This episode of Normal People jumps ahead in time to Connell and Marianne at Trinity, which provides an opportunity to see how different their lives have become. Connell’s quiet acceptance of the status quo no longer gives him social mobility like it did before, and his loneliness contrasts with Marianne’s vibrant life. When they meet again, their role reversal sparks something new in both of them. But will it last? Read on to find out what happened in episode 4 …
An unspecified amount of time has passed since we last saw Connell outside the Debs dance. Connell is knocking on the door of a house, and when Niall pokes his head out the window, Connell tells him he’s here about the room. Niall lets him in, showing him the room. It’s a mess, and Connell still asks if he should give him the deposit. Niall laughs, saying Connell must really be desperate if he’s willing to room with them. Connell explains that he starts college on Monday at Trinity, so he needs a place soon. Niall says he’s going back to Trinity on Monday as well. They both laugh as Niall says he’ll get his pile of clothes off Connell’s bed.
Connell walks through the streets of the city, alone in the crowd as he arrives at Trinity and takes it in. He sits alone in his lectures, looking around. Connell is in fact alone everywhere: in the library studying, in his room where he eats, walking through the campus. It’s so different from his prior experiences, and it’s sad. In a discussion-based class, everyone is eagerly participating in the discussion but him. His teacher asks him to contribute, and he does the bare minimum. He seems afraid to voice the “wrong” opinion, much like he was in secondary school but this time without his friends to help his confidence. He’s more lost than we’ve seen him, but he outwardly betrays nothing. Paul Mescal does a great job of keeping Connell’s stoic exterior, but letting the audience see the small cracks and shyness. He drives home for a weekend, and Lorraine isn’t there when he arrives. He reads on his bed before she comes home from her evening out. They hug, and he seems genuinely happy to be back in his familiar surroundings.
We see him working at his job at a convenience store before he meets Rob for a drink. Rob asks how many girls Connell has been with, joking that he must be “drowning in it” since so few guys study English. Connell laughs but doesn’t answer, and Rob moves on. He says he must be having a great time in Dublin and says he’s glad Connell got out of their small town. Connell says it’s a little too ritzy for him and that there’s nothing wrong with Sligo. He says Rob made the right call with staying home and getting a job, and Rob laughs, saying he just didn’t have Connell’s brains. They both are comfortable with each other, admitting that both their lives haven’t gone quite as they planned. Rob gets more serious as he tells Connell not to waste the experience, to have a good time at Trinity. He asks Connell to stay for another round, but Connell says he has to get back.
Connell arrives at his apartment, where Matt and Elaine are talking with Niall. Niall introduces them to Connell. Connell is quiet, which prompts Elaine to ask if he talks. Connell just says “have a good one” as he walks to his room. He’s reading by himself when Niall bounds up the stairs and asks him to come down and have a beer with them. Connell goes, and he actually has a good time, joking with the three of them and loosening up a little. This act of inclusion sparks something in him, and the next time he’s in his discussion class he speaks up, to the approval of his teacher. Another student, Gareth, even asks him for coffee.
As Connell and Gareth head to the cafe, another student hands them a flyer denouncing the appearance of a “Nazi” at an upcoming debate. Gareth thinks it’s overblown, since it’s a debate club and having opposing perspectives is the point. Connell asks if they need to debate a Nazi, the point seems quite settled. He also says he doesn’t think free speech is the issue here. Gareth clarifies that the speaker isn’t technically a Nazi and that the term is overused these days. Gareth’s friend says Connell should join the debate society, which Connell demurs about but Gareth thinks is a great idea. Gareth invites Connell to a party they’re having the next night, and he says he’ll think about going. On the phone later with Lorraine, she encourages him to go. He says they’re not his type of people, that they’re “Trinity students.” She laughs and says, “You’re a Trinity student.” But Connell is noticing the difference in class between he and the rest of the students, an invisible wall both he and others are putting up around him. Lorraine says he can’t meet people if he stays home and to go so she can live vicariously through him. He smiles and tells her he loves her before hanging up.
Connell ends up at the party, finding Gareth. He’s happy to see Connell, introducing him to another girl named Jenny. It comes up in conversation that Gareth’s girlfriend is also from Sligo, and Gareth says he could tell Connell wasn’t from Dublin. It’s a subtle dig, along with Gareth saying Connell’s backpack is “from the 90s.” Connell mentions he’s sharing a room, and Gareth and Jenny act as though this is the worst fate imaginable. Connell is clearly the poorest student at the party, but he’s easygoing about their attitudes since they don’t seem to be intentionally mean. Gareth says there’s some people he wants Connell to meet, and drags him outside. Gareth calls to “Marianne,” and suddenly Connell realizes that Gareth’s girlfriend from Sligo is Marianne. They see each other and both are shocked. Marianne is more sophisticated than when we last saw her, standing in a group of friends. She’s in her element, and their roles are reversed. She says “Connell Waldron, from beyond the grave,” and breezily tells the group they went to school together. Gareth leaves when he is called by another group, and Marianne asks Connell how he’s doing. She motions to the drink Gareth gave him and says she can do better than that, leading him away.
