Normal People Episode 12 Deep Dive: This is Goodbye

I’d originally hoped to do the series finale as my last deep dive. I now realize I’m not going to get to do all the episodes, so I’m going to have to choose the ones I really want to write about. I’ve got a couple that are partially written, but I was so close to finishing 12 because I’ve watched it the most times that I decided to close the book on it, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a masterfully written ending. It continues to take beats from the novel, but changes things substantially. Props to Alice Birch, who also writes on another show I enjoy, Succession. Second, and this is related to the first, it diverges from the novel. Structurally, definitely, just by adding scenes not seen in the book. More importantly, it differs tonally from the novel’s ending. The mood of the ending scene, and the emotions of the characters are radically different. Having Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, who took viewers on a roller coaster for eleven episodes, get to deliver one of the most sincere, tender closing scenes in recent memory is a gut punch that the novel just can’t match.

The creative and technical teams outdo themselves here. This episode travels, revisiting multiple locations, delivering bits and pieces of closure and catharsis. There are few dissonant notes. We’ll even forgive the overt manipulation in one scene, just because it’s so well done. Hats off to Hettie Macdonald and Kate McCullough who delivered the second half of the series with the same attention to detail and storytelling adeptness that Lenny Abrahamson and Suzy Lavelle brought in the first half.

The other main reason that Episode 12 deserves a deep dive is that of all the episodes, it’s the one that’s most different from the book. All of the scenes are either unique to the series, substantially different from the novel, or add details that fundamentally shape the narrative in ways that the novel did not. The final chapter of Normal People the novel is told entirely from Marianne’s POV, and is therefore open to “unreliable narrator” elements especially when it comes to Connell. Episode 12 is fully third person, carrying no voice-overs, phone calls or emails (unlike the narratively complex Episode 9), eliminating the internal dialogue. This gives Macdonald, Birch, McCullough, Mescal and Edgar-Jones the freedom to craft the series finale in a completely different direction from the novel, one that I feel is fully appropriate for the series versions of Connell and Marianne.

When we left Connell and Marianne in Episode 11, they were driving away from Marianne’s abusive family. We fast forward in time, joining them again in the car. Marianne’s broken nose looks none the worse for wear. Marianne’s read one of Connell’s stories, and is complementing him on it and urging him to submit it for publication. They seem comfortable together, after the events of last episode.

It’s Marianne’s birthday. She and Connell are gathered with their friends. Niall, Elaine, Joanna, and surprise, Evelyn. (Evelyn is Joanna’s partner from the novel. She’s not identified in the scene.) Niall asks her what her gifts were. Connell got her a book of Frank O’Hara poems. She says her family doesn’t go in on birthdays so no gifts from them. The whole thing is warm and relaxed, completely unlike Marianne’s Trinity circle. No one misses Jamie or Peggy.

That evening, Connell is brushing his teeth. This is an unfamiliar bathroom; they’re not in Marianne’s flat. Amusing callback to Niall: ““You think if you move your toothbrush into her bathroom, she’ll get too attached?” Marianne joins Connell, and gets a text message. It’s from Denise, and it’s not a birthday greeting. “Send me back the keys to the Dublin flat as soon as possible.” Marianne proceeds to put moisturizer on her face. Connell says “I’m sorry“. Marianne says “I’m okay.” Her family no longer triggers her. They’re no longer living in the flat anyway. Connell kisses the back of Marianne’s neck. Fionn Regan’s “Dogwood Blossom” fires up for the last time.

Final sex scene between our star-crossed leads. We see them in missionary, then they flip and Marianne ends up on top in cowgirl. This is the reverse of Episode 2’s second sex scene, where they started with Marianne on top, then flipped into Connell on top in missionary. The lovemaking is how we remember it from Episode 5. Aftermath. Connell is lying on the floor, his head in Marianne’s lap. She’s sitting on the floor, her back resting against the bed. This is a naked reversal of their positions after the scene with Peggy where they talked about the threesome, and where Connell recoiled after thinking about how he’d like to hit Marianne. After Episode 11’s debacle, which mirrored that moment, they appear to have found a good place for both of them, sex-wise. Connell: “Did you like that?” Marianne: “Yeah. Very much.” He satisfied her without hitting her. Connell has his eyes closed. Marianne is running her hand through his hair, looking at him, thinking about… what? What it would be like without him by her side?Dogwood Blossom” continues to play. “Keep climbing into my head without knockin’, And you fix yourself there like a map pin, On this ghost of this street where I’m livin’, I’m in a chrysalis and I’m snowed in.”

We see Marianne swimming alone in a pool, doing a steady breaststroke. She pulls up at one end and comes up for air, taking her goggles off. She watches an elderly woman that just came out of the pool, toweling off. The woman is alone. Marianne seems lost in thought, as if considering the concept of being alone as she grows old. “Dogwood Blossom” continues to play. “Darling, darling that dam’s gonna give, It’s inevitable the way that you live.”

Marianne is sitting in a lecture. Joanna is sitting beside her. “Dogwood Blossom” ends. “Bottles in brown paper and a mouth that slurs, All the shit that it stirs, Let that dogwood blossom.” The song arcs across Marianne’s new everyday life. Connell and sex, swimming, classes, Joanna and movies. The women leave the lecture hall and walk together. They make plans for the evening: Marianne goes for a swim, gets takeout, then meets Joanna for dinner and a movie. Joanna: “Did we get married and become 50 years old without noticing?” Marianne breaks into a big smile. “Maybe. I actually love it.” “Do you think our first-year selves would hate what we’ve become?” “I think first-year me would have been amazed. ‘Look at her, she’s actually content.'” She sounds happy. The trappings of first-year Trinity Marianne are gone. The wealthy friends, the parties, the booze and drugs, her flat, the men chasing her, and the notoriety around Trinity. She’s now just another fourth-year student finishing out her degree.

