Asexual Representation in Heartbreak High Season 2

Ca$h's Asexual journey continues into season 2. How does it develop... and is it getting better?

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Courtney: Hello, everyone, and welcome back. My name is Courtney. I am here, as always, with my spouse, Royce. And together, we are The Ace Couple. And recently, Season 2 of Heartbreak High released. And we are not gonna do the same thing we did last time, where we watched the entire first season and then didn’t feel like talking about it and waited a number of months until we’d all but forgotten nearly the entire plot and had to rewatch it all over again to record an episode for you. So we’re doing it right while it’s fresh on our minds.

Royce: Mostly. I feel like it’s been a few days and some of it has already glazed over.

Courtney: What is it about this show or this genre of show that just, like, refuses to stick in our brains? You and I usually have pretty good memories. [laughs]

Royce: I think that there just isn’t a lot about these types of shows that actually stands out to me as unique and interesting.

Courtney: That’s probably fair. A couple of just vibes — vibes for the second season versus the first one. Of course, if you haven’t watched the second season yet and spoilers are a concern of yours, don’t listen to this yet. If you haven’t listened to our first episode on the first season, you can go do that as well, because we’re certainly going to be sort of talking about the evolution, particularly, of the Asexual character in the show as we progress on to Season 2 here. But general vibes: I feel like Season 2 somehow had less of an idea of where it was going and what it wanted to do, and yet it was somehow also, like, a little more tolerable for me to watch.

Royce: I think you specifically mentioned it was a little more tolerable about half to three quarters of the way through the eight-episode season. Because for Episodes at least 1 and maybe 2, we were like, “What is this show? Why is it such a mess?”

Courtney: Oh, the first episode especially was a hot mess. The pacing. The, like, “Here’s where we’re picking up. Here’s the new conflict. Here are these new characters. They’re just here now with very little organic introduction.” [laughs]

Royce: It was like, they were introducing a few new characters. There weren’t many new characters that were added that were major. I want to say maybe three people that I can think of off the top of my head that played a big part in the series. But at the same time, without having, like, an actual few-minute recap like Netflix has been doing for some series, it felt like they had to pull all of the main cast of characters back in and, through dialogue, one, remind us what they were doing, and then, two, remind us what character trope each one of them personifies by cranking up whatever that was to 11.

Courtney: Mmm. Yeah.

Royce: Like, the first time we see Sasha, she, I believe, has a megaphone out and is talking about an anti-litter program, but, like, word-drops “socialist” and “Marxist” into the description of the litter program — the anti-litter program.

Courtney: Yeah. We complained about, like, the activist character trope being the most insufferable character in the in the first episode we did about the first season, and she… I don’t know. Because she also doesn’t have as many personal relationships. Like, she at least tried to explore a relationship with Quinni in Season 1, so we were at least able to see, like, how that relationship dynamic was — which wasn’t good. She didn’t treat Quinni well. So, there was that. But we at least saw what it looks like when she has a personal relationship with someone. Where this one, it was mostly just talking at people and annoying almost everyone. [laughs]

Royce: Which, I have a bit more to say about that. And it’s not that Sasha’s character itself even irritated me all that much. It was the way that the show framed it.

Courtney: Mmm.

Royce: And I’ll talk about that a little bit more.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: But how else did you want to lead in?

Courtney: The show struggles with a framing issue overall, I think. [laughs] And what’s strange here to me is that some of the framing was better this season than last. Some of it was. Not all of it. But, for example, one of the critiques we had in the first season was, does the show itself actually care about, like, ableist language as a concern, for example? Because there was a one-off line that Quinni made in first season where someone threw around the word “idiot,” and Quinni was like, “’Idiot’’s ableist language,” and then they dropped it, never said anything about that language again, but then continued to use that language down the line. And so it’s like, when we have that one-off line from Quinni that gets completely ignored, versus the really in-your-face, intentionally annoying activist character that is just throwing around all these social justice buzzwords that most people do not take seriously because of that, does the show actually care about ableist language or not? It didn’t seem to.

Courtney: And then that’s a thing that — they just lost the plot on that altogether. They’re just like, “We’re not even going to touch this.” Because the very first episode is called “Bird Psycho.” And we even have Quinni, who is the character who brought up the concern about ableist language, who is full in on this and is like, “Yes, Bird Psycho,” using that phrase over and over again, and gets really into investigating this new central plot. So, like, right off the bat, I’m like. “Alright, so we’re again forgetting that that happened.”

Courtney: And, like, stuff like that can happen. Like, sometimes there are so many writers in a writer’s room. Writers might have different characters they’re focusing on. Different people might write different scenes, and they might not compare enough notes. Maybe scenes have been cut that would have drawn lines better. Like, things can happen. But if that was just the only thing when it comes to my concerns about framing, then maybe it wouldn’t be as big of a deal.

Courtney: But the first season, the central conflict that was presented in the first episode and resolved in the last episode was: these two friends are fighting, these two best friends. Something happened to one of them. And it became, like, what happened to Harper? Why is Harper like this? Why has Harper changed? So we’ve got this sort of mystery element about what happened to Harper; why Harper and Amerie, the two friends, are now fighting; what went wrong? And we saw that through. And Harper went through a lot of shit. She got kidnapped. She has a father who became very abusive.

Courtney: So now that all that came to light, and that relationship got mostly repaired, now Harper does have, like, “Alright, what is life after I have gone through this trauma, after I have been emancipated from my father? What is next for me? I’m still a teenager. I’m still trying to graduate while also trying to support myself now.” So, like, that sort of Harper’s… Like, Harper had the big climax and now it’s all just getting her life back together after that point.

Courtney: But in a show like this, where a lot of it does revolve around trauma and, to a certain extent, shock value, I would argue, now, how does the show one-up what it did? Like, she got captured by a gang, thrown in a car by multiple guys, you know, locked in a car, driven out. They tried to presumably take her out into the middle of nowhere. And her father was having delusions — what was it? A wolf? Like, the wolf is here — and, like, physically attacking Harper. Like, these are all very, very big things. So, now we have this issue of, like, these are still all high schoolers in high school. But how do we escalate the conflict?

Royce: Yeah, an escalation like that from season to season or show to show often is something that irritates me a lot of the time, because you kind of get yourself into a storytelling hole.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: And in this case, they even tried to go with the same season structure where they open up, in this case, with the school on fire, and that’s, like, the opening scene of the season. And then, in the last episode of the season, we get the resolution to why the school was on fire.

Courtney: Yeah. Like, if they were trying to go campy instead of trying to go serious, I was just waiting for the narrator to be like, “You’re probably wondering how I got here.” [laughs] And now they’re doing all these things. They have all these different characters, all these different subplots that have nothing to do with the school on fire. So for these entire eight episodes, we’re like, “Alright. I guess in the very last episode, the school’s gonna somehow be lit on fire, and we’re just…” I don’t know. What was it, in, like, episode seven or something, we were just like, “Oh, yeah! The school’s gonna be lit on fire.” We were supposed to, I guess, be curious as to how they were going to get to that point, but [laughs] I don’t know. My brain lost the plot there.

Royce: Yeah, it wasn’t clearly connected. It was just a scene from the last episode thrown into the first one. Whereas, I mean, even in the first season, you did have Harper as the through-plot, and you see things going on with her, but there’s a pretty intentional reluctance to talk about anything, pretty much, until that final episode. Then you get all of it. So it was even pretty thin then. There were a lot of other subplots that were given a lot more time instead of feeding that information throughout the season.

Courtney: Yeah. Well, the actual school being on fire, too — like, that wasn’t the main point of that episode or that scene. Like, there was a totally unrelated conversation happening in the school while the school was on fire, and that was arguably what had been set up the entire season. Like, it wasn’t leading up to the school being on fire. It was leading up to this conversation, this confrontation.

