This review contains spoilers.
As Naomi told Cook during one of their brief encounters, he just lives a bit harder than everyone else, and that’s certainly true here. While Skins Fire and Pure chose to focus on the floundering social and professional lives of old characters, Rise is much more of a traditional crime drama, albeit with the protagonist’s dark past already taken care of. It seems that Cook hasn’t stopped running since the end of the fourth series, and the death and betrayal that characterised his teen years is still following him around like a bad smell.
We hook up with him as he’s working as a drug dealer and general dogsbody for local gangster Louis. Over the course of the episode it becomes clear that, while Cook has reined in his rebellious ways, Louis is much like the man he was (he even utters an “I’m Louis!” – Cook’s signature and final line of the series) and is a dangerous person to be around in an adult world as brutal as this. Try as he might, however, the other thing that seems to follow him wherever he goes are insecure women with something to prove.
Here, there are two – like an angel and devil on his shoulder – one offering him a brand new life and the other slowly tempting him back into old habits. He knows what sleeping with a mate’s girlfriend gets you and, while he never mentions anyone by name or makes reference to particular events, fans will easily deduce that the business with Freddie and Freddie’s killer is still haunting him. With such a sudden and dramatic finale for the character in series four, it would have been a disappointment to see the writers ignore it.
Cook is, by his very nature, a creature of habit, and he hasn’t changed a whole lot since we left him. His self-preservation has kicked into overdrive, replacing the self-destructive tendencies he indulged in his teenage years, but those who loved the character are still going to find Rise a compelling watch. It’s grim, but in an entirely different way to Effy or Cassie’s stories, and it somehow makes perfect sense to find him in this heightened world a million miles away from the ordinary world of Skins. He’s grown up, but so has the world around him. This, of course, also means that the stakes are far higher.
The episode looks as beautiful as ever, every frame seemingly designed to give some insight into a character that’s never been made fathomable with words or lengthy conversations. A voiceover reintroduces us to Cook and sets us up for the noir-ish crime drama we’re about to see, but it’s a credit to the show that this really isn’t needed. More so than with the previous two stories, I reckon that Rise can be enjoyed by anyone – no matter how much of Skins you’ve seen or not seen. Jack O’Connell was born to play this role, having done several variations of him in the intervening years, and the performance is as strong as ever.
It might prove a blessing and a curse to finish with this story, as I can’t see a happy ending on the horizon. Where else it would have been placed, I don’t know, but the strength of this first episode suggests that, even if Skins goes out on a depressing or tragic note, it’ll also go out on a creative high. I guess that’s all we can ask of this seventh series for, while it has defied expectations to good and bad effect, one thing it can’t be faulted on is the realisation of and love for its characters. This episode, like the others, will split opinion, but Skins has never shied away from controversy, has it?
Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Skins Pure Part Two, here.
Please, if you can, buy our charity horror stories ebook, Den Of Eek!, raising money for Geeks Vs Cancer. Details here.