Connell and Marianne are in a study hall. Connell gets an email, accepting him to a MFA program in New York City. Marianne didn’t know he applied. He says it was suggested by one of his tutors, and he didn’t think he would be accepted so he was too embarrassed to tell Marianne in case he was rejected. Marianne: “It’s brilliant, Connell.” “You can see me in New York, can you?” “Yeah, actually. I can.” Connell grows anxious. “Now is not the time for me to go halfway around the world and live in a city where I don’t know anyone.” He recalls arriving in Dublin and feeling lost in Episode 4, and says it will be far worse in New York. Marianne tells him to put it away for the moment. Connell: “I’m not going.” “Okay.” Her expression says that she isn’t going to forget the discussion.

Next scene finds Connell being feted by Sophie in a large gathering of the literary society. He’s become the editor of their magazine, Icarus, and everyone is excited about the upcoming issue. He looks uncomfortable being the center of attention. Marianne is standing in a corner, smiling, and raises a glass to Connell’s success. He smiles back. She mouths “I’m proud of you” to him from across the room. It’s a callback to their days at school, where Connell was the popular one, and she was the loner. The difference is now she’s far more secure in who she is, and in her relationship with Connell.

They’re back in their shared home. Ir’s a lot smaller and plainer than Marianne’s old Dublin flat. The large, familiar kitchen where so much drama occurred in Episodes 4 through 7 is gone. Connell sits at a little table slicing carrots, while Marianne is at the stove in the back. A little Christmas tree stands in the background, lights twinkling. I enjoyed looking at their stuff. Microwave, toaster, French press, two kinds of cereal, an electric hot water pot and a yellow box of something from Tesco. Marianne is walking around in fuzzy slippers. Connell asks her if she’d like to spend Christmas with the Waldrons. Marianne is hesitant, unsure if Lorraine would want her. She has holiday PTSD from her family’s gatherings. Connell says it was Lorraine’s idea. Cut to them in the car, driving at night, with a back seat full of Christmas gifts and Al Martino’s “You’re All I Want for Christmas” on the radio. Marianne cracks up. They both laugh. She looks out the window at the Christmas sights around Foxfield. She never enjoyed this when she lived at home in Merrion Square with Denise and Alan. They arrive at the Waldron home and are greeted at the door by Lorraine. She gives Marianne an extra-long hug. “Thanks for having me.” At dinner the family talks about how well Connell is doing as editor of the magazine, a much happier reflection of Marianne’s last meal with the Sheridans when Alan doused her with dishwater. They play charades. Marianne’s sticky note says “Santa Clause” and Connell’s says “Edward Scissorhands“. We get one final look at Connell’s room, with Marianne sitting in it wearing an ugly yellow Christmas sweater. Connell checks in on her, in his ugly snowman sweater. “A proper Christmas,” she says.

Cut to morning. Lorraine, Connell and Marianne are walking down a now-familiar street in Carricklea, talking about plans for New Year’s Eve. Connell mentions that their old school friends congregated at the pub, Brennan’s, every year. Marianne says “I’m just not sure I could see a New Year’s in a Brennan’s.” They run into Marianne’s mum, Denise, on the street. Lorraine wishes her Happy New Year. Denise ignores her, gives Marianne a steely side-eye, and walks away. Back in the car, Marianne asks Lorraine what the people in town think of her mum. Lorraine diplomatically says that Denise is considered “a bit odd“. Marianne says “oh” and looks out the window. Connell says nothing.

Marianne is walking alone along the beach where we saw her and Connell last at the beginning of Episode 11, when she told Connell that Alan continued to abuse her and Denise condoned it. She watches the waves crash along the shore as she walks. We get a gorgeous wide shot of the beach, Marianne a small figure in the distance. Do the Marianne alone shots foreshadow the ending?

Marianne arrives back at the Waldrons’ home, now her home too. As she walks up the stairs, Connell asks her if she’ll come to Brennan’s for New Year’s Eve with him. She hesitates. Connell says “you should“. Marianne says “far be it from me to disobey an order“. She has the shadow of a smile on her face, happy to be following an order from Connell. In this small, significantly modified scene from the novel, we get a hint of how Connell and Marianne may have worked her submissiveness into their everyday lives.

We cut to Connell and Marianne walking into Brennan’s hand-in-hand, the first time we’re seeing them touching in public since Sophie’s pool party way back in Episode 6. Connell lets go of Marianne’s hand to greet Gary. Marianne hesitates, then sees Rachel, Karen and Lisa. She walks over to greet them. She gets a hug from Rachel, then Karen, then Lisa. Everyone is warm and welcoming. Lisa hugs Connell before he and Marianne go find drinks. Connell puts his arm around Marianne’s shoulders like he’s been doing it for years. Marianne puts her arm around his waist. Eric greets Marianne enthusiastically at the bar. We last heard Marianne mention Eric in Episode 11, saying he sought her out to apologize to her. Connell and Marianne are accepted as a couple. She’s no longer a pariah. They’re both comfortable showing physical affection in public. Everyone in the school friends group, especially Connell, appears to have accepted Rob’s passing. At the stroke of midnight, Connell and Marianne kiss, and we’re treated to a flashback of their first kiss from Episode 1, interwoven with the present one, their first public kiss. Connell tells Marianne he loves her. Marianne, for the first and only time in the series, tells Connell she loves him too. They continue kissing, then we see Marianne’s face as they hug. She looks happy, safe and content in Connell’s arms. This is my favorite scene in the whole show. You can grow up and come home.

