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Normal People - 1.10 - Review



If the last episode of Normal People already seemed to take a turn into darkness by exploring Marianne's heartbreaking lack of self-esteem, this one sinks even deeper into just how desperate someone can become and how appearances are just that. The reality behind them is almost always bleaker.

While it seemed like most of Connell's high school friends left for a local college and stayed together, Rob was the outlier, who started working and stayed in Sligo. Even in those early college episodes, when Connell went back home and hung out with Rob, there was some kind of nostalgia surrounding him, of their school years and how no one was left but him. Of course, it's easy to analyze his attitude like this now that we know how his story ends, but still. The signs were there. Which is how, on a cold New Year's Eve in Dublin, Connell first receives a text that Rob never made it to the party, and then a phone call from his mom, telling him Rob's body was pulled from the river. Connell is, justifiably, floored. From afar, minus maybe the regrets of not pursuing higher education, Rob never seemed like someone who'd be affected by, well... anything, to the point of taking his own life. It goes to show, how much people can suffer in silence before they break, and how important it is to talk about what you're going through and get help in any way you can.


Marianne, who's still spending her year abroad in Sweden, makes it back to Sligo for the funeral. From the moment Connell lays eyes on her, she seems like the breath of fresh air he needed to keep from drowning. (Yes, I'm paraphrasing Grey's Anatomy, so sue me). Her presence elicits some not-so-great attitudes from her former high school peers, though. I guess you can leave high school, but high school never truly leaves you. Rachel shoots her a bitchy look from one of the pews, and Eric is being his usual crass self, by commenting on how much weight she's lost (this is important, why?). He also, seemingly jokingly (but there's often quite a bit of truth in jokes...) holds Helen responsible for "keeping Connell from coming home", which was a perverse little dig since Rob's loneliness in Sligo was very likely part of the problem. Helen, by the way, is being completely obtuse about the whole situation. It starts when Connell is dressing for the funeral with probably what is his only available suit, and she tells him he's handsome. Now, this may seem innocuous enough (and he does look great in a suit, we can all agree on that) but his friend is dead, is this really the time to make a fashion statement? Connell is understandably annoyed, but even then, he takes it upon himself to not say anything. Helen's insecurities don't stop there though, she's obviously intimidated by Marianne's presence and literally (I kid you not) starts pawing at Connell's sleeve when she feels like their hug is going on for too long. I get why she'd be insecure (who wouldn't), because Connell obviously needs and wants Marianne in a way he never will need or want her, but she could at least 1. let her devastated boyfriend grieve in peace and not make this about her, and 2. try to maintain some semblance of self-respect in public? But no, it's all me, me, me, and how Connell not paying her enough attention or introducing her as his girlfriend wasn't very boyfriend-ly of him.

- If you got the wrong impression of what it was going to be like, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you didn’t have a good time but honestly, it was a funeral, I don’t know what you expected.
- Well, you weren’t ignoring Marianne. Why do you have to act so weird around her?
- How I act around her is my normal personality. I’m… maybe I’m just a weird person.

That awkward moment when your boyfriend admits he can't be himself around you.


Also, what did she expect, that this was her debutante ball and Connell would parade her around the church after swearing upon his undying love for her in front of his entire high school? The way she's acting, all offended and entitled, you'd think this truly was her official presentation and that Rob killing himself was a pesky little side-story that took away from her spotlight. I'll admit though, it can't be easy to be the official girlfriend and compete for Connell's affection and attention, with someone like Marianne. Who, unlike Helen, is very gracious and now seems to meld effortlessly in the high school crowd. To be fair, in the book, Helen and Connell's relationship has a little more depth and there is a period where she made him happy and he felt better for being with her, at least in the beginning. In the show, she isn't compelling at all, so it's kind of hard to fathom why Connell would stay with her, which is essentially what we see on screen.

Rob's death hits Connell particularly hard. Everything he'd been feeling since starting at Trinity but had managed to put aside, at least on the surface, comes crashing back tenfold after the funeral. His loneliness, feeling like he doesn't and never will fit in, pain over not having the kind of easy friendships high school brought, guilt over being called a "good man" by Rob's father at the funeral when he'd barely seen Rob since he left, all surge as Rob's desperation becomes his own.
Which is how, after a few weeks of Connell becoming increasingly despondent, Niall suggests a mental health service at the college. Niall and Connell aren't roommates anymore, since thanks to the scholarship Connell's room and board are now covered by the college, but it also means he's even more isolated than before. With Marianne in Sweden and Helen breaking up with him when he was at his lowest, Connell is desperately lonely.


