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Netflix 'Spinning Out' – tackles trauma, toxic talents and mental health

As someone who’s had to let go of a lingering obsession for their sanity’s sake, I was a bit afraid of starting ‘Spinning Out’. After watching the trailer I imagined a ‘Black Swan’ spin-off with an ‘I, Tonya’ setting, and an uncomfortable depiction of an obsessive mental illness, reminiscing ‘Starving in Suburbia’ and the like, certainly lowering the bar from the other two.

“I always thought I’d make my mark” says the character played by Kaya Scodelario. I grew to enjoy her portrayal of Katerina Baker, the protagonist of the story, spinning in and out of the rink—or passion, panic, patience.

I was wrong to assume that the show would focus solely on the toxicity of talent and its repercussions. The theme of commitment to one’s calling is present throughout, but there are also the cracks and binds of human relationships, the realities of dealing with bipolar disorder, and, generally, having to be a person. I don’t think it’s possible to be an altogether stable human being when you’ve got to get up at 4:30 a.m. for practice on the regular.

There is a pretty dysfunctional antibiosis going on within the protagonist’s family. Two sisters competing on an ice rink, one working hard on the losses of the other. A mother ‘triggering’ her daughter’s episodes. I wonder, is it unrealistic, or just too blatantly commonplace to want to be acknowledged? Something tells me it’s the former, but maybe it’s only their hyperbolic way of saying that those closest to us do affect us more than we’d like to, and yet we still can’t give up on them. Going back and forth between love and hate is exhausting in itself, but adding layers of lost dreams, heightened expectations and shared mental issues, and it becomes too much to deal with.

Image: Courtesy of Netflix

Although I’ve appreciated the show more and more with each episode, this is not to say it doesn’t have its faults. Firstly, they failed to create a full-fledged, exciting antagonist. Leah, serving as the main human disruption in Kat’s figure skating career, is granted one line every three episodes, and it seems as if her entire life is focused on overthrowing the latter. Secondly, although it is TV drama, it tends to be a tad too obvious—a love triangle where the pretty girl must choose; dating a best friend’s crush; a subsequent fallout of said friendship; an underage girl sleeping with an older guy. What gives the show its potential, the homey feel of it juxtaposed with the manic episodes and intensified family dynamics, gets overshadowed by those moments of same old same old—and, well, by the fact that it’s basically teen drama, if not at its finest, then at least predictable. Interestingly enough, the only aspect of it that doesn’t become overly dramatised is the thing that tends to be the opposite: the characters’ mental health issues.

The question I cannot seem to get out of my head after watching the show is, why do the things we love the most hurt us so easily? Injury and trauma are only a few examples presented in the film, but humans grow weary of their greatest passions for numerous reasons. And then they wither, or they flourish within themselves, without needing that burden of a talent. What frustrates is that, in every single narrative depicting great talent, there is always that one person who tells the main character, "Don’t give up. I will help you reach your dream, because you deserve it." This does not happen often in real life. If you surrender, if you let go of something that used to fill out your entire identity, people let this be. They don’t care about your talent, no matter how real it is. They have their own problems. I wish someone made a show about that. It might turn out rather bitter but it could also be refreshing. A person choosing to be a person, and not something larger-than-life.

Image: Courtesy of Netflix

Despite some of the shortcomings and frustrations, the first season was not a disappointment. There is a certain warmth about it, once you properly get into the series. What seemed like uncomfortable acting at first, turned into an uncomfortable yet real vulnerability of having to face each other whilst simultaneously waging war on one’s own mind.

I prepared myself for exaggerated and glamorised obsessions, and I was certainly wrong. The bottom line is, everyone is going through something (so much so that it becomes hard to keep up who’s angry with whom in each episode). And even the grave scary things, the mental disorders, the trauma—they all have to somehow tune into the everyday. And they do. Eventually, even those extremes become dull and toned town, and repeated over and over again. This is not to say that dealing with a mental illness is in any way easy, as it is very clearly not. I only mean that, eventually, it does become a part of life, and over-amplifying it only leads one further and further away from its actuality, which is difficult as it is.

The reality is, one cannot skate at sixty. Sooner or later, all of the characters will have to find a new path, and the foreshadowing of it stares at them in the face, in the form of their own bodily limitations or ghosts from the past. It is a danger to maintain a fixed identity, never believing that one could be more than what they had been so far along the road. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. An identity is as malleable as our relationships with others, which—as the show itself portrays—incessantly spin out of control.

Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor