TV Review: Skins: Series 5, Episode 7 – ‘Grace’



(This recap/review contains spoilers)

Skins is full of surprises. A few episodes in, I would’ve bet my spinal cord on Nick’s being a terrible episode, but it turned out surprisingly well, crafting the formerly vapid character into someone relatively deep, nuanced and likeable. In contrast, Grace’s episode seemed like a can’t-miss installment, focusing around the cast’s most simple and inoffensive member and a relationship that started out sweet, heartfelt and a welcome change from the overwrought melodramatic love triangles that Skins has devolved into. Strange, then, that last night’s episode of Skins embodied some of the most terrible traits that the show has developed over the years, playing out like a shoddily-written live-action Disney animated movie with added cocaine and girl-on-girl action (which surprisingly doesn’t make it any more interesting or entertaining).
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Grace (Jessica Sula) wakes up in her posh-as-a-palace house with boyfriend Rich (Alexander Arnold) in her bed. As they sleepily rise from their slumber, Grace notices that it’s morning and there’s a guy in her bed, something her parents certainly wouldn’t approve of. As her mum calls to her from downstairs, Grace rushes to smuggle Rich out the front door, finding it locked and instead pushing him to stealth his way through the kitchen, past her parents who’re dancing through the room while preparing breakfast. Rich gets his first glance at his girlfriend’s father – villainous head of Roundview College David Blood. Judging by how young he looks, David Blood must’ve conceived Grace when he was practically a fetus himself. Though we’ll overlook that, since actor Chris Addison is apparently 39 in reality(!), and hopefully will share his de-aging secrets with the medical community some day soon.
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After a little dodge-the-parents-without-being-seen farce that requires all the suspension of disbelief you have left over from the David Blood revelation, the family dog charges Rich on the lawn, causing him to be spotted by Blood and his wife. While dropping off his daughter at a clandestine back-street near college, Professor Blood tells her that her new-found friends are a bad influence, and he’s shipping her off to a prestigious out-of-the-way girl’s boarding school the second she gets a grade below an ‘A’. At college, Rich quizzes her about why she’s never told anyone about her father; apparently it would “compromise his position” at the college if people knew, and it’s not just a daft out-of-nowhere grab for drama or anything. His youthful looks alone are tough to get past, but the fact that he’s pressured her to keep his identity a secret for no particular reason, or that neither of her childhood friends Mini or Liv have ever been to her house or met her parents, is a little harder to swallow. The left-field surprise of Blood’s parental role requires far too much suspension of disbelief and doesn’t add much of anything beyond strained, tiresome drama.
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With a new ultimatum from her father, the pressure’s on for Grace as she prepares her final drama assignment: a performance of Twelfth Night starring all her friends. During rehearsals, Mini (Freya Mavor) is doing an hilariously terrible job hamming her way though Shakespearean dialogue to everyone’s amusement, while their roles in the play have Franky (Dakota Blue Richards) and Matty (Sebastian De Souza) exchanging lines of unrequited love while gazing into each other’s eyes. In that age-old teen movie tradition, naturally the literature they’re studying conveniently parallels their current dramas. When Liv (Laya Lewis) spots their chemistry and gets territorial, she announces that she’s pulling out of the play, and Matty’s coming with her, leaving her friend Grace high and dry. She randomly declares that she’s “not feeling the love” from Franky, Grace and Mini and feels like everyone’s still pissed at her for sleeping with Nick, but this is news to us, since everyone’s been friendly with her and there’s been no sign of her or any conflict there for weeks. Grace offers to hold a get-together for the girls to prove that everyone’s grudge-free.
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Not long after, David Blood calls Rich into his office, revealing the boy’s permanent records, his father’s employment history, last job appraisal and probably his dental records, too. Crossing from snooty nuisance to improbably well-connected supervillain, Blood mentions that he can pull strings to make life much easier for Rich’s not-well-off dad if he ‘throws the game’, so to speak, and acts terribly in the play so that Grace fails and loses their agreement. After an awkward meet-the-parents dinner at the Blood house with Rich, the girls head round and Liv, having apparently jumped on the Charlie Sheen meme bandwagon, whips out a stash of coke. Grace says they should probably get some rehearsing done, to which Mini agrees, pointing out that “some elements” clearly aren’t ready, pointedly glaring in Liv’s direction. To quiet her friends’ argument (and tossing her established character out the window), the episode then sees straight-laced Grace cheerily yell, “Okay, let’s all do cocaine!” before cramming coke up her nose without hesitation. Cue another needless Skins drug scene montage.
