Photo: Enda Bowe / Hulu /
In another interesting departure from the book, Connell doesn’t just go through therapy, but actually gets something out of therapy. For my part, I think it’s great! Everyone on this show should be in therapy. Niall, the (1) decent human being named in Connell’s network of friends (Marianne is Joanna), suggested that, two months after a massive trauma, Connell still was not sleeping or feeling well.
Rob, Connell’s friend from high school who never left his hometown, committed suicide on New Years Eve. Although Connell was home for the holidays, it doesn’t seem like the two met , and at midnight Connell kissed Helen, who later came back in that soft pink hat to further establish her brand as Not Marianne.
During the episode, in the free but warm office of this therapist, Connell begins to peel off the layers of his misery. Although this episode of pain and deep grief was triggered by the death of Rob, Connell admits that he has not been really happy since he left home and arrived in Trinity; that he is more lonely than ever and yearns for this time and place in his life where he knows he can never return; that he thought the university would improve everything and bring it around “like-minded people”, but instead met almost no one he could talk to or even really love. (I wonder, what happened to those friends that Niall had had, the first night Connell started socializing? Marianne ran into an unbearable crowd of wealthy kids who were never going to accept Connell as one of theirs, but they are not the only students at Trinity. But I guess for Connell, the orbit around Marianne is the only one that deserves to be occupied.)
Connell brings Helen home for the funeral, not really because he wants to, which becomes extremely apparent from the jump. He does not present it to anyone. He does not designate her as his “girlfriend”. As they enter the church, I must note that I find the score for this episode excessive. I don’t know that we really need this level of sad dramatic piano to get the mood. It’s a funeral for a 21 year old; pretty sure we know it’s tragic.
When Connell sees Marianne, he lets out her name and drops Helen’s arm as if he wished she didn’t exist. They wrap themselves in a deep embrace and closed eyes that almost hurt my arms. (COVID life, week six: I miss people so much !!) I know it’s inappropriate, but I laughed a little when Helen went to knock Connell out of the embrace, then, like, wandering against her arms with his whole body.
That night, trapped in Connell’s twin bed, Helen asks why Connell behaved as if he didn’t want her to be there. And I mean, I see his points totally valid but also … maybe the night of his friend’s funeral is not the time? “If you didn’t want me to come, you shouldn’t have asked me,” she said, to which he replied, “I’m sorry I asked you then.” Ooof, I’m sure that’s just the answer she was looking for. It’s an interesting fight because they are both right, but Connell is also willfully obtuse about his obviously legitimate concerns about his “friendship” with Marianne. This is where their fights always go. Yes of course. Helen wants to know why Connell is “weird” around Marianne, but Connell insists that it is his “normal” personality, which suggests that he is his strange and false self around Helen. I’m sure they will both sleep in a great night’s sleep in this twin bed.
In the weeks that followed, Connell sat alone in class. Sounds swirl and howl in his brain. Helen breaks up with him. Which is right! Again with the timing, but all of his points are valid and Connell can’t even muster the force to fight her, or get out of bed to look her in the eye as she gracefully frees him from a relationship that his heart has never really been in.
On Skype, Marianne says she’s sorry to hear they broke up. OKAY. Connell needs to sleep, so Marianne tells him to just bring the laptop to bed and she will watch him sleep on Skype. Yes, just a super appropriate friendship with limits! Connell doesn’t know how to describe Marianne to her therapist, but he infuses the words “we went to school together” with this intense power of “we dug coal together”. It was when we finally learned that Marianne had only been absent for a year, which is information that I could have used an episode a year and a half ago, but here we are.
Almost all of my stars for this episode’s review go to Paul Mescal’s performance because Connell has a breakdown explaining to his therapist – and really telling anyone out loud for the first time – how disappointed he is with the way his life unfolds. Sobbing, he says he came to Trinity “thinking that I might have a different life. But I hate it here. And I can never go back because those friendships are gone and Rob is gone and I don’t see him again. I can’t find this life. ”
Connell goes out and it looks a little brighter outside, right? He takes a deep breath and tells Marianne on Skype how he went to therapy. She gives her support and admits a little rage in front of the performative grief of their classmates who write messages on Rob’s Facebook wall. Hearing this, Connell smiles for the first and only time in this episode.
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