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: Figuring out who the Bird Psycho is.

Royce: The fire just raised the stakes of that conversation.

Courtney: Yeah! And the way the fire started was very much — like, it was a deus ex machina. They’re like, “How do we add more tension to this conversation?” Oh, who’s the guy that they were saying — you looked this up — an Australian figure that we had never heard of until we had to look it up?

Royce: Oh, I mean, we’ll get into this more when we talk about the main characters, but they introduce a sports teacher who’s, like, a total right-wing redpill conspiracy theorist-type person who’s just always a problem all the time. And — during the last, I think, episode or two is when this happens — he gets fired and says, “This is going to be their Glenrowan,” which I had to look up because that is, like, the last stand of a really famous Australian bushranger named Ned Kelly.

Courtney: Ned Kelly, yes. Because a student ran in and was like, “There’s a bunch of Ned Kellys on the yard!” [laughs]

Royce: Yeah. They have, like, trash bins on their head and things like that in imitation of the armor that Ned Kelly wore.

Courtney: So, the thing that had me rolling my eyes is, like, so this fire that they set up to be the big thing, the big teaser in the very beginning scene of the very first episode, is like — it wasn’t a deus ex machina, it was a Ned Kelly ex machina. Like, [laughs] it was just a doofus with a torch throwing a fit, while the actual plot is happening adjacent to it. So I’d say it was a touch ham-fisted.

Courtney: But we should back up. We should talk more about the characters and the new conflicts and the framing, and especially the Ace character. That is, of course, why we’re here. I think they did good. They did better, I think. They kept a progression that did seem meaningful. But I still had a couple issues with it, and I’m really… I almost now hope there’s a Season 3, because I’m like, “You can’t leave it there.” There were so many more opportunities to make this more well-rounded that weren’t taken, so I want more screen time so that they can find those and take them. [laughs]

Royce: As far as I’m aware, Season 3 has not been announced, but that is also not unsurprising, considering the entire season just dropped pretty recently.

Courtney: Right, it’s so new.

Royce: Yeah, why don’t we… Because this is a short season and because I feel like some of the plot points weave in and out and also some of the character interactions just aren’t all that interesting to talk about, should we just focus on character by character? Because, yes, Cash, the Ace character, was the main focus of us reviewing the series as a whole. That’s how it came on our radar. We also talked quite a bit about Quinni as an Autistic person during the last episode. And then there are a few other things to talk about, about, I think, the show’s handling of things all together, and some of the new characters, including Timothy Voss, the sports teacher that I just mentioned, and also a new character named Zoe.

Courtney: Ah, yes. I guess before we go into individual scenes, I do want to give credit where it’s due. I said it was more tolerable for me to watch it this time. Because I think the sex scenes in this show were handled better this season than they were last season. Part of what made it a very difficult show for me to watch, and part of what makes a lot of these teenage sex shows difficult for me to watch, is the glamorization and the stylization of the sex scenes for these adult actors who are playing teenagers. [laughs]

Courtney: And I don’t think they did as, in my opinion, badly in this season as they did the first one. Because I try to compare — like, there was the infamous threesome episode in the first season, which was very, very sexualized. It was, like, slow-motion and moody lighting and music, and, like, it often felt like it lingered a lot more — not only on that but other other sex scenes in the first episode, more so than this one.

Courtney: There were a couple of hard cuts in this one. Like, clearly they’re doing the sex now and we pan up to a clock on the wall that shows we’ve moved, like, three or four minutes, which was kind of funny. [laughs] But that was, like, a hard cut. Like, we aren’t seeing the teenagers have sex. The most, I guess, graphic insinuation we had was of oral sex. There was… one of the villains from the first season has now started a relationship with a character, and they showed his head, like, between her legs when she’s clearly not wearing pants, pretty often. But I didn’t feel like they lingered or stylized it or glamorized it as much as the first season did. Which I think is good.

Courtney: ‘Cause I’m always concerned that people are going to do this thing where, if I critique sex scenes in TV shows, that they’re going to call me a Puritan and they’re going to, you know, call me sex-negative. And it’s really… First of all, I can have my personal preference. I can say I just prefer not to watch those on TV. Like, I want to tune out when those come on my TV. And I am not the only Ace who feels this way. I know some Aces don’t, but a lot of us actually do. And these are the most common shows these days where we have Ace characters, is in shows that are otherwise completely about sex and show a lot of sex. So, for the, you know, sex-repulsed among us, it’s like, do we only get Asexual characters in really, really sexualized shows? Because that’s going to alienate a good number of us who don’t like watching this much sex on shows. Not to say it shouldn’t be there. It should. I’m just saying we need a wider variety of shows that are bringing this representation to the table.

Courtney: But when it’s teenagers, I feel very weird about it. Because even if the actors are adults, you are telling us that they are teenagers. You are presenting them as teenagers. They are minors. And, yes, minors and teenagers do have sex. I’m not saying you cannot at all depict it in television or talk about them having it at all. But I do have some questions and concerns about the framing of it a lot of times. Because if you do make it very stylistic, if you put the microphones down their damn throat so we can hear all of their sloppy kissing noises, and you have the moody lighting and slow motion and all this, and just a very sexy version of it where it’s probably unrealistic for most teenagers to be having that kind of sex anyway. But whether it is or not, it’s like, I know the definition of pornography is really vague, [laughs] but most people will say, like, “Oh, it’s sexual content with the intent to arouse or titillate.” And it’s like, I feel like these shows rely on a certain amount of plausible deniability where they can be like, “Well, that wasn’t our intention.”

Royce: That was 100% their intention.

Courtney: It was 100% your intention!

Royce: If it wasn’t their intention, they would have cut.

Courtney: Right.

Royce: And that’s that’s the thing. Sex scenes in shows don’t bother me, but when you linger on it, it’s fan service. Because the plot point of establishing that these people are having sex has already, at that point, has already been accomplished.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: Like, by the moment they start, or the moment the insinuation is made, you could cut, ad the plot-important, the character-important understanding has already been done. Lingering on it, or, as you were saying, glamorizing, is fan service, and I am not in the group of fans that enjoys that, so it’s just boring to me [laughs] and I want them to get back to plot.

Courtney: Yeah. It’s boring to me, too. It is boring. There’s a spectrum of boring to repulsive for me. [laughs] There is a line somewhere where it’s going to cross from boring to repulsive. But it’s never a good or a positive thing. And when it’s — when the framing is teenagers, I feel very strange about it, because either the audience is adults who are now being fan-serviced teenagers having sex — which, there’s ethically dubious connotations to that — or the audience is teenagers that age, and I don’t think that’s healthy for teenagers that age either.

Royce: You could definitely critique the… I don’t know the actors’ ages, but probably 20-something, early 20-somethings who have, like —

Courtney: Sometimes they get into their 30s. I haven’t looked up this particular cast, but, like —

Royce: What I was going to say was, the adult actors that have the kind of physique that can only really be accomplished by, like, restricting your diet and dehydrating yourself for muscle pageant type of performance sort of things, and then being like, “Hello, all of you teenagers. This is what a 16-year-old body is supposed to look like.”

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Because I think pretty much every guy who took his shirt off in this show had —

Courtney: Abs.

Royce: — like, well-defined abs and pecs, yeah.

Courtney: Yeah. And that’s… The thing is, it’s not even to say that no teenagers can ever have abs, because I know and have seen some teenagers who have abs. But there is still a difference between a teenager with abs and an adult actor with abs. [laughs]

Royce: Yeah. I mean, like, pageant body is a thing. Like, that isn’t something that is very easily sustainable.

Courtney: Because… And this conversation, by the way — it’s more than just this show. There are other shows that are guilty of all of these things. And so it’s the patterns I’m noticing that en masse, I think, can contribute issues. Because then there’s the body aspect that, goodness knows, teenagers have enough issues with body dysmorphia, with standard everyday run-of-the-mill insecurities, just going through puberty. I’ve never seen a teenager on these shows that have acne. [laughs] You know, things like that.

