In a season where the Lawsons are undergoing civil disputes and pop-up weddings, you wouldn’t be to blame for unknowingly skimming over the burgeoning arc of This Life’s biggest outsider. Now it’s time to reflect and take note: the series’ other charismatic super mom, Nicole Breen, is arguably undergoing the series’ most profound sea change.
If you’re already nodding in agreement, it’s probably thanks in part to Marianne Farley’s riveting portrayal of a woman who’s no longer able to cling on to the perfect life.
Last season, Nicole’s aspirations were to maintain the illusion of a perfectly crafted nuclear family. An ideal not altogether shared these days by Farley: “I get Nicole. I have a controlling side. I’m a perfectionist. I’m also a feminist [but] perfection is b.s.”
Ever since Matthew’s indiscretions became public knowledge, Nicole’s attempts to control and engineer perfection have ceded to something profound and altogether different.
“Control is an illusion. I’ve learned the hard way,” Farley said, laughing. She’s worked in the French and English entertainment business since the age of thirteen. She’s released an album, starred in countless feature and television productions like White Skin, Les Invincibles, and Uvanga and even directed but regardless of her impressive track record, for the longest time she claims to have wanted more professional breakthroughs.
These days, her experiences have dug up what really drives Farley. “It’s not about landing the big roles, it’s about the relationships you build [...] That’s why I feel blessed to be a part of this show.”
As the Montreal-native was counting her blessings during the winter, inklings about where Nicole was headed started to bubble to the surface. “I felt like emotionally she had to leave [Matthew]. She was extremely devastated and broken down. But I also felt like that breaking point also opened her up to maybe really loving this man.” Now, we’re privy to a different Nicole. A more confident character willing to confront the messiness of her marriage.
Marianne as Nicole, trying to avoid a meltdown in a gutwrenching scene from episode 204, Communion.
Whether Nicole’s actions are echoes of a much larger transformation or a temporary foray, Farley is a strong believer in people’s ability to change: “I’m changing all the time. That’s how I define myself.” A trait that no doubt bubbled to the surface in Nicole and Matthew’s final scene together in “Communion”, when he makes his last ditch effort to salvage their relationship.
“For me that scene is about being completely naked in front of him. Nicole’s losing her shell,” Farley says. In that moment, she believes we get a glimpse of Nicole’s inner struggle. She wants to make her marriage work but is also handcuffed by her inability to reconcile Matthew having had a child with someone else. What this all means for Nicole’s future remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: “She’s creating her own space to make something happen [for herself].”
Fortunately, moments of this sort for characters like Nicole are slowly becoming the norm and painting more complex, outside-the-box roles for women. Remember Breaking Bad’s Skyler White? Instead of conforming to Walter White’s and the audience’s predilections, she performed differently by not being compliant when things were most trying for her husband. In a New York Times op-ed piece published a few years ago, Anna Gunn, the talent behind Skyler, pegs the backlash her character received on audiences’ “own perception of women and wives.” It’s hard to argue that this perception has changed since but these character outliers are accruing company.
Whether we’re watching the gritty Catherine Cawood of Happy Valley, embracing the bad with the good in Cookie Lyon of Empire, or collapsing with laughter with the fresh voices of the ladies behind CBC’s Baroness Von Sketch, complicated women are being written and portrayed more and more often.
“It’s starting to happen for women,” Farley comments. She believes all of these types of representations will empower other women to search for who they really are. “I’m supposed to be the good sister, the good daughter, the good citizen [but] that’s not really what defines you. What defines you is your heart and soul.”
As for what will define Nicole in the episodes and seasons to come, well, it might not be what you think.
I'm Max Morin, Junior Writer, Story Coordinator and your official insider for all things THIS LIFE.