Thursday, August 3, 2023

REVIEW: 'Heartstopper' - New Declarations of Love Cause Awkward and Lingering Tension for Two Couples in 'Promise'

Netflix's Heartstopper - Episode 2.03 "Promise"

Nick tries to come out to some of his teammates at a bonfire party after exams. Tao plans the perfect date. Things get weird between Tara and Darcy.

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

Tao and Elle promised they would always prioritize their friendship. It was an action made out of desperation and fear. Tao saw Charlie slipping away. He wanted to hold tightly onto these friendships for as long as possible. He fears being alone. And yet, he has a crush on Elle. Their dynamic is different than the bonds he shares with his other friends. Going to the internet to research anything about women is a dangerous prospect. Wonderful advice can absolutely be found. However, Tao changes everything about himself to seem impressive to Elle. He doesn't believe she would like him as he currently is. He isn't the version of himself she would want to date. That isn't true. All of their friends are giddy in anticipation when Tao finally asks Elle out. They have all wanted this moment to happen. Tao plans the perfect date for Elle. He takes her to see her favorite movie - Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom. He hates the film but wants to make this night special. He simply can't hide his true feelings. It would have been better if they did something they both enjoyed. Tao put so much planning into this date. It is just so incredibly awkward. It lacks the sparks that frequently fly around them. Elle has wanted this for so long. Tao was nervous and messed everything up. And now, their friendship is in jeopardy. They fortunately have others who can comfort them after this disastrous date. For Elle, it's her new friends Naomi and Felix. They just so happen to attend the end of the school year party. Meanwhile, Tao immediately runs into Charlie. This isn't the environment any of them want to be in. They all stand out amongst this celebration. They don't lead with reckless abandon like their classmates do. It's a celebration that the school term is over. They don't have to focus on coursework again until the fall. The summer has officially begun. It kicks off with a Paris trip for many of the students. Everyone eagerly anticipates that week away from home. It too holds the promise of so much. It's the city of romance for the couples. They each have ideas of what they can possibly be there. Right now, the pressures of their every day lives are too much. So much is self-inflicted. Tao cuts his hair because he wants to present a better face shape to Elle. It's mostly a creative response to the polarizing reaction to Tao's hairstyle last season. He changes himself to impress a girl. Elle doesn't need that. She knows how much Tao liked his hair long. And now, he's the one disrupting what has always been easy and relaxed in their dynamic. Too much pressure is put on the two of them to make this work. As such, they never feel confident about anything they're doing. That makes it a disaster. They may recover and figure things out eventually. Right now, the pain of messing things up simply stings too much for both after getting their hopes up.

Nick also made a promise to Charlie. He was ready to come out. He has told some people about their relationship and his sexual identity. Not everyone knows though. Charlie doesn't want to pressure Nick into doing something he's not ready for. He's also disappointed he can't publicly acknowledge Nick as his boyfriend. They simply remain really good mates in the eyes of their classmates. It takes them getting caught kissing for people to know what they truly are to each other. Of course, Coach Singh has no problem with that. She instinctively knows this is why Nick hasn't been leading the rugby team effectively recently. He is a star player. The sport is all about teamwork. He doesn't trust his teammates. And so, every practice is awkward. Holding this secret is ultimately keeping him back. He isn't living his truth in a proud and confident way. He wants to be that person for Charlie. He doesn't want to prove David and Ben right. They said really mean and degrading things to him. He even elevates the voices of those who aren't even criticizing him. Tori wanted Nick to look out for Charlie at this adventure in the woods. The two get separated. They need to be confident as themselves. They can't always lean on each other to feel empowered. Charlie pushes Harry away. That's a moment of action. Charlie steps in when his boyfriend really needs his support. This stress ultimately produces a physical ailment for Nick. It's nothing severe. He feels miserable both physically and emotionally. This is all so much more difficult than he ever thought it would be. Charlie is incredibly giving of himself. That's true before the school term even ends. Charlie helps Nick revise so he can feel good about his final exams. Meanwhile, Charlie waits until the last possible second to hand in his history paper. He always projects a sense that everything is fine. He doesn't want people to worry about him. He doesn't think his problems are as significant as what others are going through. That's an incredibly lonely mindset. Nick and Charlie are physically together all the time. They trust each other completely. Their relationship is rewarding and strong in so many ways. It's still difficult for them to be honest about their feelings. These are complicated emotions that they may not even understand themselves. Physical intimacy is good enough to comfort them. It's even nurturing when it's simply friends hugging. That's an acknowledgement of what these characters mean to one another. It's also so easy for them to get trapped in their own little worlds where their minds trick them into fearing the worst even when no one is putting that pressure on them.

Elsewhere, a significant step is taken in Tara and Darcy's relationship. Tara uses the word "love" to describe her feelings. It all happens during a rather innocent exchange. Everyone is excited for the Paris trip. Darcy jokes that Tara will be annoyed by her after a week together. Tara reveals that she loves how annoying Darcy is. That was the first time either of them have used that word. Darcy doesn't know how to react. Tara doesn't want to pressure her into saying it either. So instead, it's deflected. Darcy looks elsewhere to return to being her carefree, silly self. Tara obviously meant what she said. It just creates this awkward moment of tension. That is further exaggerated by Darcy not attending the party in the woods. Over the phone, she explains that she didn't have a ride. To Tara, that's incredibly silly. She doesn't know why her girlfriend simply didn't ask. It makes no sense. That leaves her questioning where this relationship stands. Meanwhile, something new begins between Isaac and James. It too all starts innocently with them simply arranging an LGBTQ+ book display in the school library. Nick and Charlie are stressing over coursework while Tao is agonizing over his date. Isaac hasn't particularly dealt with those stressors before. He is comfortable reading his books. He participates in life alongside his friends. But now, he is the one actively being pursued. It's a nice and refreshing change of pace. A book is still always in his hand. Nothing in his behavior is concerning or bad. Something different can be encouraging. It doesn't come with the pressure of questioning his sexual orientation either. Instead, romance appears as the issue. Isaac lingers nervously at the slight of other couples kissing. That's the expectation of where all of this is heading. It's the activity Nick and Charlie love doing the most. It's the way in which all of these couples express their affection to one another. It feels good. That's just one component of romance though. This show delves into all the other struggles that also occur as two people try to bring their lives together. It isn't always easy. It takes honest and consistent communication. That's difficult even for the best couples. Plus, all of these characters are teenagers. They shouldn't be expected to know how they feel in every single situation. Sometimes it simply sucks to be left behind because no one acknowledges your feelings. That's how Imogen reacts to Ben immediately breaking away once the students on the Paris trip have to assign themselves into groups of four of the same gender. It's such a small moment. And yet, those glimpses ultimately tell so much about how these characters are feeling regardless of how prominent they are elsewhere in the episode.