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Normal People - 1.11 - Review

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It's summer again in Normal People world! While in the last episode it seemed like Connell was the one who was falling apart and it was Marianne who helped put him back together, there's a constant switch between who needs whom the most (and who's the most broken). As we reach the penultimate episode of the series, everything seems more or less fine for everyone involved (or as fine as these 'normal people' can be) on the surface. But underneath the sultry summer air, there's actually a steady undercurrent of angst, emanating more specifically from Marianne this time.

In a somewhat shocking, but welcome, turn of events, Connell is doing...fine. There's that word again! Better than fine though, his life is back on track and he's no longer going through severe depression and having suicidal thoughts following Rob's death and his not-so-ideal student life at Trinity. That's not to say his depression is done and gone, far from it, but he's dealing with it in a very healthy way. For one thing, along with the therapy sessions from last episode, he's getting the appropriate medication to help him stay this way, he's gotten a summer job at the Trinity library, and he's even sending stories he's written to the school's newspaper. Speaking of, how adorably bashful was that little reaction of his when he finally pressed send on the email to Sadie, threw his hands up and let out a little squeak of "oh well, it's out of my hands now"? Very Connell, and very cute. He's always so shy about his writing, but based on Marianne's opinion and his peers' admiration for his papers, I wish we could've seen excerpts of his prose. Alas, we'll have to make do with only a title, "The Beacon", andy dream of what wonders might have come out of his storytelling.

He spends his week-ends in Sligo, in Lorraine's house but mostly with Marianne, he parties but not to the drunken excess we could've once seen him in. He doesn't have a girlfriend right now but he isn't lonely, or with someone who doesn't understand him, and he doesn't pursue girls he only half-wants. Basically, he's stable, he's Connell 2.0, a far cry from the incommunicado teen we met in the first few high school episodes, or the distant young man from the first few college years, or the lost, sobbing, soul from last episode.

Marianne, on the other hand, is back at home and cohabitating with the odious Alan. Their mother, Denise, is also present of course, but as usual she's lurking in the background. No Fig Mansion this year, no group of fake friends/bitter boyfriends to hang out with, no fisticuffs at dawn or bike ice-cream this time. It could be for the best, since that summer didn't feel like Marianne was being herself, or happy, but then there's her family. Alan remains the actual worst (bar Jamie) and far from, I don't know, going parasailing (now there's a visual) or hanging out with his (imaginary?) friends, his favorite pastime is torturing Marianne. He taunts her because she isn't hanging out with friends. He calls her lazy for spending time in her chaise-longue on the grass, but is mad when she tells him she cleaned the house. What, exactly, is his problem? Aside from the obvious, I mean: Marianne and her accomplishments intimidate him, and he's a very petty individual. She talks it over with Connell on that windswept beach, where they both try to understand the obscure mechanisms of Alan's mind, but the situation is inextricable. Still, at least she seems to be having fun as they chase each other in the waves.

In typical Marianne fashion though, she tells Connell he doesn't have to come back every week-end to keep her company. But unlike her, this new and improved Connell (who once, would have fled after such a comment and never spent another week-end in Sligo) readily admits that it's "the only thing he looks forward to". You see! He communicates now! He is in touch with his feelings, and isn't afraid to say he cares, and admit to what he needs. It'll become even clearer in several other instances over the episode, but this is a sentence he'd never have said even two episodes ago. Growth! You love to see it.

Marianne, who unfortunately hasn't gone through therapy, still has many issues that mold her persona and make her reactions very human, but very vulnerable. As they both lounge on Connell's bed during another hot summer day, he's watching football while she dozes off, which he comments on. There's nothing even remotely unkind about the comment, he even sweetly offers to drive her home if she's bored, but Marianne immediately takes it as a slight, and a sure sign that he doesn't want her there anymore. Her self-confidence is so low, she can't help but assume she's a nuisance, even to someone who clearly cares about her and whom she trusts.

When I said there wouldn't be ice-cream during this new summer, I wasn't being completely truthful since we've upgraded from Bike Ice-cream to Bed Ice-cream (and no, it doesn't look any more natural of a place to eat it, not the way Marianne does it at least. Seriously, when she put the ice lolly back on its wrapper on the floor, I was going crazy. It's going to melt! Either on carpet or wood, it's not going to be pretty. Who puts down an ice-cream mid-eating?!). I never imagined the show would depict something as quaint as hearing the tinkling little melody of the ice-cream truck (which I didn't recognize at first, seeing as how in France this isn't a popular practice. I just thought the football game half-time was trying out something new, or that some kids outside were playing) and Connell setting off to meet it. (At first I was a bit baffled as to why he needed his shoes to go grab some ice-cream from the freezer in the house, as in what kind of weird housing etiquette does Lorraine hold him to?! But then the ice-cream truck outside made much more sense.)

