In July 2014, Conrad Roy III (Colton Ryan) was found dead by suicide in a K-Mart parking lot. Despite his history with mental illness, no one was expecting this turn of events. Conrad had been enjoying a trip to the beach with his mom just hours before. That very same day, his mother Lynn Roy (Chloë Sevigny) finds suicide notes that Conrad left behind–one for his dad and one for his friend Michelle.
Detective Gordon (Kelly AuCoin) is responsible for closing the investigation. As he sets about tying up loose ends, he discovers messages on Conrad’s cellphone and notices some incongruencies. A series of texts have been deleted in the hours prior to his death, and another message suggests that Michelle – the recipient – might have known that he was contemplating ending his life.
As for Michelle? Well, she seems deeply affected by Conrad’s passing, but at certain moments, her attitude seems slightly . . . inappropriate. She’s too grief-stricken. Too involved in the family’s mourning. Almost too . . . happy with the attention she’s receiving. Neither Michelle nor Conrad’s parents had any idea that their children were even close.
No one else seems to think that Michelle and Conrad’s text exchange has any meaning, but Detective Gordon knows that’s false. Words are weapons, and when they’re wielded over a screen, there’s no telling what someone’s true intentions are.
The Girl from Plainville is based on an infamous true story. As creators Liz Hannah and Patrick Macmanus obviously intended, the limited series is eerie. The bright and cheery California setting is a stark contrast to the darkness of the subject matter. Upon the surface, the series feels like a classic teen drama. But something moves underneath those waters. Aside from the focus on teenage suicide, each episode hints at a deeper, more disturbing truth that most of the main players don’t realize.
One can see from her dimensional portrayal of Michelle Carter that Elle Fanning is an actress who’s very much in control of herself. Her ability to go from sobbing, to angry, to feeling disappointed, to smirking in the span of a few minutes or so makes her embodiment of the clearly devious Michelle that much more convincing, and terrifying. Fanning’s performance can be likened in many ways to Freddie Highmore’s portrayal of Norman Bates on A&E’s series Bates Motel. Both characters work to hide the fragility and the surmounting insanity underneath with a mask that doesn’t quite fit.
The Hulu limited series focuses on mental health as much as it does the shocking revelations that unfolded during the investigation. Although the opening message at the beginning of each episode reminds viewers that some aspects have been fictionalized for television, especially right now when technology is a huge part of youth culture and growing up, nothing is too far-fetched.
The Girl from Plainville turns a spotlight on the dark shadows that hang over us. Parenting is hard and it’s impossible to know everything that’s happening with one’s child, especially when their battles are being waged inside their heads. Young adults are impressionable, and Conrad and Michelle’s intimately toxic relationship proves that.
It’s society’s responsibility to look after those who struggle to look after themselves. We need to hold each other accountable. Often, the signs, those pleas for help are there – we just have to be willing to look a bit harder.
The Girl From Plainville is premiered on Hulu on March 29
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95