We see Marianne from behind, looking out the second floor window of the Dublin flat. She’s watching Connell load boxes into his car. She’s moving out, so she can return the key to Denise. We cut to Connell and Marianne sitting on the floor of the flat’s living room, where so much happened from Episode 4 through Episode 7. They’re wearing dark blues and greys, approximating the palette of their school uniforms. No makeup for Marianne, looking almost 18 again, except for the full fringe. She’s looking around the room. Connell asks her if she’s all right. Marianne says she is, she never felt right living there, and that the flat never felt like home.

Marianne looks pensive. Connell asks her what she’s thinking. She says she’s been thinking about New York, and how she keeps imagining Connell there, writing. Connell watches her face, then looks away, saying “right“. Marianne reads him. “You’ve been thinking about it.” “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean…” Connell trails off. Clearly part of him wants to go. Marianne just keeps looking at him calmly, listening. He continues “It just feels too hard. Everything recently has been hard, or it’s been an effort.” He looks Marianne in the eye. “Maybe this year just needs to be straightforward.” Marianne responds, holding Connell’s gaze. They’ve never verbally communicated this clearly, ever. In Episode 6 she missed every single verbal and physical cue Connell made when he needed to ask her to crash at her place. Now, she’s seeing everything clearly. “There’s been a lot of stuff that’s been difficult. And painful. And this would be difficult and amazing.” Connell: “Potentially, yes.” He’s looking right at her and giving in. Marianne: “It’s New York. It’s writing. It’d be fucking amazing Connell.” Camera holds on Connell’s face as Marianne is telling him this. He knows what she’s saying in between the lines. He needs to go do this, for himself. He nods. “Yeah. Yeah, maybe.” The camera is on Marianne as he says this, her face still steady, as if she knows she has to be strong in the moment as she begins to let him go. She knows what he’s going to ask. “Would you come with me? We could be there together, and you could study or work, and…” Holding the camera on Marianne here is brilliant. Her expression doesn’t change. She already thought about it in advance and knew her answer.

Marianne shakes her head “no“, looking at Connell. Full eye contact. “Why?” he asks. Connell looks curious, not angry, distressed or sad at her refusal to join him in NY. “I want to stay here.” She’s confident and sincere in her response. “I want to live the life I’m living. It’s quite a thing.” Connell laughs. He laughs as if he expected her answer, but was still pleasantly surprised. He looks happy that she chose herself this time, finally. He exhales and rubs his eyes, coming to terms with the fact that he’s going to NY alone. “And I’m getting better at it.” Connell agrees with her. “Yeah.” He’s staring into the distance, seeing his life in NY without Marianne beside him. LONG pause, before “I’d miss you too much.” He looks back at her. “I’d be sick.

At first.” Marianne is steady. She’s not crying. She’s lending him her newfound strength, reassuring him. “But it would get better.” She’s letting him go. Connell nods and agrees. “Yeah. It’s only a year, and then I’ll be back.” He means back, physically, but also back with you Marianne. Camera pulls back. Gorgeous natural lighting.

This can go two ways. Marianne could say “Yes. I’ll be waiting when you get back.” She doesn’t. She picks the other option. She looks away for a second, before looking Connell in the eye again. “Don’t promise that. You don’t know where either of us will be. Or what will happen.” She’s explicitly talking about their relationship. Connell may not come back after a year in NY. She may not be in Dublin in a year. They may be with other people. They may even be different people. Connell looks away, silently agreeing. Goldmund’s “Sometimes” starts up in the background. They were holding it together as they decided their paths, particularly Marianne. Now they’ve agreed. Both of them start crying, starting to accept that this is the right choice for both of them. This is the first time they’ve been together, and mutually concluded that it’s best for them to go their separate ways. Previously it’s all been miscommunication and immaturity. This is goodbye.

They resume full eye contact. Through the tears, they’re both smiling. Gratitude. Connell: “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.” Marianne: “No. That’s true. I mean, you’d be somewhere else entirely. You’d be a different person. And me too.” Both of them think of the absurd places they’ve been in the past three years, both alone and together, supporting each other, and how it’s all led them to this place and time. Marianne, looking back at Connell. “But we have done so much good for one another.” She reaches out to put her hand on his face. Connell: “You know I love you.” This line is deliberately constructed for Marianne. It’s not “I love you” which we had in the previous scene. Camera back on Marianne, who closes her eyes. This is the only person on the planet that she can accept those words from and know them to be true. “And I’m never gonna feel the same way for anyone else.” Marianne: “I know.” For Marianne, acknowledging that she knows and believes Connell loves her is more powerful than her saying she loves him too. She’s believed herself to be unlovable for so long, and it’s been a fundamental part of her identity, that being secure in the truth of this assertion by Connell is the greatest gift anyone has given her. Connell exhales and looks away. He’s doing this. They’re doing this. He laughs, looks back at Marianne, nods and smiles. “I’ll go.” Marianne acknowledges with her own nod. “And I’ll stay.” Back to one final shot of Connell’s face. He’s stopped crying. And back to Marianne, who has also stopped crying. Acceptance. “And we’ll be okay.” She’ll be okay without him. He’ll be okay without her. They’ll be friends forever, regardless of where life leads them.

