Normal People: Episode 10

“I don’t really click with a lot of people. I struggle with that, actually.”
“Do you think that’s a new problem, or is it familiar to you?”
“It’s… familiar.”

We’ve seen Connell struggle to process his emotions throughout the series and it’s only led to him hurting the people around him as well as himself. This self-destructive tendency comes to a head when he’s completely caught off-guard by the sudden suicide of his high school friend Rob.

This Connell-centric episode could have felt as out of place as the preceding Marianne-centric one. But where last episode came out of left field in a strange way, this one came out left field in a much more naturally abrupt way. Opening scene aside, Connell starts off this episode in a pretty good place. He’s actually having a good time for once, and him and Helen look happy together. Then the news from Lorraine hits Connell, and hits him hard.

If this subplot were to feel as jarring as last episode’s, the suicide would have been from a random friend of Connell’s who we’re to suddenly believe he’s been incredibly close with. But having it be Rob throws us back to the first few episodes just as it forces Connell to confront his past and all the emotional baggage he’s built up over the last few years. It’s easy to forget that Rob was the one Connell’s been in contact with since leaving for Trinity, and that one of the last times we see him, we got a sense of how he wasn’t all that happy where he was, and this gives us more insight into Connell’s guilt.

We go through some minor time jumps again this episode, but this time it works, as it’s told from the perspective of the therapy session. In thirty minutes, we see Connell going through months of depression, and it wouldn’t have been so effective if it weren’t for Paul Mescal’s performance. This episode alone was enough to justify his Emmy nomination. The times we’ve seen Connell in emotional turmoil, it’s been grounded in frustration at not being able to communicate. This time he was completely devoid of any feeling at all, yet Mescal was still able to convey so much depth while doing so little. All this build-up made his eventual breakdown at the therapy session cathartic, and it was just the character breakthrough Connell needed to finally start coming to terms with his feelings.

It’s difficult to make a lot of judgements on Helen’s decision to leave Connell. Though we’ve seen them looking happy together, we’ve only seen their relationship on a surface level, so we don’t actually know how serious they might have really been. I think Helen was justified in her misgivings toward Marianne, but it was also a little unnecessary for her to practically pull Connell away from the hug at the church, which was something he desperately needed at the time. Since Connell was obviously dragging Helen down with him, it was a good decision on her part to leave. But again, it’s difficult to tell if she really was trying to help him or if she gave up on him early on.

This was probably my favorite episode so far in terms of Connell and Marianne’s relationship. All drama and romance aside, Marianne was simply there for him as much as she could be, unequivocally and unconditionally. Their scenes together were lovely, from the hug to their digitally separate nights in bed. I think their time spent apart has really emphasized how much they care for each other. Marianne watching over Connell so he could have a peaceful sleep probably helped him in the same way his emails helped her. The Skype scenes are especially poignant now given the state of our current Zoom-dominated virtual landscape.

Bits and Pieces:

- The other performance that really stood out for me came from Noma Dumezweni, who played the therapist. I remember coming across a video of a real therapist commenting on how this therapy session was portrayed. She mentioned that the way this therapist calmly allowed Connell to talk until he finally let everything out was very accurate to how real therapy sessions go for people in similar situations.

- The whole ambiance of the church scene was done very well- the music, the claustrophobic close-up shots, the way the only sounds heard were crying. Everything felt so suffocating, and it helped us empathize with Connell wanting to be anywhere else.

- It was interesting seeing Connell’s high school friends again. With the exception of some crass comments from Eric, it seems they’ve matured and have warmed up to Marianne. Rachel almost looked like she gave Marianne the stink eye in the church, though.

- Connell might have been the only one who didn’t put on his football uniform during the funeral.

- More proof of how good a friend Niall is- he was the one who suggested Connell go to therapy, and he also suggested this particular therapist.

- I don’t imagine going to therapy is a common thing for young men in Ireland or other conservative places. I hope episodes like these help break the stigma of discussing mental health among young adult men.

Quotes:

Helen: “Why do you have to act so weird around her?”
Connell: “How I act with her is my normal personality. Maybe I’m just a weird person.”
I chuckle every time they mention the word “normal” on this show, Normal People.

Connell: “I don’t know. I don’t feel anything. I find myself crying or having a panic attack, so presumably I do feel. It’s just… It just doesn’t connect.”
Marianne: “I understand.”
Connell: “I know you do.”

Connell: “She’s hard to describe if you don’t know her. She’s really smart. She’s a lot smarter than me.”
Not too long ago, Marianne was saying the same thing about Connell.

Marianne: “What’s the etiquette there? Should I be liking every comment on his wall?”
Connell: “Sounds like you’ve worked through that anger.”

Connell: “I left Carricklea thinking I could have a different life. But I hate it here, and I can never go back.”

A very well-done episode more on par with some of the earlier ones in the season. Five out of five Emmy-nominated Paul Mescal performances.

Mara Fabella is a visual artist, writer, retired martial artist, yoga practitioner, booper of cat noses, and lifelong lover of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

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