At the start of this episode, the gang’s together and happy: everyone’s been forgiven for what happened last week, and life’s OK. (It’s all soundtracked by Blind Melon’s gorgeous, melancholy ‘No Rain’, as well.) “It’s great”, observes Rae in voiceover, “to be young and free and with no-one telling us what to do”. Which struck me as an odd thing to say, in a show which has spent its entire run demonstrating just how difficult the teenage years can be. And sure enough, within seconds, Rae’s mother’s boyfriend Karim spots Rae with a spliff in her hand, and she’s in trouble.
One of this week’s themes is Rae’s desire, at sixteen, to be treated as an adult, although part of the problem, as she recognises, is that in some ways she still regards herself as a child. But in this episode she makes a determined effort to engage with adulthood, prompted in part by seeing Finn in a relationship with an older woman (all of 24). So she goes to the fair with Chloe and a group of guys in their 20s, and stays out all night drinking with one of them, Saul; later, she goes to a somewhat dissolute party, where Saul sexually assaults her.
All of this puts considerable pressure on Rae’s mother, who is balanced somewhere between being frantic with worry and utterly exhausted after years of coping with Rae, as well as having her pregnancy to cope with: it looks as if, on top of everything else, having to worry about Rae drinking, taking drugs, and staying out all night is going to be the final straw. Partly in consequence Rae decides that it’s finally time to meet her biological father. He turns out to be not what we and Rae are expecting: an antique dealer, played with subtlety by Keith Allen, who expresses interest in spending more time with Rae, but makes several disparaging remarks about Rae’s mother; notably, while Rae is not feeling well-disposed towards her mother, she’s not about to encourage the man who walked out on the two of them.
And there’s ample tumult in the rest of Rae’s life. Finn leaves college and moves to Leeds for work; Chop and Izzy split up; Archie falls out with Chop for failing to stand up to homophobic bullies; Rae falls out with Chloe for leaving her to fend for herself after the sexual assault. So, by the end, Rae’s gang is no longer a gang: only Rae and Archie are left. And this leads to a painful sequence in which Rae pinballs between possible sources of affection, or perhaps just attention. Finn’s gone to Leeds; Kester won’t let her into his flat; she phones her father, but gets his answering machine. All of which leads her to Liam’s door, where, determined to prove to herself and Chloe that she isn’t a prude, and desperate for intimacy, she gives him a somewhat joyless blow-job, the mood for which is set when Liam says that they should keep their clothes on, because neither of them is an oil-painting.
We’re a long way from the optimistic opening by now, of course, and while the message of the first scene seemed to be that many things can be forgiven and forgotten, it’s doesn’t look as if everything’s going to be put back together this time; not quickly, at any rate. It’s another affecting but impressive episode of this excellent show. And Sharon Rooney is magnificent throughout, but you probably knew that.