It doesn't stop there though, mid ice-cream, she also mentions that Eric apologized to her about how he acted during high-school (really, they're all growing up so fast and becoming self-actualized, I may tear up), and Connell, who knows that her summer is lonely, merely suggests that she could maybe hang out with their high-school crowd since they're actually being nice now. But Marianne once again jumps to conclusions and interprets Connell's advice as something negative, that she's not grateful enough.
This kind of attitude is constant on Marianne's part, she keeps putting herself down and projecting her insecurities onto other people. Once you're in this state of mind, it's very hard to get out of it and react more positively to what people say. In that aspect, it's a testament to how much she trusts Connell, because I'm guessing if it were anyone else, there's no way she'd say out loud exactly how it makes her feel. But it's still heartbreaking to witness, since she sabotages herself all on her own. Luckily, this is Connell and not Jamie/Alan/Gareth/Lukas/Peggy or any other of her misguided attempts at fraternization, he knows her well enough to anticipate and understand the things that make her feel overly sensitive, and reassure her.

Let's also take a moment to compare and contrast last episode's scene on this same bed. Helen and Connell, sitting elbow to elbow against the wall, looked completely uncomfortable and very constrained by the tightness of the space, made even smaller by the tension of the argument they were locked into. It seemed like neither of them could move a single toe, lest the whole structure come crashing down (quite like their relationship, in fact) and one of them would roll under the bed, never to be seen again. As opposed to that, he and Marianne are facing each other, on opposite sides of the bed, completely at ease and with eons of space available. In the end, when Marianne asks Connell about Helen, he admits to feeling lonely even when he was with her. Do you know who he never feels lonely with? That's right, miss Sheridan herself.

In fact, Marianne can even stretch her whole body and still, it seems like they could easily both do snow angels on the bed and still fit. This may be impractical on a hot August day, so let's switch to sand angels, and make it a thing. Which is when we finally get into The Club Scene. I've mentioned it when the charity Debutante ticket thingy happened early on, but I do love me a good party scene, all slow motion and bright colors with a heady music track behind, and this one, while short, delivered. While less intense than the first one, it was a marked improvement since even though nothing happened between Connell and Marianne during that scene, they discuss it afterwards and admit each of them wanted more, i.e. they both wanted to kiss and should have. See how far they've come? And this, especially, is brought on by Marianne. Then again, she's never really had issues asking for what she wanted in that department. When actual feelings are involved though, it's a different story. What she does have issues with? Connell abruplty leaving the club (even though he warned her) and her worrying she'd done something to annoy him. I'm not sure what it would (or will) take for her to realize that she needs to turn her thinking process around. She isn't a bother. People don't want her to leave. She's so confident in her academic abilities, but takes everything else so personnally, so negatively, you just want to give her a hug and tell her she is more than good enough. Thankfully, Connell understands that part of her and for the last few episodes he's been fantastic at reassuring her and apologizing for past times when he wasn't quite as adept at understanding her needs.

- I feel like our friendship would be a lot easier if, like… certain things were different.
- If what was different?
- I don’t know. Things would be a lot less confusing if there wasn’t this other element to the relationship.

And here we are. The thing about being friends, as mentioned back in episode 5, is that it gets very complicated when both of them constantly still want to sleep with the other. Remember when a drunk Marianne wanted to know if Connell liked having sex with her better than with Teresa? Or when Connell drunkenly admitted that his pupils always got huge when he saw Marianne because he was attracted to her? They're friends, best friends even. But it's one thing to be friends first, and grow into being attracted to that friend. It's quite another to have been hooking up on a regular basis, then try to be friends but still be attracted to each other and still hoping something more will happen.

Which brings us to the heart of the problem of them wanting to be more than friends. While Connell may want to give in to the pleasures of the flesh, what Connell actually needs, is for them to still be best friends. I think it's one of the first, maybe only, times where the "I don't want to ruin our friendship" excuse is actually genuine and based on solid, factual, evidence. It’s not just a stupid line someone says when they don’t really want to push that friendship to the next level. Marianne helped him through the worst of his depression, she didn't run at the first sight of trouble and was truly there for him (hi again, Helen), and he can’t fathom putting that at risk. But Marianne seems hurt nonetheless (and her reactions are very understandable, but if she'd only try and talk them through with someone... ), telling him he doesn’t owe her anything. Marianne, that’s NOT what he’s saying. He’s not going to give you 3 goats and a bison as a thank you note for sleep-Skyping with you, and never talk to you again.