Final long shot of our leads sitting on the bare floor of the dark Dublin flat, moving boxes in the background. They’re both packing up their lives and moving on, with uncertainty but also with hope. Marianne’s right hand is on Connell’s arm. He puts his left hand on hers, wipes his face on his sleeve, then looks back at her. She kisses his hand. They continue to look at each other, a final memory to take with them when they leave. Cut to black. Fin.

The final scene is one of the most soulful, tender scenes between two characters that I’ve had the pleasure of watching. The writing of Alice Birch, first of all, is nuanced and exacting. Words are borrowed from the novel, but they’re repurposed to build to a crescendo of emotions, then catharsis at the end. I don’t know who chose the specific details of the performances, but when the characters look at each other and look away, when they smile and cry, and the pauses in their deliveries add so much to the scene. The supernatural chemistry between Paul and Daisy is undeniable, but there’s also the deep understanding and love of the characters they’re playing, the shared history that they leverage to the hilt.

The series finale shares very little with the novel’s ending other than a few lines, and those lines are delivered in very different contexts. For example, the now-iconic “but we have done so much good for one another” was internal dialogue for Marianne in the novel; it was never said to Connell. But that’s a long discussion that merits its own post.

Episode music: “The Subterranean Heart” by Mount Alaska (opening car ride), “No Such Thing” by Yumi and the Weather (birthday party), “Love Really Hurts Without You” by Billy Ocean (birthday party), “Dogwood Blossom” by Fionn Regan (love scene, Marianne montage), “You’re All I Want for Christmas” by Al Martino (Christmas drive), “Can’t Move On” by Wild Youth (New Year’s party), “HNY” by Stephen Rennicks (New Year’s kiss), “Sometimes” by Goldmund (final scene and end credits),

Directed by Hettie Macdonald, Written by Alice Birch, Director of Photography Kate McCullough, Editing by Nathan Nugent and Stephen O’Connell, Score by Stephen Rennicks, Production Design by Lucy van Lonkhuyzen, Costumes by Lorna Marie Mugan xxx

If you made it this far, I’m sorry for the walls of text. I’m writing all of this to try and get Normal People out of my head. It’s starting to work. xoxox

Normal People the Series: Episode 11 Deep Dive

So, here I am, still obsessed with Normal People the Series. In an attempt to empty my head this morning so I can hopefully be productive the rest of the day, I’m writing this breakdown of Episode 11.

Why Episode 11? In my breakdown of Episode 5, I said that it was my favorite for its technical deftness, the connections the made to the rest of the story, and the overall flow of the episode. 11 isn’t like that. The technical prowess remains, but there’s not much flow because it’s essentially three scenes, two small ones and one massive one. The two small ones, taken together, are necessary bookends. The massive one is perhaps the most complex scene between Connell and Marianne in the whole series. Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones work with director Hettie Macdonald to create a 16-minute long tour de force that hits with the impact of a freight train. Oh, and 6 of those 16 minutes are dedicated to not-really-a-sex-scene that is perhaps the best embodiment of Lenny Abrahamson’s vision to have seamless flow between verbal and physical communication between the lead characters. I’ve watched a lot of visual medium in my life. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The closest thing I can think of is a landmark episode of Mad Men, the legendary Season 4, Episode 7 “The Suitcase”. It’s similar in that the two leads, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Peggy Olson (the amazing Elisabeth Moss) carry the whole episode mostly stuck in one location, going over emotional baggage accumulated over the preceding seasons of the show. It’s not the same – Don and Peggy have no romantic ties whatsoever, and Mad Men is far more plot-driven – but Connell and Marianne are slinging so much baggage at this point they could give Samsonite a run for its money.

The level of difficulty of this scene is so high that even with Paul and Daisy doing jaw-dropping work, there is still so much that can be delved from reading the matching text from Sally Rooney’s novel. I’m waiting for the day that they make the series scripts available. Day one purchase for me. Anyway, let’s go.

Episode 10, aka the Therapy episode, ends with Marianne getting Connell through the death of Rob by keeping him company over Skype as she finishes her year-long Erasmus exchange in Sweden. Episode 11 opens with a vignette of Connell working in the school library, then sending a story to Sadie for publishing. The first real scene finds Marianne back home in their front yard, with a pensive look on her face. She’s accosted by Alan. “You’re pathetic.” The visual shifts to the beach, where Marianne is now talking to Connell, but it’s essentially the same scene. She relates the things Alan says to her. We reestablish that they’re spending time together again in Carricklea, and cut into a brief scene of them on a dance floor. Connell (Aside: Daisy looks smashing in this scene. That dress is aces.)

Cut to approach shots establishing were we are: the Waldron residence, Connell’s room. The last time Connell and Marianne were here together was way back in Episode 2, when life was simpler and their baggage was the size of Connell’s backpack. Connell is watching a GAA Gaelic football match.

