This story contains major spoilers for the second season of Heartstopper.
More than 15 months after debuting to widespread critical acclaim and public praise, Heartstopper, Netflix’s charming, coming-of-age dramedy series about a group of British teens navigating the rose-colored haze of first love, has returned with a new eight-episode dose of queer joy.
This time around, however, the show feels much more mature and grounded in its exploration of different shades of the queer experience: Nick (Kit Connor) and Charlie (Joe Locke) have begun to fall in love, all while Nick wrestles with the reality of coming out to his family and closest friends; Darcy’s (Kizzy Edgell) difficult home life throws a wrench in her relationship with Tara (Corinna Brown); Elle (Yasmin Finney) and Tao (William Gao) must determine if they can ever be more than friends; and Isaac (Tobie Donovan) begins to wonder if he may be asexual.
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Below, executive producers Euros Lyn, who also directed all the Heartstopper episodes, and Patrick Walters break down the key moments from the “Summer of Love” prom-themed finale and tease what lies ahead in the show’s third season, which has already been ordered at Netflix.
Nick and Charlie take a big step in their relationship.
The morning after coming out to his estranged father during an awkward dinner with Charlie’s family, Nick decides to come out as bisexual on Instagram with a picture of him and Charlie taken during their recent school trip to Paris, inevitably making him and Charlie the talk of their school at prom. The comments, both online and in person, seem true to life; while most of his friends, teammates and classmates are supportive, Nick chooses to ignore some remarks from people who assume that he is gay and insist that he should “pick a side.”
Nick “hadn’t imagined confronting his father, not just about his sexuality but about being not a very good father, but I think it arms him with greater confidence and a greater sense of his own self,” Lyn tells ELLE.com. “So, at the beginning of episode 8, he’s ready to face the world, he’s ready to take on the voices that are on social media. Inevitably, there’ll be negative voices as well as supportive voices, and I think he feels ready to go into battle and to face those criticisms.”
During a break from setting up for the prom, Nick and Tao discuss how Charlie has dealt with the attention of Nick’s coming-out announcement. “Charlie hates being the center of attention, and Nick tunes into that in that moment and wants [to know] Tao’s understanding of why Charlie bottles things up and takes things on his own shoulders,” Lyn says. “And to our surprise, Tao says, ‘You know what? He’s never really opened up to me about [how badly he was bullied].’ I think Nick is completely shocked in that moment that Charlie doesn’t even confide his secret heart with his oldest best friend.”
After saying goodbye to their friends for the evening, Nick decides to raise the issue with Charlie directly while they sit on the ground in Nick’s room. The five-minute scene that follows, in which Charlie reveals that he used to cut himself when he was being badly bullied, is arguably the show’s most intimate to date, with Locke and Connor imbuing their performances with not only purity and innocence, but also maturity and sensitivity. Although this plot point occurs slightly earlier in creator Alice Oseman’s graphic novels, the executive producers decided to make this scene the emotional climax of the season, which ends with both Nick and Charlie on the verge of saying “I love you” for the first time.
“It’s really designed to show what this season has been about and where the boys have come on their journey so that they can arrive in that moment, where Charlie can be really brave and open up to Nick, which is what Nick’s wanted him to do the whole season, but without wanting to push him to do it until he’s ready,” Walters explains.
Elle and Tao become an official couple.
Season 2 utilizes the classic best-friends-to-lovers trope to dive into the next step of Elle and Tao’s relationship. Having both developed feelings for each other by the “Sports Day” finale episode of last season, Tao painstakingly decides to make the first move, finally getting a haircut (hallelujah!) and asking Elle out to a screening of her favorite movie (Moonrise Kingdom). But when their date doesn’t go according to plan, Tao lashes out, fearing that Elle is slowly replacing him with her new art school friends.
