Heartstopper Season 2 Review: Give Us All The Queer Stories!

Image: Netflix / Samuel Dore

I know that all stories aren’t for everybody, but I honestly think that Heartstopper has something for everyone. Based on the webcomic by Alice Oseman, Heartstopper is the story of British teenagers Charlie Spring and Nick Nelson and their assorted friends and families. Season 1 was insanely popular, and Heartstopper Season 2 dropped on Netflix on August 3.

Heartstopper Season 2 adapts the third collected volume. Season 1 actually adapted the first two volumes, so with less source material to bring from page to screen, that gave the creative team the opportunity to flesh out some of the side characters and introduce some original content (Elle’s art show, prom). As much as I loved season 1, I have to say that I think season 2 is better for that reason. Season 1 is the introduction; it’s a more basic queer coming out and coming-of-age story. Two boys meet and explore their feelings for each other, and this causes a sexuality crisis in one of them, who never thought he was anything but straight.

Season 1 was a very insulated feeling, primarily focusing on Nick and his journey of self-discovery. The first season ends with a joyful beach date where Nick shouts his feelings at the sea and tells Charlie that he wants to come out, and then does so to his mother in a very touching scene.

The second season of Heartstopper picks up literally the next day, with Nick gleefully informing Charlie that he came out to his mother and it went really well. This inspires him to want to come out to other people, but as the season goes on, he keeps shying away from possibilities.

Heartstopper is a queer story in every sense of the word, because nothing else really quite shines a light on what LGBTQ+ teens (and adults) have to experience on a regular basis. Coming out isn’t just a one-time thing; it happens every time you meet someone, because we still live in such a heteronormative society.

What I love about Heartstopper Season 2 is that it doesn’t back down from these awkward moments. Not everything goes as well as Nick coming out to his mother. He backs off several times when attempting to come out to his rugby friends and his father. There are multiple reassurances from various characters throughout the season that Nick doesn’t owe anyone anything. He can come out in his own time; he doesn’t need to come out to a person if he doesn’t want to.

But he very much does want to. This is especially obvious on their class trip to Paris, where both Charlie and Nick separately wish that they could be open about their relationship. Charlie expresses this to Tara, where he tells her that he’s jealous of how she and Darcy don’t have to hide. Meanwhile, Nick is encouraged to grab Charlie’s hand when he sees another gay couple walking down the street.

These little moments are everywhere in season 2 and they perfectly encapsulate the importance of having queer stories out there in the world. With everything going on right now on this planet, but particularly in the United States, these stories need to be seen (and read) by as wide an audience as possible. Nick seeing Tara and Darcy kissing in season 1 is what prompted him to go back and find Charlie for their own kiss; likewise, his seeing another gay couple walking closely together prompts him to grab Charlie’s hand. 

Charlie (Joe Locke) and Nick (Kit Connor). Image: Teddy Cavendish/Netflix

It’s why I love that Heartstopper continually radiates queer joy. Nick and Charlie are so happy and so in love for so much of the season. Someone out there is watching these kids’ journey and it’s the catalyst for their own. Seeing these characters struggle but persevere, find a welcoming community, stand up for themselves… These things are vital. We need to know that we can be happy, even if sometimes it feels like the world is going to end.

And Nick and Charlie each get to stand up to their demons and their bullies. Nick, tired of his father making assumptions despite knowing nothing about his life, comes out to him in a flurry at the dinner table, and then turns on his homophobic brother, who has been tormenting him most of the season. Charlie, meanwhile, gets to tell Ben off for the way he treated him throughout their toxic relationship. Charlie also gets to tell Harry off a couple of times, although in much briefer exchanges. (Although I laughed out loud when Charlie shut the door in Harry’s face.)

I love the dichotomy between their two families. Charlie is out to his family and they’re supportive, at least until spending all of his time with Nick starts to affect Charlie’s grades. Nick is only out to his mother at the beginning, and then his brother finds out by accident (and is a jackass about it) and then tries to out Nick to their father. It’s so important to me that Nick’s mother stands up for him with both her ex and her oldest son. It’s also important to me that Tori is such a great sister because that moment where she kicked David’s phone out of his hand and called him pathetic cleared my skin and watered my crops.

Heartstopper maintains a delicate balance of queer joy but also depicting the realities of being queer in our current world. Charlie talks about how he was so surprised by the severity of his bullying because he didn’t realize that level of homophobia still existed in the world. And I think it’s important to show both sides of it – that there will be people who will be incredibly supportive, but there will also be people who are, you know, very much not supportive. For so long, queer stories were tragic and unhappy and usually someone died, so I’m very much in favor of happy endings where the characters actually get to live.

Both Nick and Charlie get a lot of growth in season 2. But season 2 gives all of the characters, not just the two of them, more depth. Tara and Darcy, who for season 1 were primarily accessories to Nick’s coming out journey, are given their own problems, their own arc, and even their own parents. Tao, Elle, Isaac, and even Imogen also get their own things to do. And all of these stories are equally as important to tell as Nick and Charlie’s.

Tara and Darcy were an established couple in season 1, but in season 2 we can see that even the seemingly perfect couple is not always what they seem. In fact, we found out this season that despite having been friends for years, Tara has never been to Darcy’s house or met her parents. This is because Darcy’s home life is not great, and she’s been trying to shield Tara from it because Tara struggled so much with coming to terms with her identity.

