Charlie (Joe Locke) walking down the hall in Heartstopper season 2.

‘Heartstopper’ Season 2 Nails the Ramifications of Bullying and Anxiety

In season 1 of Netflix’s Heartstopper, Charlie (Joe Locke) is the only openly gay kid at his school. We know that prior to the timeline in the show, Charlie experienced horrendous bullying when he was accidentally outed. He spent lunches in the art room and only spoke to his close friends. Being at school became a nightmare for him. What’s shown onscreen is a light continuation of what he went through in the prior school year. It’s only when Charlie becomes friends (and later boyfriends) with Nick (Kit Connor) that he is more social at school.

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During season 2, Charlie and Nick are very smitten and happy. Nick came out to his mom as bi-sexual and thinks he might be ready to come out to the entire school. Charlie is excited for Nick, but it starts to dredge up his unresolved trauma from his own outing. Just like in real life, Heartstopper perfectly shows how that trauma and anxiety haunt people well after the bullying ends.

Anxiety is the mind-killer

Charlie worries about Nick being bullied like he was, yet he has a plan to protect Nick from the negative reactions as much as possible. This is a key trait for those of us with anxiety. We know what triggers us, so we plan to insulate and protect others. However, this backfires because we end up worrying about it endlessly and making backup plans for backup plans. And if we fail, then all those negative thoughts and harsh words people said about us end up feeling true. It’s a vicious cycle.

After a homophobic encounter with Nick’s terrible older brother, Charlie is apologizing to Nick for just being openly gay in Nick’s house. Creepy animated shadow people appear and mouth words at Charlie that you just know are awful. That’s exactly what it feels like. Something beyond our control happens, and then we blame ourselves for not planning for it or anticipating it, even if we’re just existing when it happens. Many folks with anxiety just assume everything is our fault. The chorus of “You Wouldn’t Like Me” by Tegan and Sara playing in the background sums up what Charlie is going through mentally at that moment.

Anxiety at a breaking point

Even though Charlie is surrounded by people who he knows care about him, he still keeps all his anxiety bottled up. Nick and Tao are the only ones to see how much the bullying took its toll on Charlie. While in Paris, Nick notices Charlie doesn’t eat enough food. Charlie passes out at the Louvre from low blood sugar but blames the heat and excitement. The dream trip to Paris also puts Charlie in close proximity to Ben, a boy he used to like who forced them to have a secretive romance. It’s a lot of stressors for one person to take.

At one point, Charlie finally admits to Nick that he’s kept quiet about it because he didn’t want to “burden” people with his negative feelings. He didn’t want Nick to think he was a “fragile, broken mess.” (Boy, have I been there!) He admits limiting his food intake is the only area in his life he feels he can control. Charlie also reveals his relationship with Ben lacked consent. But he felt that’s what he deserved after months of people telling him how disgusting and worthless he was for being gay.

Refreshingly, Heartstopper doesn’t make us watch the gory details of the bullying. The aftermath is enough to get the point across. It’s still heartbreaking to see Charlie going through this stuff. He deserves better, but as someone with anxiety (and a parent of a kid with anxiety triggered by bullying), it is important to depict these stories so people can recognize the symptoms in themselves and figure out how to get help.

(featured image: Netflix)


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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.