Spoiler-Free Review: “Normal People” (2020) starring Daisy Edgar-Jones & Paul Mescal

The series follows Marianne and Connell, from different backgrounds, but the same small town in Ireland, as they weave in and out of each other’s romantic lives. -Synopsis

Marianne (British actress Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Irish actor Paul Mescal) are classmates at a secondary school (high school) in County Sligo on Ireland’s Southern coast. Among her peers at HS, Marianne is regarded as an oddball/loner; she has an abrasive personality and says she cares nothing for social standing. Despite her academic achievements, her family life is unhappy b/c of her dismissive/solicitor (lawyer) mother, Denise, and resentful/older bro, Alan. Marianne’s father is deceased. Connell is a high-achiever also, but popular w/ athletic skills/laid-back attitude. (FYI: The sport they play at school is Gaelic football, a combo of rugby and soccer.) He lives in a humble (yet happy) home w/ his single mother, Lorraine, who works for Denise as a cleaner of their (fancy/spacious) house. There is no father in the picture; it’s obvious that Lorraine had Connell when she was a teen. The focus is Marianne and Connell’s romantic relationship over their last year of HS through college (undergraduate) years.

Normal People is based on the bestselling book by a millennial/Irish author, Sally Rooney, who co-wrote the first 6 eps (out of 12 total eps at less than 30 mins each). The show became hugely popular worldwide (esp. w/ young adults) when it was released in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can watch it now on Hulu. I saw it a few weeks ago, after some of my Twitter gal pals praised it; I’ve been skeptical of shows re: teens/college kids in the past. Wow, was I (pleasantly) surprised; the writing and acting are terrific! Silence is also used effectively at key moments. As I’ve written before, there is nothing like a love story, BUT only when it is done well (NOT cliched or simplistic). I kept thinking- why can’t we (Americans) have smart/sensitive entertainment like this w/ teens/young ppl!?

I hadn’t seen the lead actors before; they had great chemistry together. Mescal (now garnering acclaim for the indie movie Aftersun) will play the lead in the sequel to Gladiator; director Ridley Scott will be filming it after he wraps up Napolean. Connell is (traditionally) masculine, yet also has a sensitive/vulnerable side. Edgar-Jones was the lead in Where the Crawdads Sing (2022), based on a bestselling novel by Delia Owens. Marianne can be tough, mysterious (as in hard to know), yet also quite vulnerable. Check this show out ASAP- you won’t regret it!

[1] Brilliant, heartbreaking viewing experience. Give yourself over to this wonderful story and be ready for a genuine rollercoaster. 

[2] What I liked is that I felt both Marianne and Connell were well-rounded characters that didn’t fall into stereotypes. […]
That it pierced the heart of this wretched old soul speaks volumes to the quality of the series.

[3] These young new faces are truly engaging and they are beautiful to boot. As characters, there are emotions beneath that are really worthwhile to explore. They become more and more fully formed people and that’s the brilliance of this limited series. These are great characters performed by compelling new faces.

[4] It felt almost like reading a book where you envision the characters so vividly, you can almost touch them. The chemistry the two leads have, their acting, the cinematography, are all so well blended together, so seamless, it’s palpable. A melancholy trip worth taking, if only to remind the ones past teenage years how vulnerable and all-engulfing a young love is.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Star Trek: DS9”: Season 1, Episode 19 (“In the Hands of the Prophets”)

I was the like the space Pope. -Actress Louise Fletcher (on how she saw her DS9 character)

[Vedek Winn has asked Keiko O’Brien to refrain from teaching anything that might conflict with Bajoran beliefs]

Keiko O’Brien: I’m a teacher. My responsibility is to expose my students to knowledge, not hide it from them. The answer is no.

Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) is teaching the DS9 kids about the wormhole, when Vedek Winn (veteran actress/Oscar winner Louise Fletcher), one of the most important religious leaders of the Bajorans (and possible candidate to become the next Kai), arrives. She strongly disagrees w/ the scientific way Keiko chooses to explain the phenomenon, calling it “blasphemy.” She convinces the Bajoran parents to remove their kids (who are in the majority) from the school; only Jake and a handful of others remain.

[Jake is questioning the ‘stupidity’ of the Bajoran beliefs, comparing it with the Inquisition during the Middle Ages]

Cmndr. Sisko: You’ve got to realize something, Jake: for over fifty years, the one thing that allowed the Bajorans to survive the Cardassian occupation was their faith. The prophets were their only source of hope and courage.

Jake Sisko: But there were no prophets; they were just aliens that you found in the wormhole.

Cmndr. Sisko: To those aliens, the future is no more difficult to see than the past. Why shouldn’t they be considered prophets?

Jake Sisko: Are you serious?

Cmndr. Sisko: My point is, it’s a matter of interpretation. It may not be what you believe, but that doesn’t make it wrong…

Meanwhile, Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) finds an important item missing from his toolkit. He and his assistant, a young Bajoran named Neela (Robin Christopher), start looking for it. They find the tool in a corridor, together w/ the remains of a young ensign! What was he doing in this area? His death may have been an accident, but it seems suspicious to O’Brien.

[a group of Bajorans have arrived at the station]

Quark: Don’t tell me – there’s a Bajoran convention on this station I didn’t know about? Thanks, Odo! I need to call in more dabo girls.

Odo: It’s not a convention. They’re from an orthodox spiritual order coming to support Vedek Winn’s efforts to keep the Bajoran children out of school.

Quark: Orthodox? In that case I’ll need twice as many dabo girls. The spiritual types love those dabo girls!

This ep relates to the debate in US schools about the teaching of Evolution and Creationism in science classes. Both Keiko and Winn are unwilling to give in; perhaps surprising, Kira (Nana Visitor) agrees with Winn’s position. Kira suggests that there should be two schools on the station. Cmdr. Sisko (Avery Brooks) travels to Bajor to seek support from a more tolerant leader, Vedek Bareil (Philip Anglim). He is also a candidate for Kai, but has a different attitude and philosophy than Winn.

Vedek Bareil: Today I am only a vedek. If the Prophets will it, someday I may be Kai. And I can be a better friend to you then.

Cmdr. Sisko: In other words, being my friend now might hurt your chances?

Vedek Bareil: The Prophets teach us patience.

Cmdr. Sisko: It appears they also teach you politics.

This is the S1 finale of DS9; it circles back to issues/events from the pilot (which we learn occurred 7 mos ago). The matte painting from “Emissary” was modified to show that the damage to the Bajoran city had been repaired. The teleplay is by Robert Hewitt Wolfe (who worked on many eps of TNG). An early idea was a crossover w/ TNG and have Sisko, Picard and their crews work together to fight against an invasion by Cardassians. Instead of that external struggle, we have an internal one between the Bajorans themselves.

[1] …is pretty good, with a tightly interwoven set of story lines, further ugly truths about Bajoran culture (and beautiful faith in the goodness of individuals), and some good performances. 

[2] Real stakes and powerful social commentary. This ep gets mega points for being brave enough to address religion with a bit of honesty…

[3] This episode will be relevant forever. There are so many people in this world who use religion/idea/belief as a sword to achieve hidden agendas.

-Excerpts from IMDB comments

“Star Trek: DS9” – Season 1, Episode 10 (“The Nagus”)

[Rom has returned a beautiful woman’s lost wallet]

Quark: You worthless tiny-eared fool! Don’t you know the First Rule of Acquisition?

Rom: Yes, brother.

Quark: Then say it!

Rom: “Once you have their money, you never give it back.”

