In this episode, Connell and Marianne’s deceptions backfire, and both must live with the consequences. The past few episodes have made their love feel like a cozy little secret world, but that illusion is shattered as both realize too late that they want more from each other (and the reality of what Connell is asking of Marianne is fully shown). We also get some tough love from Lorraine in an excellent scene, and Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal both deliver heartbreaking work. Read on to find out what happened in Normal People Episode 3.
The episode opens with Marianne getting ready for a fundraiser for the Debs dance. She looks gorgeous and is wearing makeup, clearly trying to change her image. Her mother and brother note this change in her appearance, and neither have positive things to say. Alan is worried she’ll embarrass him in front of his friends. Trying not to let their attitudes shake her confidence (though it seems they already have), she goes to get her taxi. Once she arrives at the club, the other girls notice her new look and compliment her. Connell and his friends arrive shortly after, and the moment he sees Marianne he can’t keep his eyes off her. Marianne breaks her own gaze to ask one of the girls, Karen, to dance with her. Even as Connell heads to the bar and Marianne hits the dance floor, he keeps looking at her.
Karen notices this and points it out to Marianne, who pretends she doesn’t know the cause of Connell’s attention. It’s a new side of Marianne as she dances, fitting in with the others. As she and Karen rejoin the group, another friend, Pat, walks up. He knows Alan, and he flirts with Marianne, saying he’ll buy raffle tickets from her if she dances with him. Marianne says no, quietly at first and then more forcefully, but he isn’t taking no for an answer as the group cheers him on. He gropes her, and Marianne pushes him off. She runs away as Karen sticks up for her, calling Pat an “asshole.” Outside, Marianne sits against the wall and cries. Karen comforts her as Connell and the rest of the group (minus Pat) leave. Eric and Connell seem to feel bad about what happened, but Rachel dismisses it as a harmless prank (which Karen calls her out for, surprisingly). Rachel teases Connell for siding with Marianne, but he tells her off and she leaves in a huff. Connell says he’s driving and offers to take Marianne home, which she accepts. She thanks Karen for her help before leaving with Connell.
In the car, Connell asks if Marianne is okay, reassuring her that it wasn’t her fault. He offers to take her back to his house instead of going to hers. Marianne asks if Lorraine will mind, and Connell says she won’t care. Marianne says she thinks Lorraine is a great parent. She says Lorraine must be proud of how Connell turns out since he is a nice person, adding “you don’t know how rare that is.” In Connell’s dark bedroom, Marianne asks Connell if he ever dated Rachel. He says they slept together once but that was it. He says with Marianne there’s obviously feelings involved, and Marianne asks who it is obvious to. They lie in silence until Marianne asks Connell if he’d ever hit a woman. He is taken aback and says no, asking why she asked. Marianne admits that her father used to hit her mother. He asks if her father ever hit her, and she says no before breaking down in sobs. Connell says he’d never hurt her, and then vocalizes his feelings for her for the first time by saying “I love you.” She leans into him and continues to cry as he comforts her.
The next day, Marianne wakes up in a panic as she realizes what time it is. She rushes to leave and says she’ll take a taxi since her mother will recognize Connell’s car. Lorraine arrives home as Marianne is rushing out. She knowingly laughs and shakes her head, handing Connell the groceries she’s brought home. In the kitchen, she lovingly jokes that she’s known for a while since someone was coming over in the afternoons and she works in Marianne’s house. Connell asks if she’ll tell anyone, and the mood shifts. Lorraine asks why she shouldn’t say anything, and Connell just says it would cause “annoyance” for them both. Lorraine is worried Marianne has a boyfriend, but when Connell says that’s not the case, she just says she won’t gossip about his sex life. But she seems confused as to why they want to keep the relationship a secret.
At school the next day, the boys tease Connell about giving Marianne a ride home, wanting to know if anything happened between them. Rachel leads the teasing about Marianne, and Karen again sticks up for her. Connell is silent throughout, and he quickly walks away, panicking at the thought that people know what is going on. He sits against the wall in the bathroom, breathing quickly. Once he gets more control, he walks to the courtyard and goes to Rachel. He apologizes for telling her off the night before, and Rachel responds that Marianne must have been delighted since she has a crush on him. Connell lies, saying that he’s not sure what’s going on with her, but it has nothing to do with him. He asks Rachel to the dance, and as she accepts all their friends surround them.
That afternoon, Connell appears at Marianne’s door. She is excited, fixing her uniform as she heads to answer the doorbell. It seems that she thinks he might ask her to the Debs, but that hope is dashed as he tells her he asked Rachel. She’s devastated but trying not to show it. He reassures her that he and Rachel are going only as friends, and Marianne says, “like how we’re just friends?” She asks if he still has feelings for Rachel or wants to sleep with her, and he makes a joke that lands badly about how he doesn’t need to sleep with Rachel since he has Marianne. Marianne tells him to leave, and when he does, she breaks down sobbing. Daisy Edgar-Jones is heartbreaking in this scene as she realizes she’ll never have Connell the way she wants.
