Thursday, August 3, 2023

REVIEW: 'Heartstopper' - Love and Vulnerability Deepen in Every Relationship as the Couples Celebrate Prom in 'Perfect'

Netflix's Heartstopper - Episode 2.08 "Perfect"

The gang comes together for a memorable prom with a fitting theme: "Summer of Love." But with someone important missing... it feels incomplete.

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

How do you talk to someone about something they don't want to talk about? Tara and Nick know Darcy and Charlie are in pain because of the secrets they carry. They want them to open up about their feelings. Tara and Nick will support them no matter what. Nothing could be shared that would end these relationships. It's all a matter of protection. Darcy wants to spare her girlfriend from the turmoil of her family. Charlie wants to believe everything is fine. This is the happiest he has ever felt. He has no reason to feel otherwise. And yet, those doubts and fears still creep in and disrupt what seems like perfection. No one needs to be held to that impossible standard. No one can achieve it. These relationships are already strong. Each individual just has to rely on each other when these troubling emotions arise. Darcy spent the night sleeping in the park. She was missing for the entire day leading up to prom. Tara was worried about her. She wasn't responding to any messages. Darcy didn't want to be a burden. Tara loves her girlfriend's confidence. Darcy doesn't want to reveal how fake that really is. She's a completely different person at home. Her mother makes her hate herself. She's not out. She doesn't believe she ever will be. Her mother writes it off as an extreme tantrum. It's a genuine response to how horrible she responded to seeing her daughter in a suit. She's not worried about where Darcy is. Instead, that fear consumes Tara's world. The prom committee is struggling to decorate. She calls in backup. Everyone wonders where Tara is. They care about her too. They all welcome her with a massive group hug when everyone is reunited. An important conversation still needs to happen. Darcy didn't believe it was possible for Tara to love her. She has only seen one side of her life. That's not the full story. That's not all that she is. As such, the feelings must be fake. They can't possibly be real. That's why she struggled saying it back. That explanation better contextualizes her behavior throughout the season. She's not good at saying those words. It takes practice. Tara and Darcy love each other. They should trust each other with the most uncomfortable and tragic elements of their lives. Tara meets Darcy's mother for the first time. It's not as her girlfriend. It's simply as a concerned friend. Tara is that as well. She wants Darcy to rely on her friends. She doesn't have to spend the night in the park hoping no one can see. She deserves safety and protection too. She doesn't receive that at home. She may feel pressured to go back because it's family. She doesn't owe them that. She may even feel strong enough to face anything they might do or say because of her love for Tara. That's still a lot of pressure to place on her.

The truth can only be denied for so long. It takes so much courage to acknowledge it verbally. Charlie is so happy. He leaps into Nick's arms after he comes out on Instagram. They can be a couple in public. Everyone knows now. Nick woke up and immediately decided to create the post. Nick and Charlie have been so stressed about coming out that they forget why it's truly important. It's a celebration of their relationship. They are so happy together. Nothing can stand in their way. Everyone else is foolish for assuming Nick was completely straight. Some people have better reactions than others. His friends apologize if they ever made it difficult to tell them about Charlie. Harry hasn't changed though. The rest of the group is accepting and happy for Nick. It's not a race to get in a relationship. It just happened naturally between Nick and Charlie. Everyone should be thrilled no matter how they identify. Charlie simultaneously wants and hates the attention. He wants to share his relationship with people. He's also triggered by everyone looking and commenting on the relationship. It sends him right back into the mindset of when he was bullied. He believes he should be able to handle this pressure. Everything is so good. Nick still worries. He understands the pain Charlie carries and how it still affects him. Tao can relate to that. He knows he freaks out about his friends leaving him suddenly because his dad died when he was twelve. That happened without any warning. He doesn't want that to happen again. That was an extreme example. Death was the only thing that could take his father away. Tao understands the root of his problem now. He shares that insight. He isn't threatened when Elle decides to enroll at Lambert for Sixth Form. That will create physical distance between them. However, they want to be boyfriend and girlfriend now. That should have been clear from all the kissing. It's actually confirmed. Similarly, Isaac explores asexuality. He sees that as the definition that best describes him. He is always seen reading a book. That provides him so much comfort. That's his passion. And yet, he avoided the one book that could help put into words how he was feeling. It was literally at the top of the book display he put together with James. This resource was readily available. He's now ready to start reading. It's a scary admission. However, it's best for his overall mental health. He can't be afraid of exploring his identity. Knowing how to navigate the conversation can uplift everything else that matters.