They find a quiet corner and talk, laughing at Gareth’s packed social schedule. Connell says he really missed Marianne when she left school, and she remarks that it’s not like he saw her much during school hours. There’s still hurt there, even if Marianne has been able to move on and make a better life at Trinity. She asks if he’s still with Rachel, and he says they broke up since they weren’t really that compatible. She gives a satisfied “hmm” and he asks what that’s about. She sarcastically says “I reckon I could have told you that,” and he responds that it might have helped if she had but that she wasn’t responding to his texts. He always wondered if “the Rachel thing” was why she left school, and Marianne snidely says it was a “last straw kind of thing.”
There’s a bit of awkwardness, but Connell breaks it by saying she looks well. She laughs and says, “Classic me, came to college and got pretty,” but Connell insists she was always pretty. He asks if Gareth tells her that, and she says he’s being cruel. Connell presses on, saying he thought it was bad going out with Rachel but that he feels better knowing she’s dating a “Holocaust denier.” Marianne says he’s just into free speech, but laughs, saying they both failed the purity tests in relationships. She asks if he’s dating anyone “problematic,” and Connell says he’s not even dating anyone good. Marianne asks him if he’s finding it difficult to meet people, and Connell honestly says yes. It’s different from home, and Marianne says that’s probably why she’s good at it. She offers to introduce him to some of her girlfriends, boasting that “I have those now.” He laughs with her but then says he doesn’t think he’d be their type, putting himself down. Marianne notices this and softly says, “What’s not to like about you?” He says, “I don’t know,” and looks down.
The next day, Marianne wakes up in bed next to Gareth and gets up, walking through the house. She cleans up from last night’s party alone, Gareth only asking her where the coffee is when he gets up later. She stares at him as he prepares his coffee, and he smiles in her direction. She smiles back. Later, she walks back to her own apartment. Her friends Joanna and Peggy come over, with Peggy complaining about having to live with her mother and Joanna making fun of her for her first world problem. Marianne and Peggy complain about their mothers, while Joanna says she actually gets along with hers. Marianne mentions Gareth won’t be joining them, and both Joanna and Peggy are glad. Peggy says he’s not worthy of Marianne.
In parallel to the shots we got of Connell on campus at the start of the episode, we now see Marianne in the same halls, surrounded by her friends. She looks more alive than he did, laughing and living the life of a typical student. I loved how this episode presented both of their lives as separate halves, really accentuating the differences between them. She discusses the party with Peggy, Gareth, and Teresa, who asks Marianne about Connell. She thought he was cute, and Gareth encourages Marianne to give Teresa his number. Marianne does, after a split second of hesitation. Joanna and Marianne talk about each of their purposes in life back at Marianne’s apartment, with Joanna saying she can’t see Marianne wanting a normal life. Joanna says she’s sure no one their age really knows what they want to do with their lives, and Marianne responds that she doesn’t have any friends from secondary school to ask since she was “a bit of a loner.” Joanna seems surprised at this. She asks about Connell, and Marianne says she wouldn’t call him a friend.
In a debate class the next day, Marianne is arguing with a fellow student. He starts to mansplain over her, but the TA tells him not to interrupt. When Marianne continues, she eviscerates his argument. At a party that night, Peggy tells the group about Marianne’s triumph. As Gareth goes to pour Marianne some wine, Jamie confidently says she’ll have the white. Joanna says she thinks Marianne is capable of deciding that for herself, and Gareth stands up for her by saying, “She definitely can.” Marianne says she’ll have the white, and Peggy rolls her eyes, informing everyone it’s this game Jamie and Marianne play. Jamie is insufferable, saying he thinks most people at college aren’t that smart and putting down Marianne’s performance (which she insists wasn’t as heroic as Peggy made it out to be.) He especially has contempt for Gareth and his study of English, saying it’s easy to just make up opinions on books. It seems a genuine fight might break out, with even Joanna saying Jamie is over the line, but Marianne just gets up and goes to the kitchen for some air.
Peggy is doing lines of coke in the kitchen before meeting her boyfriend (who has a girlfriend.) Marianne asks what Peggy will do when she’s the sensible girlfriend and her boyfriend is screwing students and doing drugs. Peggy insists she’ll never be the sensible girlfriend. Marianne cleans up as the others head out to the pub. Gareth seems concerned, asking if she wants him to stay behind with her and clean up. Marianne insists she’s just tired and for them to go, and Jamie (unconcerned) tells Gareth the pubs are closing soon. As the episode ends with Marianne alone in her apartment later that evening, she texts Connell, who glances at the phone and stares at it when he realizes it’s her.
Episode 4 Music Moments:
“The Road to Kinawley” by James Cramer
“Atomos XI” by A Winged Victory for the Sullen
“Come on Dance” by John McNicholl
“Alone” by 7th Obi
“Locked In” by The Lock-In
“Talk About Nothing (Not Your Dope Remix)” by Cadre Cola, Not Your Dope
“Deep Blue” by Mango X MathMan, Lisa Hannigan
“You and I” by Caribou
“Dogwood Blossom” by Fionn Regan
“Drop” by Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions
“Tell Me So” by Herb Johnson
“Highs and Lows” by August Roads
“Undertow” by Lisa Hannigan
Normal People is available now on Hulu.