Back in the season premiere, Charlie claimed that he was going to do everything to make sure Nick’s coming-out experience was “perfect,” a word choice that all but challenged the universe to throw obstacles in his path. Sure enough, over the course of the season, we’ve seen all the ways the process has failed to live up to that impossible standard. And despite how happy Charlie and Nick are together now, it still felt possible we were building to some disastrous conclusion, especially with the lingering threat of Charlie’s eating disorder.
But this finale doesn’t feature whatever worst-case scenarios we might’ve imagined, and it’s great anyway. Sure, maybe nothing can quite replicate that feeling of Charlie and Nick’s beach date at the end of season one; if I ever want to make myself cry, all I need to do is think about the way Charlie said, “I never thought this would happen to me.” It’s true that the central couple of the show spent this season in a much more stable place, which meant fewer opportunities for truly juicy drama.
But Alice Oseman has really excelled in this season (and, I assume, in the corresponding graphic-novel volume) by portraying stability as relative. Especially in the inherently destabilizing scenario of discovering your queerness, change can feel like it’s happening faster than you can keep up. In sacrificing the tension of wondering whether Charlie and Nick can begin a relationship — they can — the show has room to explore the deeper complications that arise from maintaining one.
Prom represents an obvious milestone: It will be the first time that Charlie and Nick appear publicly as a couple following Nick’s official Instagram hard launch. Neither of them really has any misgivings about it; Nick is no longer scared to show this part of himself to the world, and Charlie is excited to show off his boyfriend. But Charlie’s remark about being the happiest he’s ever been still unsettles Nick, who has Charlie’s disordered eating at the top of his mind.
At first, there’s a question of whether prom will even happen as scheduled; Darcy never arrives to help Tara set up, so she enlists the whole gang. But everything works out. In fact, prom itself goes well for everyone who isn’t named Tara. Charlie and Nick field occasional questions about their relationship that are awkward but benign — nothing that would make them question their decision. Isaac starts reading a book about asexuality from the Pride section that he helped decorate in the library. And Elle and Tao, who are also now officially dating, come to a common understanding that Elle will be attending Lambert like she dreamed. With that baggage dealt with, they can experience prom together the way it was meant to be enjoyed: by dancing to the Cure.
After season one and early season two showed Tao to be an occasionally immature person, lashing out angrily when confronted with a painful truth, it’s really rewarding to see him grow up a little, accepting Elle’s plans with a sad smile and an “I know.” Even his begrudging tolerance of Nick has turned into a real friendship. At a time when Nick doesn’t quite know how to address his concerns about Charlie, it’s helpful to talk to someone who knows Charlie even better. Tao’s agreement about the long-term effects of Charlie’s trauma from Year 9 is validating, and the connection he draws to the death of his dad really brings his whole arc full circle. Losing his dad at 12 taught Tao to expect his friends to leave, which explains how quick he is to jump to conclusions at the sign of conflict. Often our least flattering moments are a manifestation of whatever we have going on.
That’s clearer to Tara than anyone. She still can’t get in touch with Darcy, making her the one person really suffering during prom. It’s getting to the point that she’s scared — but eventually, Darcy does show up after Tara has already left to find her. The brief glimpse of Darcy’s mom is more than enough to show Tara what exactly her girlfriend is dealing with at home, but it isn’t until everyone reunites at Nick’s house for a close-knit hang that they really talk it out.
I haven’t necessarily loved watching Darcy refuse to communicate for half a season, but the explanation she gives here is pretty interesting: Tara looks up to her as this endlessly confident lesbian, and Darcy wanted to let that image live on. At home, Darcy feels like a completely different person from the girl we know who seems so proudly herself. Tara knows the latter Darcy but not the former. How can you tell someone you love them when they haven’t seen such a huge piece of you?
Of course, Tara would love Darcy no matter what her personality is like at home. But as Nick learned when coming out, it’s scary to let someone in like that, no matter how unconditional their support. And there’s always a strong temptation to overthink your partner’s perception of you instead of just letting them see what’s there, like Tao did on his date with Elle. It makes sense that Darcy would relish her role as a sort of queer role model: Someone who, just by living their life out and proud, sets an inspiring example for those just beginning to figure out their sexuality.
Charlie wants to be that person for Nick, in a way, even though he’s younger. But he also always forgets that he needs people looking out for him too. Just because the bullying mostly stopped doesn’t mean he’s just fine now. Once everyone leaves Nick’s house at the end of the night, Nick does what he suggested to Tara earlier: He sees someone who doesn’t want to talk, and he tries anyway.
Part of what’s great about this scene is the context: Today actually has been a perfect day for Charlie, despite how unlikely it seemed that everything would work out that way. Going to prom confirmed for him that they could do this. They could be an out gay couple at school and live happily, a possibility that seemed unthinkable not long ago. And now he’s ending the night in his safe place, with the people he trusts the most. What could go wrong?
And nothing does go wrong; that’s the point. But something did go wrong once — in Year 9, when Charlie got outed and regularly got called “disgusting” to his face, and earlier this year, when Ben took advantage of him. Those events are in the past, but they’re still present in Charlie’s mind, manifesting as paranoia and fear and the belief that Nick’s feelings ultimately matter more than his own.
It might not be fun to talk about tough subjects when you’re in such a positive mood, but sometimes that’s the best time for it. And I have to say that I’m proud of the bravery Nick musters in pushing for this conversation at a time when there’s no pressing need to have it. At every moment, he says what Charlie needs to hear: that he isn’t a burden or a broken mess whom Nick needs to fix but someone whose thoughts and feelings he wants to hear about. Nick was able to do all these scary things in the last few months because Charlie was there, and he wants to help Charlie in the same way.
We don’t hear too many of the gory details about the bullying, but we learn that Charlie used to cut himself, and we see him promise to tell Nick if it ever gets that bad again. More than anything else, it’s this moment that might seal the two boys’ love for each other. Nick almost even lets himself say, “I love you” — the same phrase Charlie considers DMing the moment he steps out of Nick’s door.
This season ends a little less neatly than season one, without the same punch of an intricately plotted love story reaching its heart-stopping conclusion. But what Oseman (along with Euros Lyn and everyone else involved, especially 2-D animator Anna Peronetto) has accomplished here is, in some ways, even more impressive: a teen romance concerned less with love triangles and breakup/make-up cycles than the communication that goes into making a relationship work.
Season two was mainly about a 16-year-old bisexual kid continuously coming out to practically everyone in his life. But more broadly, it was about a group of young people who are still in the process of learning how to ask for help and be there for one another. Nobody is perfect, and no relationship is completely free of communication issues or mismatching timetables. But there are, occasionally, perfect moments — blips in time when two people who fit together understand without a doubt that they are exactly where they should be.
• Mr. Ajayi and Mr. Farouk have a dinner-and-drinks date planned, and I couldn’t be happier for them.
• It turns out Imogen’s comment in Paris about how “liking girls would be so much easier” was probably foreshadowing, based on the way she watches Sahar playing that guitar.
• It turns out eight half-hour episodes really isn’t enough time to keep adding characters and developing them as much as they deserve. Like with Sahar, I never felt like I really got to know Nick’s rugby pals, but maybe they’ll be around next season.
• Thanks for reading! This show was a delight to write about, and I’m looking forward to reading your reactions.