Courtney: But not not only what do the bodies look like — you’re showing us conventionally attractive adult professional actors and saying these are teenagers — but also, what does the sex look like, and is this realistic sex that teenagers are having? Which is kind of weird, too. Because we talked about the threesome in the first season. There was some weird things like that. Because why do I feel like I’ve seen more teenage threesomes on TV in recent years than I’ve seen adult threesomes?

Royce: I mean, probably because these kinds of shows with these cast of characters and relationship dynamics keep being written for teenagers and not adults. Like, when was the last time we saw an adult show with this kind of cast and setting and dynamic?

Courtney: No, I can’t think of one. So, yeah, it’s just weird all around. Because there are reasons why they cast adults to play these roles, obviously. And I’d like to, in the future, do an entire episode about just sex scenes in Hollywood. Because, for as much as the “We need sex scenes” versus “If you critique sex scenes, you’re being a Puritan and you’re being sex-negative and you’re not an ally to the cause and you’re not a feminist” and all this good stuff that people will throw around, there are some genuine ethical concerns about intimacy on TV. And some of it’s getting better. Some of it — they have intimacy coordinators now. There are real-life people doing those jobs. We talked about a fictional example of that in our episode on Evan Waxman. That’s good stuff.

Courtney: But, like, there are also minors who are actors in Hollywood who are very frequently forced to do things they’re really uncomfortable with, really often. And sometimes that’s as simple as, like, a kiss If you’re a 12- or 13-year-old and your first kiss ever is scripted and on TV. There are all kinds of actors who are now adults, who were child actors, coming out and saying, like, “Yeah, I was really uncomfortable. I didn’t want to do this kiss, but I felt like I had to, or else I was going to lose my job.” Like, there are things like that, and I’ll save my thoughts on the Brooke Shields of it all for that episode, ’cause, oh my God.

Courtney: But, like, part of part of my question — which I’d like to think on more before we do that episode — is, if you wouldn’t make actual teenage actors do this on a camera, why are you writing this character to be this age? I don’t think a writer or a director is ever going to give me an answer to that, but that’s kind of my question, where I’m like, “I don’t know if I will be happy with any answer to that question.” I don’t know if I’ll be swayed by any answer to that.

Royce: Just to guess, in the absence of an answer, it is probably because that is the formula that has proven to sell, at this point in time.

Courtney: Yeah. So, all this to say, I do think Season 2 did better about that. But the threesome episode, too — for as much as some people might be like, “Oh, it’s so good to see a threesome depicted on TV”; I did hear people say that at the time — that was also after Malakai, one of the characters in said threesome, had just been, like, racially profiled and assaulted by a police officer. So there was, like, a big question of, “Are you in the right headspace to consent to this right now?” Which I think is weird, because now, in Season 2, Harper’s whole deal is rebuilding her life after these traumas. Malakai is also still a character, and he also has some traumas that, presumably, he should still be working on, but I felt like that was kind of brushed over, because now his main conflict is, “Oh no, am I not straight?” And he was like, “Am I bisexual? Do I want a relationship with a guy instead of a girl?”

Royce: That and the on-again-off-again relationship with Amerie as well.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: Yeah. As a part of that.

Courtney: And I’m like, “Are we just going to brush over the fact that this threesome that I guess maybe gave him his bisexual awakening was actually, like, maybe not properly consensual?” [laughs]

Courtney: But in speaking about consent, I think consent is a big theme in what our analysis around Cash, the Ace character, is going to be this season. Some of it was good, but some of it was, like, good but in a bad scenario. And again, I’m like, “Why this framing?” [laughs] This was almost excellent. So, he… I mean, he starts off in jail. We saw him got arrested in the last season. And he’s in a relationship with Darren, who is the nonbinary icon of the show, who is also very much allosexual. And I kind of thought, based on the first episode or two, that… I had a moment where I was like, “Oh, good. I think Cash and Darren are going to get even more screen time and even more intentionality behind this plot line.” Because the first couple episodes, it seemed like the biggest conflict was going to be Cash, you know, currently being in jail, and Darren setting up a time to come and visit, and Cash’s Nan, who is probably the best character in this show. [laughs] But then there were some times mid-season where it didn’t feel that way, and it felt like they did kind of melt into the background a little bit again, except for the few moments here and there where they had an individual scene that was saying something.

Courtney: And I can’t put my finger on what it is about this show and shows that do writing like this. But it’s something about how ensemble casts are written. Because some ensemble cast shows are my favorite pieces of writing ever, and I think they do it very well, and I think they give every individual character their proper time and their proper plot and their own situations, as well as the dynamics between the individual characters in the ensemble cast. But something about the writing of ensembles like this doesn’t hit the mark for me. And I wish I could explain it better. I haven’t put my finger on it yet. But I’ve kind of had the same critique with Heartstopper, where I’m like, “There’s something about this where it’s trying to be an ensemble cast, but it’s kind of missing the mark on that.” And so it’s like, I feel like it needs to either pick a lane where, like, this is the main character or the main couple and everyone else is supporting, or this is a more true ensemble cast. It’s like, that balance hasn’t been struck quite right in a lot of shows like this, to me.

Royce: The amount of focus or on-air time or attention is not given in a way that’s helping the plot.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: So, like, even if you do have a central character or two and then some supporting characters, a lot of shows that do that will have your main through-plots and then a side plot or two, but then may give, you know, an episode or an arc where one person is shown much more thoroughly. And that was one of our criticisms with Isaac from Heartstopper —

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: — was that he just didn’t seem to get enough screen time to actually develop much of a character.

Courtney: And I wonder if part of the issue is streaming. Because a lot of these shows that we talk about are on Netflix, and a lot of these seasons that release are very short. This was only eight episodes, right?

Royce: Yeah. Both seasons were only eight episodes.

Courtney: TV shows used to be a heck of a lot longer per season when they were on, like, cable.

Royce: Yeah, that’s true. But —

Courtney: They were, like, 20, 30, 40 episodes per season. And some of that was needlessly long. Some of it they had to add filler and padding to get that long. And part… I know part of that was because of, like, syndication. Like, after you had over 100 episodes of a show or something, then it was potentially up for syndication and you could get more money on that. So I know the logic behind it. But it really kind of feels like older shows, you had a lot more time to explore a wider variety of characters in exactly the same season. And we aren’t getting that as much anymore. And I wonder if that’s part of the issue here.

Courtney: But for what we did see of Cash, I liked most of it. The first conflict was, he’s in jail. He’s waiting to see Darren. His Nan is gonna pick Darren up, and the two of them are gonna come visit. But he’s also kind of tied up with these eshays, who still think he’s one of them and still expect him to return to them once he gets out. And, what was it, Chook was, like, presumably the leader of all this.

Royce: Yeah, that’s right.

Courtney: And, like, he had a moment where he straight-up, like, face-to-face intimidated Darren. He had them — like, hooked them in like a very intimidating hug around the shoulder and was like, “Hey, let’s have a chat,” and kind of put it in their head that Cash is and will always be one of them, and saying, “I’ve been in Cash’s life longer than you. How much do you really know Cash?” And so Darren started getting really in their head and ended up missing that visit and didn’t come along.

Courtney: And that was the moment where I thought, “This is kind of cool, that the main conflict of their relationship isn’t going to stem from the fact that Cash is Asexual.” But then that kind of came around and bit me in the ass. [laughs] Because that didn’t last for very long. Cash’s Nan showed up to the place where Darren works and kind of kind of let them have it and was like, “He was waiting for you. How do you do this to him? Don’t give up on him,” and all this.

