Normal People: Episode 12

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”

After what feels like a lot longer than eleven episodes, we are finally at the end of Marianne and Connell’s journey.

Where last episode was about these characters coming to terms with the feelings they’ve been running from, this finale was about moving forward. Life for Marianne and Connell is still far from perfect. Marianne’s family has basically severed ties with her, while Connell’s mental health remains in a delicate state. But both of them have reached a point in their lives where they’re ready to let go of past trauma and move on, even if that means letting go of each other.

If this really is the end of Normal People – and I hope it is – I really like that it had an open ending. It’s fitting that a show that’s dealt with the turbulent ups and downs of a dysfunctional relationship wouldn’t end completely happily. But instead of being a total downer, it ends on a slightly optimistic note. Marianne and Connell leap forward into the uncertain future of their relationship fully acknowledging how good they are for each other. I’d be lying if I said the ending didn’t leave me with a lump in my throat.

I’m not completely without my qualms, though. After everything they’ve been through, and after practically already having a long-distance relationship for over a year, does it seem so inconceivable that they can do it again, this time with Connell being away in New York? I get that it’s hard for them to be hopeful for the future, but why should this mean the end of their relationship? It was supportive of Marianne to encourage Connell, but I don’t fully understand why there was a need to immediately take the cynical route about whether or not they’d still be together when Connell comes back. But I guess that’s the beauty of an open ending. If there is a second season, then we will get a definite answer as to whether they stayed together or not, and we know for sure that would entail a whole new season of drama for them. But for now, we’re left to weave our own happy endings for them both. Headcanon can be quite a marvelous thing.

I like that this episode felt a lot like the pilot. It had the same tender and quieter pace that makes the show feel so personal. We got to see a lot of the familiar faces back in Carricklea, including Connell’s high school friends and Lorraine. It was sweet of Lorraine to invite Marianne over and finally give her a proper family dinner. Part of what makes the ending not as glum is that even with Connell leaving, Marianne can at least be sure she’ll have a proper support system in Lorraine, Joanna, and maybe even Rachel and friends, who are now genuinely nice to her. Now she can truly believe what Connell told her in Italy when he said that lots of people love her.

Marianne comes to the realization that her and her mother aren’t all that different, as now it’s Denise who’s in the same socially isolated position that Marianne was in at the start of the season. We still don’t know that much about her family, but Marianne is now in a good enough place to let them go. When Connell asked her if she was okay in the bathroom, she actually really did look okay. Her sadness in the end seemed more over the state of her mother rather than how they made her feel.

The New Year’s scene was lovely. It felt rewarding seeing them comfortably acting like a couple in front of the very people they once had to hide their relationship from. Despite my previous complaints about some of the jumps in time this season, I think it still benefited the narrative overall. Because we can flashback to their first kiss and realize just how far they’ve come. They went from being two unsure teenagers kissing only in private to mustering up the courage to kiss and admit their love for each other in front of a big group of people. It helps that the fantastic make-up and costume department made Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal look so much younger back then. You can binge Normal People in a day, and looking back on the first episode will feel so nostalgic, as if it actually did happen years ago. If their conversation at the empty flat was their story’s epilogue, then the bar scene was their happy ending.

Bits and Pieces:

- Once again, we have the title card framed against the sky instead of the usual black.

- I’m glad that it was Niall and Joanna who were the supporting characters who stayed through until the end. They were the ones who actually had a positive influence on Marianne and Connell’s lives.

- Lorraine is such a lovely character. Her longer hug for Marianne affirms how she’s been a mother or at least a friend for Marianne all this time. Marianne and Connell first met when they were around eleven, so Lorraine’s been in her life for almost ten years. It was also a big move on Lorraine’s part to greet her former employer Denise, who probably now thinks very lowly of her.

- I blame Michael Giacchino’s Lost score for making me such a sap when it comes to melancholy piano music.

- Connell is finally getting the opportunity to live the more eventful life Marianne has enjoyed thanks to her family’s wealth. Meanwhile, Marianne is content to have a normal, abuse-free life. She is now a normal people. :)

- Connell was speaking fine this episode, but when Marianne brought up New York, his voice started quivering again like it did when his anxiety would take over.

- During the Christmas game, Marianne was Santa Clause with an E and Connell was Edward Scissorhands.

- Well, that’s it for Chainwatch 2020. I can finally conclude that we never actually see Connell without his chain, so every time we see Connell = 1 chain sighting, which is far too many to count. I now leave you all with the wonder that is the official Connell’s Chain Instagram account, @connellschain, which currently has around 186,000 followers, including Daisy Edgar-Jones herself.

Final thoughts:

Normal People isn’t a show for everyone. It can be challenging, frustrating, and for people not used to a slow-paced narrative, downright boring. But I think that if you’re the kind of viewer who is willing to indulge a story like this, it can be a very gratifying experience. This is the type of show which can really resonate with you if you allow yourself to wade through the sometimes exaggerated melodrama. I think that what it gets right as a romance story is it gets into the emotional roots of why Marianne and Connell’s relationship functions the way it does rather than being a simple will they-won’t they kind of show. Those who can’t relate with the romantic aspects of the narrative might find connection with its depictions of social anxiety, psychological trauma, and the difficulties of interpersonal communication.