“Tao is one of those people who veers between really high self-worth in certain situations and then really low self-worth in other ways. He’s grappling with this fear of abandonment, not being good enough, not being able to continue these relationships that nourish him,” Walters says, referring to the effect that losing his father at an early age had on Tao.
The tension between Elle and Tao comes to a head in the fifth episode at the Louvre, where they share their first kiss. (This was also Finney and Gao’s first onscreen kiss.) When Elle reveals in the penultimate episode that she has been accepted into the Lambert School of Art, Tao responds, “Please don’t base your decisions on how I feel. All I care about is you being happy, and wherever you are, I’ll still want to be with you.”
“There’s a real sense that Tao is coming to terms with the fact that Elle is going to go off to art college, that he’s preparing himself for a sense of loss, but he’s doing so with a maturity and a sense of equanimity that we’ve not seen in him before,” Lyn remarks. “Tao and Elle have this amazing dance [at prom] that is spontaneous, that they make up, but embodies their character and speaks of something of their relationship, and at the end of it, there’s a catharsis. There’s a sense of appreciation by everybody in the prom and an acceptance that their relationship is valid and real.”
Tara and Darcy finally say “I love you.”
After getting into a nasty fight with her homophobic mother, who said the prom suit her friends helped her buy “made her look like a lesbian,” Darcy haphazardly packs a bag and runs away from home, choosing to spend the night at a nearby park instead of Tara’s house. “Darcy’s character is so strong, and she has such a sense of self that she cannot bear to live that way anymore,” Lyn explains. “As she sees it, the only way to do that is to run away from home, but still she can’t admit that to Tara.”
Although she may present as a confident person at school and in public, Darcy has yet to come out to her own parents, and her reluctance to say “I love you” back to Tara has stemmed from a fear that Tara would no longer feel the same way if she knew the truth about Darcy’s fractured home life. “There’s a paradox and guilt at the heart of Darcy’s sense of self; she can’t be open with Tara because she feels that she’d be letting Tara down by not being this person she seems to be,” Lyn says. Thankfully, Tara loves Darcy all the same. “By the time Darcy does go to prom and gets reunited with Tara, Tara forces her and pushes her to be open, to tell her what was going on, and to share her doubts about herself. I think the two of them come out of episode 8 much stronger [together] because they’ve both seen what the true person the other one is.”
Isaac explores his asexuality.
When she first began conceptualizing the Heartstopper comics, Oseman, who identifies as asexual and aromantic, was adamant about including a character who reflects some of her own personal experiences with sexuality. For the screen adaptation, she created Isaac, an introverted bookworm who begins to notice that he is the only member of his friend group who isn’t interested in a romantic relationship.
“It’s a tricky story to tell because for Isaac in season 2, it is a very internal story. So, how do you show that in a dramatic way? I think what we discovered with Isaac is that he discovers what he’s not,” Lyn explains. Isaac discovers that he isn’t attracted to his classmate James (Bradley Riches), which leaves him feeling confused. But after having an emotional response to a piece of artwork from an aro/ace artist, Isaac naturally escapes to the library during prom and finds a book about the topic. “We really wanted his moment of discovery in the library to feel satisfying, but also it’s not a resolution to his arc and it doesn’t give him all the answers. It’s a step along his journey. We get a sense [that] this is not an easy realization to come to, and there’s complexity to come.”
Does Imogen like Sahar?
During the heyday of the show’s first season, Rhea Norwood’s line delivery of “I’m not, like, homophobic. I’m an ally,” transformed Imogen, who had developed an ill-fated crush on Nick, into an immediate fan favorite. But one could say that Imogen may be more than just an ally, after all. While her peers dance at prom to a rendition of “Just Like Heaven,” Imogen finds herself attracted to the band’s guitarist, Sahar (Leila Khan), who also happens to be one of her closest friends. (To be fair, there was some foreshadowing; after dumping Ben in front of all of their classmates on the Paris trip, Imogen laments to Nick and Charlie, “Everything would be so much easier if I was into girls.” It looks like she’s about to find out.)