Marianne is on his bed. It’s scorching so she’s dressed in a tank top and shorts, no makeup, her hair in a low pony. She looks like her old self, but her expression looks blank. She’s dwelling on what happened with Connell on the dance floor. In a flashback, he whispers something in her ear and suddenly leaves. Their interaction seems awkward. Connell’s attention is half on Marianne, half on the game. Marianne asks Connell if he kissed a girl last night after he left her, which he denies. He tells her to crack open a window because she’s feeling warm. Their expressions look bored. Connell asks Marianne if she got to talk to Eric, who bullied her when they were at school. Marianne says she did, and the he asked for forgiveness, which she gave, saying she doesn’t hold grudges. Connell suddenly gets up and goes out to buy them popsicles.

Ok let’s pause here. What the fuck is going on? They’re not making eye contact, they’re talking about seemingly random shit, and the trademark warmth and cozy, vicious repartee is missing.

Rewind. Connell and Marianne haven’t been together since Episode 6, the “Connell could only manage public physical affection OR asking Marianne if he could crash at her place for a couple of months” episode. He put his arm around her at Sophie’s pool party, then decamped for Carricklea after somehow telling Marianne that they should see other people. It’s his greatest fuck-up, worse than Debs.

Since then, the following things happened to Connell. He got sexually assaulted by Paula Neary; fell in love with Helen; was told by Marianne that she enjoyed being flogged by Jaime; earned his scholarship; got mugged; hiked through Europe; saw how Jamie abused Marianne; was told by Marianne that she felt she was damaged and that her family hated her; lost Rob; suffered severe anxiety and depression; heard rumors about Marianne’s deviant sexual exploits in Sweden; and was dumped by Helen. He’s now on medication (antidepressants?), works in the Trinity library and drives home every weekend to see Marianne, who just returned from Sweden. She just told him that her brother is still abusing her.

What’s Marianne been up to since Connell left her in Dublin? She got a sadist as a boyfriend and got whipped during sex for months; lied about enjoying it to Connell the first chance she got; got emotionally abused by her family when she went home; earned her scholarship; found out Connell had Helen; found out that the reason she lost Connell was he couldn’t ask her if he could crash at her place; got provoked by Jamie into physically launching herself at him; denied herself sex with Connell in Italy; broke up with Jamie, who proceeded to destroy her reputation; was abandoned by all of her Trinity friends not named Joanna; went to Sweden for a year; had a bondage/domination “arrangement” with Lukas; had naked pictures taken of herself; broke off that arrangement with Lukas; passed on going home for Christmas; lost Rob; met Helen; and found out Connell was experiencing severe depression. She comes home from Sweden, and is immediately emotionally abused yet again by her family.

Whew. So, back to Connell’s room. They have ice cream, which has worked well in the past. Marianne meeting Connell in Episode 1 with a tub, then the shared cones in Italy. They know that they’ve changed. They’re working through everything that’s happened to them, and it’s a lot. When Marianne says that people are nice to her now, even if she doesn’t see them, Connell says maybe she should so she’s not lonely. No shit Connell, it’s not like you haven’t known this woman for three years. Marianne asks about Helen, and Connell says that he was still lonely sometimes with her, throwing Helen under the bus. Marianne breaks eye contact by lying down. They’re miscommunicating again, when they talk about the dance floor incident. Marianne asks if she annoyed Connell, and he insists that he wasn’t. Marianne puts her popsicle down unfinished, which is an immediate red flag. Marianne loves ice cream.

Connell says: “I think our friendship would be a lot easier if certain things were different.” “If what was different?” “I don’t know.” Connell continues “things would be a lot less confusing if there weren’t like this other element of the relationship.” Callback to Episode 5, where Marianne says ““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.” For two people who really like having sex with each other, they keep trying to run away from it in their heads. They both agree that they were never lonely when they were together. Marianne says she wanted Connell to kiss her last night, which to me translates to “I wanted you to bang me last night”. Connell goes back on the defensive, noting that whenever they’ve had an extended run of sex, things fall apart. And since they’re not looking each other in the eye, Connell isn’t seeing that Marianne is getting upset. Or maybe he sees it but is determined to reframe their relationship into a platonic friendship. The novel doesn’t give any more clarity at this point either, only that Marianne is getting more stressed out by the conversation. She closes her eyes, and Connell says “you’re my best friend, I don’t want to lose that for any reason.” Marianne has no better response than “yeah. I know what you mean.” When Connell thanks her for seeing him through his depressive episode, it’s the last straw for Marianne. “You don’t owe me anything.” And she gets up to leave. He says “I’m getting anxious now, I hope you don’t feel like I’m rejecting you.” Marianne covers her face with her hands. She’s had enough. “Don’t be anxious, everything’s fine.” She gets up to head home. Really just a poor performance all around for our boy Connell.

I’ll take this opportunity to say that this is Exhibit A for maybe they’re better off as best friends. The question is if they can keep it in their pants when they’re in the same room, even when they’re seeing other people. Evidence points to that being a massive struggle for both of them. They’ve shown that they’re willing to sabotage whatever relationship they’re in when the other becomes available.

So. Marianne looks like she’s okay, saying that she’ll walk home so Connell can finish his game. Of course our boy Connell, just like our girl Marianne in Episode 5, immediately reverses course. As she’s saying goodbye, he reaches out for her hand. Connell stresses the woman out, then changes his mind? Marianne isn’t going to not give him her hand, so she does. Connell kisses the back of her hand. Marianne says “that’s nice” but looks like she’s instantly on the verge of orgasm. Connell, in this moment, is an asshole. He knows she hasn’t had decent sex since, well, HIM, two years ago. He knows she suffered through Jamie and Lukas. Maybe he was doing a noble thing in his head, trying to protect their friendship by eliminating the physical element. All he did was torture Marianne. He forgot (or ignored) the one core truth between the two of them.