Everyone wants to have the perfect prom night. Charlie, Tao, Elle and Isaac get a moment captured celebrating their friendship. That has mattered longer than every other relationship. Being with friends is what should be celebrated. Prom puts too much pressure to behave a certain way. Tao and Elle receive the moment of the crowd forming a circle around them as they dance. It's a true expression of who they are. It's perfect. It's what Nick and Charlie feel expected to deliver. Neither of them can dance. In fact, it's better if they have a night together with their friends at home. It's a more private setting. The fun and enjoyment provided by a dance can still be found. It produces that vulnerable conversation between Tara and Darcy. That makes their relationship stronger. The same applies to Nick and Charlie. Nick doesn't want his boyfriend to carry secrets that jeopardize his health. He wants to know when Charlie feels that way. He doesn't want Charlie going through the motions of life simply because he thinks that's what others need. He should live his life prioritizing what is good for his own health. It's futile trying to keep that pain hidden from Nick. Everyone remarks how adorable Nick was when he was younger. Charlie enjoys Nick's story of crushing on his rugby coach at summer camp. Those conversations flow easily. Nick wants to go deeper. He wants to understand what it was like for Charlie when he was bullied. Charlie makes himself smaller upon realizing Nick wants that vulnerability. Nick doesn't break away. He never severs his connection with Charlie. He wants this to be a safe space for Charlie to express himself no matter how he's feeling. Charlie lets the truth out. It was astonishing how homophobic people still are. Charlie assumed it was better now. People openly mocked and degraded him. Even when it stopped, the words still echoed in his mind. People told him he was disgusting. He started to believe it. He hated himself for it. He exerted control over his eating habits to feel good about something. He also engaged in self-harm. He cut himself. That's such a vulnerable and emotional revelation he makes. Nick wants to know if he still does that. He doesn't. That's how bad things got though. Charlie never shared this with anyone either. Nick saw these patterns that caused Charlie pain. He loves him so much that he notices when he behaves in a harmful way. Nick doesn't have the answers either. Charlie still carries these dark and painful thoughts. He doesn't want to view himself as someone broken. He doesn't want Nick to think he has to fix him. Nick cares though. He wants to know everything about Charlie so that he can help. He's his boyfriend and he loves him.

Declarations of love only occur between Tara and Darcy. They are further along in their relationship. They still faced obstacles that needed to be overcome. Nick and Charlie are on that path as well. Nick is interrupted from saying it by his mum coming home. Charlie feared his boyfriend would look at him differently if he knew the truth. The pain is too visceral for anyone to find him attractive. Charlie is always tentative about how he looks. He's always messing with his hair. He's conscious of what others say about him. He has emotional and physical scars he has never shared with anyone. Nick always finds him cute. Nothing can change his feelings. Charlie didn't want to wear matching suits to prom. They both look stunning in their outfits. The true value comes from the vulnerability of spending time together. That's what they want to do. That impulse never changes. They can't devote their entire lives to each other. They can't only be healthy when in physical proximity. However, that support is given. It's rewarding and nourishing as well. Charlie curls up in a ball not wanting to talk about his past. By the end, Nick is willing to share his love. Charlie feels good about that. He writes out the words on his phone. That's the message he wants to send to his boyfriend. He doesn't actually hit send. His finger hovering over the button is the season's final image. It's a rather light cliffhanger. The audience knows how the two of them feel. They love each other. They are both ready to say it. That's what they want to do. It hasn't happened yet. That brings some uncertainty to the situation. In private, they process what was just said. It's a lot for anyone to handle at any age. They are so young. They always have anxiety over doing and saying the right things. A text message saying "I love you" may not be the best thing. It's easy to see those thoughts enter Charlie's head and create doubts. They just had a serious conversation about self-harm. They aren't too young to face the realities of the world and the extremes of these emotions. Their actions have formed their own unique personalities. It's important to understand and empower what makes each of them unique. Mistakes were made in the past. Healing needs to be done. Everyone is mature enough to handle it. It's an ongoing journey. One with no quick fixes or easy answers. That's true of both love and hate. Charlie feels both emotions simultaneously. That's a contradiction that wreaks his mental health. Nick is so supportive. All of his friends are. One conversation is a fruitful start. It's not the end of this journey. Nick coming out to his mum wasn't the end of his struggles making that declaration to other people. That particular journey is complete now. More complications still await this relationship. They can address it together because their love is that strong and apparent. They are perfect just the way they are even though it's hard for them to believe that themselves sometimes.

Some other thoughts:
  • It's striking to note the parallels between the Season 2 premiere and finale. Both are explorations of intimacy within Nick and Charlie's relationship centered around gatherings at their homes. In the premiere, it was huge just to come out to Imogen and to kiss in front of their friends. In the finale, it's significant to have a conversation revealing the depths they share after carrying it personally for so long. The hugs of friendship are great. The bond Nick and Charlie have in private is just as significant.
  • The night in Paris between Mr. Ajayi and Mr. Farouk wasn't a mistake. Dinner and drinks would simply be better for the next time they go out. The journey for these adults so closely mirrors the struggles of their teenage students. They are trusted with more responsibility. And yet, they too are shy about sharing their crushes and feeling secure in what they want to happen. One conversation is all it takes to confirm they want to see where this leads.
  • After Imogen publicly broke up with Ben, she confided in Nick and Charlie that life would be so much easier if she were into girls. She doesn't want to be the token straight friend amongst this group. She always fits in that position though. That's until she watches Sahar perform at prom. Sahar knows she's bisexual. Imogen develops a new crush. Will the feelings be more genuine this time around? It's possible given her reaction and cheer once the song is done.
  • How far away is Lambert exactly? The show makes it out to be a big deal that Elle will be attending classes there in the fall. However, her friends made the trip for the exhibit easily. Darcy was only there for a little while before she had to return home to her mother. Even Ben stalked his way there to talk with Charlie. It plays as the new hurdle Tao and Elle will have to deal with. More explanation will be needed.
  • As someone who has read Alice Oseman's graphic novels, it remains impressive to see the balance of adapting what was on the page and expanding the worlds of these characters. Minor spoiler alert ahead though. I'm hoping the show doesn't veer from how Nick and Charlie first say "I love you." It's one of the cutest and funniest moments in the novels.