Normal People the Series: Favorite Episode

I’ve written five long posts on Normal People the Series. I’m obviously obsessed with every aspect of the show. Picking one episode and tagging it as “the favorite” is like picking a favored child, especially since every one is a critical piece of the story of Connell and Marianne. However, when I consider every aspect of artistry, including the technical, and the overall flow of the episodes, I enjoy Episode 5 the most. It’s got everything, a microcosm of the whole series. As a bonus, it also features my favorite among “the old scenes” as Daisy Edgar-Jones called them, at the very end.

The end of Episode 4 has Marianne waking up in the middle of the night and sober-texting Connell, her not-ex ex. Connell calls her, saying he hasn’t gotten a midnight text from her in a long time. Their conversation opens Episode 5, with one of the better Marianne quotes from the series. “I’ve missed having you in my life, and that maybe it would be nice to have you in it again. We haven’t done the whole friendship thing, I guess I was just wondering if we could.” Watch Marianne’s eyes during the conversation. There’s a longing there.

During the episode Marianne pulls Connell into her “friend group”, then sets him up with Teresa, which she’ll regret later. We get a four-second sex scene between Gareth and Marianne, with Marianne looking thoroughly unimpressed. Connell starts to rise as a star in the English program, while Marianne starts to realize that she may not be satisfied with just friendship with Connell. He’s proven to be smarter than even she thought. Marianne has a totally banal talk with Gareth (see the contempt in Marianne’s eyes, just after telling Jamie that Connell is the smartest person she’s ever met). Sadly for Gareth, immediately after a brilliant hard cut, Marianne is in a chat with Connell. (Kudos to the editors, stringing Marianne talking to Jamie, Gareth and Connell all in a row to provide contrast of the depth of her connection with each.)

In one of the best conversations in the series, they discuss life at Trinity and how Connell is struggling to adapt. Connell has found a footing academically, but socially, he’s still lost. “I barely know what to say half the time.. xxx I feel like I’m walking around trying on a hundred different versions of myself. It’s just not working.” In a swap of positions, she says that she’d be embarrassed if her friends find out she and Connell were involved in Sligo. She and Connell finally talk about the demise of their relationship in Carricklea. “Apparently everybody knew about us anyway.” “Were they horrible about it?” “Believe it or not no one even cared.” Connell apologizes and she forgives him. Closure and healing for them, cleaning the slate. Great performances from the leads, especially Mescal. The man’s going to be a star.

This allows Marianne to break up with Gareth. (We can all see where her thought process is going.) Gareth quote during the breakup: “You are literally like a completely different person right now.” Call back to her talk with Connell in the previous scene. “Do people even care?” Next scene, just after the break-up, she heads to the party she and Gareth were supposed to attend with… Connell. She’s drinking heavily from a flask of gin (Chekhov’s flask in the novel) while walking with him to the party, badgering him about Teresa and flirting all the way. At the party they split up and Peggy hands her a joint. This leads into one of my favorite scenes: drunk, high Marianne, trying to seduce Connell, who’s not having it. “I want you to fuck me.” “Not tonight, you’re wasted.” “Is that the only reason?” “Yeah. That’s it.”

Connell walks away from her. (In the novel her high comes down into stoner sleep, and she passes out in the bathroom.) She wakes up with what looks like a hangover. As he promised, Connell is there waiting to take her home. When they arrive, Marianne apologizes for the drugged, drunken advances from the evening before. “Sorry about last night.” “Forget about it.” “I think it would be a bit difficult for us to stay friends if one of us kept trying to sleep with the other one.” Oh, Marianne.

They go inside. Marianne takes a shower. We get an amazing, subtle scene shot close-up with photography I’m very envious of (shout out to director Lenny Abrahamson and DP Suzy Lavelle), when she strips and steps into the shower. We see her hair flatten out and her makeup melt away, the mascara streaming down her face. (Callback to the first seconds of Episode 2, where young Marianne struggles and eventually gives up applying mascara before going to see Connell, and when Connell first sees Marianne in Episode 4 with perfect mascara, transforming her into Trinity Marianne.)

She emerges from the shower wearing a black-and-red robe. Connell is sitting and waiting. (What happened to the coffee Connell?). She walks up and stands in front of him. She looks like HIS Marianne again. None of her Trinity friends around. No boyfriend. Makeup stripped away. Hair down and wet. Alone with him. Most importantly, sober and deciding that she wants this. True to his word from the night before, he opens her robe and tastes her. Appropriately, this to me stands as the most passionate sex scene in the whole series. There’s no more awkwardness between them. (The last time we saw them together was Episode 2, in Sligo, a lifetime ago.) The coupling is comfortable. Familiar. It’s like coming home after being away for a long time. Everything about it works. The palette. The lighting. The photography (still very close, neither director uses long shots for intimate scenes). The pace. And yes, the performances. At the risk of getting into too much detail – here they go missionary, then cowgirl. In Episode 2, the second time they’re together, they go cowgirl, then missionary. Even the fucking sex scenes are bookended. The attention to detail is breathtaking. (Guess what positions they’re in for the final sex scene in Episode 12?)

In the aftermath, we get Marianne’s now-familiar tagline for the first time: “it’s not like this with other people”. We also get a foreshadowing from Connell. “I think we’ll be fine.” Not until Episode 12, Connell.

Episode music: “La Lune” by Billie Marten (early montage), “Nikes” by Frank Ocean (at the party), “Make You Feel My Love” by Ane Brun (end credits)

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Written by Sally Rooney and Alice Birch, Director of Photography Suzy Lavelle, Editing by Nathan Nugent, Score by Stephen Rennics, Production Design by Lucy van Lonkhuyzen, Costumes by Lorna Marie Mugan xxx