Time for another Sally Rooney special: Uprooting our cast from their dreary Irish daily lives and flinging them into unimaginable luxury in some dreamy summer getaway! Frances arrives in Croatia dressed in an outfit that seems designed to make her appear as young as humanly possible — not that adults aren’t wearing shorteralls these days, but the whole look, from the ruffled short-sleeve shirt to those little starter hoops in her ears to the low pony, is for sure something Kristy would’ve rocked in the original Baby-Sitters Club books, no? I think I wore a very similar outfit on the first day of second grade. Totally get what they’re going for, though I wonder if it tracks from a character POV — wouldn’t Frances probably dress in as adult a manner as possible because she’s trying to fit in? Rather than draw attention to the decade that separates her from Nick and Melissa?
Along with Bobbi and Frances, Nick and Melissa are hosting a beautiful couple that we are to recognize from their cameo at Melissa’s birthday party. They don’t get real personalities in this episode aside from the aforementioned beauty, plus later they sing and play guitar. But mostly they contribute very little to the proceedings, except, I guess, to somewhat tamp down the tension among our core four (and to serve as proof that Bobbi is not Melissa’s first or only Black friend). Nick reports that the shoot in Scotland was misery — long hours, no fun — and Melissa will later tell Frances that he was a “wreck” upon arrival, perking up only when “company” arrived. She says this in a way to suggest genuine gratitude and zero suspicion … do you think she knows anything? Does she know but not care? Is she too enmeshed in whatever she’s got going on with Bobbi to see what’s happening right in front of her nose? Leave your theories in the comments!
During a swim break, Frances and Bobbi catch each other up on the state of their respective theoretically unavailable crushes. Everybody lies to everybody: Frances acts like Nick doesn’t matter, and Bobbi pretends to be breezy about the unlikelihood that she and Melissa will kiss again. Then Frances and Nick make meaningful eye contact while swimming past each other in silence (“conversations” with “friends”).
The next day, Melissa has to work, and I am curious if Frances ever addressed that situation re: Melissa wanting to use a line from her poem in an essay. The usage request itself was not totally clear to me — like, did she want to quote it and give Frances credit? Or just use the line as if it were her own? She’d said she needed an answer within a few days, but it’s definitely been longer than that, and we have no closure on what happened there. (Just want you guys to know I’m paying attention.)
So Nick takes Bobbi and Frances on a drive around the island. During a brief sidebar, Bobbi says to Frances, “You know your whole silent thing makes everyone think you’re enigmatic and interesting?” This is really disappointing because at other moments in the episode there’s a real tenderness between them, and I was starting to feel like Bobbi was actually being a good friend. But now she’s back to just offering up these judgments and criticisms masquerading as clever observations and cutting insights. I mean, doesn’t Bobbi think Frances actually is interesting? Then Bobbi says she hates how Frances is always “thinking things and not saying them.” Personally, I think Bobbi could do with a little more thinking things and not saying them, but she didn’t ask me!
Even though Nick planned this drive and knew he would take the girls to a beach, no one packed a swimsuit, so of course Bobbi strips to her underwear to swim topless in front of her ex and her crush’s husband. Very European. Frances does not even remove her sneakers. But left on the shore with Nick, she gets some sweet little banter about whether or not it’s “very awkward” that she’s here (her delivery of “extremely” is perfection). Nick confirms that Bobbi doesn’t know he and Frances had sex. He apologizes, though clearly he doesn’t really know what he’s apologizing for — his whole vibe is very, Look, I’m just the adult man in this situation, I don’t know what you want from me, which, eyeroll — and they joke that Frances has no feelings.
That night, Frances can’t sleep. (Classic.) She finds Nick in the kitchen because he also can’t sleep because they have so much in common!!! Sorry, sorry. Anyway, Nick reveals that he and Melissa are sleeping in separate rooms, which is information Melissa did not share. He does not provide any context for this (couples sleeping separately is not in and of itself some bad sign about a relationship! Some people just like to starfish! So many guys snore very loudly!), but obviously Frances is thrilled.
During a group outing the next day, Frances gets a drunk phone call from her dad. She confides in Nick that her dad is an alcoholic, that he gives her money for college, and that she wishes she didn’t need him financially because it gives him “this weird hold on [her].” Nick suggests paying for school is the “one fatherly thing her dad can do” because “sometimes people just want to feel needed.” Hmmm. Frances admits she doesn’t even know if she loves her dad. I feel like it’s awfully on the nose for Frances to spell out her daddy issues to the older man with whom she is currently having an affair, but maybe I’m being too hard on everyone involved.
That night, Bobbi pops over to Frances’s room to invite her to go on a hike, just the two of them. The nicest thing Bobbi has done in quite a while! Frances says yes … but flakes at the last minute to stay back and “write” (stare at a page and accomplish nothing … been there). Probably she was hoping for some time with Nick, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, she crosses paths with Melissa, who is also working and advises her to leave her writing alone if it’s not going well. When Bobbi gets back from the hike around sunset, Frances confesses she should’ve hiked and writing was unproductive.
A question for all of you: I wonder if this kind of meditative show is going to land now that the world is open? Part of the appeal of Normal People was that it was a hot show arriving at an isolating time. The pace of the actual story wasn’t so speedy, but it did have a little forward motion than Conversations with Friends — leaping ahead in time from secondary school to university to work. But this show is a lot quieter, at least so far. In theory, the affair is juicy stuff, but in practice, like 80 percent of the episode is just “attractive people quietly go on a seaside vacation that none of them even has to pay for.”
That evening, they all get drunk and play Kings, and Bobbi is back to being a brat, inventing a rule about having to kiss the person to your left if you forget to follow another rule, “and don’t forget on purpose, Nick.” (Guess where Frances is sitting.)
Frances texts Nick. He comes into her room, and she has that smile again like she is trying to hold back all her laughter. I love that Frances’s room is fully this standalone cave? Like, if you were trying to structure your group holiday for maximum infidelity opportunities, this is exactly how you’d do it.
After they have sex, Nick and Frances admit that they both thought the other wanted nothing to do with them anymore, presumably because they said things to each other like “I don’t want anything to do with you anymore” (in so many words). I literally laughed out loud at “You don’t always seem that enthusiastic.” Again they bond over what they describe as their shared awkwardness, and there are actual declarations of affection given. Nick slips out in the morning, but not before kissing Frances good morning. Surely these two will move forward in their relationship with the cool confidence of people who do not have anything to worry about.