They’re both terrible at verbally communicating how they feel. They communicate best when they’re fucking.

Rooney writes a bunch of words at this point in the novel that simply convey that Marianne is very, very, very horny. But since this is now Marianne with all her baggage, that’s not necessarily a straightforward thing.

“I feel like it’s pretty obvious I don’t want you to leave.” “I don’t find it obvious what you want.” Marianne’s brain is now off. This is their first real kiss since Italy. Marianne says “I want this so much.” “It’s really nice to hear you say that.” Connell then steps away to turn the TV off. What? Marianne looks equal parts anxious, confused and thirsty as she sits on the bed.

Connell sits beside Marianne on the bed and resumes kissing her. Connell says “I’ve missed you.” She says “it’s not like this with other people”. The first time she said this was at the end of Episode 5, after the first sex they have in Trinity. Here, she says it again BEFORE they have sex, after all of the time and events listed above. Therefore she can’t be referring to the sex – they haven’t done it yet. What is she thinking? Connell says “I know, but I like you more than other people“. He completely whiffs on Marianne’s meaning. They start stripping, separately, not looking at each other. Marianne is lying on the bed, Connell is sitting to the side. This in itself is strange. In every on-screen sexual encounter they’ve had, when they’ve started clothed, they’ve undressed each other while kissing passionately. Marianne has a strangely vacant look on her face as she takes her clothes off. When she’s finally naked, she flips onto her stomach, into the female spoon position.

Again, what’s going on? Let’s remind ourselves again that they’re in Connell’s room, where they had sex for the first time in Episode 2. Unlike then, Connell doesn’t have a condom. Marianne says she’s on the pill (which Connell was unaware of). So they’re going bareback for the first time. [Flag] Which means Marianne has been going bareback with other partners. Money is on Jamie starting her on the pill when they were together. He seems like that kind of guy. Connell asks “do you want it like this?” On-screen, they have never used either of the two common rear entry positions. Marianne is in the spoon position. Who have we seen with Marianne in a similar position? Jamie was shown taking her from behind. Marianne answers “however you want.” [Flag] Come on Connell, wake up. He looks unsure. Marianne looks back at him in anticipation, her expression still vacant. He says nervously “I haven’t done this in a while”, drawing attention to Helen-shaped ghost in his head. “That’s okay.”

Connell enters Marianne. It’s not clear if he can see her, but this isn’t her usual “sex with Connell” face. There’s an element of pain in it, and I’m not sure it’s physical. [Flag] Like they tend to do during sex, Connell chats it up. “Can we do this next weekend?” Marianne has her eyes closed. “Whenever you want.” “Whenever I want? Really?” “You can do whatever you want with me.” “That’s nice.” [Flag] [Flag] [Flag] Marianne has said this to Connell as least three times. At the farm in Episode 1, after talking to Peggy about polygamy in Episode 6, and during the coffee date in Episode 7. Every time it made Connell feel uncomfortable. In Episode 6 he had a thought that he could hit Marianne and it disturbed him so much it made him recoil. Now he says “that’s nice“?

Marianne: “Do you like hearing me say that?” “Yeah, a lot.” “Will you tell me I belong to you?” “What do you mean?” “Will you hit me?” Connell freezes. Marianne opens her eyes, staring out blankly. It’s like the lights are on but no one’s there. We’ve seen this expression before – Episode 9, when Lukas is denying her an after-sex shower and verbally abusing her as part of their “game”. Connell withdraws. “I don’t think I want that, is that okay? Do you want to stop?” Marianne nods. Connell keeps talking, forgetting that he’s the master of foot-in-mouth. “Are you okay? I’m sorry, I didn’t want to do that. I think it’d be weird… I don’t think that’d be a good idea.” Marianne: “You think I’m weird.” Dude. Just shut up and pick her up and hold her. This isn’t the time for a shrink session. Nope, he keeps going. “I didn’t say that. I don’t know, I just don’t want it to be weird between us.” Marianne buries her face in the mattress. Good job Connell. Marianne gets up, dresses at light speed, and walks home.

This is already way too long, but I need to mention that in the novel, two things are going on. Marianne is surrendering her body to Connell. This is what she’s referring to when she said “it’s not like this with other people”. She gave her body over to Jamie and Lukas, and it wasn’t good. Novel text: “Her body is just an item of property, and though it has been handed around and misused in various ways, it has somehow always belonged to him, and she feels like returning it to him now.” Connell, on the other hand, has known for a while now that what Marianne says is true. He has power over her. She’s a masochist. He’s unwilling to hit her. He ends up hurting her here in a different way. But he is certain he does not want to lose her.

The final scene is straightforward. Marianne goes home, and is accosted by Alan, who demands that she stop seeing Connell for no good reason. Marianne tries to get past him. He chucks the beer bottle he’s carrying at her and misses. She runs up the stairs and into her room. Before she can lock the door, Alan slams it in her face, breaking her nose. She calls Connell and tells him she’s injured. Her drives to get her. At her house, she answers the door and he sees the blood. He sends her to the car, and then moves into the house to confront Alan. “If you ever touch Marianne again, I’ll kill you, he says. Okay? That’s all. Say one bad thing to her ever again and I’ll come back here myself and kill you, that’s it.” He returns to the car and tells Marianne “Everything’s going to be alright. Trust me. I love you, I’m not going to let anything like that happen to you again.”

