[Editor’s note: The following review contains spoilers for the Season 2 finale of “My Brilliant Friend,” titled “The Blue Fairy.”]
“The Blue Fairy” is a low-key, gentle yet mostly joyous final hour of the second season of “My Brilliant Friend,” which wrapped Monday night. The eighth and last episode is loyal to the ending of the second book in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, “The Story of a New Name,” so much so that, without a Season 3 to immediately dive into, you might find yourself headed to your bookshelf to revisit the third book, “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.”
Buoyed no doubt by the show’s strong international fan base — that includes you, loyal readers, who’ve been following along with me all season — HBO renewed Saverio Costanzo’s jewel of a series for a Season 3. But with production among many things in Italy obviously halted, how long will it be until we get to see it? Either way, at least we know it’s coming, as it would’ve been a shame if Ferrante’s novels couldn’t continue to reach the small screen, and masterfully at that.
The final moment of “The Blue Fairy” is, naturally, an agonizing feint of titillation. Now graduated from university in Pisa and engaged in a stable (if somewhat vanilla) relationship, Lenu (Margherita Mazzucco) has published her first novel — and only in her early 20s — titled “The Digression.” It’s an account resembling everything we have so far seen in the series, with particular focus on the events of that summer in Ischia, which tore Lenu and Lila (Gaia Girace) violently apart, and soured Lenu’s innocence forever. In the last scene, she’s fulfilling the dull duty of an author book talk, and despite gushing plaudits from her host, she finds herself being mansplained to by the men in the audience about how her novel’s racy bits are tawdry smut, and the “dated” ravings of an uneducated woman.
Of course, to save the day, suddenly appears Nino Sarratore (Francesco Serpico) as if out from the ether, here to put that mansplainer in his place. Lenu has not seen or heard from Nino since the days when he absconded with Lila to their lovers’ hovel in Naples and, well, that didn’t work out, and he sort of disappeared from the female consciousness of Naples. Nino has read Lenu’s book, and loved it, praising its modernity, which obviously warms a blushing, bashful Lenu, who’s bewildered and delighted to see him, just as the story cuts to black and the credits roll.
Things are finally looking up for Lenu who, last week, cursed the fact that her life was but a series of “almosts” before tossing Lila’s most personal effects into the river. But, as it turns out, it’s more like Lila who’s life is a series of “almosts.” Now, she’s living in another sketchy corner of Naples, working at a salami factory while her neighbor takes care of her young son Rinuccio, with Enzo (Giovanni Buselli) helping to raise him when he’s not studying at night. Even if Lila’s life is a series of almosts — whether almost escaping from Naples, and only partially escaping her relationship with Stefano (Giovanni Amura) — she actually seems the happiest she’s ever been here, even if her life is mostly about mucking through the blood and entrails at the salami factory.
The title, “The Blue Fairy,” refers to a short story Lila wrote when she was 10, which her schoolteacher Miss Oliviero sends in the mail to Lenu in this episode. Lenu tracks down Lila after connecting with Ada Cappuccio (Ulrike Migliaresi), now a smoking, nervous wreck living with Stefano and their lovechild; once she does, she credits Lila and “The Blue Fairy” for inspiring her novel. Lila thinks that’s crazy, and leafs through the book before tossing it over an open flame, determined to turn the page on her unrealized dreams and talents.
Directing this week’s finale, Saverio Costanzo stays out of the way in terms of style and lets the story tell itself. Or, he’s telling it so well, and invisibly, that it appears to be telling itself. Alice Rohrwacher supplied the most’s vivid and adventurous episodes of the season, back during the Ischia days, but Costanzo’s subdued work behind the camera is equally powerful, with special attention this week to loaded gazes and pauses. The best example is probably the silent but weighted exchange between Lila and Ada, who shows up at the Carracci house after being beaten by Stefano for telling Lila the truth about her affair with her husband. Together, you can see these two women decide to become a united front against a terrible, tiny man, smiling through the pain knowing they’ve outsmarted him once again.
These eight episodes of “My Brilliant Friend” this season have been a lovely, bittersweet way to spend the quarantine thus far. If, like me, you’re grasping to fill the void, your best bet is likely a subscription to The Criterion Channel, where you can check out the kinds of ’50s and ’60s Italian arthouse movies that inspired “My Brilliant Friend” the series, such as the early films of Bernardo Bertolucci or Roberto Rossellini, or the work of Michelangelo Antonioni, all bracing modernists whose spirits live in the hours of the show.
“My Brilliant Friend” premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET on HBO.