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Grace takes a moment to drive the Twelfth Night parallels into the ground as they list the ways that Liv and Franky are like their respective characters. After pointing out that Franky is playing Viola – a girl dressed as a boy who can’t get what she wants – the girls take a moment to quiz her about her sexual orientation, which causes her to reveal, “I’m not anything. I’m into people.” Whether she’s actually pansexual or just didn’t feel like revealing that she’s obviously jonesing for Liv’s boyfriend falls by the wayside. They ditch the girly gossip and head out to get pissed, meeting Matty and a completely sloshed Rich at the club. Mini and Franky wander off to jokingly chat up some randoms at the bar while Grace attempts to keep Rich vertical. Matty looks on broodily as Franky chats to another guy and storms in to shoo him away (to Liv’s disapproval) when the random dude starts sleazily feeling up her leg. Outside, a drunken Rich blurts out that Grace is a completely different person around her parents, and he isn’t sure who she is any more. She claims she is who she needs to be in any given social situation, just like everyone else.
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David Blood has always been a one-dimensional comedy villain – a broad caricature of smug middle-class self-importance – which works fine in minute doses. But to have an entire character’s dramatic arc hinge on such a moustache-twirling cartoon instantly deflates that drama. It’s increasingly hard to care about Grace’s family woes when her parents are ridiculously unbelievable characters yanked straight from a Disney Princess movie. It’s even harder to care when Grace herself is presented so inconsistently and just as unbelievably this week. Sure, the episode attempts to set Grace up as some social chameleon, shifting her personality to please those around her, but it’s not a particularly well set up character trait and serves more to justify the hour’s sloppy character work. Until now she’s been rather consistently defined as a prim, but sweet girl who had limits to how far she’d let people walk over her (as evidenced by her standing up to Mini). This week she’s an incessant whiner who now does coke at the drop of a hat – cue the awkward shoehorning of another gratuitous drug scene in the show where it really doesn’t fit believably.
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Back home, Grace looks to her mum for help and advice as her friends’ disagreements threaten to ruin the play and her chances of staying in Bristol. Rather than just tell her husband that Grace is staying put, or offering some meaningful advice, Mrs. Blood offers her daughter some abstract, flowery fairytale spiel about making a happy ending to stick it to her father. During the next rehearsal, Mini is filling in for an absent Liv and Matty, and in an attempt to spice up the play (and provide some random fanservice to anyone still watching), she has Mini and Franky share a smouldering kiss which they both seem to enjoy more than planned. Rich and Grace chat, and he reminds her that he meant what he said while drunk: That he doesn’t know who she really is, and the two break up. As it becomes apparent that without her leads, the play is doomed, Grace wanders the city rounding up Matty and Liv, convincing them to show up on the night.
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The play goes well, and the drama between the gang handily only improves the emotional gravitas in their performances. Rich grins at David Blood as he watches from the audience, before delivering his A game and acting his butt off for Grace. After Liv shares a kiss with Franky on-stage and notices that Matty was glaring at them from the sidelines, she accuses him of being turned on by it. He realistically points out that it was girl-on-girl action – of course he was turned on by it. She forces Matty to reveal who he loves; he declares his love for Liv, but can’t deny loving Franky, too, causing his girlfriend to demand that he forget all about Franky. The play a hit, Grace meets her dad, who reveals that their deal was a lie: She’s being packed off to boarding school anyway. Back home, she cries to her mother and moans that all the fairytales and stories she’d been reading her since childhood were lies, while her mother, rather than stand up for her daughter, does nothing useful. Later that night, Rich appears below Grace’s window, quoting Romeo & Juliet. He scales the conveniently-placed drainpipe and balcony outside her window (why didn’t Rich climb out that way at the beginning of the episode instead of the convoluted kitchen hijinks?) and proposes that they solve their situation the way Shakespeare’s characters would. Suicide? Nope. Marriage, apparently. Sigh.
