With The Dropout scheduled to air its final episode next week, Hulu is moving on to another 8-hour miniseries about another young blonde woman who was at the center of a media firestorm. The Girl From Plainville stars Elle Fannie as Michelle Carter, a teenager who was convicted of more or less goading her “boyfriend,” Conrad Roy (played by Colton Ryan, who was one of the few good things about Dear Evan Hansen) into killing himself.
It was a case that got a lot of attention and Michelle was, for a few months, everyone’s favorite heartless villain. She was eventually convicted of manslaughter and, after several appeals, was eventually sentenced to 15 months in prison. She served 11 and is currently free. She’s 25 years old and has already experienced not only prison but also being briefly the most hated person in the country. And yet, for all the attention that she received, no one has ever been able to determine just why exactly she told Conrad Roy that he should kill himself or why she went as far as to order him to do so, even after he said he had changed his mind. There was a lot of speculation that Conrad perhaps thought that he and Michelle had a suicide pact, one that Michelle didn’t follow through on. It’s also undeniable that, after Conrad’s suicide, Michelle made herself the center of attention. Before her final text messages to Conrad were discovered, Michelle organized a charity softball game in his memory. Of course, she held the game in her hometown instead of Conrad’s and apparently, she went out of her way not to involve any of Conrad’s friends or family in her efforts. Could Michelle have pressured Conrad to kill himself just so she could use his death to be the center of everyone’s attention?
The first three episodes of The Girl From Plainville dropped on Hulu earlier this week and they certainly suggest that Michelle could be capable of doing it all for the attention. At the same time, they also suggest that Michelle herself probably didn’t truly understand what she did or why she did it. As played by Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan, both Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy come across as two people who didn’t have much of a connection with reality. Conrad, or Coco as his friends and family call him, wants to escape a home life that is dominated by the constant bickering between his divorced parents. He’s at his happiest when he gets a summer job working on a fishing boat and he’s miserable when he has to return to the “real” world, where he’s anxious around people his own age and he’s constantly being used as a pawn in his mother and father’s never ending battles. Meanwhile, Michelle is so detached that she has to watch an episode of Glee in order to come up with something to say after Conrad’s suicide. Conrad’s family is earthy, loud, and working class while Michelle’s family is reserved and wealthy but both families have raised children who feel like permanent outsiders. Indeed, it seems almost preordained that they would eventually find each other and both Colton Ryan and Elle Fanning do a good job of bringing Conrad and Michelle to life.
That said, as I watched the first three episodes of The Girl from Plainville, I did find myself wondering if there was anything more to say about this case. After the endless news coverage, one Lifetime movie, one HBO special, and countless “ripped from the headlines” episodes of Law & Order: SVU, are there any new insights left to be gleaned from the story of Michelle and Conrad? With a story this terrible, one’s natural tendency is to search for a deeper meaning but is there really one there? What if, for all the speculation, Michelle really was just a heartless monster who manipulated Conrad into suicide because she knew she could? In short, is there enough here to really justify spending 8 hours with someone like Michelle Carter?
I guess we’ll find out over the upcoming few weeks.