While driving Lorraine home, Connell mentions he asked Rachel to the Debs. She’s shocked and angry, telling him to pull over. She asks if Marianne is going with someone, and he says no. She says, “don’t you think you should have asked her, seeing as you f*ck her every day after school?” She goes further, summarizing their relationship as “Marianne comes over to our house, you have sex with her, and then she’s not allowed to tell anyone about it.” She asks him if he talks to her in school or is nice to her in public. When he doesn’t respond, she continues. She asks if the reason he’s hiding the relationship is because he’s worried about what others will think if he admits he likes Marianne. When he is again silent, she goes in for the kill: “well, here’s what I think of you. I think you’re a disgrace and I’m ashamed of you.” She gets out of the car, saying she’ll take the bus home. This scene was powerful. Hearing Marianne and Connell’s relationship dynamic spoken out loud shows how wrong it is, and coupled with Marianne’s emotional scene earlier it illustrates how devastating the secret is to Marianne. Connell is stoic as always, but his mother’s words must have gotten to him.
The next day, Marianne stays home from school. Connell, worried, texts her and asks her to let him know she’s okay. Marianne ignores him. This goes on for a few days, until Marianne takes her dishes downstairs and sees Lorraine working in the kitchen. Lorraine gently asks if she’s okay, having heard that Marianne has been absent from school. She says she’s fine and that she isn’t going back. Lorraine says Connell told her she’s been ignoring his messages, and she surprises Marianne by saying, “good for you. He doesn’t deserve you.” Marianne tries to justify Connell’s behavior saying that compared to most people he was nice to her. Lorraine hugs her, clearly moved by how sad that statement was and how alone Marianne is. Marianne leans into Lorraine’s shoulder.
Connell also seems affected by their separation, holding back tears on his walk home and breaking into a run to try to overcome his feelings. Over dinner he asks Lorraine if Marianne is all right, and she says he hurt her feelings. Connell tries to brush it off as an overreaction on her part, but Lorraine says Marianne is vulnerable and that what Connell did was unkind. He asks her to be on his side, but she says she can’t after how he treated Marianne. She says she doesn’t think it’s a bad thing that he feels bad about what happened, but Connell just gets up and walks away. Marianne comes back to school for their exams, and as she takes her seat he watches her.
Connell gets ready for the Debs, and his mother encourages him to try to have fun for the night. Guilty and sad, he says he doesn’t even want to go. She hugs him and says that sometimes people have to do what they don’t want to do, and this is one of those times. Connell waits in Rachel’s living room with a bouquet and her father, standing when she enters. She tells her parents Connell is going to Trinity to study English, and her father asks if that means he wants to be a teacher. It’s awkward as Connell says he hasn’t thought that far ahead. They head to the dance, where they both greet their friends. While everyone else seems to be having fun, Connell is playing along.
Eric, Rob, and Connell are sitting on the side of the dance floor watching their dates dance. Rob shows Eric and Connell an intimate picture of his girlfriend Lisa. Connell says it’s messed up to be showing them something Lisa thought was private, and Rob says Connell’s been “gay” about things lately. Outside, Connell smokes, his eyes sad, as Rob approaches. He says it’s a shame Marianne didn’t come, asking what happened between them. He reveals everyone knew they were together, despite Connell’s efforts to hide it. Connell reacts, walking away as he realizes that he could have been with Marianne this whole time, that his friends didn’t care the way he thought they would. He hurt her for nothing.
We see Marianne asleep in her bed as Connell calls her cell from outside the dance. Trying to maintain his composure (and failing), he says he misses her, that he can’t talk to anyone the way he can talk to her. As he starts to cry, he stifles a sob and tells her he loves her before hanging up. He breaks down crying in the street, all the guilt and regret coming out at once. Paul Mescal is excellent, showing the cracks in Connell’s exterior and how hard he works to keep up his “cool guy” image since it doesn’t match his inner feelings. “Only You” by Yazoo plays as Connell straightens himself out, stands, and walks away.
Episode 3 Music Moments:
“Maybe” by SOAK
“Hey Now (Arty Remix)” by London Grammar
“Gimme Life” by THAN and Victoria Liv
“I Never Got Off the Bus” by Tebi Rex
“Disco Inferno” by SUPERfreak
“Hate Dah” by Super Silly
“Havin’ a Party” by Flipside
“Only You” by Yazoo
Normal People is available to stream on Hulu.