Marianne and Connell are apart, so it’s time to, in Marianne’s words, find someone “problematic” for her to be dating at the moment. Enter: Lukas.
I’m intrigued by the changes made to Lukas’s character here. In the book, he’s this Swede who looks like the mean prince from Frozen and whose lousy communication skills are, according to him, due to his so-so grasp on the English language. (Marianne, however, says his comprehension is excellent.) Our first encounter with him is during the photo shoot that ends this episode, and the first thing we really learn about him is that he and Marianne have an arrangement that he calls “the game.” The rules are: “Marianne is not allowed to talk or make eye contact while the game is going on. If she breaks the rules, she gets punished later. The game doesn’t end when the sex is finished, the game ends when she gets in the shower … He tells her bad things about herself. It’s hard to know whether Marianne likes to hear those things … You’re worthless, Lukas likes to tell her. You’re nothing. And she feels like nothing, an absence to be forcibly filled in.” As the photo shoot gets more and more graphic — he binds her wrists so tight her flesh puffs out, then blindfolds her — Marianne demands they stop, threatens to call the police, and bolts out of the studio.
It’s this stretch of the book where Marianne is beyond passive, just totally numb. And I wonder if there was some concern on the part of the creative team here that that sort of rag-doll emptiness would not translate well to the screen. Or if audiences wouldn’t tolerate the vaguely-kinda-sorta-consensual submissiveness of this already-prickly female protagonist. It’s certainly hard to read and it isn’t exactly pleasant or clear to watch, even framed as it is in the show: As something Marianne insisted upon, to which Lukas acquiesced.
Marianne is in Sweden for Erasmus, which as I understand it is like study abroad but for a whole year and just within Europe. (It is not explained at all in this episode, which I think makes the geography and timeline here needlessly vague. Perhaps this is just my bias as an American viewer, though!) Connell is still at Trinity. We learn pretty quickly that she’s fallen out of touch with just about everybody from her old clique, save for Joanna (the only one I liked) and Connell, who is in touch with her via email. Upon learning that Marianne’s got a boyfriend, Connell, not unfairly, writes, “I just hope you have confirmed he’s not a psychopath. You don’t always have a good radar on that.”
Lukas is very nice to Marianne, so she breaks up with him in the most half-hearted way imaginable — he has to ask her if that is, in fact, what’s going on, and she replies, “maybe, maybe, yeah.” The eloquence that has … I’m so moved.
He asks if he could get her to reconsider. “I really like you,” he tells her, and she pinpoints that as the problem here. What does she want? “The opposite of that.” I write in my notes, yes Marianne’s favorite thing is when the guy who likes her does not communicate that to her at all and instead leaves her wondering what the fuck is happening and if they are even in a relationship. For what it’s worth this is a far more fleshed-out origin story for the dom/sub setup in which we find Marianne and Lukas later on than the one we get in the book, but it also fundamentally changes Marianne’s role in this whole dynamic. Viewers here who’ve also done the reading, what do you make of it? Is this a kosher improvement or TV messing with what’s canon?
Meanwhile, Connell and Helen are doing fine. Great, even. But their relationship is doomed, naturally, because Connell is hung up on Marianne and Helen can totally tell. (I like that she is dressed in this Energizer bunny, pink fluffy jacket that Marianne would never, ever wear.) At a bar, Connell runs into Peggy, who is in classic Peggy mode — condescending, rude, trying to stir up drama to make her life more interesting — so Connell tells her to fuck off, to protect Marianne’s virtue or whatever. Helen, not incorrectly, calls it that Marianne doesn’t “necessarily have a problem” with being someone who everyone talks about, and anyway, Connell, why are you so bothered? Girl, he is in love with her, that is why he is bothered. Don’t ask the question if you don’t want the answer!
Connell is crushed that Marianne isn’t coming home for Christmas. Given her family situation, I think Connell should be encouraging her to never come home again, and anyway why can’t he just go visit her if they’re such good pen pals? Over Skype, Marianne unconvincingly tells Joanna that she’s doing fine.
It’s hard to tell if things are going well with Marianne and Lukas, truly, because it is hard to tell how much of this is what either of them wants. She basically wears only black here (chic and sad, her two favorite things to be) and a Penny Lane kind of coat which I like very much. Lukas tells her he has this idea for a photo he wants to take of her.
When she gets to his place she just sits on a mattress on the floor. (In the book, “mattress on the floor” is actually Lukas’s bed in his apartment, but I honestly can’t tell if that is the case here or if it’s just his vision for the saddest photo shoot I have ever witnessed in my young life.) Article by article, she takes off her clothes, gazing forlornly at nothing and asking, “Can we not do this now?” Is that part of their game, her protesting? Or does she really want out? We have no idea! Can someone please give this girl a safe word? As he ties up her wrists, Lukas says, “This is what you wanted.” OKAY BUT IS IT? I’m trying to imagine the market for this photograph and feeling nauseous and depressed.
In an email, Connell tells Marianne, “Just because people treat you badly at times, it doesn’t mean you deserve to be treated badly.” Topless in tights with her wrists bound, Marianne says no, really no, she does not want to do this, and she leaves.