Thus far, the character of Nick (Sean Teale) hasn’t proved to be a particularly endearing one. Like Cook and Tony before him, each Skins generation’s alpha male character has always had a darker, more vulnerable side, but the first 15 minutes of Nick’s centric episode suggest a character to whom keeping up appearances matters above all else.
While it’s a shame that interesting characters explored earlier in the series, like Rich and Frankie, have been relegated to background players as the spotlight focuses on the increasingly messy love-square, we once again see a surprisingly dark and engaging story emerge as Nick’s episode progresses. From a series that has proved to push more boundaries than ever before, without resorting to the likes of a cartoonish psychopath therapist, this could well be the most intense episode yet.
After last week’s “how did we not guess that?” revelation that elusive rebel Matty (Sebastian De Souza) and obnoxious jock Nick are in fact brothers, we are introduced to yet another dysfunctional family scenario. In a deliciously infuriating performance by Dorian Lough, the boys’ father is a life coach with rather questionable methods; methods that his sons have to also adhere to as much as his clients. An uncomfortable early scene sees Matty given a contract to sign, in order to be allowed back into the Levan household: “You can stay here and obey my rules… or you can fuck off”. Whilst Nick might appear to be the model son, it’s clear by Nick’s sycophantic idolisation of his father that Matty is the one who is in control.
In fact, Matty has the one thing that Nick truly wants right now: Liv. Despite another strong performance from Laya Lewis, Liv’s character remains fairly unlikeable, so why Nick wants in on that is a little implausible. However, for the first time in his life, he wants what he can’t have and the bravado of his rugby captain front begins to slip. The only person who really sees Nick for who he really is – a confused individual moulded by others’ expectations of him – is his rugby coach, in a hilarious and remarkably touching cameo from impressionist Alistair McGowan (complete with comedy South African accent).
But even Coach can’t prevent Nick’s self-destructive downward spiral. As he struggles to hold onto his credibility as leader of the rugby team, boyfriend to Mini (with Freya Mavor giving a surprisingly understated and very sympathetic performance this week) and perfect son to his dreadful father, it all collapses in on him. In typical Skins style, Nick resorts to a route of binge drinking, complete with subsequent vomiting and violence, before eventually, in a rather shocking turn of events, choosing to sleep with a married mother. And even that’s not the whole story.
As a result of successfully transforming one of the group’s most 2D characters into one of the most believably layered and complex within the space of an hour, there’s very little room for comedy this week, so it’s refreshing to see that next episode we’ll be paying a visit to love-him-or-hate-him cocksure farm boy Alo.
Airs at 10pm on Thursday 24th February 2011 on E4.