Does ‘Normal People’ Have a Happy Ending?
The Irish drama Normal People is one of those TV shows that has caught a lot of attention. Scores of critics have given the series high praise for exploring complex interpersonal dynamics, romance, abuse, class, and family difficulties. It has been nominated for several awards and won many of them, and its viewership numbers were high immediately upon release and sustained this attention for its entire run. Because of the show’s complexity, reflective of how real life can be messy and difficult, many viewers have had questions about interpreting the ending. Although the meaning of a story’s ending, and whether or not it’s positive or negative for the characters involved, is rarely cut and dry in more thoughtful works like this, it is understandable that people might wonder: does Normal People have a happy ending?
[Spoiler alert: Spoilers ahead for Normal People]
‘Normal People’ is based on a novel
Normal People is an adaptation of a novel by the same name by Irish author Sally Rooney, and, in fact, Rooney had a role in writing the script. It takes place in Ireland shortly after the 2008 global recession and focuses on a young couple: Marianne Sheridan, who is from a well-off family, and Connell Waldron, who is the son of the Sheridan’s cleaner. Marianne’s family dynamics are complicated, and she has faced abuse from her father and continues to face it from her brother. At school, Marianne is also frequently bullied, while Connell is quite popular. However, they spend a lot of time together and start a relationship, which they keep a secret.
The show follows the couple into college at Trinity in Dublin, ending up reversing their social dynamics. Additionally, there are periods where the relationship ends and then reconciles, and Marianne continues to struggle with her family. These interpersonal conflicts add tension to their relationship, but there is a clear intensity throughout the show.
The ending of ‘Normal People’ is ambiguous
Marianne and Connell have multiple breakups and partners throughout the series. However, by the last episode, the two are back together and have realized they are in love with each other and should pursue the relationship more seriously. This also coincides with their graduation from Trinity College, and just as they decide to stay together, Connell receives an offer for an MFA program in New York. Connell wants Marianne to come with him, but Marianne would rather continue her life in Ireland. Though Connell intends to return to her, they are honest that they may both have changed after this time, and they might not stay together.
Is this a happy ending? Marianne expresses that she is happy with her life in Ireland, and she is certainly in a better place than at the beginning of the show. Meanwhile, Connell has an offer for the program he wants. At the same time, just as they’ve realized the importance of their feelings for each other, they are separated and don’t intend to pursue a long-distance relationship. Perhaps this complexity reflects real life, where massive opportunities can coincide with, or even cause, relationships to end. This bittersweet ending leaves the viewer with more to chew on and think about than an ending where each character has everything they would want.
So far, a second season is unlikely
The one season of Normal People covers the entirety of the novel it’s based on, and Rooney has not written or indicated an interest in a sequel to the novel. Though the end of the show leaves the option that Marianne and Connell could reunite and continue their relationship, it’s equally likely that they will not. A sequel, or a second season, which some producers have expressed interest in, could show what would happen upon Connell’s return to Ireland. Rooney’s other novel, Conversations with Friends, is being adapted for a TV series, so even if we don’t get a sequel to Normal People, we will get to see more of Rooney’s work on the small-screen.