This teleplay was written by Ira Stephen Behr, who wasn’t a “father” of DS9 (like Piller and Berman), but raised it into a strong/unique sci-fi series. The main story of this ep has the leader of the Ferengi, Grand Nagus Zek (veteran actor Wallace Shawn) and his son, Krax (Lou Wagner), arrive at DS9. Quark (Armin Shimerman) and his brother, Rom (Max Grodenchik), are in awe and arrange for everything Zek needs. (The face seen on the Grand Nagus’ golden staff was sculpted to resemble Shimerman’s Quark.) Zek praises Quark’s business instinct; Quark fears that Zek wants to take over his bar. However, Zek tells Quark a conference will be held in the bar, where Ferengi politicians will discuss how to exploit business opportunities in the Gamma Quadrant (the world on the other side of the wormhole). Also, Zek plans to retire and appoint his successor.

Quark: Tell me, is the Grand Nagus here on business or pleasure?

Krax: Is there a difference?

In the B-story (secondary), we see adolescent growing pains, as 14 y.o. Jake Sisko (Cirroc Lofton) prefers to spend time w/ his friend, Nog (Aron Eisenberg), than his father. Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) has to substitute teach (been there- ugh), since wife Keiko is spending time w/ her mom on Earth. (The screen in the school behind O’Brien includes a figure of the aliens- Korob and Sylvia- from the TOS ep “Catspaw,” and also tribbles. In the back of the classroom, there is a poster containing the five USS Enterprise vessels.) Nog’s father decides that he doesn’t need to attend school (w/ humans). We discover Jake was teaching Nog to read (aww)! Sisko (Avery Brooks) earlier told Jake that humans and Ferengi were too different culturally to be friends.

Zek: [6th Rule of Acquisition] Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.

The Rules of Acquisition are mentioned in this ep. The scene where Quark meets Nava is a tribute to the The Godfather. Quark’s Corvan gilvo (the alien animal he holds), the way he scratches his ear, the blinds on the windows, and the dialogue (“Yet now you call me Nagus”) allude to the film. This is a light-hearted and somewhat funny ep where we get character development of Quark, Rom, and Nog. Sisko, Jake, Odo, and even Dax get their moments.

[1] The Ferengi are essentially the exact opposite of the Federation. The Federation has abandoned all market-based activities, including commerce, acquisition of assets, and even money itself; while Ferengi society is entirely based around those things.

[2] For those that enjoy broad farce and slapstick comedy… you might find a chuckle or two. Shimerman, in the midst of outrageous comedy, manages to inject some thoughtful dramatic moments as he struggles with his new found power and the added responsibilities (and dangers) it brings.

[3] Episodes like this really fulfill the core promise of DS9 as a show… Now we follow a crew that has the unknown come to them, and the consequences of those encounters are real and must be dealt with.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Star Trek: DS9” – Season 1, Episode 3 (“A Man Alone”)

Jake (Cirroc Lofton) makes friends w/ a teenage Ferengi, Nog (Aron Eisenberg), Quark’s nephew and prone to act mischievous. Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) argues w/ his wife Keiko (Rosalind Chao- who co-starred in The Joy Luck Club also in 1993), who hasn’t adjusted to life on DS9. On the Enterprise (TNG), Keiko was a botanist, but now she has no work. Odo (Rene Auberjonois) doesn’t see what’s so great about being a couple, as he comments to Quark (Armin Shimerman). This is a fun scene w/ actors who can do both comedy and drama. You also see their chemistry w/ each other as frenemies. Lt. Dax (Terry Farrell) explains to Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig) that her species don’t go seeking romantic relationships. I like the charm and confidence Farrell shows, even in early eps. Siddig also brings the charm, yet his character has much more naivete.

Sisko: [to Odo] If you can’t work within the rules I’ll find someone who can.

