Grace O’Connor ’22
Trigger Warning: This article contains mention of suicide.
The Girl from Plainville, starring Elle Fanning, adapts a case that gripped the nation to the small screen. The true, tragic story behind the show began on July 13, 2014, when teenager Conrad Roy passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning in his truck. His death was originally ruled a suicide, but then investigators discovered that there was more to the story. Roy’s girlfriend, Michelle Carter, was texting him on the day of his death, and she played a significant role in his decision to take his own life.
Carter met Roy in 2012 on a family vacation in Florida. The pair began a texting-based relationship that lasted for almost two years. As Bazaar explains, they “bonded over their mental health struggles. Carter was isolated at school, and suffered from anxiety and an eating disorder that—during the time period of her relationship with Roy—necessitated a stay at a residential clinic. Roy himself had already made several suicide attempts.” Carter became a constant in Roy’s life, helping him through his struggles and finding herself increasingly attached to him as she shared the details of her own struggles with him.
In a statement made soon after Roy’s tragic death, Carter claimed that “Conrad did not kill himself because of bullying like everyone assumes. I know the real reasons.” The real reasons, it would later come out, had much to do with Carter, herself.
With the reveal of Carter’s involvement in Roy’s passing came new questions about the case. According to The Guardian, people began to wonder, “is Michelle a psychopath looking for sympathy? A delusional narcissist? An unwell teenage girl so devoid of self-worth that she psychotically over-identifies with a fictional character? Someone deeply moved by television?” The Guardian’s mention of television and fictional characters references Carter’s obsession with Glee, particularly with Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) and Finn Hudson’s (Cory Monteith) relationship. Carter seemed to view her relationship with Roy in terms of the fictional romance, which sees Monteith’s character die.
The first three episodes of The Girl from Plainville focus on the aftermath of Roy’s death and Carter’s seemingly deep remorse. Viewers quickly learn the importance of texting in the pair’s relationship through flashbacks of messages that they sent to one another. In this way, the show does a great job of depicting the reality of the couple’s situation. As The Guardian emphasizes, “The couple, who only met in person a handful of times, were less lovers than voices in each other’s heads. The show captures some of that blurriness, and why adults just didn’t get it, by putting the texts in the actors’ mouths. Their digital conversations (pulled, it seems, from the real texts) play out as fantasy sequences, one imagining the other in the room with them, staring ravenously at them, as they type.”
The Girl from Plainville does not shy away from the ugliness of its story. Later episodes show Carter pushing Roy to end his life—still through text messages—feeding on his vulnerability. Additionally, in episode six, viewers learn how Carter’s loneliness and lack of true friends exacerbated her eating disorder and other personal struggles. Although the show is careful to not turn Carter into a sympathetic figure, it makes it possible for viewers to empathize with her, even if only for a few moments.
Overall, despite its heavy plot, Girl from Plainville brings awareness to mental health and the importance of helping others who may be struggling. The talented cast did an excellent job of vividly portraying this tragic story.