Courtney: And so the day Cash gets out of jail, he walks out, and there are basically two cars there to drive him home. There’s Chook and the other eshays on one side, and on the other side is his Nan and Darren. And, at least in that moment, he goes with his Nan and Darren. And he and Darren, you know, make up as well as they can in that moment.

Courtney: But then Darren starts spending the night with Cash pretty regularly. And I love Cash’s Nan as a character! She basically… She, like, opens the door to the bedroom, and they’re both laying in bed, and says something sassy and really lets them have it. And a guy that she is now dating walks up. And he is, like, butt-naked behind her. [laughs] And they’re talking about, like, “We want our privacy too!” [laughs] And I really gotta give it to Cash’s actor in this scene. It was so funny and charming. And I was actually like, “Alright, I am on board. I actually am really coming around to this character now.” Because he, like, held up a pillow to his face and was like, “Aaah! I don’t want to see it! I don’t want to hear it!” [laughs] And ended up just, like, tossing a thumbs-up like, “Yep, I heard you!” And I thought it was a very charming scene. And that kind of revolved around, like, “Are you going back to school? Are you getting a job?” Because he is over 18. He is by far the oldest one here, but he’s still in high school. He’s the only one who’s over 18, because that becomes a plot point.

Royce: He is exactly 18, yeah. I had to look that up because there’s a point in the season — I think when they’re coming around to graduation or something — where his Nan comes in, and it was like, “You’ve been at that school for 50 fucking years!”

[Courtney laughs]

Royce: “I’m not gonna miss you graduating.”

Courtney: It was the formal.

Royce: The formal.

Courtney: Because she comes in with a suit, and she’s like, “Go to the formal.” [laughs]

Royce: “I’m not gonna miss you being in a suit,” yeah.

Courtney: I love the Nan.

Royce: But, yeah, aside from with Darren, a lot of the conflict around Cash this season is trying to get back into things coming out of jail, finding a place to live, finding a job. Throughout all of this, Chook is harassing him, and he’s fearful for his own safety. At one point, a brick ends up getting thrown through a window —

Courtney: At his Nan’s house, yeah.

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: And at first, the principal wasn’t going to let him back into school. And I had complex feelings about that one. He did ultimately get let back in. And I do believe that people can be put in bad situations and people can grow and they can do better. And with a character like this, they were walking a fine line, where sometimes I thought they handled that character development well, and other times I was like, “Ehh, is that the best way to show that?” Because he was simultaneously involved in the kidnapping of Harper, but also then realized this is fucked up and helped her escape. And it’s like, you still did help kidnap her, you still got to this point.

Courtney: And we don’t know everything he did with the eshays before this point. They allude to the fact that he has done some other fucked-up stuff. There is a moment where Chook takes him out on a boat and the agreement is kind of like, “One last job and then I will leave you alone.” And you can tell Chook doesn’t really believe that. He thinks he’s going to be able to convince Cash to come back. And they have this moment where you’re able to see that, yes, based on this conversation, Chook was kind of the only person there for Cash at a period of time where he didn’t really have anyone, and that can be how someone can fall into gangs and whatnot. We learned that he gave Cash his name “Cash,” and that it stands for Child of an Addict and Self-Harmer. So, that was an interesting reveal, and that is a name that he’s still going by, for example.

Courtney: But he gets… Cash, I mean, gets really upset at Chook on this boat and pulls out a knife that he had brought for self-defense just in case, not knowing if Chook was going to jump him when they were out on their own. And he just gets angry and, like, runs up and attacks him and holds the knife up at him. And Chook’s just like, “There he is. There’s the Cash I know.” So we know that, even in this particular situation, that there might be some level of self-defense here, but there also might be some amount of anger issues, because he didn’t seem to be immediately in danger in that particular instance. Chook recognized this in him. So, I’m just wondering. I’m like, “We probably won’t ever know, because they’re on this whole redemption arc for him, but he probably has hurt people in the past.”

Courtney: And some of the way they handled his checkered past versus his redemption arc was interesting. Because, obviously, he is framed to be a very sympathetic character. And so, when the principal originally says, “No, you can’t come back to school because I’m trying to keep this school safe and all of these students safe,” there’s a moment where I’m like, “He does have a right to rebuild his life, but I kind of see why the principal’s doing that. He did absolutely get arrested for kidnapping a student of that school.” [laughs] So I’m like, “In the name of safety, I understand that.”

Courtney: But, also I hate that that’s another very unrealistic part of the show. Because, let me tell you, my school principal did not give a shit about students who were sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, treated very horribly by other students or by teachers. With some of the, I guess, quote, more “minor” things that I brought to a principal’s attention when I was treated horribly in high school that got completely just, like, brushed over and, like, “Well, there’s nothing we’re going to do about that,” it’s like, “Why would I come to you when something even worse happens? Why? I have lost all trust that you actually care.” So part of me was like, “Wow, look at a principal who’s actually trying to keep students safe!”

Courtney: But then it’s actually Harper, the one who got kidnapped, who’s like, “Well, it’s not fair. You should let him back into school. Like, you can’t let him fall through the cracks. Like, he’s just going to, you know, fall even deeper into this if he can’t finish his education,” which is also a decent point. But Harper simultaneously goes to bat for him to the principal, to lobby to get him back into school, while also — when Cash comes to her and tries to, like, apologize, and she’s like, “Don’t do that.” And he’s like, “Oh, you should be mad at me. You should yell at me or something.” And she’s like, “That’ll just make you feel better, not me. I am not here to make you feel better. Because what I went through was awful. Like, that was terrible. That was shitty. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.” And in that moment, I’m like, “Yeah, good for her.” But then she also tries to go and move in with him, because now she’s an emancipated minor and she’s having trouble finding a place to live. And she’s like, “Wait, but you’re 18. Let’s get a place together! And Darren can move in too, since you and Darren are dating.” And I don’t know. How did that feel to you? To me, it felt a little all over the place in her reactions to Cash in particular.

Royce: I don’t think I even really noticed the dissonance until you described it like that. I think that.. I guess the picture that I got was that one, yes, she argued for him to come back into school — which, I don’t know how much of that… I don’t know how much of all of this, I guess, is more for Cash and more for Darren.

Courtney: Mmm.

Royce: But —

Courtney: Yeah, that’s a possibility.

Royce: I don’t think that… I think that while maintaining the stance of, like, “You did a bad thing. You should feel guilty about it. That is your thing to process. I’m not going to help you with that” makes sense. I also don’t think that she feels, like, physically threatened by him.

Courtney: No.

Royce: Because —

Courtney: And she said, “I don’t blame you for what happened.”

Royce: Yes.

Courtney: So she did make that clear. She’s like, “I don’t blame you. I know that, like, the bad guy here is Chook. Like, he’s the one who spearheaded this. But just because I don’t blame you doesn’t mean I’m going to make you feel better about being a part of it.”

Royce: Yeah. And that’s that’s why I was saying I don’t think I see the dissonance there. Because she’s not going to sugarcoat the situation that happened, but at the same time, I don’t think she has any reservations about being around him.

Courtney: Mhm. Which gets really complicated when Chook is bringing Cash back home after they’ve gotten a place together — the three of them have moved in — and none of them knew that he was out with Chook. In his mind, it’s like, “This is a thing I have to do to get him off my back,” so that, on his side of things, was understandable. But then Chook drives him there and, like, glares at Harper from his car from outside and gives her a death stare, which of course upsets Harper and Darren. They’re like, “First of all, why were you with him? Also, why did you bring him here?” That was really frustrating, because, even though we know why Cash was doing that, he didn’t communicate any of this to Darren or Harper — that he had to go on one last job to get him off his back or anything. He was trying to keep it a secret and didn’t want to tell anybody, and yet, did now put those two in a situation where you are bringing this very dangerous person who has committed violent crimes to the person you are now rooming with, to their home.

