(Image from Heartstopper Season 2 Poster on Netflix).
When Netflix released the first season of Heartstopper back in April 2022, it became a commercial success and a beloved series to many who watched it. Eliana Dockterman, a critic for TIME Magazine, wrote of how the show was “an absolute treat, full of delightful touches [...] that punctuate its headiest moments and call back to the scribbly intensity of the comic” (TIME Magazine, 2023). In many ways, this delightfulness continues into the second season of the show, but this time with a greater emphasis on relationships beyond the leading characters.
As Dockterman mentions, the Heartstopper show was inspired by the comic series of the same name by Alice Oseman. Securing her first publishing deal at 17, with her first novel Solitaire published in 2014, Oseman wrote Heartstopper in 2016, with the characters of Nick and Charlie becoming the main characters after featuring in Solitaire (The New York Times, 2023). In October 2018, Hachette Children’s Group (HCG) acquired the rights to physically publish Heartstopper, with the series, thus far, accumulating into four volumes from 2019 until 2021, with a fifth, sixth, and final volume announced to be released in 2023 (The New York Times, 2023). Focusing on mental health and LGBTQIA+ relationships, Heartstopper was a commercial success within the book industry even before it was adapted to television, which explains many reasons why the Netflix adaptation has made such a large impact on audiences.
With season one ending with the establishment of Nick and Charlie officialising their relationship as a couple and Nick coming out to his mother as bisexual, the second season begins with its focus on this relationship and Nick’s acceptance of his sexuality. Struggling to open up to others outside the main friendship circle, Nick’s eventual coming out to Imogen, his childhood friend, and others, including his father and the entire school, is a heartfelt moment felt throughout the show. It is refreshing to see a show that tackles the fear of revealing one’s sexuality to heteronormative environments, and Nick’s constant affirmation of his bisexuality, denying the stereotyping of being gay simply because he’s dating a guy, is so important. With many shows involving any form of LGBTQIA+ dynamics often ignoring the existence of bisexuality, also known as ‘bi-erasure’, it is refreshing to see Nick so open about it, particularly in a context that is never overtly sexual in character.
Charlie’s character development is also integral to this season, with a particular focus on his mental health as focused significantly within the comic books. Beginning the season with his emotional dependence on Nick and his desire to ensure that Nick’s coming out never becomes as horrible as his own experience, Charlie runs into some trouble with his parents over this reliance as it begins to affect his grades. Later, pushing through this issue, the show follows Nick, Charlie, and their friends on a trip to Paris, with the holiday allowing Charlie and Nick’s relationship to become more intimate, in the way that young teenagers begin to learn how kissing works. Left with a hickey after Nick kissed Charlie’s throat the night before, the school begins to question the sudden hickey before Nick eventually reveals it was him, starting the first part of Nick’s coming out to a wider part of the school. However, more significantly, Nick begins to notice Charlie’s lack of appetite throughout the entire trip, with Charlie later admitting his eating disorder to Nick after fainting on the trip. After a meal between their families and one prom later, the show ends with Nick asking Charlie more about his past bullying experience. Charlie opens up about the horrible experience, and how it caused him to self-harm and self-destruct. After Nick comforts him and makes Charlie promise to open up to him if anything happens, Charlie reluctantly accepts before going home, debating sending the message: ‘I love you’.
Despite the significantly darker themes in the second season, the show still maintains the same spirit and the joy of young love. It is a testament to the story that it is able to retain this youthfulness and happiness whilst still tackling deeper issues of mental health, the effects of bullying, and the struggle for acceptance for and within LGBTQIA+ communities. These issues are prominent in the other relationships focused on in the show: Elle and Tao, Imogen and Ben, and Darcy and Tara.
