TV Review: Skins: Series 5, Episode 5 – ‘Nick’



(This recap/review contains spoilers)

Colour me shocked. If you’d told me that ‘Nick’ – the episode that would centre around Skins’ most bland, flimsily-written character yet – would turn out to be the best hour in the current series so far, I’d have assumed you’d spent the day drinking the things you found under the kitchen sink. Sure, the fifth episode still embodies some of the more unwelcome traits of the series, like an over-reliance on gratuitous sex and drug scenes, some paper-thin characters and a continued borrowing of stock teen movie tropes. Even so, while Nick Levan still might not be an especially likeable character, this episode achieves the seemingly impossible and crafts the sex-driven jock cliché into an interesting, well-developed member of the cast, which is far more than Mini or Liv’s outings managed.

Beginning the episode with breakfast at the Levan household, we find that Matty has moved back home with a little brotherly help from Nick, though not without certain caveats. Their dad Leon (Dorian Lough) is a brash corporate asshat: A supposed self help guru, his approach to therapy is of the ‘tough love’ persuasion, simply telling his suicidal clients to grow a pair and stop being whiny bitches (one of his books is titled ‘Man Up: The Man’s Man’s Guide To Being a Man’). It’s an approach that extends to his parenting technique, too; he doesn’t give a flying crap about his sons, so long as they become successes, do as he says and don’t bother him with their problems. It’s an influence that’s stuck with Nick, who struggles to mould himself to fit everything his dad expects him to be, while his brother takes his father’s domineering bullshit with a heap of salt and matches it with a helping of rebellious sarcasm. Matty is allowed back home on the condition that he sign a formal contract laid out by his dad – no drugs, no violence, no girls in the house and he must complete his education whether he wants to or not.
.
.

.
.
Matty and his brother engage in a bit of sibling bonding as Nick mentions that he wants to put all their issues (especially Matty going crazy and destroying the house) behind them and start afresh. Matty brings up the elephant in the room – the little issue of Liv – but Nick is adamant that sleeping with his girlfriend’s best pal was nothing more than a bit of fun, and she and Matty should be together. He’s clearly putting up a façade, though, and is still hung up on his brother’s new girlfriend. After later being forced to listen to the two of them having sex in the next room, sexually frustrated Nick dashes round to see Mini for no other reason than to get laid, resulting in some incredibly awkward sex as the lack of spark between the two becomes even clearer. At college, Nick quickly introduces Matty to “his gang” – Franky and Co. – who quickly accept him into the fold (unsurprising, considering the stalkery flirtations between Franky and Matthew). It’s great finally having the ensemble together for a scene, and only highlights that the series could really use more substantial time spent showing the larger group dynamic rather than only shining the spotlight on the individuals who, at least in the last couple of weeks, haven’t warranted solo episodes.

It becomes a little more apparent that Nick’s view of the life he’s constructed is not exactly in tune with reality and he’s stuck without a real place to belong socially. The group he dubs “my guys” are friends who seem to merely tolerate him because he came as a package deal with Liv and Mini, and he doesn’t slot into the group as seamlessly as his brother, whose jokes crack the guys up where Nick’s fall on deaf ears. While he fails to fit in effortlessly with Franky, Alo and Rich, he gets along swimmingly with the rugby assclowns only because he maintains a macho façade and acts like they do. In his sporting element, Nick is surrounded by a rugby team who are almost exclusively complete pricks; the kind of stereotypical clichés who populate the locker room in every jock-centric teen movie, they’re the brand of immature one-dimensional morons who speak entirely in homophobic insults, completely missing the irony in spending their time with sweaty, shirtless men, wrestling with other guys and fumbling to grab balls all day. I’m especially glad they didn’t go the obvious route and have Nick’s humanising drama be him be a macho jock struggling with closeted gayness; that’d be one overworn cliché too far, even if all signs often point to it in this episode.
.
.

