Thursday, August 3, 2023

REVIEW: 'Heartstopper' - The Paris Trip Begins With Nick and Charlie Finding Small, Private Moments Together in 'Challenge'

Netflix's Heartstopper - Episode 2.04 "Challenge"

On a school trip to Paris, Nick and Charlie try to keep their relationship under wraps. Elle and Tao reconnect at a museum. Imogen stands up to Ben.

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

Charlie dreamed about being out with his boyfriend in Paris. All the pressure and anxiety would be gone. They could just bask in their love. The Paris trip has started for the Truham-Higgs students. And yet, Charlie is trying to convince himself that it can be fun to still have a secret relationship with Nick. He never wants to pressure Nick into doing anything. He also yearns with jealousy towards the relationship Tara and Darcy have. They don't care what anyone thinks about them. They are a couple openly. Charlie wants that affection. Of course, Tara and Darcy don't have the perfect relationship either. Tara yearns for Darcy to open up and be more vulnerable. She's envious of how Nick and Charlie talk about their feelings. All of this is how these individual relationships are perceived. The internal struggles within each person and the person they're with is much more complicated. It's easy to be on the outside looking in to witness what appears to be perfect. That doesn't exist. It's an unobtainable goal. Charlie internalizes it more acutely. He's worried about spending too much time with Nick and how that will be perceived by everyone on the trip. Again, people are too caught up in their own worlds to notice what is happening elsewhere. Nick and Charlie aren't great at hiding their relationship. Charlie still agonizes over getting caught. It has happened twice. It wasn't a big deal either time. Coach Singh presented herself as a supportive resource. Meanwhile, Darcy always advocates for more gay experiences to be happening. Nick and Charlie kissing in their hotel room is worth celebrating. It's what they both deserve. It's what they both want to be doing. They wanted to share a bed together. Tao and Isaac had other plans. It was an innocent mistake on Isaac's part. Tao chose what he thought would make his friend more comfortable. Nick admires how Tao defends his friends so loudly. It's such an honorable quality. Sometimes though, it's a projection of how he feels instead of what his friend needs. Tao is nervous whenever he's near Elle. He assumes Charlie is the same way. He doesn't recognize how Nick and Charlie are at a different stage in their relationship. They have moved past that awkwardness. They still have their moments. Nick overcorrects when he talks about wanting to sleep with Charlie. It's literally about sharing a bed and not sex. Neither of them are ready for that. They are slowly exploring what they like with each other. Those are healthy moments. However, they increasingly become more fleeting as Charlie's anxiety puts distance between them. His fear of how their bond is perceived by others paralyzes him instead of enjoying what he clearly wants with his boyfriend.

That dread and anxiety is only going to increase for Charlie too. He wakes up the next morning to realize he has a hickey on his neck. He and Nick took a brief moment to be together. Even then, Charlie was worried Tao and Isaac would come back at any moment. Of course, they would have no problem if they walked in on Nick and Charlie kissing. Charlie even explained to Isaac how wanting to be with Nick and kiss him is how he knew his crush was real. Isaac asked that question about attraction because he's trying to understand his burgeoning dynamic with James. It's clearly heading in a direction beyond friendship. James notes how great it is to be around other queer people. The group gets to spend the day exploring Paris. They don't all want to explore the same spaces. They still have the capacity to surprise each other as well. Nick is fluent in French. The schools organized this trip for the foreign language students. It's a reward meant to test how well they processed the lessons. It's a city with so much history. It carries a romanticized notion of what's possible. In reality, it's just another city where new opportunities can be explored. Small gestures even prove how these friendships have informed these characters. Nick is now fully in love with chocolate ice cream. That was Charlie's influence. It provides a gentle moment of genuine teasing and a cute picture to post on Instagram. That's a display of their connection that Charlie has no control over. He notices it right away. He is proud of Nick and how far he has come with his sexuality. It brings them closer when they are alone. Things are different in public. It's awkward because they are separated in group settings. It's one thing when they are surrounded by their friends. It's different with the entire group. Charlie and Ben just happen to sit next to each other at a restaurant. Nick fears what could happen. Ben still shows interest in Charlie. He has no right to do so. Not many people are aware of their history. Ben having a past with Charlie shouldn't matter to his current relationship with Imogen. How he treats her is ultimately more damaging. Nick tried to warn her but couldn't share what happened with Charlie. The two are there to support her after she publicly breaks up with Ben. The entire room is against him because of the demeaning word he uses against her. Nick and Charlie actually follow her to make sure she's okay. That's a sign of true friendship. It's easily solved with a hug. That comfort proves how great Nick and Charlie are. That's true of them as individuals and a couple. Imogen is lucky to have that awareness. The world is being deprived of it because Charlie fears the worst. At some point, the pressure may be too much.

Nick and Charlie are amazing. That should never be lost or forgotten. It's so easy for these characters to doubt themselves. They are all teenagers who feel their emotions so vividly while wanting to be accepted by their peers. They understand how difficult life can be. That's been especially true for these young queer characters. Charlie was outed as gay. Elle came out as trans. They are both in better places now. No one wants to jeopardize that. Tao feels that pressure. It's better to remain friends with Elle. A simple gesture of bringing her apple juice is all it takes to mend their friendship. It wasn't damaged forever by their disastrous date. They actually embark on a perfect date that makes both of them happy. No one else wanted to visit the Musée de Montmartre. They are passionate about art. This place represents what interests them. The others don't share those interests. It's perfectly acceptable for Elle and Tao to break off and have this adventure by themselves. They meet up with their friends a few hours later. It's not a big deal. It showcases how relaxed and loving their dynamic can be. They have a good time together. It's all built on friendship. They admire how each other engages with the world. Tao and Elle are uniquely themselves. They exist with that proud confidence. They still have their doubts from time to time. Tao doesn't believe Elle should limit herself to someone like him. Nick gives a wonderful pep talk. The two aren't close friends. They manage to surprise each other. They both happen to be bilingual. When Tao realizes that, he suddenly sees Nick in a new light. He's no longer just a rugby lad whom his best friend is dating. He's a kind and genuine person. Of course, Nick wants to push Elle and Tao together. He sees how great they would be as a couple. They have to get out of their own ways. Friendship is great. They can't be afraid to ask for more. They deserve that. It's freeing if they do. That's especially true when they lead as themselves. Tao didn't do that during their date. That's why it failed. That's why several of the other couples are facing hurdles. They don't have the confidence to share their insecurities with the people they love. They worry how they will be perceived. Nothing could be shared that would break these couples. That is never a legitimate risk. That was true last season. It's not true anymore. It's just a matter of properly expressing what they want. It does no one any good if they simply pretend everything is fine when they want more. A hickey may produce a more honest conversation that moves everything forward. It may also intensify this drama because the characters may not fully understand what they are feeling. That is valid too. It just needs to be expressed.