That isn’t to say Normal People is faultless. After rewatching the show, I could spot several story beats where the show's overarching narrative suffered. Some episodes felt disconnected from the rest of the story, and certain character decisions might have been more understandable if we had been given more context as opposed to just jumping to that certain point in time. With the exception of the amazing tenth episode, the first half of the show felt a lot stronger than the second.

But there’s still a lot to like. It’s beautifully directed, and it handled sex and nudity in a very tasteful and non-overglamorized way. For the most part, the pacing was still very well-done, and it really helps you feel like you’re going on a long journey with these two characters. And needless to say, the acting is absolutely stellar. The show would have felt a lot more dragged out and tedious if it weren't for its incredible cast. And while even the supporting cast was great, Normal People's two leads really elevated the show and made it something truly special. Bravo to Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal. May you get all the truckloads of gold acting stars you deserve.

Ironically, I think the show benefited from being released during quarantine. A story about connection and intimacy during a time when everyone’s separated by Zoom call barriers was bound to resonate with a lot of people. It seems weird to call Normal People a teen romance, because it deals with its themes very maturely, and judging by the response it’s gotten, it’s affected people of all ages. This show has been really interesting to review, and I’m gonna miss playing virtual therapist to Marianne and Connell.

Quotes:

Joanna: “Did we get married and become fifty years old without noticing?”
Marianne: “Maybe… I actually love it.”

Connell: “It just feels too hard. Everything recently has been hard or has been an effort. And maybe this year, it just needs to be straightforward.”
Marianne: “There’s been a lot of stuff that’s been difficult and painful. And this would be difficult and amazing.”

Connell: “You know I love you. And I’m never gonna feel the same way for anyone else.”

Connell: “I’ll go.”
Marianne: “And I’ll stay. And we’ll be okay.”
I'm not crying; you're crying.

Thanks for following along, everyone! I’m giving this final episode 4.5 out of 5 hopefully happy endings and Normal People as a whole, 4 out of 5 stars.

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.

4 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Mara, congratulations on finishing Normal People! I've enjoyed reading your reviews even though I still haven't seen the show. Which I will as soon as I get Hulu again.

Mara Fabella said...

Thanks, Billie! I'm glad you were able to follow the reviews even if you didn't see the show. Hopefully it will make your viewing experience more interesting when you do watch it. :)

Marc said...

Many thanks for the reviews for Normal People, Mara. I've held off on commenting until the last episode as I found it difficult to consider each episode on it's own and not as part of the whole series.

SPOILERS follow below as I know Billie hasn't seen the series yet!

I've meant to read Sally Rooney's books for a long time but still haven't got around to it, but the series has strengthened my resolve because it does seem like they will be very interesting and enotionally rich.

I have really enjoyed that this show is just an insightful look at "normal" lives and relationships, relatively uneventful or almost boring by the standards of high octane, mega budget event TV. I'm really enjoying shows like this where one fraught social situation or conversation can be as tense and dramatic as a car chase or fight scene.

Charting the dynamics of a young relationship without becoming melodramatic or dull is difficult but I think they achieved the perfect balance. Props to the two main actors who were both completely believable and sympathetic even when flawed or mistaken. It was impressive the way even smaller roles like those of the two main character's families felt very real despite a relatively small amount of screen time.

You could have had a whole other show about Marianne's toxic family, presumably caused by her abusive deceased father and repeated by her brother, but I like the fact we had to infer from what few scenes we saw and it wasn't clearly outlined.

Ditto the romantic relationships she had which often seemed to be marked by strange, complicated power dynamics and uncertain motivations. On a surface level both could have been interpreted as abusive from the male partners towards Marianne, but I think the writer's intention was to show something less straightforward in her initiating some of the encounters / behaviours but other cases where the scenarios seemed to be escalating and her enthusiastic consent seemed to be entirely missing. For amother recent dissection and exploration of consent and sexual assault, Michaela Coel's I May Destroy You by BBC and HBO felt similarly successful in showing situations with a similar theme.

I like the fact that various friends and peripheral characters popped in and out of the story, much as you would expect in real life, particularly around that age range where people can change so much and move apart.

I liked the ending and thought it was very fitting, hopeful and sad without being definitive. Bravo.

Mara Fabella said...

Marc, the pleasure is mine! I've enjoyed reviewing this show, and what I really like about it is, like you said, how it shows the "normal" realities of relationships, and I think some of these can even be applied to non-romantic relationships. Many times I'd be so frustrated at Connell but realize that I've found myself unable to communicate even the simplest things so many times, and I'm sure the same goes with other people.

I think one of the things that made this romance less self-indulgently melodramatic than others is the way it didn't lay out every detail of Marianne and Connell's relationship for us to see. So many things go left unsaid, but the show realizes that it doesn't have to be said - not out loud, at least.


Yes, I did really like how the supporting cast and even the settings changed as time progressed. It's also quite cool how the leads and even the side characters physically look older at the end of the series, and this is impressive considering they shot the whole series out of sequence. If I recall correctly from an interview, Marianne and Connell's first kiss was actually one of the last things they shot!

Interesting point about Marianne and her relationships. I'd be very interested to see how Sally Rooney depicted her struggles in this regard in the book.