.
.
The cracks in his life start becoming more prominent as he struggles to keep his feelings for Liv in check and as his rugby pal Rider starts to talk crap about Matty in the locker rooms (not knowing that he’s Nick’s brother). It’s when misogynistic Rider insults Liv (apparently they slept together – is there anyone Liv hasn’t had sex with?) that Nick snaps, though, violently spearing him to the ground during practice. After college, the gang get together for drinks and Nick jumps at the first available opportunity to talk to Liv alone, where she spells out to him that she only ever slept with him as a way to get back at Mini. She points out how fucked up it is that he and Mini are still acting like everything’s fine between them despite her knowing all about his cheating ways. Nick, however, tries to maintain his life’s mask of perfection by insisting that his relationship’s better than ever…before getting trashed on sambuca and ignoring his girlfriend to drunkenly leer at Liv all night. Things finally come to a head as Mini invites Rider to the club, grinding on him on the dancefloor for Nick to see, finally ditching the denial and calling her boyfriend out on his cheating. Matty attempts to drag his brother away, but when Rider insults Matthew, Nick breaks his nose and leaves.

Matty follows his brother to the rugby pitch to talk to him, rushing to play a little friendly sibling game, quickly proving that the sprightly brooder can run circles around his rugby champ brother without trying. Nick’s resentment and jealousy bubbles to the surface and he berates Matty, bemoaning the fact that everything comes so easily to him, while Nick has to work his butt off for everything and has spent his life doing everything he’d been told to and everything he thought he was supposed to do, only for his brother to come back and wreck things. Matty points out the one thing his brother hasn’t seemed to realise: that he isn’t the one fucking up Nick’s life. Nick returns home in hopes of talking to his dad, but the Levan patriarch couldn’t care less – he’s too busy passing the blame for the suicide of a neglected client to listen to his child’s problems, and in Nick’s hour of need, his father just tells him to grow up, before leaving. Nick’s anger and frustration hits its peak and he takes his dad’s golf club, breaking down and smashing everything in sight, much like his brother had done before. Matty soon returns home to the destruction and tells Nick to leave, staying home to take the blame.
.
.

.
.
Nick drunkenly wanders the streets in search of solace, finding his way to Liv’s, where he unsuccessfully attempts to scale to her flat, landing back-first on the pavement. Liv hears the commotion and wanders onto the balcony, where Nick announces that she’s the only one who understands him and he needs her. It isn’t clear whether he’s just saying it out of desperation or if it’s another case of him being deluded and genuinely misconstruing some profound connection between him and Liv. She tells him that whatever he needs, it certainly isn’t her and he should just leave. Even more alone, he drunkenly stumbles off into the suburbs, happening across a hot older call girl just leaving a client’s house. He introduces himself as Matty and the two go back to her place, doing a load of coke before having sex, but he freaks out as he spots the photos of a young child around the room and realises that this numb, emotionally hollow woman is someone’s mum. I have to say, after Nick went berserk and trashed his house in the exact same fashion as his apparently mentally unhinged brother had before, and with Nick choosing to take on Matty’s name when going on his downward spiral of drink, drugs and destruction, I was half expecting the writers to reveal that Matty was a Tyler Durden-style figment of Nick’s fractured imagination. Sure, it would’ve been nonsensical, but it wouldn’t have been the most random, left-field plot turn Skins had thrown in.

After his night-long bender left him nowhere but lost and alone, he bumps into Frankie on some swings near her house. He finally admits that he’s a pretty shitty person and he’s starting to realise that’s how people see him. He doesn’t attempt to justify the things that he’s done, but there’s a genuine sense of honesty and regret that wasn’t apparent in Mini’s reflective apologies to the group (especially since she only acknowledged her wrong-doings and mended fences to try to isolate and destroy Liv). There’s certainly not much accounting for the terrible things that he’s done, but it’s a moment that goes a long way to humanising Nick. Franky cheerfully lets him know that he’s not a complete dick, inspiring a smile before she wanders off into the sunset. Franky seems to have taken on this characteristic of being the sage, heartfelt source of inspiration for the rest of the gang when they’re at their lowest; this is the third episode in a row where her only major scene is to pop up and give the episode’s main character some wise words of inspiration when they need it most before dashing off again. While that’s awesome, the fact that the most interesting, likeable character is getting next to no screentime is something that needs to change.
.
.

