Usually when shows air all at once, we do a season review, and I’ll admit that’s what I planned on doing.. At first. But Normal People was so good, it felt like a disservice to “just” do an overview. But more selfishly, I just wanted to spend more time in this universe, and I’ve really enjoyed going over the episodes one by one. That being said… for a show that maintained a pretty unrivaled (in this genre, anyway) intensity for most of its course, I have to admit, both the first episode and the last, fell a little flat for me. Part of this can be excused because pilots are notoriously hard (even though, technically, the premiere wasn’t a pilot since this is a limited series) since they have to set the scene and tone. Finales however, especially series finales, as it were, usually feel more… potent. I’ll admit I’m pobably nitpicking here, since this quieter episode was still better than a lot of things currently airing, but when you’re delivered ten episodes of stellar content and realization, you kind of expect the show to go out with more of a bang. I thought I’d end up in tears, from the emotion of it all (as I have on several previous occurrences in previous episodes) but instead, it was more of a “So this is… it?” feeling. But maybe I’m being too hard on it. So without further ado, let’s get into it, since it’s the last one!
After a season of angst, all seems to be well in Normal People land. Connell is writing increasingly great papers, even if he still can’t quite accept praise for them, or recognize that maybe he does have talent. Marianne’s family is still the worst, but she’s learned to let it flow over her without letting it capsize her world. They both have a group of genuine friends, including Niall and Joanna, who were the MVPs from the start anyway. They’re even (surprise!) living together! After tip-toeing about the issue, and breaking up over it, it’s quite the step forward to see them being all domestic together, all pretenses thrown away. They have consensual, non-violent, non-demeaning, non-insulting, sex and enjoy it very much.
Marianne is actually living my own personal dream (the second one after finding someone you’re as bound to as she is to Connell) by going swimming in an almost empty pool between classes.
– Did we get married and become fifty years old without noticing?
She and Joanna reflect that their first-year selves would be mortified at how mundane their lives have become, but the truth is, for the first time (ever, probably) Marianne is content. But since this *is* Normal People, it’s a surprise to no one that things couldn’t stay this idyllic for long. And it’s not bad news either, that interrupt Marianne and Connell’s little love fest, it’s actually something great. Connell learns that he’s been accepted in a year-long creative writing program in New York, further proving the fact that his writing is that good. While Connell has generally been much better at expressing what, and how, he feels, his hang-ups over whether he deserves any kind of praise, are far from gone. Meaning he never told Marianne he’d even applied, or that this was an option, since he never believed he actually had a shot. But since he did apply (albeit thanks to his tutor’s advice), one has to think that in some, even small, way, the perspective of leaving for something that could greatly improve his future career, was nonetheless on his mind. Once Marianne gets over the shock of learning these potentially life-changing news, she’s genuinely happy for Connell because this is something she knows he deserves. Connell keeps saying he won’t go though (then why apply?! Come on Connell, don’t bullshit us now), and I do completely understand his apprehension regarding a foreign city in which you know no one. That said, who says no to a prestigious program in New York City, when you’re 22 and on the brink of starting your life? No one, that’s who.
I’m not sure who the crazy girl who keeps screaming in everyone’s face at the school paper’s Christmas party is, but I’m going to assume it’s Sadie. No idea why she had to be so over the top, but it felt a little jarring. Which is when we learn that oh-so-modest Connell, has actually adopted the interim editor-in-chief position to “help out”. You see! He’s so dismissive about his accomplishments, it’s like he’s embarassed by his success. Which brings us to Christmas itself, and other ways in which Marianne hasn’t changed, either. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t have any plans for Christmas, considering the only birthday cheer she received from her mother consisted in a rude request to relinquish the Dublin appartment keys. But Connell, and his family, do, and he invites Marianne. She acts aloof about it at first, which is odd since she and Lorraine get along so well and there’s genuine affection between them, but I suppose it’s in her DNA to act like she’d be fine with spending another Christmas alone in an empty university, like she did in Sweden. Still, there’s progress since she eventually accepts. Even a year ago, she’d have hemmed and hawed, and never would have accepted because she never believes she’s wanted (or maybe Connell wouldn’t have offered anyway, since he wasn’t great at expressing his desires back then, either. They’d have both ended up miserable and alone, when in fact they wanted the same thing. Thankfully, this was not to be a repeat of the infamous Sink Scene).