Royce: And I don’t know if that was even intentional, because more time passed than was intended. The engine of their boat stopped working and they ended up being out on the lake, like, I think it was overnight. And so that may have just been a factor of —

Courtney: Not completely overnight, because they still got back that night, but it was late. It was after dark.

Royce: It may have been something that, had things gone as originally agreed upon or planned, that that situation may not have happened.

Courtney: Yeah. But, like, I do think that anger was justified. But this then becomes, I guess, the final conflict in Cash and Darren’s relationship, which comes back to his Asexuality. Because, previous to this, other than thinking about moving in together, the “Do I really trust him? Am I gonna visit him in jail?” sort of a thing, the one moment where we start to see the beginning of, “How does an Asexual person and an allosexual person navigate intimacy in a relationship?” — which I was personally excited to see. I wanted to see how they would handle that. And it was almost good. It was almost excellent.

Courtney: But here’s what is so weird to me about the framing of this show. If you just take that scene in isolation: they are, like, out in the woods. They start to… Well, at first, Cash makes a move on Darren. They’re in bed. They’re, like, out camping. They’re on a school trip. And he, like, goes to reach down Darren’s pants, presumably, and Darren’s like, “Wait, what are you doing?” and gets kind of all like, “Is this actually what you want?” And Darren’s like, “Well, it’s what you want, so I’m gonna do this because that’s what you want.” And then Darren gets upset and says, like, “But what do you want?” And so they cut that short and don’t explore that in that moment, which I honestly thought was pretty cool of Darren, but also needed to be more of a conversation than it was in that moment.

Courtney: But that’s followed up the next day, where they are out in the woods, they start making out. And then Darren, once again, kind of poses the, like, “What do you want?” And Cash says, “I want you to touch yourself,” and, like, whispers this in their ear. And so they just sort of kiss and make out while Darren masturbates. Aside from the fact that I think they could have been a little more detailed about this conversation and, like, what the lines of consent are here, on its own: good, great. I wouldn’t have any notes about it if they weren’t high off their ass on mushrooms with dozens of other teenagers. I don’t know if it was dozens. A dozen other teenagers high on mushrooms in the middle of a forest, trying to make their way back to civilization. What is this show? Why is that necessary to get us to that scene?

Courtney: That scene could have been so good! But there’s this weird dual framing where, I swear, earlier in this season, they still have their, like, SLT’s [pronounced “sluts”] class — which, the teachers are still just letting them call it that — so, they have their SLT’s class. And the teacher in this has talked a lot about consent and what consent looks like. And, I swear, I had to look at you and be like, “Am I going crazy, or did this exact show actually say this? Or am I thinking about this from another show?” Because it feels like it didn’t come from this show, the way they’re doing this. Where they were saying, like, “You know, consent isn’t just what comes out of a person’s mouth. It’s not just them saying yes. It’s analyzing the whole situation.” And, of course, that comes into, like, “Is drinking involved? Is intoxication involved? Like, is there any reservation? Is it hesitance?” Things of that nature.

Courtney: But now they’re high on mushrooms. After Darren, while they were sober, completely stopped what was approaching a sexual situation for concern that Cash didn’t actually want to do it, and now that they’re on mushrooms, they’re going to have this great conversation about, like, “I want you to do this, and this is now our thing, and this is how we can experience sexual intimacy together.” And they framed it as, “This is a breakthrough moment in their relationship, where they figured out how to have a type of sexual intimacy that works for both of them.” Why?

Courtney: And the teacher you mentioned — the, like, alt-right teacher — just decided to put them all in the woods and was like, “This will be character-building. Leave them with nothing and have them get back to civilization. This will be good for them.” And then all these teenagers just find mushrooms and they’re like, “What do you think? Are they magic? Let’s find out!”

Courtney: And I want to know… I struggle to think that this is actually realistic. But every single teenager there took the mushrooms, except for one, and it was Quinni. And it was just because she has a case to solve. She’s still trying to get to the bottom of who Bird Psycho is, and so she’s like, “I’m going to stay sober so I can pump these people for information while they’re high.” But every other teenager took the mushrooms when they’re out in the middle of nowhere, they do not know how to get back, they’re worried about having enough food and water. And I’m like, “Surely some teenagers will take the mushrooms.” I know some teenagers take mushrooms, but is that a realistic percentage of teenagers who would do that in that situation? I fail to believe that that is the case. Even the otherwise very conservative girl, who they literally call and she literally calls herself a Puriteens, took the mushrooms — which, we’ll talk about her, I have thoughts about her, but we’ll put a pin in the Puriteen.

Courtney: Because I really want to get to a specific point in Darren and Cash’s relationship and sit with that for a minute. Because, so far, for the most part, Darren and Cash’s relationship and Cash’s identity as an Ace this season overall I liked. I liked seeing a moment where they were just in bed one morning because they’re living together now and they’re both horribly embarrassed when Nan and her boyfriend come in. And, like, there were some cute moments like that. There were some moments where they had conflicts to overcome that didn’t revolve around Cash’s Asexuality. But then it kind of did become that, where Cash thinks Darren wants sexual contact, so he goes to initiate it.

Courtney: And what precipitates that, too, is a game of “Never Have I Ever” with all the students. And of course, when you have teenagers playing “Never Have I Ever,” you start getting into, like, “Have you ever had sex?” But everyone here knows who has had sex because of the previous, like, sex map from the first season. So, like, we know that almost all of these teenagers are sexually active. But then the questions get, like, really specific. It’s like, “Never have I ever done anal sex.” And both Cash and Darren take a drink, and Cash shoots Darren a very sheepish look. So, this is a new thing we didn’t know about Cash. It was before Darren. Darren is just learning this for the first time.

Courtney: And that’s what I also don’t like about those games. Because in real life, like, yes, you do technically consent to play these games, but the point is to get invasive questions out of people. And sometimes, if you’re not lying, that involves disclosing things very publicly before you’ve disclosed those things with your more interpersonal relationships that may be present. So, that’s just a weird thing about those games. Personal relationships that may be present, so that’s just a weird thing about those games. That’s why I think everyone should take a Royce stance on games like that.

Royce: Oh, yeah. I think I’ve stated before that I’ve never played a game like that and wouldn’t, because if someone asked me a question, I’m either going to answer it or I’m not, and the framing of the game isn’t going to change my opinion on whether or not I’m going to answer the question, so it doesn’t make sense for me to even play. And I believe I summarized that as, “I don’t take orders from plastic or glass.”

Courtney: For “Spin the Bottle.” Yes. [laughs] Yeah, that’s a really good point. Maybe someday I will be brave enough to share my horribly traumatic “Never Have I Ever” story, but today is not that day. But that’s also sort of a trope at this point amongst Asexual characters in teenage sex and/or romance shows. Because, like, rapid-fire off the top of my head: the latest season of Sex Education had a flashback scene with an Ace character playing a game like that. The latest season of Heartstopper had a game like that. This episode in this season had a game like that. And they’re always used to progress the plotline of the Asexual character.

Royce: Todd from BoJack had a “Seven Minutes in Heaven” scene.

Courtney: Yes. So, this is becoming a trope. Trope alert! Trope watch! [laughs] What do we call this genre of game? Do we just call them, like, allo party games? We’ll workshop it a little bit, but that’s what we’ll stick with for now. But as a result of revealing this, that’s what has Cash feeling really insecure now. And, presumably, in his head — this wasn’t said in so many words, but presumably, it’s like, “Oh shit, now Darren knows that I have done this thing. Therefore, Darren is going to feel bad if I will not do this thing with them. So I need to try to compensate now that Darren knows this thing.” Which I will say is and can be a very realistic mindset from an Ace lens. Because even if your partner — I’ve said this many times — even if your partner is not directly pressuring you for sexual contact, there is a broader societal pressure to do that within a relationship that can wear on people over time. So I like that moment of insecurity — although I don’t know if I like the game being the vessel for getting there, since that’s such a trope now.