The realization briefly knocks the wind out of Imogen, who may be “as attracted to Sahar’s attitude as much as she is to the vision of her,” Lyn reveals. “This new idea that she might be attracted to Sahar is actually a really big story, and we were in two minds whether we wanted to save that for the next season or to what degree we wanted to play it out here. Alice felt really strongly that we needed to have a beat in the prom where we see that Imogen and Sahar have a little bit of electricity between the two of them.”
Imogen has “a big, bold personality” and often doesn’t think before she acts. “She doesn’t have judgment, she is a pure and lovely person deep down, but she can just put her foot in it,” Walters laughs. “So we wanted her to have a moment to be like, ‘Oh, I’m feeling something here,’ because she’s a character who loves to feel. And who knows how that would go in reality? Maybe we’ll see more of that at some point, but it’ll be entertaining because it’ll be Imogen driving [the action].”
Mr. Farouk and Mr. Ajayi find love.
Heartstopper is undeniably a show for teens, but that doesn’t mean the high schoolers at Truham and Higgs are the only people who are falling in love for the first time. During the final night of their school trip to Paris, Mr. Ajayi (Fisayo Akinade), the art teacher who gave Charlie a place of solace when he was being bullied, and Mr. Farouk (Nima Taleghani), the no-nonsense science professor who admitted that he didn’t figure out he was gay until his late 20s, hooked up in their hotel room. “Mr. Farouk is much older than our heroes, but nevertheless, he’s probably as inexperienced as them,” says Lyn, who “wanted the audience to cheer” when the teachers got together. “I think we wanted to find that sort of innocence and purity within the teachers’ relationship, which echoes all our younger cast’s romantic relationships.”
In the finale, Coach Singh (Chetna Pandya), one of the other openly gay educators at Truham, teasingly tells Mr. Ajayi to invite Mr. Farouk to prom under the guise of needing more chaperones. When they come face-to-face that evening, Mr. Farouk admits that their night in Paris was “a pretty stupid thing to do,” but Mr. Ajayi suggests that they have dinner and drinks next time. “We will a hundred percent see more of Mr. Farouk and Mr. Ajayi in season 3,” assures Walters, who is holding out hope that viewers will see them on that date next season. “I would say that those two are a perfect couple, and there’s gonna be lots of very funny, odd couple chemistry with the two of them.”
Wait, did Heartstopper clear the rights to a Taylor Swift song?
Eagle-eyed fans of Taylor Swift may have noticed a “folklore” poster hanging next to Tara’s bed at the start of the seventh episode. Walters—who admits that he is, unfortunately, one of the only diehard Swifties in the Heartstopper cast and crew—had spoken with Oseman about potentially using the album’s seventh track, “seven,” in the finale, when Tara and Darcy finally declare their love for each other while hanging out with friends at Nick’s house. “Lyrically, it’s not a complete perfect match [with Darcy’s storyline], but there’s just something about some of the lyrics that made us associate it with Tara and Darcy,” Walters explains.
“We had this beautiful montage after that [Tara and Darcy] scene of all of the friendship group having the time of their lives away from prom, just being who they are with each other, with no sense of judgment or the world looking in. The song went over that in the most beautiful way, so once we saw that, we were like, ‘Oh my God, we need Taylor Swift to let us have this song,’” Walters recalls. After clearing the rights to the “folklore” poster, the creative team sent clips and wrote letters, in which they reiterated the importance of “seven” to the show, to Swift’s team. “I have to say her team was so receptive to it. I don’t have any proof of this, but I feel like they’re Heartstopper fans. Whereas with some artists that I won’t name [made it] tough and we couldn’t get them in the show, Taylor Swift really came through for us.”
Max Gao is a freelance entertainment and sports journalist based in Toronto. He has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, NBC News, Sports Illustrated, The Daily Beast, Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, Men's Health, Teen Vogue and W Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @MaxJGao.