Episode 3 of Normal People begins with Marianne getting dressed up ready to go out but her Mother and Brother show disdain at her outfit, convinced that she’s going to embarrass herself.
In the club, Connell can’t keep his eyes off Marianne as he stands at the bar with the other guys. When Marianne heads back over, Pat tries to dance with her but she pulls away, eventually heading outside where she ends up crying given he groped her and was a little too forceful. Connell offers to drive her home and just before she leaves, she thanks Karen for being so kind.
Marianne agrees to stay over his house that night where she opens up to him and admits that her Father used to hit her Mother. Connell tells her he loves her and in the morning, tells his Mother not to tell anyone about their hidden romance. Lorraine isn’t so sure this is the right move but it’s no good – at school rumours spread about Marianne and Connell hooking up together.
In order to try and quell the rumours, Connell invites Rachel instead of Marianne to the Debs. When he breaks the news to Marianne though, she’s heartbroken but keeps it together until he leaves the room, sobbing uncontrollably.
When Lorraine finds out what’s happened, she tells Connell how ashamed she is of him and leaves the car. The next day at school, Marianne doesn’t show up and it leads Connell to message her but she ignores him, instead finding comfort in Lorraine when she’s over cleaning at her house.
The Debs rolls round and a reluctant Connell heads there with Rachel to enjoy the festivities. As he watches Rachel dance, it’s not the same as how he felt seeing Marianne, and his friends clearly sense this too.
Outside, Sean speaks to him privately and admits that the whole group knew Connell had been sleeping with Marianne all this time. When he questions her about why he did it, he silently walks back in and collects up his things, now understanding what he really wants and knowing his relationship didn’t embarrass or change the way his friends felt about him. He leaves Marianne a voicemail admitting how he loves and misses her, breaking down into tears.
Episode 4 begins some time in the future, after Connell’s initial break down outside the Debs. Connell starts studying at Trinity and rents a room from someone in Dublin. Walking through the college floors, Connell now finds himself alone and reads every chance he gets, feeling overwhelmed in the presence of so many bright, academic minds.
When he heads back home, Sean sits with Connell and asks about college. Sean tells him not to waste his gift and to enjoy his time away. Heading back to his house in Dublin, Connell tries to make more of an effort and joins his roommates for a beer.
After English class, Gareth invites Connell along to the debating society after holding his own during a discussion about Nazis. Giving it some thought, he decides to head along and give it a try. Once there, he meets Marianne who happens to be in with the crowd and incredibly popular. She’s also going out with Gareth but there’s clearly something unresolved and raw between them that instantly starts to spark when they talk again.
Connell doubts himself though and as the party draws to a close, Marianne happens to be deep in thought the next day. Later on, one of her friends Teresa asks for Connell’s number and she hands it over. After another party with her friends, Marianne messages Connell that night, which is where the episode ends.
If there’s one thing these two episodes do perfectly, it’s capturing that changing dynamic between school and college. From personal experience I went from being relentlessly bullied for five years to finding newfound freedom with like-minded people in college and this is perfectly captured in the changing fates for Connell and Marianne. There’s hints of this being discussed during English when Connell mentions the changed narrative voice in the story he’s reading but ultimately it’s that age old show-don’t-tell that nails this so well.
The characters in this show are perfectly written too and there’s some lovely juxtapositions in the fate of Connell and Marianne as they find themselves on different sides of lady luck’s coin. Quite what the next set of episodes have in store for us however, remains to be seen but based on this showing, we’re in for something special.