Well, the end has finally arrived. After twelve episodes following the love story of Marianne and Connell, it is time to say goodbye to these two characters and their world. It is a brilliant finale, bittersweet and realistic. It showcases the growth both Connell and Marianne have experienced over the course of the series and once again proves just how good Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal are in these roles. Normal People may have risen in popularity due to the love story or the controversial sex scenes, but this show’s heart is in its depiction of growing up. This episode left me with an aching feeling not just for Connell and Marianne but for my own young adulthood. I’ve never seen a show that takes the pain of adolescence and the struggle to define yourself so seriously, never edging into melodrama. I believe it will stand the test of time as the first truly great piece of work about this generation, and should at the very least garner heaps of awards for its stars and writers, with particular praise for directors Hettie Macdonald and Lenny Abrahamson. Without further ado, go ahead and grab a box of tissues and settle in for the final recap of Normal People …
Marianne and Connell are driving together as she compliments him on his newest story. She says it’s like he has access to a private world, and she teases that she’s jealous of it. She urges him to submit it to the magazine, calling it “brilliant.” Connell smiles and puts his arm around her. Back in Dublin, Connell, Joanna, Niall and other friends sing “Happy Birthday” to a smiling Marianne. This is possibly the happiest she’s been shown to be all season long, and it seems she finally has friends she can rely on. Niall ask what Connell got her, and he says he gave her a book of poetry. Niall jokes that he expects her family to buy her a sports car or a pony (Niall: “just going off my own list”) but Marianne says her family doesn’t really do birthdays, and the discussion moves on.
That night, Connell and Marianne get ready for bed as Marianne’s mother texts her. Instead of a birthday message, she just says, “Send me back the keys to the Dublin flat as soon as possible.” It seems in the time since we last saw them Marianne has cut ties with her family even more. Connell says he’s sorry, and Marianne says she doesn’t care. They have sex, and then we montage through Marianne’s life: swimming laps in the pool, walking and laughing with Joanna. The two discuss the movie night they are planning for the evening, with Marianne remarking that she wonders what their first year selves would think of their boring plans. But she’s happier now than she was then, with friends who truly care for her who she doesn’t have to worry about impressing.
In the library, Connell and Marianne study together when Connell gets a strange look on his face. Marianne asks what’s wrong, and Connell confesses he just got an email from a university in New York. He’s been offered a place in their MFA creative writing program. She congratulates him, but is surprised he never told her he applied. He says it was because he thought it was a long shot and that he looks up to Marianne. He didn’t want her to think he was kidding himself about his chance of getting in. He admits it was his advisor who encouraged him to apply, and Marianne says she could see him in New York. He’s incredulous, saying he can’t even see himself there. He’s also worried about his anxiety in a new city where he knows no one, saying, “A couple of months ago I couldn’t even walk down the street in Dublin without having a panic attack. How’s that going to work in New York?” Marianne tells him to put it aside for now and just think about it, but Connell firmly says. “I’m not going.”
At home, Connell asks Marianne if she would come for Christmas with his family. He notes Lorraine came up with the idea as she evades the question. She finally says yes, and they drive back to Sligo together. Lorraine immediately pulls Marianne for a big hug when she arrives, and yet again wins the “Mom of the Year” prize from me. Christmas at Connell’s is a lot more fun than at Marianne’s, with everyone talking and laughing. Marianne makes sure Connell gets praise for editing a literary magazine even as he downplays the accomplishment as usual. It’s so welcoming that Marianne goes upstairs to Connell’s room, a bit overwhelmed by it all. Connell asks if she’s all right, and she says it’s a “proper Christmas” and that she’s having a good time.
Walking down the street later, Lorraine asks what they’re doing for New Year’s. Before they can answer, they see Denise walking towards them. Lorraine says “Happy New Year” to her, but Denise just coldly keeps walking, not acknowledging Marianne at all. In the car with Lorraine and Connell, Marianne softly asks, “What do people in town think of her?” Lorraine says she seems a bit “odd,” which is an understatement and the most generous way Lorraine could possibly have phrased it. Marianne goes for a walk on the beach by herself to clear her head, and when she returns, Connell asks her to go to a New Year’s party happening that night. She says she’ll go and heads upstairs.
They get to the party (with Marianne wearing an absolutely stunning dress, adding to the many items of her clothing that I want in my closet ASAP.) Marianne hugs Rachel, who seems genuinely glad to see her. The whole group seems to have accepted Marianne in a way they never could have four years ago. As they kiss at midnight, we see a flashback to Connell and Marianne’s very first kiss four years ago in Marianne’s living room. They’ve come so far since those days, and both of them have grown. The next day, Connell and Marianne are moving the last of her things from the Dublin apartment. Marianne watches Connell carry a box to the car from the window, and it seems she’s contemplating something.
Sitting alone in an empty room, the two of them discuss the future in the best scene of the series. Marianne says it never really felt right for her in this apartment. It wasn’t the home she imagined it would be. She turns to Connell and says she’s been thinking about New York. She says she can see him there, writing, and Connell confesses he’s also thought about it. He says it just feels too hard, adding that, “Everything recently has been really hard or it’s been an effort, and maybe this year just needs to be straightforward.” But Marianne says while this year has been difficult and painful, this opportunity would be difficult and amazing. It’s a perfect chance for him. Connell asks her to come with him: she could study or work and they could live together. Marianne slowly nods no. She truly wants to stay in Dublin, saying, “I want to live the life I’m living,” laughing slightly as she say,s “It’s quite a thing. And I’m getting better at it.”
Connell starts to break when he says “I’d miss you too much, I’d be sick.” Marianne gently says he would at first, but that it would get better. Connell says it is only a year and that he’d come back after, but Marianne tell him not to promise that. Who knows what could happen in a year, and she doesn’t want to limit him. Connell sighs and lets a tear fall, turning to Marianne and saying, “I would not be here if it weren’t for you.” Marianne cries, saying, “You’d be somewhere else entirely. You’d be a different person. And me, too. But we have done so much good for one another.” (It was about here my own tears started flowing. Is there dust in here or something?) Connell whispers, “You know I love you,” as Marianne caresses his face. He adds, “And I’m never going to feel the same way about anyone else.” Marianne says, “I know,” and they both exhale. Smiling through tears, Connell says, “I’ll go,” and Marianne says, “I’ll stay. And we’ll be okay.” The series ends with them holding each other, sitting on the floor.
Episode 12 Music Moments:
“The Subterranean Heart” by Mount Alaska
“No Such Thing” by Yumi and The Weather
“You’re All I Want for Christmas” by Al Martino
“Can’t Move On” by Wild Youth
“Sometimes” by Goldmund
Normal People is available to stream on Hulu.