In the sixth episode of Normal People, Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) spend the afternoon at a friend’s pool party. The duo had been exchanging heartfelt gazes at each other throughout the entire episode, but neither one wants to make a move. When Connell finally swims over to Marianne on the edge of the pool, his arm wraps around her side while he gently kisses her shoulder. For one brief moment, the world stops for Connell, who constantly struggles to express how he feels, and Marianne, who believes she’s not worthy of real love. No words are said, but their silent embrace speaks volumes.
These moments of love and affection are prevalent throughout Hulu’s Normal People, the terrific adaptation of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel from 2018. Normal People depicts the relationship between Connell and Marianne from secondary school through college in Ireland. In the beginning, Connell is the popular star athlete from the blue-collar family that struggles to make ends meet. Marianne is the outspoken and opinionated social outcast from a wealthy family who fails to acknowledge her existence. The two strike up a relationship but decide to keep it a secret in order to preserve Connell’s popularity.
Although Connell and Marianne come from two different families and societal groups, the young lovers see each other in their purest form. Society perceives Connell as a dumb jock and Marianne as an entitled brat. However, Connell views Marianne as a beautiful, free-spirited thinker while Marianne views Connell as an intelligent, heartfelt gentleman. Time stands still when the lovers are together. Connell and Marianne look at each other like it’s the first time they’ve ever seen real beauty. They don’t see flaws; they see perfection.
Their strong, emotional connection strengthens in the bedroom thanks to the chemistry between Mescal and Edgar-Jones, two stars in the making. Their first sexual encounter starts out awkward since Marianne is a virgin while Connell has is not. However, the awkwardness turns to pure admiration as the two lock eyes and form a bond that cannot be broken. For the first time in their lives, they experience what true love is all about. Both try to find new sexual partners in their later years, but quickly learn that they can never truly lose themselves in the moment with other people. These tense, masterful sex scenes are works of art and make the audience question if they’ve ever experienced what it truly means to “make love.”
Like most relationships, things are never easy. When Connell and Marianne head to the same college, the roles reverse. Marianne becomes a social butterfly and while Connell elects to be the loner who struggles to find his place. However, their love never disappears even though they continue to be a victim of bad timing. Marianne spends time in Italy and Sweeden and experiments with new sexual partners while still feeling dissatisfied with her life, especially from her family. Connell struggles to fit in at college and battles a serious case of depression after tragedy strikes. Despite their arguments and differences, Connell’s and Marianne’s love for each other never disappears. They lean on each other in their darkest times which culminates in a heartbreaking scene involving physical and emotional abuse towards the end of the series.
Thanks to brilliant performances from Mescal and Edgar-Jones, Normal People stands out as one of the best shows of 2020. It’s one of the purest depictions of young, first love that you’ll ever see. Their love is complicated, but the show is perfect.