Normal People: Episode 9

“I feel so not myself at the moment.”

We travel from Italy to Sweden in an episode that should have seen a major character breakthrough, but instead felt strangely like filler.

It’s been months since the events of Italy and leaving Jaime, and Marianne is now taking a course in Sweden as an exchange student. She keeps loose contact with Connell through email, but is mostly alone. And it’s here where we see Marianne at her lowest point. She has deeply internalized the idea that she is unworthy of love, and without Connell or even Joanna around, she has no one to pull her out from the deep self-destructive path we see her taking.

I feel conflicted about this episode. On the one hand, we finally have Marianne accepting a bit of self-love with support from Connell, and we actually end on a pretty content note. But on the other, we have a very random BDSM plotline that seems to have come out of nowhere. It doesn’t follow at all that Marianne being with Jaime, who "likes pain," would lead to her finding a Swedish guy at a party who just happened to be a BDSM photographer. I don’t have much of a problem with the actor who played Lukas. Rather, I find the way they chose to characterize him weird. From the start, it seemed as if he had some ulterior motive in approaching Marianne. Turns out he was actually quite normal and was just another guy she couldn’t connect with. That is, until Marianne needed him to be someone she absolutely wouldn't connect with. Ta-da, turns out he's into BDSM. Did Marianne know who he was beforehand? Did they discuss it while they had their brief “normal” relationship before she let him indulge his other side as a photographer? This entire subplot felt so jarring coming off of last episode. I have no problems with keeping Marianne and Connell apart for an episode or two, but not if the plot driving this feels so inorganic. A vacation in Italy seems natural. A mutual correspondence motivated by self-loathing with a BDSM photographer set in snowy Sweden seems like just an unwarranted story-of-the-week episode.

Strange plotline aside, Daisy Edgar-Jones absolutely shone. Previously she’s had to play Marianne with a lot of emotions bubbling right beneath the surface. This time, she was completely numb. The way she conveyed everything Marianne was feeling and perhaps not feeling with that empty look in her eyes was both chilling and heartbreaking. The photoshoot scene must have been particularly difficult to shoot, but she did it masterfully. Take my bucket of golden acting stars.

The first time Marianne has had someone show her true affection was through sex. Her and Connell’s relationship breezed through the flirtation stages and jumped right into their first time being intimate. It seems natural then that she’d equate sex with love, and that in an episode that sees her trying to invalidate her self-worth, she’d use sex against herself. Juxtaposing Connell and Helen having sex against Marianne and Lukas drives home the idea that not only has she lost Connell, but that at that moment, she lost the emotional capacity to truly connect with another person. As she said a few episodes ago while in bed with Connell, “It’s not like this with other people.” It’s safe to say, it definitely isn't.

Meanwhile back home, Connell’s doing pretty well. By all accounts, Helen is a good match for him, and he seems quite happy with her. If Marianne hadn’t emailed, his relationship with Helen might have even gotten deeper. But in the end, it’s clear that they still need each other, even if not romantically, and that they share a connection they simply can’t have with other partners. Connell’s last message to Marianne was lovely, and he probably won’t even know how it saved her from going off the deep end.

Bits and Pieces:

- The way the beginning was shot made it seem like Marianne was undercover, posing as an unassuming attractive party girl. It felt so weird and took me out of the story.

- Helen’s apprehension toward Marianne is understandable. First Connell goes off to Italy with her, then he obviously starts getting bothered at Peggy’s gossip about her. And he did kiss her and nearly sleep with her, after all.

- Connell and Marianne have known each other since they were either 11 or 12. That gives some insight not only to why he loves her so much, but also why he’s likely intimidated and insecure when it comes to her. He certainly seems to have no such problem around Helen.

- Here I was thinking Connell would take the chain off when in bed with another woman. But no, he literally never takes it off.

Quotes:

Connell: “I just hope you’ve confirmed that he is not a psychopath. You don’t always have a good radar on that.”

Marianne: “Sometimes someone will make eye contact with me, like a bus conductor or a person looking for change. And I’ll feel shocked that anyone can actually see me. And there’s something comforting about it.”

Connell: “This is single-handedly the most depressing place I’ve ever been in.”
Niall: “I’m having a great time.”

Connell: “Just because people treat you badly at times – and I include myself in that, by the way – it doesn’t mean you deserve to be treated badly.”

This episode was strange. It might have been a really good one had the storyline not felt so perplexing. 2.5 depressing Christmas parties out of 5.

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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