Connell and Marianne are in a groove. Marianne is “content,” happy to do movie nights with Joanna and not even all that rattled by the fact that her mom has decided to stop supporting her (financially, that is — she was never really supporting Marianne emotionally). Marianne has to move out of that glamorous Dublin flat. She’s all but estranged from her family now, but she’s building this life for herself on her own terms. And I don’t think that’s not a factor in why she and Connell are able to be in such a good place. This, after all, is their comfort zone: He’s the dominant one, the one with all the power, and she is the one who needs him. It’s telling that even though she had all the resources in the world back when Connell lost his restaurant gig and couldn’t make rent, he could not bring himself to ask her if he could stay with her, but now that the roles are reversed — even though they both won that scholarship so doesn’t Marianne also have free housing? — it’s a given that she will stay with him, so he can take care of her.
The cool girl from first year who cornered Connell about his Joyce essay successfully got him involved in the literary magazine, which he edits. He’s written a story so great Marianne is “completely jealous” of it. He’s buying Marianne a book of Frank O’Hara poetry for her appropriately low-key and lovely birthday, for which she curled her hair and put on lipstick, like someone who is excited about life again.
From what we can see of their sex life now, it’s all very intimate and heavy-breathy and not at all violent, even in a playful way, which would suggest Marianne just put that whole part of herself in a little box to never open again, which I’m sure will be fine! She takes all that energy to the pool to swim laps multiple times a day.
All is well and calm and good and then: Connell gets an email. A university in New York (!) is offering him a place in their creative writing MFA program. Marianne is stunned; she didn’t even know he applied. She expresses her shock before she says “congratulations” which is not ideal but is understandable, considering. Connell is super-embarrassed about the whole thing, which was a long shot. Why didn’t he tell Marianne he was applying? “To be honest, I still look up to you a lot and I wouldn’t want you to see me as deluded.” Aww! Of course it wasn’t even Connell’s idea to apply because Connell, like Marianne, is constitutionally incapable of really taking his life into his own hands and pretty much every major decision to date — applying to Trinity, studying English, going to therapy, joining the literary magazine — was made for him by someone else who had to talk him into it.
The show does a much better job than the book did of letting us see Connell really addressing his mental health issues. (For one thing, the therapy in the book was a bust and didn’t really take.) Connell is concerned about uprooting his barely stable life, one that is only recently free of panic attacks. “Now is not the time for me to go halfway across the world and live in a city where I don’t know anyone,” he says. He swears he’s not going. Marianne advises him to think on it.
That night, there’s a party for the literary society, where the lovely curly-haired girl kindly calls Connell “the most naturally fucking gifted editor of all times.” There’s punch and joy and I am so relieved Connell and Marianne found these people and aren’t still running around with the Peggys and Jamies of Trinity.
Connell invites Marianne to his place for Christmas. Well, really it was Lorraine’s idea (see above re: Connell initiating literally anything ever). They drive home with a car piled high with presents and Lorraine greets them as a “Christmas miracle.” I love Lorraine. Their family Christmas is lowkey and sweet and just seeing that such a thing is possible — a happy family, playing silly games, sitting close together and making warm conversation — moves Marianne to tears. She has to retreat just to get some air from the overwhelming niceness of it all. Walking down the street, they pass Marianne’s mom. Lorraine is gracious to her former employer but Marianne’s mom walks away without speaking to them.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and Marianne agrees to go to the party that all the kids are going to. She wears this semi-sheer pink sparkly top that is halfway to something Helen would wear and a leather skirt that’s very Marianne. Hot, mean Rachel hugs her like they’ve always been friends. I appreciate this bit of realism because I do think for the most part, everyone gets amnesia about who they were dicks to in high school because it’s too mortifying to recall the details, and everybody just does the whole “oh my God, how are you?!” whenever they see someone from home.
In the morning, Connell is helping Marianne move out of her mom’s house for real. Site of their first kiss but otherwise not really a place Marianne is too keen on remembering. They’ve both been thinking about New York. Connell would love for one year of his life to not be so hard, but Marianne points out that there is more than one way for your life to be difficult, and what if New York is “difficult and amazing”? (I love how she says “It’s New York! It’s writing!” Shh … protect their Irish innocence, no one tell them what it’s really like.)
After Connell comes around to/admits that he would like to go, Marianne confesses that she is going to stay put. “I want to live the life I’m living,” she says. It’s only for a year. Well, in theory it’s only for a year. Maybe Connell will love New York and never want to come back to this place. They have this very tender back and forth about how they wouldn’t be the people they are now without each other. “We have done so much good for one another,” she tells him. He says “I’ll go” and she says “And I’ll stay, and we’ll be okay.”
Ah, the first young couple in the history of coupledom to attempt a long distance relationship. Can they really handle being apart? Or will they be so good at being apart they never get back together? Share your most romantic and/or cruel theories in the comments!