Courtney: And I really don’t like the mushrooms being the vessel for getting to this allegedly healthier conversation about navigating intimacy. ’Cause now I also… There was a scene later on when they were sober. They’re getting a house together. They start making out. And, like, Darren goes to unzip their pants or something, and Cash was not ready for that. So Cash, like, backs up and is like, “Oh, w-w-wait. I don’t know if I’m okay with this.” And Darren’s like, “But I thought this was our thing now.” I thought we figured out our thing. I thought this is how we make it work.” And Cash was just really flustered.

Courtney: And we don’t know at this point what that difference is. But in the framing of the show, it could be really easy to take the conclusion that his normal inhibitions were down due to the hallucinogenic mushrooms they ate in the forest that night, and now that he’s sober, he’s not super cool with that. [laughs] And that just contradicts everything the show was trying to say about consent and taking a look at the broader picture of it.

Courtney: And I’m furious that they used the Ace/allo relationship in that context! Because, my god, if, if the mushrooms were gone, you wouldn’t have that question or that gray area of, like, “Was that actually okay in that moment or not?” Because now we could have the conversation — if you remove the mushrooms from it, we could have the conversation of, “Is this a type of fluidity? Is sometimes Cash completely sex-repulsed, but sometimes Cash is, you know, fluid and a little more neutral?” Then we could maybe have that conversation, and it’s like, “Well, maybe Cash is going through a really repulsed phase right now.” Or maybe it’s a situation where Cash needs to sort of be the one steering the ship. Because during the scene when they’re on mushrooms in the forest, Cash is the one who says, “I want you to touch yourself. I want this.” And so Cash was the one giving…

Royce: Cash was the one initiating.

Courtney: Yes. Cash was initiating and verbally consenting in that way, by giving those prompts. So maybe, this sort of freaking out when Darren just goes to initiate on their own was because Cash wasn’t in that… I’m gonna use the word “dominant,” but this wasn’t, like, a dom/sub kink type thing. It didn’t get to that level. But as we know, there are some Ace people who do enjoy kink because of the fact that, if they’re able to step into a more dominant role and they’re able to control the entire situation, that does wonders for their comfort level, and that can, for some Aces, be an access point there. So in this non-kink but still using the, “I’m leading, I’m giving the prompts, I’m selecting the pacing here,” maybe that’s what Darren needs. Maybe that’s what Cash needs.

Courtney: And these could be really interesting conversations. This could be really interesting to explore that in depth and nuance. Those are things we don’t actually see taken to this level in Ace representation on TV very often, especially in an Ace/allo mixed-orientation relationship. So I’m excited to see those conversations!

Courtney: And I’m excited, too. I think there’s a lot to be said about showing people doing it wrong and then coming back in a different situation and showing them doing it right. I think, if you’re trying to educate viewers about an experience, that that’s really valuable. An example of that that I always loved — and this was more of a sitcom situation, so it’s more of a special episode kind of a situation — but, like, Golden Girls, if we go back to the ’80s, like, what an iconic show. Still one of my all-time favorites. A lot of it has aged surprisingly well — not everything, but I think more of Golden Girls aged well than, like, Friends did. [laughs] And there are other sitcoms from, like, the ’90s and it’s like, “That didn’t age as well as Golden Girls.” But one example that I love was when Blanche’s brother comes out as gay. In that episode, Blanche’s first reaction is negative. It is bad. And we see how that affects her brother. And we see the difference, then, when she’s able to sit with that, with some time, and sort of come back and correct that mistake and then sort of re-react better.

Courtney: I think there’s a value to that, because that sort of signals to an audience: “This is the bad way to handle this situation. This is the good way” — or at least one example of a bad and a good way. And then it doesn’t quite feel as sanitized, if you do the writing correctly, as if you only pick one or the other option. Because if you only have people reacting badly and negatively to the Ace character, that can be really upsetting for Aces to watch — even if it’s realistic. Even if it’s realistic and relatable, then it’s like, “Alright, great, we’re the punching bag.” But if you only have a very sanitized, like, people are only reacting the right way 100% of the time, then sometimes, it can come off as a little preachy and a little too, “We’re trying to teach you how to be good,” versus writing a realistic narrative or compelling narrative.

Courtney: So there is a value to doing something wrong and then doing something right. But they never really get back around to having that conversation in-depth enough. They sort of leave it hanging a bit. Because now, from that point on, Cash was at least unsure in this situation of doing that same thing that they did when they were high on mushrooms in the forest with their entire class, for some reason. [laughs] Now, instead of actually correcting that and showing the right way to have that conversation and sort of re-navigating that and saying, “Maybe we haven’t fully communicated this,” now Darren gets very upset. Especially when that scene we mentioned where Chook comes and drops Cash off and they see Chook and they get really upset.

Courtney: Darren’s first instinct after this, you know, sexual rejection, followed by a feeling of betrayal that Cash is still seeing Chook — Darren’s first reaction is to go find the college boy that they used to hook up with, and presumably goes there with the intention of hooking up with him. And that doesn’t feel good. It’s like, I think you have a right to be mad at Cash, even though we, the viewers, know Cash’s motivations for this and that he had to do this thing. I do think it is okay to be mad that he brought Chook to the place where you live and that you were out with him without ever having a conversation that you were going there. There’s reason to be angry there. Is the reaction to being angry “Go sleep with someone. You haven’t slept with someone in a while because you’re dating an Asexual.” Ehhh… But Darren does not end up sleeping with that guy, because…

Royce: Because he wasn’t home.

Courtney: He was just not home. And this is, like, a college dorm, so it’s several rooms in a hall kind of a situation. And all of a sudden, we see the other guy from the aforementioned threesome, who is not a character in this season because he graduated and I guess is at this school now. And so he invites Darren in. And we, the viewers, do not get to see what transpired between them. But when Cash finds out that that is where Darren went when they stormed out of the house and didn’t speak to them for a couple of days, he breaks the lock on that guy’s dorm and just breaks in and confronts him. And this guy — I don’t even remember his name, to be honest. [laughs]

Royce: His name was Dusty.

Courtney: Dusty. So Cash goes to see Dusty, and Dusty is like, “I don’t know why you think I’d, you know, do anything with Darren.” And this is the only allusion to the threesome situation, I think, maybe in this entire season — at least the only one that kind of calls it out for what it was. But Cash straight up says, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s because you have a track record for fucking people who are vulnerable?” But Dusty insists that they were just hanging out and talking. He was just helping out a friend — former friend might be a little more realistic to say. But Cash is like, “Oh, yeah? Then what were you talking about?” And Dusty says, “Well, you.” And Dusty says, “Darren says you’re Ace,” which I think — is that the only time they said “Ace” this season?

Royce: I’m not sure, but possibly.

Courtney: Which, as I recall, they did not actually say the word Ace or Asexual in the first season, so this could be the only time that word is actually used. And I wasn’t too, too mad about it in the first season of this. I still think it would have been nice if they said the word, but they at least made it, like, abundantly clear that, like, these are the feelings, this is the situation. Sometimes they don’t say the word and they’re a little too wishy-washy about, you know, throwing the facts and the feelings in your face so that you know what’s going on. So I think this is the only time, is when Dusty says, “Darren says you’re Ace.”

Courtney: And Cash’s reaction is initially to say, “Fuck you.” But then he kind of takes a step back and says, “Maybe. I don’t know.” But then Dusty says, “Well, you know Darren’s way into sex.” And Cash counters with, “We found ways to make it work.” And Dusty says, “For you, but not for Darren.” And then we start hearing all of these things through Dusty that we have not heard from Darren themself. And he says, “Darren told me that they’re struggling. They’re watching porn in the morning before you have breakfast, and they’re staying up after you go to bed to masturbate.” And then he says, “Look, all I’m saying is, don’t you think it’s a little bit selfish asking them to give it up?”

