“MY BRILLIANT FRIEND” SEASON 2 EPISODE 8 RECAP: “THE BLUE FAIRY”
Elena realized that life had continued to move on for the people in her community while she’d ignored them.
“The Blue Fairy,” the last episode of season two of My Brilliant Friend, excites a self-awakening in almost everyone involved, even viewers. As typical of this Italian epic, this episode felt very depressing but also disorienting. Elena’s Ferrante’s powerful words were shocking and quite literally, arresting. Why? The deeply sentimental energy of this episode was especially intimate and excruciating because as her words draw you to connect and feel with her characters, just at its climax, as Ferrante holds your gaze, the experience is capped.
The flash back clips at the beginning of the episode set the scene for this magnetic finale. In these scenes, viewers are reminded of all the heavy moments that bring us to where we are now: with Lila (Gaia Girace) drowning, while Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) seems to resurface from her still and passive state. The problem is, she did it too fast, and in doing so, before getting the chance to really examine herself and reflect; anxiety and doubt bubbled and grew in her. At the end of “The Secret Notebook,” the previous episode of My Brilliant Friend, Elena made an incisive decision to be more bold and selfish with herself and her dreams. She threw away Lila’s private diaries as a symbol of this change to remind herself that she wasn’t going to be stuck in Lila’s shadow, that her life wasn’t going to be reduced to a whole lot of “almosts,” almost succeeding, almost finding her voice, almost finding a community of likeminded people, ad infinitum, but she hadn’t given much thought to protecting this confidence that she was developing or in trusting her gut. And so, in the opening scene of episode 8, when her professor dissuaded her from pursuing an academic career despite holding the highest grade among her peers and clearing showing “promise,” she acquiesced without giving much thought to her feelings of inadequacy, her imposter syndrome, and how her achievements were extraordinary. He’d humble her, tempered her ambitions in academia to becoming a civil teacher and reminded her of her otherness and the stereotypes of her class and origins. He reduced her expectations which was very frustrating to watch because of the sexist undertone and wider implications of the teacher’s decision. Imagine who else he’s discouraged, imagine the scholars and renegades that he’s intimidated, the people who could have really changed the world.
Just as well, the professor’s prejudice was clearly supported by the other students in Pisa. As Elena was walking home from her meeting with him, another student screamed an insulting remark to her while others watched and giggled. The only person who seemed moved to help Elena was Pietro Airota (Matteo Cecchi), a fellow student from a well respected family. Of course Pietro was a coward, but gentle. Instead of speaking up in the moment, he decided to follow her home to try and introduce himself and share his sympathies. Through his efforts, Elena was able to gain entry to respectable society. Even Elena’s friend was able to notice the advantage her partners have given her. “You mix in the right circles,” she told her, as they watched as Pietro walked away. “It’s a family that matters. Don’t let him get away.” But honestly, who can blame her for wanting to enter into high society given her family background?
In any case, since her professor had made Elena doubt her intelligence, she had writers block and couldn’t work on her thesis. Still, she managed to redirect her misgivings toward creative writing and she was able to finally finish her very first novel but she pushed it aside. At the end of her studies, when she’d finally graduated and was separating from Pietro so that he can pursue his graduate studies and she, a path as a teacher, she entrusted her novel to him to read as a farewell present. He gave her an engagement ring and she gave him a very vulnerable piece of herself. So, when she finally returned to her home after over a year of never visiting, she had someone to grasp that would separate her from the plebeian world she grew up in, the miserable people of her community who she perhaps felt were hollow. The scene where her father paraded her down their busy road in their street showed how removed she thought of herself and also how terrified she was of the idea of ending up like them. She almost looked at them. as if she was disturbed and in turn they looked at her with a bitterness reserved for elitist people.
At home, Elena realized that life had continued to move on for the people in her community while she’d ignored them. Her beloved elementary teacher, Miss Oliviero (Dora Romano), had died and left her all her report cards from her young school days including a short story that was written by Lila at just 10 years old. So, at the news of her first offer of publication, she felt the urge to share the news with Lila since they had both loved reading and dreamed of becoming novelists when they were young. That’s when she learned of how terrible Lila’s circumstance had become.
Elena was soaring during her university years while Lila had been declining (nothing seems to go the way you want it to in My Brilliant Friend). She learned that their mutual friend Ada had taken Lila’s place with her husband and had just given birth to beautiful little girl. On her visit to Ada, to find Lila’s new address, she was acquainted with all the drama that lead to Lila finally escaping her brutal life for Enzo (Giovanni Buselli). Turns out the Ada (Ulrike Migliaresi) showed up one day, determined to prove that she was a better wife than Lila and then the following day, after getting beaten by Stefano, she returned with a much more subdued temperament, eager to listen to what Lila had to say. Since Lila never loved Stefano (Giovanni Amura), she was happy to learn that Ada has fallen pregnant with Stefano’s baby because it sparked an opportunity, a way for her to finally leave him and gain independence, so she was receptive to the idea of switching places with Ada. Instead, she found a job in a pig factory and a quaint home with Enzo. Her subdued countenance was very noticeable. Even though she had feelings for Enzo, she wanted to be much more careful about find the right partner.
I wonder what Elena’s true motivation was behind finding Lila. Did she simply just miss her or was she hoping to rub her success in Lila’s face? After all, when she found Lila working, she looked distressed, but later when she told her that her first novel was going to be published, she looked so self satisfied, almost like a “Ha! I won and you lost!” It was sad. Elena had gone to great lengths to find Lila just to remind her of how her life had diverged so horribly from what she imagined and even when Lila feigned ignorance to the book she wrote at ten years old, Elena didn’t take the hint. She gave her the book anyway and expected her to be happy to see it. Of course, Lila threw it in a bonfire.
The most disheartening part of their exchange though was that Lila decided to stop studying and instead support Enzo in his. Even Elena was surprised at that. I get the impression that maybe when Lila threw her booked in the fire as Elena watched, she was finally happy to know that she had overthrown Lila. She was finally much more established than she was and with her son and her current state, she felt assured that Lila could never hope to reach her heights. So much of Elena’s personality and artistry is sourced with Lila so, it almost makes sense that she would feel defeated in her presence. Interesting though, Lila looked positively welcoming and genuine. It’s as she doesn’t have any ill will towards Elena so maybe all along, she never saw Elena as competition. But there is still the possibility that when burning her book, she wasn’t just attempting to erase a reminder of her hopes but to also show her resentment towards Elena since she left her behind but I doubt it.
In the final minutes of this season of My Brilliant Friend, we find Elena at her book reading event to introduce her work. Everyone seems to be in awe of her story except for one man who resoundingly talks about how distasteful he found her work. “It seems dated,” he said. “Are we still telling stories about the wretched? That is, wretched women?” He was obtuse and clearly oblivious to the scant lives of his neighbours, just a couple of hours away, despite this, he was firm about how naive he found her. It’s interesting that in that moment, Elena said nothing. She just sat there quiet and uncomfortable instead of explaining her process, waiting I guess, for someone to save her from the situation which, Nino (Francesco Serpico) ends up doing. The fact that she was so happy to see Nino was kind of disappointing to see. Had she not learned anything from their past? Nino is only interested in Lila and the selfish personality that he shares with his father means only one thing: he will bring her trouble. Maybe he might tease her with an affair and ruin the relationship with Pietro, or he might just break her heart again by using her to reach Lila. Whatever it is, Elena needs to be careful.