Spinning Out highlights the people behind the skates

Aoife O'Brien

In the world of figure skating, perfection is everything. It means measured movements and elegant execution.

It means never straying from your routine and never revealing your personality.

You are the demure, poised character of your routine both on the ice and off. No more. No less.

This is a struggle faced by every character in Netflix’s new original series “Spinning Out”, which follows the lives of four-figure skaters all dreaming of the Olympics.

But the most compelling parts of this series are the quieter struggles that the characters face even as they deal with the pressure of athletic careers.

Kat Baker, played by Kaya Scodelario plays a young figure skater who has become traumatised after sustaining a gruesome skull injury on the ice.

However, her problems don’t end there. Suffering from generational poverty, having an abusive single mother suffering with bipolar disorder, a history of self-harm and her personal bipolar diagnosis mean she doesn’t fit the usual stereotype of the rich ice princess from Sun Valley.

Despite this Kat is never just depicted as only a bipolar woman. She has her desires and ambitions that are completely separate from her disorder.

“Spinning Out” does a great job of separating the disorder from the person. It portrays the alarming effects of the illness without condemning the person suffering and explains but never excuses the abusive behaviour.

It also highlights the stigmas surrounding mental illness and showcases how some of those stigmas are evolving.

After Kat suffers an episode, her mother, Carol, tries to protect her by telling everyone that she had pneumonia. However, while the figure skating world may not be ready to accept her bipolar, Kat believes that the people who are important to her will.

“Spinning Out” also tackles more than just mental health issues, sending a clear message about racial discrimination.

The series takes special care to contrast the experiences of a black man, Marcus, to that of Kat, Serena, and Justin, all of whom are white.

When Marcus and Justin get into trouble with the law, Marcus is treated differently than Justin and recalls his parents’ experiences with racist police officers.

He receives much of the same unequal treatment as the only black person on Sun Valley’s pre-Olympic ski team. Marcus is afraid to tell his coach the reason that he ended up in prison because he was afraid of being judged because of his race.

As one of the only black people in a predominately white environment, even his dating life comes under question.

Similarly to Kat, he is not defined by his struggles. His storyline and goals are complex not because he is a person of colour but because he is a multifaceted human.

The race, sexuality and socioeconomic status of the characters in the series are not focused on as their only overwhelming quality or merely included as a token. They are refreshingly treated as an integral part of human life.

Aoife O’Brien

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