Courtney: And this conversation hurts. It hurts not only us as the Ace viewers, but it hurts Cash. It clearly gets in Cash’s head, because Cash then breaks up with Darren and says, “I can’t give you what you need.” And despite Darren’s protestations — saying, “No, what we’re doing is enough. You can give me what you want” — then Cash says, “Then why did you go looking for sex? Why was that the first thing you did at any sign of conflict in our relationship after we just moved in together?” And so they end up completely cutting it off. Cash ends it and says, “This is who you are. You will never be able to be your true, authentic self as long as you’re with me.” And Darren kind of says, “Well, I’m trying.” And Cash says, “I don’t want you to do that. You shouldn’t have to do that.”

Courtney: And at that, maybe it’s time to backtrack a little bit to the Puriteens.

Royce: Yeah, this was a new addition to the cast. I have no idea where these people were last season. But Zoe is the main character here, who is set up… I would say it’s probably safe to call her a minor antagonist.

Courtney: Yeah. I mean, she’s the red herring for Bird Psycho for quite some time. And so… maybe we can combine this into a combination with the introduction of this new teacher and his little group of boys. Because we have this SLT’s class — that, again, for some reason, the teachers are just letting everyone call it that — but they change it. It’s not just all the people who are on the map now. Now they’re just making it an elective, so anyone can join if they want. And Royce, you’re gonna have to say the word for the rival elective class now, because I’m just not going to say it.

Royce: I don’t even remember how they came up with this title. It happened accidentally. But they call themselves the CUMLORDS.

Courtney: My God. And it was some nonsense. It was, like, I don’t know, Curriculum for Understanding Masculinity. Aaah. But then they had enough words to make LORDS! Why? So now we have the SLT’s versus…

Royce: The CUMLORDS.

Courtney: Thanks, I hate it. I hate it. But now that SLT’s is an elective that anyone can join, basically all the men in the class quit the SLT’s to join…

Royce: No, that’s all you get — you’re going to have to just word your sentences differently,

Courtney: Royce, no! You can’t do this to me. [laughs]

Royce: Yeah. Find a different way to phrase it.

Courtney: What other way is there to phrase it? What’s the name of that Australian guy?

Royce: You’re gonna call them the Ned Kellys?

Courtney: So it’s the SLT’s versus the Ned Kellys. [laughs] But now we have this new character plus her tiny little band of primarily unnamed [laughing] posse members who join the SLT’s. And they say that they do it so that the SLT’s class isn’t such an echo chamber — which is a weird thing to do in a high school class that is trying to teach sex education to the students, because the students are not leading the class. But I thought it was weird that they call themselves the Puriteens, because I’ve only seen that online as, like, a very disparaging thing to call teenagers who are perceived to be sex-negative. And I say “perceived” because, while some genuinely are very conservative and hold very, like, “celibacy until marriage” kind of views, which we often associate with evangelical Christianity, I’ve also seen it lobbied against, like, just Asexual teenagers who are also just kind of sick of so many teenage sex shows and they’re like, “Why can’t there be shows that aren’t so focused around sex?” So, right off the bat I’m like. “Alright, everyone’s calling them Puriteens, but also they’re calling themselves that.”

Courtney: And at first I wasn’t sure what to think, because I was like, “Are these just teenagers who aren’t sexually active and don’t want to be?” Because that’s actually probably a good thing to add, because that would almost be like the show… It could have gone that the show had a level of self-awareness where they’re like, “Every single character here is very, very sexual, and the only not very sexual teenager we have is the Asexual one.” But sometimes there is an in-between, you know? There are allosexual teenagers who do abstain.

Courtney: And she did make a point where she’s like, “Not all of us are, you know, having so much sex, or moralizing sex, or, you know, trying to say that you should have a lot of partners or you should have a lot of sex.” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s actually a good point to add.” But then she got really victim-blamey and, like, straight-up said something to Harper and was like, “Well, if you weren’t sexually active, then maybe you wouldn’t be putting yourself in these situations.” And we’re like, “Oh, oh no, she does actually really suck.”

Royce: I mean, she also goes on and on about all of these bogus pseudoscience things about how, like, orgasming is somehow bad for you. And it reminded me of, like, many centuries old things that would say, like, you know, a part of your energy or your life force is lost.

Courtney: Yeah. Well, and then there was a moment where she’s like, “Well, you see, women are biologically hardwired to want to sleep with people who are going to be long-term partners because of parenthood, and so we can have a partner in raising a child.” And so, like, there were lines like that, that’s like, alright, so, don’t love that. Also, why did you sign up for this really open and progressive sex education course? [laughs] But then it turns out they’re just, like, literally trying to convince other students to be celibate.

Royce: Yeah, it’s a little celibacy cult.

Courtney: Yeah. And they even have, like, apps on their phones, like, “It has been this number of days since I have masturbated,” which is framed very much by the show as a repression thing. Because then the person leading this little celibacy cult also, like, steals Amerie’s vibrator on the school trip and uses it and masturbates. And it’s like, first of all, who gets so horny that they steal someone else’s vibrator? And, second of all, who brings a vibrator on a co-ed school trip where you’re all bunking together in the first place? Teenagers, stop! [laughs] That’s… Do we have any allo teenagers in the audience? Is that actually realistic and I am so naive to think that that would never, ever possibly happen, or is this equally as absurd to you? I beg, I must know.

Courtney: But also, we talked earlier about these, like, mid- to late-20s actors, sometimes early 30s. I did really quickly look up a list of cast ages, and there’s a lot of, like, 26, 27, Harper’s 30 — Harper’s actor is. So, like, and the point we were making is: a lot of them do not have realistically teenage bodies, because they aren’t teenage bodies, but they’re all skinny, they’re all muscular — except for the leader of the Puriteen cult. I think this is the only fat character we have seen in this show yet. And doesn’t that just feel a little bit icky? Doesn’t that just…? What are we supposed to do with that? Not only have you made her a villain, you’ve desexualized her in a show where everyone is sexualized. I don’t like it. I do not like it!.

Courtney: So what does Darren do as a result of this breakup with Cash? Darren joins the Puriteens and is like, “I need to learn how to control my urges,” and, like, downloads this silly app and goes to Formal handing out papers about how, like, “A strong majority of people who have sex on prom night end up regretting it. Don’t make this a night to regret. Make it a night to remember.” [laughs] And that’s when Nan is like, “You’ve been at the school for 50 fucking years. Put on the damn suit and go to the dance!” Which, it’s a very, very short interaction, so we don’t get to see a true, true resolution. But Cash shows up and sees Darren handing out these flyers, trying to convince people not to have sex tonight, and Darren’s like, “No, this isn’t you!” And Darren’s like, “But it can be! It’s not just about sex with me.” And then the school gets burned down by Ned Kellys, and they kiss outside, and that’s it. So I assume the implication here is that they’re getting back together. [laughs]

Courtney: But that did kind of then make the main conflict or the final conflict of their relationship arc this season was kind of about Cash’s Asexuality. And I think they need really good, robust, non-gray area conversations and scenes to actually figure out how this Ace/allo relationship works and looks like for them in a theoretical third season, if I am to give that a pass, as it were.

Courtney: On average — obviously, there are good things and bad things about this. There are weird decisions, like having what would otherwise be a good moment while they’re on mushrooms — like, why did you have to muddy that [laughs] when we don’t see good, healthy examples of that elsewhere? Certainly not very often. But on the whole, on average, I think this plotline is getting better for me. It’s getting more complex. It’s getting more nuanced. And yet I’m still wanting more.