So what was the point of all that? The episode brings Connell and Marianne back together where it all started, works them through their accumulated baggage and puts them in position for the ending in Episode 12. Marianne puts herself in Connell’s hands, and he fumbles it. She is forced to do it again under duress, and he doesn’t muff the second opportunity. He’s taken Marianne out of her abusive home, so he’s accepted the responsibility to take care of her. That includes her sexual deviance.

Daisy Edgar-Jones put in work in this episode. It’s no small task to physically represent Marianne’s desire for, and surrender to Connell on screen, referencing her past damage at the hands of Jamie, Lukas and her family. We can wonder how many takes it took them to get the final result. xxx

Episode music: “Breathe” by CamelPhat and Cristoph (dance scene), “Strange Weather” by Anna Calvi (end credits)

Directed by Hettie Macdonald, Written by Sally Rooney and Mark O’Rowe, Director of Photography Suzy Lavelle and Kate McCullough, Editing by Stephen O’Connell, Score by Stephen Rennicks, Production Design by Lucy van Lonkhuyzen, Costumes by Lorna Marie Mugan xxx

If you made it this far, I’m sorry for the walls of text. I’m writing all of this to try and get Normal People out of my head. It’s still not working. xoxox

Normal People: Series and Novel Differences

A screen adaptation of a literary work is a completely separate entity. I never understood the “movie/series vs. book” debates. You can enjoy both, one or the other, or loathe both. This becomes particularly true today, when IP is king and more studios are inclined to gamble less on work not based on existing successful property.

Normal People was a charmed production, having a critically-acclaimed and commercially successful novel as a forebear, with a rising star author behind it. It was optioned by an Irish production company, whose leader was close friends with an Academy Award-winning Irish film director, who then got the green light from the BBC without any pitching necessary. The series is flying high, breaking BBC3 viewing records, and is rocking a 94% Rotten Tomatoes audience score. To quote Marianne Sheridan, “it’s quite a thing.”

I revisited the novel that I couldn’t get through in 2018, and finally finished it. Having seen the series multiple times before picking the novel back up worked. Knowing the chronological sequence of events, and who said what, helped me overcome the unusual format the Sally Rooney wrote the novel in. Following are some of the things I noted as I read through it.

Perspective matters. Rooney uses a shifting POV, moving between Connell, Marianne and third person fluidly. This is unusual, as authors tend to pick first or third and stick with it. In first person, an effort is usually made to make clear whose POV we’re looking through. On the screen, the director’s POV takes over, and Lenny Abrahamson’s observational style meshes with the gorgeous naturalistic aesthetics of DP Suzy Lavelle to create an intimate, almost voyeuristic aesthetic. This complements the conceit of the book, which is almost completely introspection and dialogue with very little exposition, exposing the reader to the unreliable narrator effect. In the series, we have confidence in what we’re seeing.

A significant part of the characters’ introspection and dialogue in the novel centers on political and economic debates between characters, given that Connell is well-read and Marianne is a history and politics major. The series doesn’t delve that deeply into this aspect. This blurs some characters’ personalities. For example, Marianne is characterized as having no concept of how much anything costs, having never had to pay for anything. Connell and his mum Lorraine get into a discussion of teenage pregnancy, as well as local politics leading up to elections. Connell and Marianne have sex, talk about history and politics, then have more sex. It’s not a great loss given the focus on the relationship of the main characters in the series, but it’s a large chunk of their development left on the floor.

Speaking if Marianne, Daisy Edgar-Jones’s Marianne is decidedly different from novel Marianne, but not in a bad way. She’s just different. Edgar-Jones is physically attractive in every sense of the word, particularly her ultra-expressive eyes. Novel Marianne is beautiful to Connell, but that’s clearly an amalgamation of everything he sees in her and takes many things beyond the physical into account. “In certain photographs she appears not only plain but garishly ugly, baring her crooked teeth for the camera like a piece of vermin.” Other characters pursue her more for her wealth and status, and her sexual proclivities. Edgar-Jones’s Marianne isn’t “garishly ugly” for a microsecond through the whole series, and her teeth are not crooked at all. Which is fine. Novel Marianne, with the help of copious passages of introspection, feels colder, more callous and condescending, clearly emotionally damaged. Edgar-Jones does an admirable job of conveying the inner demons of the character, no small feat, particularly during the coffee date dialogue, her Swedish ordeal, and every interaction with her family. Final note on Marianne. The novel describes her physical deterioration, becoming thinner and thinner, from the time she hooks up with Jamie, all through the time that Connell rescues her from Alan. No one expects Edgar-Jones to do a Machinist Christian Bale since she already has a slender frame, but it’s a notable effect of the novel character’s descent before she’s redeemed by Connell.