For Elle and Tao, a relationship that was softly explored in the first season, in many ways, their relationship has the most focus within this season in establishing them as a couple. Beginning the season with both facing uncertainties about forming a romantic relationship, Elle’s visits to the Lambert School of Art and making more friends leave Tao jealous, which becomes a hurdle throughout the season. So, when Tao asks Elle out and she accepts by episode 3, it feels somewhat predictable that the date ends badly due to Tao’s jealousy over Elle getting closer to her new friends from Lambert, and his own insecurities of loneliness and seemingly ruining every situation. Although Tao later apologises and they become friends once more, it does feel like a rather quickly settled issue, and it would have been more enjoyable to delve into Tao’s insecurities beyond his guilt for accidentally being the reason for Charlie’s coming out to the school. Nevertheless, it is extremely heart-warming when Elle and Tao finally kiss in Paris and establish themselves as a couple by the Prom episode. It was enjoyable to watch the trials and tribulations before they became a couple, and even more so because the troubles felt like what teenagers their age go through: insecurities, a fear of the next step, and learning how to emotionally consider your partner’s needs. Moreover, it felt refreshing that it was Tao, the straight man of the group, who struggled more, and not Elle, particularly when many shows often explore the difficulties of transness. It felt refreshing that, although it is subtly noted that Elle’s transition did not come without persecution, it was not the main focus or ‘issue’ within their relationship.
While a ‘romantic relationship’ doesn't quite cut it for Imogen and Ben, with the latter never establishing within the show that he actually has any feelings for Imogen, it’s still an interesting and significant part of the story. It keeps Ben still in the picture until episode seven and gives more character development to Imogen, something she needed after season one Imogen’s “I’m an ally” characterisation. Despite her dating, and later breaking up with Ben, Imogen is a significantly more enjoyable character this time around, with the show establishing her close friendship with Nick and her good intentions, even if she clearly still misunderstands parts of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is reasonable, however, because it would feel unrealistic if Imogen suddenly became the ‘perfect ally’ and understood the LGBTQIA+ to a fault, which gives more realism to the character’s growing acceptance. Ben retains his strange obsession with Charlie, to Imogen’s chagrin. Ben’s growing displeasure with Imogen’s company and his continued intimidation towards Charlie led to Imogen breaking up with him mid-way through the season. Ben’s final appearance appears in episode seven, where he asks Charlie to forgive his past actions, but Charlie refuses, stating that Ben’s apology is only for self-validation and nothing more. Ben then leaves the scene, and the audience is left with the ‘villain’ of the story thus far being bested by Nick and Charlie, who rightly deny his weak attempts for forgiveness in the hopes he will work on himself and never inflict the same pain on someone else. It’s a pretty satisfying conclusion, particularly with Charlie defending himself, and it also allows Imogen a further chance to work on themselves morally.
Finally, we have Darcy and Tara, a lesbian couple firmly established from the beginning of the first season. However, this season develops them further and actually allows some conflict to develop the relationship further, rather than simply being the ‘perfect girlfriends’. Tara accidentally admits she loves Darcy one morning at school, but Darcy doesn’t say it back. This leaves Tara feeling insecure and confused, even though she powers through and assures Darcy she doesn’t have to say it back. Throughout the Paris trip, Darcy and Tara’s relationship, although clearly still caring about one another as shown by Darcy organising a birthday party for Tara, feels tense. It is revealed by Darcy, after having drunk too much alcohol, that she loves Tara, and they kiss. All seems well until the final two episodes reveal that Darcy’s mother is homophobic, and a heavy argument forces Darcy to leave her home. Darcy never appears at Prom, and after Tara and the rest of the main cast go to search for her, she is eventually found, and Darcy admits the issues in admitting her feelings stem from the homophobia she experiences at home. They kiss, makeup, and vow to support one another.
Many other relationships and characters are developed. Mr. Ajayi and Mr. Farouk develop feelings for one another during the Paris trip and kiss. Isaac discovers he’s asexual after feeling pressured by the relationships around him to also be in one, particularly after his friend, James, develops a crush on him. All of these relationships and characters explore romance and personal growth in so many ways, showcasing LGBTQIA+ identities and connections in a healthy and non-sexualised manner, realistically portraying how teenagers grow up, develop feelings, and develop their individuality. Tackling deeper issues of mental illness, eating disorders, and homophobia within the family, Heartstopper season two was just as strong, if not stronger, than its predecessor, allowing audiences to witness the trials and tribulations of youth in a realistic way. Whether those watching see themselves in any of the characters, or simply wish to learn more about them, it is a truly enjoyable experience to watch, and we can only look forward to how the next season will pan out.
Edited by: Shahnawaz Chodhry
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