Tara (Corrina Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell). Image: Teddy Cavendish/Netflix

This is an important story to tell because it highlights the consequences of not telling people important things. Darcy thought that Tara wanted the cool, confident lesbian, so that’s what she became to her. However, that meant that Darcy also thought she had nowhere to turn when she had nowhere to go, because she didn’t want to shatter that illusion for Tara. She wants to be a safe space for her girlfriend, and that meant not letting her in on her own issues.

Their storyline mirrors the main one with Nick and Charlie, in that Charlie is also keeping things from Nick, but for very different reasons. Season 1 hinted that there was something up with Charlie, but season 2 comes right out with it: Charlie is still dealing with the trauma of his outing and the consequent bullying. This has resulted in disordered eating, which still continues, and self-harm, which he says he no longer does. He hasn’t talked to Nick about these things because he doesn’t want to be a burden.

Charlie’s struggles are a very common ordeal for those with mental health problems. A lot of us tend to downplay our problems because we don’t want to bother people. Like, sure, people are allowed to be sad, but what if you have depression and you feel that way all the time, surely eventually people will get annoyed with you and stop talking to you. (Some of us maybe went through that in 10th grade and it affected us so badly we’re still in denial about our own issues.)

Like Darcy, Charlie feels like he has to be happy and perfect for Nick; after all, that’s who Nick started to like, and he might not like Charlie anymore if he knows the truth. Darcy literally tells Tara this is her fear, and it’s why she kept the truth from her. But Nick and Tara both reassure their partners that they want to know the messy stuff. No one is perfect, and you shouldn’t have to be performative in your private life. Communication is important, that’s why it’s such a big focus of this season.

Tao and Elle’s story continues from season 1 in that “will-they-or-won’t-they” fashion, but of course, the answer is that they will. I really loved their storyline because it so perfectly demonstrates how weird it is to transition from “friend” to “more”. Tao tries to make their first date perfect for Elle but then he himself doesn’t enjoy what he’s planned, which of course affects the mood. Elle likes him for who he is, so when he tries to be something different, it makes things weird. This is why you should always be your most authentic version!

Also, I’m not going to lie, they were super cute. Tao’s reaction to Elle seeing him shirtless was priceless.

Tao (Will Gao) and Elle (Yasmin Finney). © Netflix / See-Saw

I won’t presume to speak for the trans community, but I do think it’s really great how they gave Elle a romance subplot and something outside of a relationship as well. I’m sure a lot of trans teens worry about how they’ll be accepted after they transition, and if they’ll be able to find love. And then here is Elle, happy and thriving, with a friend group that is supportive of her identity, her relationship, and her art.

Isaac’s story is the one that really resonated with me, for obvious reasons. I know what it’s like to be the seventh wheel. I know what it’s like to look around at a seemingly endless sea of romantic couples and wonder if there’s something wrong with you. I felt terrible when he told James that, because he didn’t feel anything when they kissed, it must mean that he doesn’t like him the way he thought he did. Isaac is floundering for much of the season – at one point he can’t even find refuge in his ever-present (and growing) book collection. It isn’t until he is introduced to the idea of asexuality that he starts to settle into his skin again.

This is why, again, it’s important for the queer experience to be documented across various forms of media. While at Elle’s art show, which is all about spotlighting queer artists, Isaac is captivated by a particular piece. The artist starts talking to Isaac about how it represents him coming to terms with being ace and aro, and that is Isaac’s lightbulb moment. Isaac is more fortunate than me in that he’s introduced to the concept of asexuality at a young age; I was in my 30s before I realized that’s what I was. I wish I would have had something like Heartstopper when I was a teenager.

Imogen, like Isaac, is a show-only character. She annoyed me in season 1, but I do like how the group embraces her in season 2. She’s a kid, she’s going to make mistakes and say cringe things the way we all did when we were 15. I especially love how protective Nick is of her because even though things got awkward with her crush on him, they are friends, and that’s important to him. And it looks like, based on her reaction to Sahar playing the guitar at prom (eerily reminiscent of Kitty watching Yuri DJ in XO, Kitty) that maybe Imogen will have her own journey in season 3.

Heartstopper Season 2 also gives a subplot to the teachers chaperoning the Paris trip: Mr. Ajayi (who you will remember from season 1) and Mr. Farouk. This is from the webcomic and I’m so glad they adapted it into the show. Again, it’s the importance of queer stories of all ages. Mr. Farouk admits that he didn’t realize he was gay until he was in his late 20s (dude, I empathize); as someone in the same position, I really appreciate seeing that situation represented and I wish that was something that was depicted more often. 

Image: Samuel Dore © 2022, Netflix Inc.

Something else that was really important to me about season 2 is how much we got to see the kids be kids but also be friends. There were some moments in season 1, but as I mentioned, the story felt really insulated because it was primarily about Nick and Charlie and their relationship was a secret for so much of it. Heartstopper Season 2 gives us a full season of everyone in on the secret, hanging out together, having fun and being there for each other. Nick and Charlie checking on Imogen after she loudly dumps Ben at dinner. Everyone rallying together to help Tara and Sahar decorate for prom. Everyone ditching prom to hang out at Nick’s house.

Heartstopper Season 2 is everything I wanted and more. It’s a continuation of what made the first season so great, but it also expands on it. We get more queer characters, more queer stories, happiness and heartbreak and friendship and romance. I have really high hopes for season 3.

Now, I’m off to watch this about 8 more times!

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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