, who first acts friendly to Cassie by offering to smoke spliff. Fear and panic from having a stalker gets Cassie to approach Maddie. She initially doesn’t expect much of a friendship from Maddie, evident from how she immediately responds to Maddie’s comment “now that we know each other”, by saying, “We don’t”. Cassie even judges her a little. When asking what Maddie does, she replies that she’s waiting for a discovery. Cassie doesn’t understand at this point that waiting is holding on and something one does actively. She fails to see the similarity she shares with her, that they both hold on. Sidenote- Cassie says, “I’m waiting… for something else”, using the word “waiting” in explaining that she doesn’t want to be in a relationship without love anymore. Maddie remembers their conversation and comes back. She enters Cassie’s fortress of blinds (which is made literally visible with the camera’s framing) and shows honest reaction. Her comment, “I wish someone could see the beauty in me like that”, gets Cassie to realize that she does enjoy having been photographed in such ways, feels adored and becomes willing to give Jakob a chance.
Minor events throughout the story bring Cassie and Maddie closer. Their very last conversation culminates to Cassie’s understanding that they share the pain of holding on to things that they love, regardless of the disappointing nature of reality. Cassie had always been holding on. This is apparent in how she deals with past loves. In talking about Sid with Maddie, she says, “We traveled a lot until we couldn’t go any further. Then it ended, so I came home… [If] it didn’t end, it was forever”. Her relationship with Sid had a limit to it, and since her need for love could not be satisfied, she couldn’t settle and left. She talks about Sid with a coldness but she has post cards of New York in her room, signifying that she is indeed holding on to the memories.
Likewise, Cassie holds on to what she had with Jakob. She feels hurt when he clings on and calls her a bitch for finding comfort in Yaniv, a friend who seems to understand her. Jakob’s mistreatment to her after everything had come to an end in addition to Yaniv’s advice direct her to change. Yaniv tells Cassie, “Everyone gets lonely here. It’s okay”, to which she asks, “Don’t you ever want to go home (where it’s not lonely)?”- possibly with the intention to understand why Yaniv holds on. She learns that Yaniv’s hurtful experiences home makes him prefer living in London. What’s ironic is that he advices Cassie to let go when he himself still keeps memories of his past, even letting them influence his present, which can be observed in how he collects toy soldiers. Anyways, Cassie responds, “If I can’t (let go), does it matter?” to which Yaniv says, “Everything matters”- which I assume means, “You should still try to let go. It is something worth striving to achieve”. Before leaving the two men for good, Cassie says, “Don’t spoil it, Jakob. We need to remember something good. (But) you’re right, (Yaniv). Everything matters”. Putting this drama to the past, Cassie seems to learn to let go. Almost as if in sync, Maddie leaves the flat, possibly performing an act of letting go of her dream that doesn’t come true, which may or may not lead her to accomplishment in the end.
Cassie’s story comes to an ambiguous end- it is difficult to conclude that it is a happy ending. Cassie chooses to take it upon herself to raise Reuben after seeing how hopeless her dad is at loving someone else than mum, even with the best of heart. Reuben is someone that she loves unconditionally and is loved back the same. For instance, he makes her happy despite being in isolation after her photoshoot for a fashion magazine. His reading of “Go, Dog, Go” can be interpreted as a message for Cassie, cheering her on. They tell each other that it’s all good. Can’t it be better though? I believe yes. When seeing the grander scheme of Cassie’s situation, not much has changed. She still has her sheets as blinds, living in her crap of a flat and traveling on a bus to return to the diner she stopped working for. Shot of Cassie waking up in the beginning and the end are copies of one another, almost as if to suggest that even with all that she has learned, nothing changes.
Skins Pure was difficult to read when I really got into it. With this blog post, I learned something new, that I shouldn’t try to analyze all the good films, series, shows I come across. I certainly felt emotions that were dear and precious while watching, but I feel a lot of what I felt got lost in all the dissecting and writing. I am going to have to find another method to document my responses to art. I’m excited to look outside my comfort zone.
Some beautiful shots of Cassie and Jakob:
Written by Bryan Elsley. Directed by Paul Gay. Starring Hannah Murray and Olly Alexander.