Review: SKINS S7E02, FIRE: PART 2 (Or, Things Get Rather Bleak As Effy And Naomi Deal With Their Struggles)
On one level, the second part of "Fire" is just plain depressing. I mean that more as an observation than a critique, because Skins has consistently been a show that is unafraid of venturing into a dark narrative and not taking the easy way out.
With last week's episode, it should have been clear that the decision to return to the characters for a seventh series is not just to show us where they've ended up in life but to also tell an engaging story that is really focused on people that the show's fans are heavily invested in.
I'm sure many of those fans will be incredibly angry with what has become of the show's most iconic relationship and one of its most memorable characters. The most affecting story in "Fire: Part 2" is that of Naomi's cancer, a subplot that sits in the background until it gradually starts to dominate the episode, as we realise that she's not going to make it out of this alive.
It's a painful twist of fate, and I must admit that when I began to sense where it was headed, I too felt annoyed that this could happen to such a strong character. There's something of a tradition of bringing inordinate levels of hardship to gay couples on television and I initially thought that was what was going on here. By the end, though, it's clear that this serves as a reminder of the strength of Emily and Naomi's relationship and I think it is both important and realistic that the cancer plotline played out in a way that it usually doesn't on the small screen.
I think some fans will take this decision to heart and be angry at Jess Brittain (this episode's writer) for where this ended up going. That's a shame, because this doesn't take anything away from the show's strongest couple and we'll always have the episodes of Series 3 to return to if we're in need of seeing some happier times. It is bold of Skins to approach this story and follow through on the consequences of it; the whole thing is told in the most emotionally resonant way possible while still staying faithful to the characters and I honestly find that concluding note to be as optimistic as it is saddening.
Meanwhile, Effy's illegal dealings in the world of finance inevitably come back to haunt her. Like Naomi's story, this plays out over many months as Effy settles into a routine at work that sees her unable to be completely successful but also able to get away with it because she's sleeping with her boss. When it becomes clear that the company is suffering, though, he urges her to produce something special again even when he obviously knows that what she did before was unlawful.
She doesn't get away with it this time. Victoria returns, now working for the Financial Services Authority, and she's intent on getting Effy to admit to what she's done. When Effy realises the extent to which she has been used by her boss, she comes to her senses and takes responsibility for her actions.
The final image of the episode sees her smiling after everything's fallen apart. It's an odd way to end things, as it really should be much more downbeat than that. However, I think Effy finally feels like herself again because she was making compromises in order to get ahead and she now understands that she was in over her head. She's almost certainly headed to jail and her closest friend is about to die, but the episode resists showing us those eventualities. I wouldn't go so far as to say this is an open-ended conclusion, but it is one that recognises how it is more satisfying to end on a strong thematic beat than it is to end with a plot development.
As I said at the start of this review, there's some part of me that just thinks all of this is really very upsetting. I'm certainly not going to ever be someone who gets angry at a writer for a solid story decision pulled off effectively, but there's no doubt that this is some dark stuff and that it gets fairly difficult to watch.
It's not uncharacteristic of Skins to deal with serious issues and treat them realistically, so I would still praise the show for what it accomplishes in this bleak concluding part of Effy and Naomi's stories. The consequences are heartbreaking but convincingly established, and "Fire: Part 2" provides a moving and honest way to bring an end to our time following these characters.