The series chose to minimize the screen time of key supporting characters. Helen is the most significant casualty. She was characterized in the novel as Connell’s stable relationship that brought out his best qualities. Marianne was his “wild” relationship, appealing to the parts of him that were broken. He really loved Helen. The series reduces her to the girlfriend that abandons him at his lowest point, after essentially cheating on her emotionally with Marianne. Joanna was likewise a more complete character in the novel. The only remaining friend from the original throng that surrounded her at the beginning of her Trinity years, Joanna corresponded with Marianne almost as much as Connell did. Her partner, Evelyn, was removed from the series. She stood by Marianne when Jamie turned everyone else against her. Joanna could have gotten as much attention as Niall. Lukas was problematic. The novel didn’t expound on his relationship with Marianne any more than them having an “arrangement” to play a “game” where Marianne submitted to him to drive her own self-loathing. It was clear in the novel that Lukas is a pretentious asshole. He cared nothing for Marianne, and she was using him to further her own self-loathing. He ended up enabling it, treating her like crap during sex but still not treating her well out if it. In that vein, he was worse than Jamie, which is saying something. They also changed the trigger that jolts Marianne out of the Lukas arrangement. In the novel, Lukas saying “I love you” to her breaks the spell, since how can anyone who treats her the way he does love her? In the novel, they added the setup where Marianne demands to be treated as someone unworthy of being liked, never mind love. Connell’s email, telling her that just because people treat her badly, it doesn’t mean she deserves to be treated badly, gives her the strength to get out.

So, to the Ending. I’ve said that novel Marianne and series Marianne are different. As such they deserve different endings, and that’s what they get. Because it’s my favorite scene I’ll reference the New Year’s kiss at the bar. In the novel, Connell kisses Marianne, and says “I love you”. She says nothing, and goes though an internal dialogue about Connell redeeming her, and purposely bringing her to the bar for PDA, and not having to wonder about him really loving her any more. This is consistent with novel Marianne, who even at the end of her arc feels far more emotionally damaged than Daisy Marianne. In the series, as I noted before, Marianne tells Connell “I love you too” for the first and only time in the series. I’d call that significant. The bar scene itself is different, with Marianne being received warmly by everyone including Rachel, again consistent with the arc of series Marianne. (Series Marianne also gets the sequence that opens Episode 12, where she tells Joanna that she’s content with her life, and that her first year self wouldn’t believe it. Novel Marianne probably wouldn’t either – this dialogue doesn’t exist in the novel.)

When novel Marianne learns about Connell’s New York MFA offer, she exhibits jealousy when she hears that Sadie told him to apply, including an “are you in love with her?” question, forcing Connell to deny it and defend himself. Series Marianne is surprised, but calls it “brilliant”. She asks the same question, but the series response is changes to “one of my tutors”. When novel Connell again says “I love you” and “I’m never going to feel the same way for someone else” Marianne’s reaction is “okay, he’s telling the truth”. Again, very different from series Marianne. Her response is “I know”, an acknowledgment of her security with Connell. Finally, the novel’s final line is Marianne saying “you should go, I’ll always be here, you know that”. The finale of the series is an exchange, acknowledging that they’re moving forward together, open eyed. Connell going to NY, Marianne staying in Dublin. (Just before that series Marianne also gets an extra line, when asked by Connell why she won’t join him in NY – “I want to stay here, I want to live the life I’m living, it’s quite a thing”.) Marianne also gets the final line here, saying “and we’ll be okay”. Series Marianne has the advantage of Edgar-Jones’s tear-streaked eyes and face saying more than novel Marianne could ever deliver in text. (Nothing in the novel says that Marianne is emotional at all at the end, much less crying. She sounds, still, fairly cold and distant.) And that’s fine. I consider them different characters, for different mediums.

To me those are the major differences. There are a few niggly bits, like changes in names (Rachel Moran to Rachel Moore, Kelleher’s to Brennan’s), non-critical character changes (blond Scandanavian Lukas to black Lukas), even more reduction in supporting characters (Elaine not coming along to the Italian villa, Connell’s first ex Ida) but on the whole it’s a terrific adaptation. Props to Sally Rooney, Alice Birch and Lenny Abrahamson. Every tweak made for the series feels like a positive one.

Three Films from 2014

Due to travelling more than usual in 2014, I had the opportunity to see a more movies and TV shows than usual. I carry my iPad loaded with things to watch, and when I don’t have to work on the plane or in the hotel, I fire up something to watch before falling asleep. Goes pretty well with a couple of glasses of whiskey or wine.

I picked the three best films and TV series that I tore through in 2014. These are the movies. The TV shows will appear in a succeeding post.

Begin Again – Written and directed by John Carney

It’s a movie about the music business, the people who make the music, music in general and, well, people. My favorite scene is when Dan (Mark Ruffalo) and Greta (Keira Knightley) plug an earphone splitter into an iPod and roam the streets of New York to an eclectic playlist. It comes across as poignant and natural, and the relationship of the characters and the music shine through. Also, Keira can actually sing, which is a revelation.

Edge of Tomorrow – Written by Chris McQuarrie and Jeb & John Butterworth, directed by Doug Liman

A shockingly massive box-office bust, this film is an adaptation of the Japanese novel/manga オール・ユー・ニード・イズ・キル (“All You Need is Kill”) by 桜坂 洋 Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Tom Cruise apparently no longer can carry a film with his presence alone. It’s a shame, because the screenplay is smart, the direction is effective, and the editing keeps the gimmick from getting stale. It’s still the movie on this list that most people are likely to have seen. Finally, Fieldwork’s “This Is Not The End” was a fantastic choice for this film’s trailer, and I’m really not an electronica person either.

Fury – Written and directed by David Ayer

Fury is my film of 2014. I like me a good war movie, and this is one of the best since Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. The perspective of the war from the inside of a tank is unexplored territory, and the cast that inhabits the tank delivers a textured, believable performance. It’s usually a curse to have the well-known faces of Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf, but the two actors manage to overcome their star power (LaBeouf more than Pitt, who still kind of comes across as indestructible). The visuals are compelling, and the whole project earns its spot in a WW2 film pantheon of great films.