Marianne doesn’t seem to have ever had a real Christmas celebration with presents and kids running around, and while she seems a little subdued about it, there’s also definitely some genuine contentment going on there, and it’s heartwarming to see. Bumping into Denise puts a slight dampener (literally) on things, when she doesn’t even acknowledge Marianne, let alone Lorraine and Connell. Apparently she’s selling the Sligo house. Hopefully this was spurred on by Alan reevaluating his life choices and getting out of his spiral of toxicity. Since no explanation is given (unless I missed some mumble-Irish from Marianne), I’m going to choose to believe they all end up in better places. At the New Year’s Eve party with all their high school friends (who do really seem to be sincere in their newfound acceptance of Marianne), there’s a lovely montage of Marianne and Connell’s first kisses, and it’s truly a testament to how far they’ve come that they can now tell each other, unguardedly, “I love you”.
Just look at Connell in his little Christmas jumper, he wouldn’t have been caught dead in this back in high school! They’ve both come so far! Cue me tearing up, as if I’m personally invested in their lives. (Which I’m not. Much.) Which is how we end up with the last scene of the series, with Marianne encouraging Connell to accept the NYC offer and go.
Now, there’s something to be said about each of their decisions here. Of course Connell should go, there’s no question about that. I’m not saying it’ll be easy. It’s a huge change, and being alone in a city where you know no one is daunting even when you don’t suffer from anxiety and depression, or make friends easily. But he’ll be in a college context with fellow students, and probably live in campus housing, so it’s much different than just setting off on your own. The fact that Marianne doesn’t want to follow him though, is a little more surprising. She spent a year in Sweden after all, you’d think she would be up for a year in NYC, no questions asked. While I understand her motivations, that she “likes the life she’s living” and it’s “quite a thing”, is commendable. Marianne has had such a hard time getting to like not only her life, but herself. But does she even have plans after graduation, that she can’t change? Doesn’t seem like it. So I’m not 100% on board with this, if they do truly want to stay together. They’ve done long distance before, but they were “just” friends, and she came back. As she astutely says, there’s no knowing what’ll happen to them when Connell’s in NYC.
Don’t promise that. You don’t know where either of us will be. Or what will happen.
I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.
No. That’s true. I mean you’d be somewhere else entirely. You’d be a different person. And me, too. We have done so much good for one another.
“You know I love you. And I’m never gonna feel the same way for anyone else.
And I’ll stay. And we’ll be okay.
They may be okay. I hope so. Maybe they’ll reunite in five or ten years, and pick up where they left off, having lived through important life experiences and still able to find each other again. But maybe they won’t. I’m not sure what I’d even want to happen, at this point. Of course they’re great together and they’ve finally been able to heal from (most of) their respective issues. Obviously (ha) they somehow always end up back in each other’s lives, but things will be different after college.
In any case, it’s a lovely scene, and there’s a quietness and an acceptance there that are wonderful to see after such turmoil in their relationship, and in their lives. Sidenote for the Hunger Games fans out there: they’re sitting exactly like Katniss and Peeta do during the beach scene in the second arena, and it’s such a sweet way to have the scene play out, rather than both facing the wall. It’s also a nice callback to how they were sitting on Connell’s bed, always looking towards each other but never in opposition.
Aaaand… that’s it! Normal People was one of the best shows of 2020 (dare I say it, probably even of this past decade), and I hope more people get to discover it as it will (hopefully) be recognized at the Emmys, and is being made available on more streaming platforms internationally. That’s not to say it’s an easy watch, because each episode will drain you emotionally. But it’s truly a delight to see the characters evolve and grow, and it feels special to witness the incredible bond they share.
Now we wait for Conversation With Friends (same author, same adatation team) and hope it sees the light of day sooner, rather than later!