.
.
Finally starting to realise everything wrong about him and his life, he sets off to college to talk to Coach Pooter (comedian Alistair McGowan sporting an over-the-top South African accent). He announces that he’s done with rugby, that it’s a big part of everything he hates, from the bullshit that comes with it to the pricks like Rider. “And I hate…I hate too much at the moment, Coach, and I need to…I need to stop,” he says, “And I need to sort some shit out, because if I don’t, I’ll go crazy and I’ll end up fucked up and alone, and I can’t be like that.” He says that he’s going to find his brother and they’re going to leave, since they can’t be around their father any more. Coach embraces his inner inspirational speaker and says Nick should be more like Nelson Mandela (the coach’s South African heritage is hammered into the ground, made bearable only by McGowan being such a solid performer) and fight injustice rather than run away like a coward. Nick returns home to face responsibility for trashing the house and finally stands up to his dad, who backs down with his tail between his legs when he realises that neither of his sons are weak enough to tolerate his unbearable, bullying parenting any more. Together, Nick and Matty share a beer in the back yard as they set fire to the contract he made them sign and all the posters and self-help books from their worthless dad.

This series has shown massive promise at times but has also exhibited the massively wavering tone and quality that Skins too often suffers from. This week’s outing isn’t without its problems, and would prove a lot more effective if antagonists Rider and Daddy Levan weren’t so one-note and the South African coach was anything more than an exaggerated caricature. Thankfully those are minor aberrations in a great episode that manages to achieve the miraculous feat of transforming wafer-thin stereotype Nick Levan into a substantial, three-dimensional character with tonnes of potential that I’d love to see more of in future. It’s no small feat, and is largely owing to Sean Teale for delivering a surprisingly impressive, nuanced performance after being given nothing to do all series. As great as it was to see the writers to find hidden depth in a previously boring character, next week finally sees the show steer back towards the more immediately likeable members of the gang as ginger farm kid Alo gets his turn in the spotlight.

Rating:




Skins airs in the UK on E4 and E4 HD, Thursdays at 10pm.
Click here to pre-order Series Five on DVD, which is released in the UK on March 21st 2011.

  • Mack

    Excellent review, I quite enjoyed it, and I agree that Franky should be given more screentime.

    • http://atemporarydistraction.com Simon Rowson

      Thanks, Mack! I’m glad you enjoyed reading it.

  • Sam

    I love reading your reviews. I hope to see more reviews of American Skins.

    I’m just curious where they are going with this season. They are almost done with it. In past seasons, although each episode focuses on one or two characters, a plot began to form around the 4th episode or so. This one is sort of just random episodes thrown into the mix with little direction as to where the season is headed.

    • http://atemporarydistraction.com Simon Rowson

      Thanks for the comment! I’m glad to hear you’re digging the coverage. The reviews of Skins US have fallen by the wayside a little the past couple of weeks while I cover some Blu-ray reviews and such due this week, but I aim to catch up soon, so they’ll definitely return.

      I agree completely about this season’s trajectory. I think that’s a big problem that’s stemmed from the writers wasting too much time on characters like Mini and Liv, who really aren’t interesting or substantial enough to really need their own solo episodes, and not enough time on the group as a whole to set up larger plots or establish much interest in their relationships.

      So far the only wider plot seems to be the flimsy love triangle forming between Franky, Matty and Liv. As much as I’ve preferred Matty when he’s not skulking around like a creepy serial killer, another melodramatic love triangle so soon after Effy sounds about as fun as making out with a hedge trimmer, and I don’t think we’ve spent enough time getting to know either of them for that to be a remotely interesting story.

      I’m hoping Alo’s episode will feature more screentime for the entire group (or at least Franky, Rich and Grace) to add a little more structure and trajectory to the series, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see.