In recent years, therapy has been depicted more and more as a necessary part of life, rather than something one is forced to go to and that is associated with shame, like you're taking the "easy" (it's far from easy) way out by getting your head shrunk. Sidenote: I've been rewatching The O.C. and it's quite jarring that not only is Marissa not already in therapy, but she adamantly refuses to go. Then again, considering that's where she meets Oliver... maybe she had a point. In any case, realizing you need therapy and taking the steps to get yourself there are sometimes harder than actually doing the work once you are, so it's really great to see TV delving into this in a much more positive light, it's important to destigmatize how important therapy is, and that most likely everyone should go on a more or less regular basis. (PSA over, I promise)
This particular depiction is especially raw and moving, with Paul Mescal doing an exceptional job at showing how vulnerable one feels in this kind of setting, and how hard it can be to pinpoint what it is, exactly, that is making you feel this way.
In one of the best quotes of the entire series (I won't say "favorite" because it's painful and hits too close to home, but it's incredibly clear-sighted nonetheless), Connell explains it perfectly.

I don’t feel anything. Then I find myself crying, or having a panic attack so presumably, I do feel it. It just doesn’t connect.

The disconnect that exists sometimes between what happens and how it makes you feel, can somehow be even more painful and infuriating because it escapes any kind of logic you could try to apply to the situation. Admitting that we aren't all living perfect lies lives (especially now, with social media) is hard, but when the alternative is taking your own life like Rob did, it's important to come to that realization, even if the cost is plummeting deeper before you can look up. Connell's realization that college hasn't turned out to be the place where he'd meet "more like-minded people", as it's often described when you feel like you don't fit in high-school, "Just wait till you're in college! All your feelings of inadequacy will disappear!" is hard, but necessary. He's stuck in limbo between a previous life he can never get back and this new one, which still doesn't feel like it's the right fit, and seeing Rob choose to opt out not only crystalized his own doubts, but offered an extreme way out he can't quite get out of his head.

Marianne being thousands of miles away is another difficulty for Connell to face, but it does count that she knew Rob and that she's there to help in any way she can. The Skype scenes are actually very sweet and heartwarming. I'm not placing blame on Helen for breaking up with him, because helping someone in Connell's mental state is never easy and anything you try to do often feels inadequate (plus, their other, non Rob related issues, were probably more than enough to break up anyway). But Marianne, especially for someone who was so broken just one episode ago, does wonderfully and along with Connell's therapist, truly helps to pull Connell out of the worst part of what he was going through. She literally watches over him as he sleeps, like a parent would do with a small, scared, child, and the reassurance of having her there allows Connell to finally feel a little lighter.


Connell doesn't come out of it all bright and shiny and fixed, because it doesn't work that way, but he can function again, and it's truly a testament to the depth of their friendship that they can be there for each other in such situations. It's hard enough staying on good terms with your exes, but to be able to maintain this kind of relationship is a small miracle. Of course, it can be (and was) at the expense of external boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, but people like Marianne and Connell don't seem to truly ever leave each other's lives, so why fight it? At the end of the day (this show is going to make me say this and "obviously" in a very bad Irish accent for the foreseeable future, I can tell), Connell and Marianne have helped each other be better people and they've "saved" each other from themselves or other people, numerous times. That kind of link with another person is rare enough that it shouldn't be taken for granted.

The episode closes on a slightly lighter note, with Marianne and Connell discussing the awkwardness of displaying grief on social media, and for who it's for. Should Rob be absolved of his early bullying days in light of what happened? Okay, in retrospect this isn't "lighter" but it feels like it because Connell can talk about it without breaking down, and it's a real conversation that feels genuine between them.

What did you guys think of this episode? Did you expect the show to go as dark as it did? What did you think of Connell's journey here? My only issue is that, again, considering what we've seen of Marianne so far... It's not that I have a hard time believing that she'd be able to help, because sometimes you can ignore your own issues to the point of really being able to "save" others from themselves, but can't do the same for yourself. But I do really wish she'd been on her own recovery journey, because while Connell's issues were pre-existing, Rob's suicide really pushed them to light. Marianne's issues are deeply ingrained in her sense of self, and wouldn't likely disappear with the swish of a magic wand and beautiful Swedish sunset.

Anyway! Only two episodes left, and I don't want this show to end, *sigh*.



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