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Normal People - 1.03 - Review

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Welcome, welcome, to a new episode of Miscommunicating People Normal People! Having now seen the show in its entirety, it's really interesting to observe the parallels between this 3-episode arc of Marianne and Connell's high-school experience, and the impact it will have on the rest of their lives (or at least on the rest of their young adulthood). While, thankfully, high-school isn't forever and anyone who tells you "Those are the BEST years of your life!" 1. is lying 2. probably peaked in high school -which is another issue in itself- these years are still formative and sometimes, unfortunately, indicative of what is to come. But let's get down to the last installment of Marianne & Connell: The Early Years.

The Dance

I'll readily admit I'm kind of a sucker for club scenes, so this is right up my alley (honestly, it also looks like this could be taking place across from a bowling alley, so I'm doing my best to stay on theme here), but this one was particularly well done and angsty... until it crashed and burned.

But let's go back to the start: Marianne is (uncharacteristically) primping for this Debs fundraiser which, I assume, is the end-of-year graduation school dance (Irish equivalent of prom?). So they're going to a dance to fundraise for another, more elaborate dance? Fair enough, I guess. Marianne is part of the committee, which is strange because she doesn't seem to want to take part in any school activities (remember when she'd never been to 'The Ghost' aka The Wasteland... the things you miss out on when you're smarter than your whole class!) or, actually, care that she isn't part of any. But maybe she got tired of Connell disappearing into social activities and wanted to join. I hear Senior Year makes people nostalgic, which is understandable, except where I'm from it's pretty much a non event. No proms, no homecomings, barely any graduation ceremony, no yearbook, the list goes on. We just don't do celebratory "milestones' in France, what can I tell you!

In any case, Marianne looks really pretty (she always does, but it seems more conscious on her part this time) which her family immediately remarks upon, and not in the kindest way. I'm not sure what Alan's problem is, aside from insane jealousy over Marianne's academic success, but he seems borderline violent in this episode, at least verbally, and you can tell it could easily slip into more. Their mother is barely better, she isn't outright negative but certainly more perfidely judgemental, with her "You certainly have gone all out, Marianne" which will be echoed not five minutes later by Rachel when Marianne gets to the dance. Birds of a feather...

In any case, it works, because Connell can’t keep his eyes off her (thanks for the info Karen, good friends always tell you when someone's interested in you! Her budding friendship with Marianne is pretty cute, honestly). As per usual though, when Marianne and Karen leave the group to dance, he immediately asks Rachel if she wants a drink. KNEE JERK REACTION! He’s always pretending to be into Rachel/his friends/literally anything else than Marianne, when he's suddenly overwhelmed by how he feels about her.
Still, the club scene is lovely. The music, the lights, the slow motion interspersed with normal rhythm. Marianne looking back at Connell and smiling and finally being herself (sort of). Still, it's the first time that we get to see Marianne (seemingly, at least) genuinely enjoying herself, and she appears happy and carefree (which, you'll agree, aren't exactly words one would usually use to describe her). Somehow, her and Connell almost holding hands until Rachel screeches at Marianne again was more intimate than the sex scenes (which are unbelievably realistic) they've shared.

The Downfall

Unfortunately, it was too good to be true and everything goes to hell when this complete jerk hits on Marianne and doesn't react well, to say the least, when she promptly dismisses him. Connell, in a rare public demonstration of knowing Marianne actually exists and is not a figment of everyone else's imagination, doesn't quite defend her but he at least consoles her (while finally putting Rachel in her place) and drives her home.

After inviting her to say at his place (even if Lorraine is there!), Marianne is overcome by gratefulness: “You’re a nice person”. Um, would a nice person pretend to not be dating you, or even acknowledge you exist, in front of his friends? I like Connell a lot but come on, it’s messed up. He finally admits to having slept with Rachel but without feelings, whereas with Marianne “feelings are involved, obviously”. “Who is it obvious to?” asks Marianne, which is fair, honestly. Connell seems to have lengthy conversations with himself about his feelings, but never clues Marianne in.

This is also when we learn that Marianne's father, of whom we've barely heard so far, used to hit her mother. This somewhat explains some of the peculiar dynamics in the Sheridan household, but mostly, it's heartbreaking to see Marianne be so vulnerable and so fragile about what she thinks she deserves.

Unfortunately, Connell stepping up here means he immediately goes back to Rachel almost immediately after Marianne leaves (after coming across a smirking Lorraine who evidently knew about her son's sex life, even if she promises not to broadcast it) and actually asks her to the Debs thing. Honestly, it gets better, but in this episode Connel's attitude is infuriating. Unlike Marianne's father, he may not be physically violent with her, but he destroys her emotionally at every turn. It doesn't even seem to be conscious on his part (which is maybe worse?!), it's just automatic at this point. He can't seem to fathom that Marianne is incredibly attached to him and that his actions could and will hurt her. This scene is especially hurtful because you can literally see her light up when she realizes who's at the door, and then Connell proceeds to dash any happiness she might have.

- So I, uh… I asked Rachel to the Debs today. It’s not a big deal or anything just thought you should know. I just wanted to let you know it’s not romantical or anything, we’re just friends.
- Like we’re just friends?
- No…No, that’s…that’s different.
- Are you sleeping with her?
- No. Not sure when I’d have the time.
- Would you like to?
- No, I’m not that into the idea myself. Don’t really think I’m that insatiable, I do already have you. That was a joke, Marianne.
- Yeah. I didn’t get it.
- You’re pissed off at me.
- I don’t really care.

It's kind of insane, how he devastates her so casually. He breaks his own heart in the process, too, but it’s like he’s so dense about how their respective feelings that he doesn't even realize it at first. Lorraine is outraged by his attitude (asking Rachel while sleeping with Marianne, not talking to her in school, not even saying hello, not including her with his friends) and so am I.

The Defeat

I admire Marianne's tenacity because she doesn't give in to his texts, and he's the one left hanging when she stops turning up in school. Lorraine won't let him off the hook either, explaining how much he must have hurt Marianne's feelings, and rightly asking him what, exactly, he's scared of. It seems like Connell feels his popularity, or art of fitting in, is tenuous at best and that associating with Marianne would push him in laughing stock category. Which is a shame, since Marianne gets him and his friends, while fun, don't as much.

In the end, Connell's the one who's crying on the phone about missing Marianne, who cruises through exams as a free candidate in a buttercup yellow shirt, in a sea of school uniform gray.

And that's it for this episode! Which actually sets up a lot of what will happen in the future, and really is a basis into delving in both their personalities, so it's interesting to see the parallels between how they act now, and how they will in college. What did you guys think? How do you explain Connell's attitude? Tune in for more soon!

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