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Did we not have a more nuanced and satisfying version of this exact same drama play out last week? The overbearing parent and the submissive “Yes, dear” spouse blindly ignoring their child’s wishes and pulling them away from college and happiness? Here we get much the same conflict, but after rehashing the same parental drama, the efforts to then steer away from replaying last week exactly results in more ridiculousness. Last week found Alo with a dramatic arc that led to a simple, but satisfying conclusion: Alo grew from carefree joker to being forced to mature, be a tad more responsible and (along with his henpecked dad) stand up to his domineering mother. In the same situation, Grace – rather than just stand up to her cartoon parents and force them to stop being pricks in any remotely believable way – simply moans incessantly to her mother about being taught empty fairy tales. We’ve seen that she’s intelligent and can stand up for herself when necessary, so why she never bothers to show either trait here is baffling. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge the lack of a satisfying character arc since her drama leads directly into next week, too, but when the set-up is this disappointing, silly and laden with inconsistent, half-baked writing, it’s rather hard to invest much in Grace at all despite her being such a likeable character at the start of the year.
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Much like last week’s outing, the penultimate episode of the series suffers massively from the lack of attention paid to the group throughout the weeks. Relationships, characters and the ensuing drama that unfolds feels either inconsistent or barely written, and there’s been no sense of development or progression between any of these characters because we’ve hardly seen them interact. Grace feels like a completely different character this week, while her relationship with Rich feels even more rushed and ridiculous because they’ve been nothing more than background props all series. Matty is apparently completely in love with Franky now, though they’ve known each other for a millisecond and only ever shared a single conversation and a few weeks worth of across-the-room sex-glares. He’s willing to rescue her from a leg-groping random in a club, though last week he happily stood idly by while his douchey friend nearly put her through a wall. He also apparently genuinely loves Liv, though it’s not remotely clear why, since we’ve not seen them do anything but stand around together or have sex and she treats him and the rest of her friends like garbage now. Did I stroke out and miss an episode or twelve? It feels like the smaller moments of character interaction that prior series weaved throughout to set up character development and conflict so well is completely missing this year.
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Mini proves to be a much better comedic character than a dramatic one, and her shoddy Shakespearean acting is priceless, and the tiny hints at a romance between her and Franky are infinitely more interesting than everything else implausible that happens this episode. But the few fleeting moments of fun do little to distract from the ridiculously implausible plot revelations, inconsistent, unbelievable character work and flimsy, half-baked drama. The lack of attention paid to characters and relationships throughout the series and the lack of substantial relationship progression means that none of the conflict that arises this week feels welcome or worthwhile. Without the character foundation to support it, this episode plays out like a house of cards being put together with missing supports, collapsing in on itself under the weight of unbelievable story turns and overwrought melodrama.

Sadly, after massive amounts of promise, the fifth series of Skins is back to the weakest moments of Generation Two, lending all its focus to a flimsily-constructed love triangle, implausible plot twists and enough terrible teen melodrama to make Stephenie Meyer weep with jealousy. Hopefully there’ll be a last-minute recovery with next week’s episode as the gang head of on their marital road trip (presumably to Scotland, since Rich and Grace are too young to marry in England without parental consent).

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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.

  • Rags

    lol, your review (especially the part talking about Grace doing cocaine) make it sounds like she’s a perfect little angel. …which is definitely not the case. Remember, first episode ? Grace ingesting whatever drug Liv had in the bag and shoplifting ? I totally remember that.

  • Rags

    Also, I think this episode achieved in making Grace a more complex character. She was always the sweet, lunatic and calm character but I’ve also noticed that she’s a bit spoiled (her little tantrum in her dad’s car definitely felt like a ‘I want this !’ fit from any rich girl). Plus she revealed herself to be a bit manipulative, convincing pretty much everyone to continue the play despite their differences.
    I definitely appreciate seeing her less…perfect then previously shown.