The A-story focuses on Odo, the shape-shifting constable w/ a strong sense of justice who is caught up in a mystery. Odo sees a familiar face on the Promenade, the Bajoran smuggler Ibudan, and gives him a day (26 hours in this world) to get off the station. Sisko (Avery Brooks) says that the man hasn’t done anything wrong, so Odo can’t just kick him out. Odo tells of how Ibudan once let a child die b/c the parents couldn’t afford medicine. Ibudan also killed a Cardassian w/o provocation during the Occupation, so Odo turned him in. When Ibudan is murdered on one of the holodecks, Odo becomes the prime suspect. However, things are not as they seem!

Quark: [about Odo] He’s an ill-tempered, overbearing, cross-patch. But he was no Cardassian collaborator, and he’s no killer.

Zayra: I can’t believe you’re defending him, Quark. You’re his worst enemy.

Quark: Guess that’s the closest thing he has in this world to a friend.

There are a lines and scenes which wouldn’t be out of place on a cop show. Kira (Nana Visitor) says that Odo is “the most honorable man on the station.” The actress really seemed comfortable w/ her character from the start of the series. Dax and Bashir sift through evidence gathered at the murder scene and on the ship which Ibudan came on, trying to solve the crime. Some Bajorans on the station, incl. Zayra (Edward Laurence Albert- son of actor Eddie Albert) grow very suspicious of Odo. He is unlike anyone else in this community and worked under the Cardassians for some years. After Odo is relieved of duty by Sisko (for his own safety), he goes to his office. We see that it has been trashed; along one wall, the word “SHIFTER” can be seen. A mob gathers outside and Sisko calls in security to prevent damage and violence.

Keiko’s plan to start a school for the few kids on the station was a practical idea. Sisko liked the idea very much and Jake had grown bored of studying alone w/ a computer (which is what many kids are doing in quarantine). I liked the scene where Keiko convinced Nog’s father, Rom (Max Grodenchik), to allow him to attend. Rom is portrayed as confident and decisive, which changes drastically later in the show. There is an ep focused on Keiko’s teaching at the end of the season which fans esp. comment about.

[1] I enjoy how DS9 gets to work on establishing it’s characters right away– the payoff doesn’t come for quite a while but damn is it delicious when it does.

[2] …the conflict between Odo’s sense of justice and Starfleet rules will be done much better in later episodes…

[3] Odo – who really is a man alone – must learn to trust others to help him figure this one out and clear him of suspicion.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The Hate U Give (NOW PLAYING) starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae & Common

It’s not everyday that you watch a film re: the development of an individual’s race consciousness! This isn’t just for fans of the YA book (which many adults also read); it’s for anyone who has had to  deal w/ unfairness, violence, and/or navigate two worlds (cultures, languages, etc.) and come out resilient on the other side. In my audience a week ago, there were viewers of ALL ages, incl. several families (black, Latino, Asian) w/ pre-teens and teens. It’s realistic, emotional, intelligent, and still hopeful re: our future (and that of the protagonist- Starr). Like ALL good films, it takes the viewer on a journey (BUT this time it’s through the eyes of an intelligent, sensitive, and curious 16 y.o. black girl). After the film ended, a black woman in her 50s commented (in a pleasantly surprised tone) to her gal pal: “This is what happens when there’s a black writer, producer, and director.” You don’t need to be black (or in a minority group) to appreciate this film (of course), BUT it does speak esp. to a modern, American, black audience. 

I was impressed by all the actors, esp. Stenberg (who is already quite experienced for a 20 y.o. in Hollywood) and Hornsby (who I saw on Broadway several years ago in Fences). The Carter family (which is blended) is such a strong and loving unit- this is VERY rare to see in modern film! Hall gets a few moments to shine; she’s NOT just the one-note wife/mom. Common (known for his music) does pretty well w/ his role as Starr’s uncle (and cop). It’s good to see Issa Rae getting more exposure (on big screen). The chemistry between the kids and parents was really good. The costumes, music, settings, and extras ALL contribute to giving this film its authenticity. Don’t miss this film- it has its pulse on what’s (sadly) going on now in our society!