Home ENTERTAINMENT ‘Heartstopper’ Recap, Season 2, Episode 4: Challenge

‘Heartstopper’ Recap, Season 2, Episode 4: Challenge



Season 2

Episode 4

Editor’s Rating

4 stars

Photo: Netflix/Teddy Cavendish/Netflix

Oh, to be in love on vacation. For both lovesick teenagers and adults alike, there’s a unique appeal to it: exploring a beautiful new place with the best friend you also get to kiss. Sometimes everything feels possible when you step outside your bubble of everyday routine and enter a new world, especially with someone you love and trust. No matter how popular the destination, a new place can become your own private paradise, just for the two of you.

That’s the fantasy on almost everyone’s mind during the long-awaited Truham-Higgs language-class trip to the City of Love. Unfortunately, reality is a lot messier than fantasy, and all four of the ongoing relationships have serious obstacles standing in the way of their dreams.

Of the couples, Tara and Darcy are the closest to attaining their ideal version of what a couples’ trip to Paris would entail; on the bus, Darcy says this will be “the best few days of their lives,” and it should be. But only a moment later, she shrugs off Tara’s attempt to communicate openly about her awkwardly unreciprocated “I love you.” It’s easy to talk about how fun and liberating this trip will be, but it’s harder for Darcy to vocalize what it represents for them.

Intentionally or not, Charlie and Nick have always viewed their relationship as a reflection of Tara and Darcy’s. Even though the girls haven’t been out of the closet much longer than the boys — in fact, Charlie was outed the year before Tara became comfortable calling herself a lesbian — they’ve provided the boys a seemingly perfect model of a healthy queer relationship. So even though Charlie is determined to stick with his plan and table the idea of Nick coming out, he can’t help noticing the way Tara and Darcy seem to frolic around Paris without a care in the world.

Joe Locke plays Charlie’s conflicted feelings here pretty perfectly; as in previous episodes, he’s putting on a brave face because he genuinely does want Nick to have the patient, natural coming-out experience he didn’t get. But he also is really, really looking forward to the moment that they are both out and free to express their feelings publicly. They could be holding hands and kissing on the streets of Paris just like Tara and Darcy if Nick was a little further along on his timetable. The titular challenge of the episode may be Charlie’s bet that Nick can’t go two days without kissing him, but the truth is that it’s as big of a challenge for Charlie as it is for Nick, if not more.

Charlie’s conversation with Tara about the subject is one of the most satisfying scenes of the season because it’s the exact conversation that needs to happen. We’ve seen how each of their relationships has played out, so we understand why each feels the way they do, while also intuitively understanding why each would envy the other. The very journey we saw play out for Tara in season one gives Charlie some much-needed hope that Nick’s journey will go the same way. And Charlie’s assurance that Darcy loves Tara back is what she needs to push forward and start a necessary conversation.

The only relationship here that’s clearly doomed from the beginning is the one between Imogen and Ben. Ben doesn’t seem to care about making even the laziest attempt to make his girlfriend happy; he immediately shuts down her idea of writing their initials on a love lock, and he won’t even accompany her to the Sacré Coeur. The contrast between Ben’s violent dullness and the open-armed embraces of Imogen’s other friends is so stark; it seems like only a little time with them is enough to convince her to confront Ben during dinner and break things off. It’s deeply cathartic to see her call out his obsession with Charlie and recognize that she deserves better, and it’s equally heartwarming to see Charlie and Nick comfort her in the bathroom, giving her an energy and confidence in herself that Ben never permitted.

Despite the relationship drama, “Challenge” is replete with the little moments of magic we can come to expect from any episode of Heartstopper, especially one set on holiday. Love is alive and well in the City of Love, and for now, Charlie and Nick are mostly content to make do with what they have. Maybe Tao and Isaac cot-blocked them by taking separate beds, but they’ll just fall asleep holding hands across the space between their beds.

And sparks are certainly still flying between Elle and Tao, whose time not speaking is mercifully brief. Tao’s wordless apple-juice delivery is just as effective as words, steeped as it is in their history. And a trip to the Musée de Montmartre together is enough to heal any remaining wounds, reviving their friendship. Of course, it’s hard to put the genie back in that bottle. They have feelings for each other now, and spending this time together only makes them more acutely aware of it.

When Tao later explains to Nick that he doesn’t think he’s good enough for someone as “cool and interesting and beautiful” as Elle, Nick offers some very valuable validation, saying that he really admires Tao’s ability to care about his friends so “loudly.” Tao needs to get it through his head that Elle isn’t some far-off, unattainable dream girl. She’s his best friend, and she already thinks he’s cool and attractive. He needs to stop denigrating himself and accept the love he deserves.

Like Charlie’s conversation with Tara, this one is so satisfying because it relies on a newer friendship, not one of the core pairings of the show. Sometimes it’s helpful to get some distance from a situation; Nick’s words carry more weight to Tao than Charlie’s in this setting because he has a fresher perspective on why Tao is so cool.

Similarly, Isaac might have to look outside his main group to understand what he’s feeling. When he asks Charlie how he knew he liked Nick, Charlie’s explanation only partially resonates with his own experience. Sure, he loves spending time with James, and maybe he thinks about him when he’s not around. But he doesn’t seem to share Charlie’s strong desire for physical intimacy, suggesting he might land somewhere on the asexual/aromantic spectrums. In the end, he might end up the one character who isn’t in love in Paris — and coming to really understand the root of that could feel just as magical as falling in love.

• The episode also concludes with another big moment for the show: Nick giving Charlie a hickey, one of the first real references to sex in all of Heartstopper. (It’s foreshadowed by another one earlier in the episode: Nick says they’ll “get to do it one day,” referring to sharing a bed, then panics at the unintentional double entendre.) These kids are still young, especially Charlie, but the longer the show goes without even addressing sex, the less believable it might feel. So I appreciate this little jump forward.

• As always, this show knows my music tastes. “Obsessed” is one of my favorite Hatchie songs, so the bus ride to Paris immediately put me in my feelings.

• Following up on the mentions of Nick’s dad in “Family,” Nick plans to see him in Paris. There’s a running gag that nobody realizes Nick’s dad is French and that Nick can speak fluently, but we haven’t seen Charlie’s reaction yet.

• I also like the distinction that is being drawn between Harry and Ben’s brands of assholery, even if Harry isn’t headed for any sort of serious redemption arc. When Harry calls out your offensive choice of words, you really know you fucked up.

• More examples of Charlie rejecting food, which makes me nervous. It’s the biggest indicator of how deep his anxiety about Nick goes.

• When Darcy walks in on Charlie and Nick kissing, she says, “Oh, you’re being gay. Good job. Carry on.”

• I don’t much mind the lack of profanity in Heartstopper, especially if it helps the show reach a larger audience. That said, I did enjoy the episode’s closing cut-off “fuck,” which is uncensored in the comics.

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