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.