But Marianne still feels rejected, and as she starts to get up and leave, Connell tries to save the situation in the only way he knows how: by being honest about how he feels. (Because this is a thing Connell does now!)

- I’ll drop you off.
- No, I’ll walk. You don’t want to miss the second half.
- I forgot there was a match on, to be honest.

And as usual on Normal People, the most intimate scenes aren't the ones you'd expect, not the explicit ones, but the ones that are so delicate, so lovely, they would seem insignificant if they were about anyone else. In this instance, Connell reaching out to hold Marianne's hand with the smallest touch, and yet the most impact so far, because it's simultaneously a conscious decision to fall into the other realm of their relationship.

- I think it’s pretty obvious I don’t want you to leave.
- I don’t find it obvious, what you want.

Is there anything (minus Marianne) that Connell loves as much as he loves saying the word obvious? I think not. He loves it so much, when much of how he acts (or used to act, anyway) is so far from obvious, that I've started saying it too.

Anyway, the show might have ended right here, with Connell and Marianne finally reuniting after years of being just friends... if Marianne hadn't been Marianne. I never thought she'd end up pulling the same stuff with Connell as she did with previous boyfriends Jamie and Lukas, i.e. versing into that submissive streak she's fallen into.

- Whenever you want.
- Whenever I want? That’s nice.
- You can do whatever you want with me. Do you like hearing me say that
- A lot.
- Will you tell me I belong to you?
- What? What d’you mean?
- Will you hit me?

And just like that, in a second, everything is ruined. Because of course Connell would never do that, and to his credit, he reacts as nicely as possible but it's still a firm no. In a culmination of all her insecurities, Marianne flees the scene in an almost identical repeat from when she thought he wanted her to leave in the beginning.

Back at home the Sheridan residence, Alan is in rare form. After criticizing Marianne for not being more social, now he thinks he has a right to control who she does hang out with. You see, Alan used to admire Connell when he was a popular, academically gifted, football player in high school, and couldn't fathom why Marianne would refuse to talk to him on the phone. Now that Connell went through a break down but is getting healthy again thanks to various approved means, Alan suddenly feels like Connell is somehow unworthy of his sister. The way his mind works is boggling, he thinks Marianne is pathetic but somehow still too good for someone like Connell? He judges Connell for being depressed after his friend committed suicide? There's neither rhyme nor reason to Alan's judgments, aside from him being, well, the devil. It all comes to a head when in a fit of rage, he chases an already emotional Marianne around the house (Denise hears all this but doesn't budge, of course), resulting in her getting her nose broken by a particularly hard door-slam. Despite their earlier disagreement, things have finally gone far enough that Marianne immediately calls Connell to the rescue. Although even then, she tries to downplay the situation, mentioning it's nothing and stupid, but she's not quite sure what to do. And it's not like Denise is going to drop her off at the ER, either.

I'll admit, it was quite satisfying to see an incensed Connell (calmly) threaten Alan and I wish he'd gotten the chance to deal with Jamie too.

No one is ever going to hurt you like that again. I love you. And I’m not going to let anything like that happen to you ever again.

Will this be enough for Marianne to stop feeling the need to ask people to voluntarily hurt her? At this point, it's unclear. But it does feel like in that sofly lit street, under Connell's tender gaze, a shift occurs and she finally feels that it's over and she can be free. One can only hope, anyway. As always, the ending shot of the car slowly making its way on the road, is beautiful. I'm not sure why I'm always (pleasantly) surprised by these scenes since the show's cinematography is particularly lovely, but I guess the fact that usually when TV focuses on young adult characters, it's a little less stellar, may be the reason. I'm very glad to have been wrong about this one though!

What did you think of this penultimate episode? Who wins the prize of Worst Character on the Show between Alan and Jamie? Or is Denise actually the secret villain who would rather keep watching bad TV than defend her only daughter as she gets assaulted? Were you surprised that Connell and Marianne gave their relationship another shot, despite risking their friendship in the process?
Only one episode left now (cue me crying because when will we get to see such a good new series again...)!

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