The opening of the fourth season of Skins is a startling five minutes of television. Over black we hear the loud thump of dance music and someone snorting. Is it one of the characters we’ve come to know from season three? No. When the camera fades up the identity of the mystery inhaler is a teenage girl named Sophia. She stumbles out of the bathroom, high on MDMA, and into the chaos of a hot sweaty club. As she makes her way through the crowd, she passes all of the recognizable faces from the previous year. Cook, Freddie, Thomas, Pandora, Kati, Emily and Naomi. Sophia walks to the top of a balcony while below her, frenzied teens dance to music so loud you can’t think. Then, with a clear plan in mind, she climbs on top of a railing and falls to the concrete floor. As she lays dead in the middle of shocked kids, Sophia announces to us viewers that this fourth go around is going to be much darker than the previous season, and maybe any season before.
The repercussions of Sophia’s death are felt throughout the first half of this season. Who is responsible for giving her the drugs? Which among the characters knew her well enough to make her so despondent that she would take her own life? We learn these answers within the first two episodes, but I won’t reveal them here, as this season is exceptional and I know that fans of the series will want to find out for themselves.
Besides the mystery behind Sophia identity, her death has a profound effect of Thomas, whose episode leads off the season. As you may recall, Skins is unique in that each episode is dedicated to one sole character in the ensemble and during that episode all other characters become supporting roles. Thomas immediately reexamines his life both spiritually and socially and must consider what is best for him and his family. This episode features the finest work by actor Merveille Lukeba (who portrays Thomas) in his entire run on the show.
Meanwhile, the group of friends we met in season three reconvene for their final year at Roundview College. Only one person is missing, Effy (Kaya Scodelario), the enigmatic girl who broke the hearts of two of the boys in the gang and then went off for the summer on her own. When she finally returns, Effy chooses Freddie (Luke Pasqualino) and dedicates her love to him. It’s a triumphant moment for Fred. Sadly, Cook (Jack O’Connell), the kid who doesn’t seem to give a shit about anything, must watch his best friend go off with the girl he also loves. We all know that Cook does give a shit about certain things, primarily his best friends and Effy.
Throughout this season, almost each character has a significant change in their life. Emily (Kathryn Prescott) and Naomi (Lily Loveless) suffer growing pains as girlfriends and must decide if the anguish they’re going through is worth it; J.J. (Ollie Barbieri), the third of the three musketeers, falls in love with a girl he works with at a box store; Katie (Megan Prescott) receives life altering news just hours before her parents learn that their home is being repossessed by the bank; and we meet Cook’s mother, a famous artist who uses her sex life as a muse for her modern art.
Season four is only 8 episodes long, so the creators did not give solo episodes to Pandora (Lisa Backwell) or Naomi, however these characters play significant roles in almost every episode. The second half of the season shifts focus to Effy and her descent in to psychotic depression. She is placed in a hospital and taken under the care of Dr. Foster (Hugo Speer), who uses controversial techniques to rid her of her bad memories. For the first time, Effy opens up bout the terrible accident that befell her older brother, Tony (as seen in the season one finale). The end of this storyline with Effy in the hospital will shock longtime fans of the show.
I must admit that I was reluctant to dive into another go around of Skins. It had taken me a while to warm up to the new cast in season 3. However, my reluctance was quelled as soon as Sophia took the leap to her death. That first episode featuring Thomas was so compelling that I sat through 5 episodes in a row (it was a late night). Unlike the previous year, when the actors were trying to define their characters, this fourth season showed them all comfortable in the skin of who they were playing and giving much stronger performances.
Jack O’Connell once again steals every scene he’s in with his energetic performance as Cook. O’Connell is one of the finest young actors I’ve seen and I truly look forward to seeing more from him. Likewise, Luke Pasqualino is very strong. With his matinee good looks, I expect that Pasqualino will have a future in cinema. With such strong acting chops to boot, he could become a big star. As for the ladies, Kaya Scodelario brings her role of Effy, one that she’s held since the opening scene of the pilot episode, to a strong conclusion. Effy’s struggle with depression is heart wrenching and believable. Lily Loveless is also very strong, showing a different shade of Naomi, less sure of herself and more reckless than she was in the previous season.
There’s not much else I can say about season four except that if you’re a fan, you will love this collection. Anyone who only knows Skins because of the MTV Americanized adaptation (which had a lifeless first episode), should definitely watch these episodes and all of the previous ones to really appreciate the greatness of the show.
Skins, Volume 4 contains the usual supplementary material you’ll find on DVD’s: Behind the scenes, trailers and commentary on select episodes. Also included are Skins Shorts, dedicated stories for individual characters that fill in some of the gaps that exist between episodes.