Welcome back to the Unicorn Scale! This review is for season two of Heartstopper, a show, as we’ll soon see, that warrants season-by-season reviews if for no other reason than we’ve never seen bi representation quite like this. The characters and the actors who play them have become part of meme culture and trended, sometimes controversially, in the bi community and beyond. While anything but militantly queer, the show sidesteps stereotypical LGBT representation such as the “bury your gays” and queer misery tropes and even breaks many expectations for teen dramas as a whole. If you’re interested, you can see our season one review here, including some background info about the Heartstopper series and how it came to be.
Should you be new around these parts, you may want to check out our Unicorn Scale primer. Alright, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s wrap up the formalities with a quick SPOILER ALERT. Plot points from the series may be revealed, although this show isn’t especially reliant upon plot twists and the series is true to the comics which have been out for years.
Season two begins immediately where season one ends: high school rugby star Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) and Charlie Spring, the school’s openly gay kid, are officially boyfriends and Nick comes out to this mom. The season two premiere, simply titled “Out”, begins with the next day. Nick and Charlie are DMing love messages back and forth, basking in the newness of their now-official boyfriend status. With their relationship status cemented, Nick struggles with the process of coming out, scared of being bullied, shamed, and ostracized, but also having too much integrity to feel good about having to sneak around or lie about his relationship with Charlie. That pretty much sets up the premise for the entire season.
What I Liked:
Like the first season, season two continues to be refreshingly positive. It’s also progressive without being preachy, dogmatic, or feeling artificial and forced like so many shows made over the last few years. An upgrade compared to the first season is that we get to focus a lot more on characters beyond Nick and Charlie, a natural progression which makes the world in which they all exist feel more real. It handles some serious topics such as anorexia, abusive relationships, and absentee fathers, while managing to mix them in with lighter and neutral moments that help the series avoid the trap of serving up trauma porn. The show remains a breath of fresh air, allowing us to reside, for an episode at a time, in a fictional world that is largely realistic and relatable about the struggles we face, yet also embodies so many of the hopes and aspirations of LGBT people for belonging.
As with the first season, the bi representation in the eight episodes of season two is top-notch in every way and manages to be age-appropriate for its young adult audience. What impressed me most was how Heartstopper manages to explore the concept of identity maintenance — the extra work we bi people have to go through in order to, well, maintain our identity in a society that assumes bisexuality is unstable, temporary, and even fake. As hard as it is for gay and lesbian people to come out, people tend to believe them and don’t require a never-ending process of re-affirming their identity every few months.
Woven through the season, Nick has to repeatedly deal with bi erasure when people assume or even insist he’s really gay. But true to Heartstopper form, the show doesn’t go into screeds or preach to us about the evils of bi erasure and biphobia. Instead, Nick handles such situations with a matter-of-fact “I’m bi, actually.” It’s refreshing to watch a show that doesn’t rely on suffering and unnecessary drama in order to drive the narrative.
What I Didn't Like:
Season 1 ended with Nick dramatically leaving the field in the middle of an all-school rugby game, running over to Charlie, grabbing his hand and running off together.
While. Everyone. Watched.
Yet somehow, the next day nobody knows Nick and Charlie are a couple and everyone thinks Nick is straight. I still can’t decide if that is horrible writing or a brilliant depiction of bi erasure — people’s ability to look at living, breathing examples of bisexuality right in front of them and see nothing.
As much as I love this series and admire how it manages to avoid hypersexualizing teens like most other shows, at times it’s just a little too de-sexualized to be believable. As an example, one of the highlights of the season is a joint class trip of the Truham (boys’) and Higgs (girls’) schools to Paris. Far away from their parents and with only two chaperones, of course the students sense an opportunity to explore their sexuality. And yet, when they do, they hardly seem like hormone-fueled teenagers.
Sex throughout the series essentially consists of kissing. In what is nearly a parody of consent culture, during one kissing session in the fifth episode, Nick asks Charlie for permission to kiss his neck. Charlie consents, and somehow instantly winds up with a huge hickey that becomes a major whodunnit plot point when the rest of the class notices.
When assigned to their various hotel rooms, Nick and Charlie’s friends unthinkingly and rudely keep the couple from sharing a bed. Understandably, Nick and Charlie are deeply frustrated and console themselves by falling asleep while holding hands across the gap between the two double beds. When they do finally get a moment alone in the room, they break out in a tickle-and-pillow-fight, followed by a brief makeout session that results in both of them declaring that they aren’t ready for “it” yet and then using their precious time alone in bed to... talk. It feels more like slash fiction (a genre largely created by and appealing to the appetites of women, often specifically looking for safer depictions of sexuality) than anything close to an accurate depiction of teenage lust and desire between bi/gay young men. If it were just Nick and Charlie who were so timid and sanitized around sex, I could perhaps buy it. But so far, every couple in Heartbreaker behaves like this.
Given Heartstopper’s Gold Star bi representation and its ability to avoid the hypersexualization that plagues most media set in high school settings, I’m happy to forgive the sometimes overly sanitized depiction of sexuality in the source material and TV show. And besides, it fits in with the general mood and feeling of the series. Heartbreaker season two has already given our community a new mantra: “I’m bi, actually!” and for that, it deserves no less than a perfect score of 4 unicorns.