Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many Right in the Feels posts here at NGN! This feature will break down some of my favorite emotional moments from TV shows, movies, books, etc., so feel free to share some moments you’d like to see me cover in the comments or on Twitter!
Oh, my life is changing every day
In every possible way
And oh, my dreams
It’s never quite as it seems
(Never quite as it seems)
There’s no better song to capture the spirit of Derry Girls—a show about teenagers growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1990s as the Troubles surround them with sectarian violence—than “Dreams” by The Cranberries.
This is a show about the universal life changes all teenagers deal with, but like the song says, it’s never quite as it seems.
Growing up in the middle of a traumatic historical event changes things.
And never was that dichotomy between ordinary teenage life and extraordinarily violent times made more explicit—or more moving—than at the end of the show’s Season One finale.
As Orla performs her step aerobics routine at the school talent show, she becomes the target of snickering and jeering before her cousin Erin and the rest of her friends (Michelle, Clare, and James) stand up for her and join her onstage. It’s a pitch-perfect moment of friendship that would have been enough on its own to end the season on a moving note, but it’s what comes after that takes this scene from an uplifting celebration to something far more bittersweet—and more beautiful.
As the teens dance, Erin’s family is shown watching a news report of a bombing that left at least 12 people dead. As the adults take in this traumatic event, the background music from Orla’s routine cuts out, allowing the tension to make its presence felt in a visceral way.
But then, the music starts again, and this time, it’s The Cranberries singing about life changing every day.
The episode ends with intercut moments of triumph and tragedy—life and loss. The teens continue to dance and laugh, blissfully unaware of what’s happening, while the adults stare right at the carnage on their TV screen. It’s a perfect visual representation of innocence in a world that is anything but innocent. They’re not dancing while the world around them burns because they don’t care; they’re doing it because they don’t know. Because they’re kids. And kids shouldn’t have to know.
But in the same breath, they’re not really kids anymore, either. Teenagers occupy a strange space between being too young to ignore the horrible parts of life and being too old to fully understand and accept them. So we know that once they get off the stage and get home, their worlds will get a little scarier; they’ll grow up a little bit more. Some part of the carefree light that surrounded them on that stage is going to dim.
But we also know it’s not going to go out completely.
Because they have each other.
These Derry Girls (and James!) have each other to lean on when the world gets dark, and if this moment shows us anything, it’s that having people to hold onto when the world spins out of control is the only thing we can hope for.
It’s what makes Joe reaching out to touch Gerry on the shoulder so moving. It’s the first kindness we’ve ever seen him show his son-in-law, and in that moment, it becomes clear just how much human connection can anchor us when we’re seemingly adrift in a sea of chaos.
When we’re forced to confront senseless violence and hatred, that’s when we’re called to love each other even more openly.
Love reminds us of the beauty in this world when all we can see is brutality. And we need that. Because life is made up of both—the brutal and the beautiful. This scene is a reminder that joy and pain are always going to be parts of life. Nothing is all good or all bad.
That’s what growing up in the middle of a traumatic time in history is all about. It’s the understanding that you can’t stop dancing with your friends (or fighting with them about dumb things or worrying about homework or loving boy bands) just because the world around you is a mess. Because in some ways, the world is always going to be a mess.
Innocence and painful experience. Kindness and violence. Laughter and tears.
Growing up means understanding that life is never just one thing. But it also means finding the people who will walk through this messy, crazy, complicated life with you. The ones you’ll dance with when you feel on top of the world and the ones you’ll stand with in front of a TV as the bad news drags you down.
The world these characters inhabit may seem bleak, but it’s not quite that simple.
As The Cranberries remind us…It’s never quite as it seems.
Katie! This is so beautiful. “In some ways, the world is always going to be a mess.” That’s just it. Life isn’t just one thing, but it’s important that they have this moment of innocence and friendship. Also, Orla’s dance is supposed to be set to “Like a Prayer,” but they had to change it in the States, which is an Alias streaming soundtrack-level downgrade. (If you haven’t seen the original, it’s here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfTzDOE2rSo)
Thank you, Kelly! And thanks for the link—it’s even better with that song (which is my all-time favorite Madonna jam). Why can we never get the good music on streaming???? (I mean, I logically know the answer, but I just want what was originally supposed to be there at all times!)
Oh my God, I had been holding off on this one to catch up and I finally read it. “It becomes clear just how much human connection can anchor us when we’re seemingly adrift in a sea of chaos.” You took one of my favorite scenes, from one of my favorite shows that I could not put into words and brought so much more beauty to it. Thank you for this one, Katie. I rewatched this show sometime recently (who knows when, time is a social construct nowadays anyway), and once I got to this scene again, I ugly cried then got up, put this song on replay and went on a long walk because I just couldn’t deal with everything happening. So thank you for this post!