The popular Netflix series Heartstopper, based on the graphic novella series by Alice Oseman, has captivated audiences worldwide with its touching portrayal of a blossoming romance between two schoolboys, Nick Nelson and Charlie Spring (Kit Connor and Joe Locke). While the show features a lovely and diverse ensemble of supporting characters, Nick and Charlie’s relationship is the true heartstopper of the series.
Although their relationship faces bumps in the road, Nick and Charlie’s journey is beautiful to behold. Let’s take a look at some of the couple’s highlights from the past two seasons and what to expect in Season Three.
The relationship begins when Nick, a year older, befriends the introverted and artistically gifted Charlie. Their friendship, initially born from shared classes at sixth form and rugby practices, transitions into a deeper bond. One of the highlights is the slow reveal of their feelings for each other. Audiences see Nick, the rugby jock who previously identified as straight, come to terms with his feelings for Charlie. It’s a raw, nuanced portrayal of self-discovery laden with fear and butterflies.
Charlie, on the other hand, has been openly gay for some time and is bullied at school. What’s worse is that at the beginning of the series, Charlie secretly hooks up with one of his bullies, Ben, who later assaults him. It’s Nick who pulls Ben off Charlie and makes sure Charlie is okay. Considering how awful teenage boys can be, especially when it comes to consent, it’s refreshing to have a character like Nick who doesn’t tolerate that kind of behavior, even if that means losing “respect” from his rugby teammates.
Nick’s Coming Out Journey
One of the most heartwarming aspects of Nick and Charlie’s relationship is the way they support each other. While Nick stands up to Charlie’s bullies, Charlie helps Nick through his struggles and insecurities as he contemplates coming out as bisexual to his friends and family. This is a prevailing theme in Heartstopper: exploring one’s sexual identity is a unique experience with its own timeline and can’t be rushed. Season One ended with Nick coming out to his mom (Olivia Colman), who accepted him with open arms.
However, not every queer person receives unconditional support from their family members. In Season Two, viewers are introduced to Nick’s older brother, David, who does not react kindly to Nick and Charlie’s relationship. He even goes a step further by invalidating Nick’s sexuality, “If you’re gonna be gay, just admit that you’re gay.” This is textbook “bisexual erasure,” which is a term used to describe the ways in which society often dismisses bisexuality because it tends to see people and their sexualities through a binary lens (male or female, gay or straight).
With the help of Charlie and their friends, most of whom exist on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, Nick’s coming out journey is portrayed with sensitivity and nuance. It provides a rare glimpse into the experience of realizing one’s own sexuality, especially for a cisgender male who comes from a traditionally “straight” background.
The Bees and The Bees
We all know the coming-of-age genre tends to hypersexualize teenagers, from Skins UK to Sam Levinson’s Euphoria. What makes Heartstopper so unique is its commitment to not hypersexualize teenagers, even though its subject matter revolves around sexuality. As Nick and Charlie take their relationship to the next level in Season Two by coming out to their friends and family, they also discuss wanting to take things slow (in Paris, of all places!) This is revolutionary, especially when you think about how gay romances, particularly between young men, are portrayed in the media.
This isn’t to say that showing teenagers having sex is innately a bad thing, but not every teenager is ready or even wants to take that step—and that should be represented, too. There is also an argument to be made for shows like Heartstopper that are appropriate for families to watch together, which could help usher in greater awareness and acceptance for youth only beginning to explore their sexual identity.
Will Nick and Charlie have a happy ending?
Season Two gave us plenty of butterflies as Nick and Charlie grew closer and stronger as a couple, but it also hinted at a larger issue that could drive them apart in Season 3: Charlie’s eating disorder. On a school trip to Paris, Charlie passes out in a museum, having not eaten anything all day. Nick, who has noticed Charlie’s lack of appetite throughout the season, finally confronts him. Charlie tells Nick he started restricting food around the time he was being bullied at school and that restricting was the one thing he could “control.”
This explanation is quite common for those who suffer from ED, but what isn’t common is the portrayal of a young man, particularly a young queer man, developing an eating disorder due to homophobic bullying. Again, Heartstopper is a show that’s not afraid to show men as vulnerable and aims to bring awareness to issues that most people may not know about.
It’s evident from the final scene in Season Two that Charlie’s mental health could turn into a larger issue if he doesn’t get the right support. When Charlie tells Nick the depth of his trauma from all the bullying at school, Nick very nearly tells Charlie that he loves him—but something holds him back. It’s clear that Nick loves Charlie, and vice versa, but perhaps Nick knows deep down that Charlie’s well-being is contingent on their relationship. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a person, let alone a teenage boy.
As the saying goes, first loves rarely last forever, but Heartstopper won’t give up on its main couple so easily. We do not doubt that Season Three will be filled with more heart-thumping moments and milestones in Nick and Charlie’s relationship, even if the couple is put to the test…