Thursday, August 3, 2023

REVIEW: 'Heartstopper' - Tao Finally Admits His Feelings While Nick and Charlie Struggle to Concentrate at School in 'Family'

Netflix's Heartstopper - Episode 2.02 "Family"

With Charlie's grades slipping, his parents tighten the rules. Tao's jealous when Elle makes new friends. Nick's older brother invades his privacy.

"Family" was written by Alice Oseman and directed by Euros Lyn

Nick and Charlie are struggling with concentration. They are so invested in their relationship. As a result, everything else seems relatively boring. Life is so invigorating and nurturing when they are together. Everything else just fades away. And yet, they can't just disassociate from their lives. This relationship isn't the only thing that matters. Their current academic performances will determine their future opportunities. It's rewarding that the Year 11 students have two weeks of study hall in preparation for their GCSE exams. Pressure is put on these students to do well. The school understands that and gives them the resources to potentially succeed. Mr. Farouk refuses to allow any student to serve as a distraction to everyone else in the room. Studying is hardly the only thing going on in these teenagers' lives though. It's not the only source of pressure. They are dealing with plenty of personal drama elsewhere. Nick is distracted because he's seated next to Ben who projects all of his insecurities onto Nick and Charlie's relationship. Ben wrongly assumes that Nick is no better than he is. That isn't true. Nick and Charlie are out to the people who matter to them. Meanwhile, Ben only ever wanted to be a secret hookup with Charlie occasionally at school. He is still figuring out his sexuality. He expects people to treat him gently for that. That doesn't excuse his behavior though. He is a phenomenal student but a terrible human being. Nick wants to warn Imogen away from Ben. However, it's not his place to tell her about Ben assaulting Charlie. That isn't his truth to share. Similarly, Nick doesn't owe anything to Ben. He doesn't need to keep his former friend updated on the developments in his relationship. Ben doesn't think anything could possibly have changed. Charlie is the same desperate and clingy gay guy who needs constant attention from his crush. Nick and Charlie operate on a deeper level than that. They were always comfortable hanging out beyond school. In fact, they worry about getting caught kissing at school. They still look around to see if anyone can see them kissing. That doesn't matter as much as it once did. They are happy in this little bubble they have created. And yet, life continues to be hard. In the first season, Nick and Charlie were always saying "I'm sorry." It was a phrase they had to ban because they never had anything to truly apologize for. The new phrase appears to be "why is coming out so hard." Charlie wants to protect Nick so this experience can be perfect for him. Not everyone is going to have a positive response to the news though. Nick accepts that even if it shatters Charlie's illusion of what he could do for his boyfriend.

Charlie has more problems with his coursework than Nick does. The teachers don't have anything concerning to bring up to Nick and his mum during the conferences. With Charlie, it's all about him being distracted and falling behind. Charlie doesn't want to blame his new relationship. That's precisely what his mum does. She bans Nick from coming over and Charlie from going to Nick's house until this coursework is done. Charlie still finds a way to sneak out repeatedly. Nothing is going to keep him and Nick apart. Charlie shows concern for Nick's exams. It's easier for him to identify and relate to the struggles of others. Sometimes it can relate back to his own personal experiences. When David meets Charlie, it's very similar to when the older students used to bully him for being gay. He freezes instead of standing up in support of his boyfriend. David is immediately biphobic and homophobic. He sees his younger brother as overreacting to something he doesn't see as a big deal. It's absolutely significant though. Nick wasn't comfortable coming out to his brother. It's difficult because they live in the same house again. David is back from his time at university. He believes he has a say in what happens in Nick's personal life. He doesn't. Nick's room is a personal expression of who he is. That space is violated. Nick doesn't want David in there. David doesn't listen. Instead, he seeks to ridicule and belittle his brother for not having the confidence to come out as gay. It's yet another instance of bi erasure. David is a straight man who can't fathom anyone being attracted to different genders. It can only be one. Nick made his choice by dating Charlie. That's an incredibly demoralizing and dismissive view of sexuality. Nick is attracted to both men and women. Right not, he is committed to Charlie. That's the relationship he wants to be in and share with the world. It has proven to be harder than he imagined. He still provides comfort to Charlie as he lingers and regrets what he could have done. Charlie carried these expectations. He worries about how Nick is doing. That's true both at school and at home. Yes, Nick is completely consumed by fear when he starts his maths exam. He went in knowing he would fail. As such, the doom spiral only intensifies. Spending time with Charlie allows him to recharge. Meanwhile, Charlie is in love with every kind and sweet gesture his boyfriend puts out into the world. That makes him beam with joy even as it comes at the expense of his coursework. His parents notice that. He's grounded for the remainder of the term. That's unfortunate while still being a relatively easy obstacle to overcome should Charlie regain focus in his own pursuits. He faces these pressures as well. It's not a one-way relationship after all where Nick needs all the support all the time.

Elsewhere, Tao finally admits he likes Elle. It was always painfully obvious to his friends. He always feared what acting on these feelings would do for their friendship. In fact, he still expresses those doubts when he makes this admission to Charlie and Isaac. He doesn't need them to respond. They need to know how he feels and his desire to act before it's too late. Tao always expects the worst when it comes to his friends making new relationships and leaving him behind. Elle decided she needed to put distance between her and Tao. It was simply too painful to be pining after him when nothing more was ever going to happen. She has to move on. She has a perfect distraction with her art school application. Higgs was already a massive improvement for her well being over Truham. She finally had a place to belong as the woman she is. But now, she has the opportunity to transfer to another school for Sixth Form where she won't be the only trans girl. That too would be incredibly freeing. She's alone as she enters the open house for prospective students. She leaves making two new friends - Naomi and Felix. They relate to her struggles growing up. As such, those bonds develop quickly. It's scary for Tao. He sees the evidence of Elle moving on through her Instagram story. She is out living her life and he is stuck in the same place as always. It's depressing. She has this phenomenal opportunity. Him acting on these feelings would only be selfish. And yet, he can't hold back any longer. Elle and Tao have the potential for something great. They'll never know if they don't try now. Tao receives that encouragement from his mother. She has always loved Elle. She wants to see what's going on in her life too. She sees how her son feels. It's more than movie nights, art and friendship. In fact, the two may actually balance each other out perfectly. Tao's mother knows exactly what that feels like in a relationship. She had that perfect love until her husband died. As such, she encourages her son not to waste any more time. The stakes aren't quite so extreme in this friendship. Elle only has the potential of moving away. She's not dying. It's still a powerful lesson that gets delivered. Tao voices his feelings. He will receive support from his friends. They tried to set him up with Elle before. They weren't ready for that then. Things are different now. They have to be the ones to decide that. No one else can make these decisions for them. They must do so with complete clarity over what they're feeling and what the possible consequences may be. Tao is now willing to admit all of that. This will simply be a test of whether Elle is still interested in exploring these feelings.