Important question for all of you: Are you rooting for Marianne and Connell? We’re almost halfway through the season and I’m curious what you make of this couple. Should they have just let it be a high-school thing and moved on with their lives? Are they good for each other, really? Is this an ill-advised backslide? Or is college an excellent time for ill-advised backsliding into bed with your cute ex? I ask because in the book I was very much like, Why do these kids keep going back to each other though? But casting is magic, and the chemistry of our two leads is really selling this reunion for me. Please share your thoughts on this hookuppery in the comments!
But first, back to the beginning of the episode. Connell was “seeing” Teresa, and Marianne had Gareth the boyfriend, and we were all much younger then. Upon getting Marianne’s text, Connell just up and calls her, which is the sort of bold thing I typically expect from her and did not see coming from him. Good on you, Connell. Marianne fesses up to having missed Connell, which is quite big of her I must say, and Connell is visibly overjoyed and expresses this barely repressible ecstasy by saying, “Sounds good.”
Connell never made any effort to integrate Marianne into his high-school world. Probably it wouldn’t have gone well. Marianne’s attempt to bring Connell into the fold goes, I think, okay? Joanna, the best of the crew, is super welcoming and gracious and lovely. But these kids just ooze affluence, the sort of upper-tax-bracket faux sophistication that Connell lacks. He is not at ease, and he doesn’t exactly know how to explain that the “heavenly” Marianne was the object of relentless bullying not six months prior, so he just lets them imagine she went around charming and/or crushing everyone she came across.
All of the Marianne scenes make me want to curl up in Chris Evans’s Knives Out sweater, wrap my hands around a mug of tea, and maybe take up smoking cigarettes. Everything about her life here is so fuzzy and cozy and warm, all soft textiles and comfort. Even though Connell is ostensibly in a lot of the same spaces as Marianne, what with going to the same school and taking the same classes and all, his scenes are all cold, blue, almost sterile — and he’s never with anybody else, even when he’s in a computer lab that could be occupied by other students. Also, we glimpse him at his job waiting tables — naturally none of Marianne’s friends are working while in school.
Marianne starts bringing Connell around and it’s clearly the beginning of the end for her and Gareth, not that Gareth knows it. She starts to see her circle through Connell’s eyes, and though their evident wealth makes her skin a little itchy, she maintains that her friends are good people at their core — and honestly, who is Connell to judge? His friends sucked.
Jamie (that guy who claims to know all of Marianne’s wants better than she does, so he makes decisions for her) asks Marianne if Connell is “like … smart?” It’s a little confusing because, for the rest of the episode, we will see that Connell is at the top of his class and has earned a reputation as a stellar student, such that the cute curly haired girl sitting behind him in a lecture hall wants to know if she can read his legendary Joyce paper and talk him into joining the literary society. So does Jamie just not hear the academic gossip, or is he deliberately being a dick about Connell’s somewhat lacking social graces? Marianne defends Connell, improbably, as “actually the smartest person I’ve ever met.” Hot tip: Never start a compliment with “actually.”
Gareth loves watching Marianne make her “really cute serious face” while she’s studying; she is unmoved and then, in the next scene, is totally captivated by Connell’s concentration face. Hmm. Unlike Jamie, Marianne knows that Connell is killing it in school. “You’re like this star,” she says, not without some jealousy. He points out that his secret to success is just … doing the reading, which most of his classmates neglect. They compensate with arrogance, riffing on books they haven’t even read. (I mean … sometimes that works though!) Connell is perpetually second-guessing himself and keeps trying on new identities, waiting to see which one fits.
I am not surprised to hear Marianne say she has not told her friends about her relationship with Connell. Is there a way to do it that doesn’t make her look bad? Or make him look bad? Probably not, and anyway, she’s trying to be cool here! She admits she would be embarrassed if they found out. “Because it was humiliating … just the fact that I put up with it.”
Connell always sounds like he is just realizing things as he says them — like he needs to hear an idea, in his own voice, before fully committing to it. He tells Marianne that it wouldn’t have mattered if they’d been out as a couple. Because everybody knew, and nobody cared. This is useful life advice from Alexis Rose that we should all follow!
I have to say that Connell’s apology here is genuine and very good. Telling her that he thinks about his behavior “all the time” and that he is really sorry: I bought that! I do not feel like Marianne is just caving when she accepts it. Obviously the next time we see her, she is dumping Gareth. She is not especially kind about it. Bye, Gareth! Godspeed on that neo-Nazi debate.
Time to go to a party. Marianne is just drinking straight gin and teasing Connell for “seeing” Teresa — who, it turns out, isn’t even going to this party — and, oh by the way, did she mention that she broke up with Gareth an hour ago? “I feel absolutely fine,” she reports. Her friends are very supportive of the breakup. They’re at this girl Sophie’s house and it’s all very extravagant.
Marianne gets sloshed. Connell, not a scumbag, says she is too drunk for them to have sex. But they do kiss (!) and in the morning, Connell drives Marianne home and comes up to her place and makes coffee while she showers, which is EXTREMELY couple-y, no? The intimacy! She comes out in this patterned robe that makes me think, Should I get a robe, as long as we’re all working from home for the foreseeable forever? She stands over him, and by that bright, sober light of day, he unties her belt.
When they’re done, Connell is lying there (full-frontal nudity on Hulu? Way to keep pace with HBO, you guys), falling asleep with his head on Marianne’s stomach and her fingers in his hair. “I think we’ll be fine,” he says, so … I have a feeling they won’t be.