Courtney: And I think at this point my issue is just with the pacing and how short some of these scenes actually are. They’re good key moments, but often these scenes will end, and I’ll be like, “Where was the rest of that conversation? Can’t we have a little more, please?” So, again, maybe it’s that it’s eight seasons and they have a lot of characters that they’re all trying to give their own new plotline to. I’d like to see it continue to build in a positive way in a Season 3. I would.

Courtney: There was, however, one character that they never labeled Demisexual, but there was a Demisexual vibe moment where I was like, “I am going to be furious if they add a Demisexual character only for it to be this guy,” [laughing] because of the context of everything else in the show.

Royce: Oh, with Spider?

Courtney: Spider!

Royce: Yeah, that never really got resolved. That was… So, you mentioned that these sort of short season, streaming service shows aren’t hitting the same sort of feel as older, like, week-by-week episode shows that would run for an entire, like, standard TV-length season. And part of that is probably time. But part of that is the writer’s choices in the outline of the series.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: They’re trying to do too many things. They’re not giving enough characters time, like you mentioned with Darren and Cash. But in some of these cases are also just — I don’t like the way that they are framing or deciding to talk about things. Because a significant portion of this entire season is devoted to this left-wing versus right-wing thing going on.

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: And this is spearheaded by the new, like, sports teacher — the, uh, the Ned Kellys —

Courtney: The SLT’s and the Ned Kellys, yes. [laughs]

Royce: Right. Of which Spider ends up being, like, his chosen student.

Courtney: Mmm.

Royce: And so there’s this band of, like, loud, misogynistic opinions being shouted out, and the writers of the show end up framing this in the frustrating, moderate way of, “Oh, the left and the right wing are both off-base, equally, and they’re, you know, opposite sides of the same coin, and they’re both equally wrong.

Courtney: There were some weird moments like that! Because then we also have the side faction with the Puriteens, who are also wrong.

Royce: Yeah. But, like, not only are they sometimes treated equally — like, when they got lost out in the bush and did the mushrooms, both teachers are scolded for that, even though it was 100% redpill dude’s decision. Like, it was entirely his fault. The reason that they were rescued in the first place was the progressive teacher.

Courtney: Yeah. And part of this new teacher going off the rails so much is because he’s like, “Men are getting pushed out of society by the woke agenda!” and all this nonsense. And he’s like, “I’m going to, you know, restore the power to these young men!” And there was a moment where a student in the SLT’s class went up to the SLT’s teacher and said, like, “You were right. All men are scum.” I’m paraphrasing. I did not write down what that actual statement was. And this teacher’s mortified, and she’s like, “Is that what you got from my class?” And she’s like, “I’ve never said that.” And she’s like, “Well, no, you didn’t say that in so many words.” So it is implying, kind of accidentally, that this teacher is actually a man-hater or whatever. [laughs]

Royce: Yeah. And there was a lot of this, too. And maybe… I don’t know. Maybe the only people watching a show as queer as this are very progressive and are just laughing at this, but it didn’t seem like it was even set up to be an obvious… I mean, the character himself is off the wall. He’s, like, the sports teacher. But it’s framed in a way where, if you broadcast this to a large enough audience, there are people who would agree with that person, who would think he was right. There are people who would think that he is right and Sasha’s the worst character in the show for…

Courtney: Being a hypocrite.

Royce: Well, just for…

Courtney: Proselytizing.

Royce: Just for all of the, like, woke word salad stuff.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Because Sasha’s character is a performative leftist who is shown to be a hypocrite.

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: But she’s framed in the show as being equally bad as raging misogynists.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: And the other part of this, too, is that these guys in the show are allowed to shout over people and get all of their ideas out, and then they cut off rebuttals. So, frequently, throughout this entire season, they get to say a bunch of shit, and then no one in the show really comes down hard on them for being wrong. Like, people will get in side comments, but they’re not equal to the amount of time they got to say the things in the first place.

Courtney: Yeah. The framing is interesting. Because on the one hand, we have an Asexual character. We have a nonbinary character. We’ve seen a threesome. We have kids doing, you know, drugs and drinking and partying. But then we also have… Like, the show’s kind of playing moderate a lot of the time in the narrative.

Royce: I think that they’re playing American political moderate, which is actually, like, center-right.

Courtney: [laughs] Yeah. There were several moments of dialogue that did feel that way, especially when this teenage girl’s like, “You’re right, I learned in your class that men are terrible,” while this guy the whole time is like, “Oh, she’s nothing but a man-hater,” while she’s trying to teach sex education.

Royce: And going back to Spider specifically — who is an antagonist throughout the series, only because he’s an asshole.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: He’s just there and is a douche all the time, and that’s pretty much it. But he becomes, like, Ned Kelly apprentice number one, and —

Courtney: Which, they established in the first season that he can’t, as he says himself, quote, “get it up,” right? Like, didn’t he have, like, an attempted sex scene with Amerie and…?

Royce: Uh, I mean, possibly. Actually, that sounds right. [laughs] I don’t remember Season 1.

[Courtney laughs]

Royce: The thing is, what I’m getting to, you are potentially calling him out as, this could be a Demisexual arc, because he does get into a relationship that’s messy, and because he’s such an asshole, the person he’s with doesn’t actually want to have it known that they’re interacting together. But a couple of things happen. They set him up in a position where we see his family life, and it kind of tries to give him the chance of a redemption arc where it says, like, “Well, this is what the cause of the bad behavior is. This is where it’s coming from.” And it sets him up to be able to make the conscious choice to stop doing that. And he gets the chance to do something more selfless, to back away from this big election that’s going on. But he gets broken up with right before that and just doubles down.

Courtney: Yeah. But the entire reason was his mom is, like, an actual man-hater.

Royce: That’s what I was going to say. His mom is, like, the right-wing stereotype of a feminist. Like, she starts throwing out all of these bullshit, like, “Men are violent and awful due to their biology and they have no choice in the matter and they can’t do anything about it, they’re just…” I think at one point she proposes the idea that if men didn’t exist, all of the world’s problems would be gone.

Courtney: Yeah. Well, and didn’t she announce that, like, he was an IVF baby? Like, she was always intending to be a single mother, like, don’t need no man. And like, “Of course, I wanted a daughter, but then I had a son, and imagine my disappointment when I found out he wasn’t even queer.” [laughs]

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: So, like, obviously, yeah, that really sucks for him. So now, he’s being set up to be a more sympathetic character in that regard. But yeah, like you said, this is the character I mentioned who’s frequently having oral sex with this girl who is not his girlfriend, because they’re just hooking up. She kind of says, like, “You are a major asshole, and I don’t want to be publicly in a relationship with you because everyone knows that you suck.” But then she meets his mom and starts learning these things and starts, you know, gaining more sympathy toward his situation. But he is always shown giving her oral sex and not wanting anything reciprocated. And she’s very confused about this at first. But then it finally comes out. He’s like, “I can’t get it up. I’ve never been able to. I can’t do this thing.”

Courtney: And the first and only time that he does is after she met his mom, saw his mom get drunk and go on these tirades against men and saying these things, like, “Oh, I just keep having a dream about the cops showing up and telling me that my son sexually assaulted some girl, and what am I supposed to do when that day comes?” and all this. And so she, kind of like, tells his mom off and gives him a like, “Let me guess: this is a ‘If this is what they think I am, this is what I’ll be’ kind of a situation,” and starts to understand him more. And then, he does oral sex to her. And… [laughs] My God, do I sound as bad as that really awful character from Big Mouth, that teacher who’s very sexually inept? [laughs] What did he say? “I do sex on a lady”? Side tangent!

Courtney: But after he confides in her that he can’t get it up, and he’s seen this interaction with his mom and her, and she’s like, “Oh, well, even if you can’t get it up, maybe I can do a lap dance for you. Maybe I can still dance and still do something for you.” And, like, there’s this moment that’s kind of funny. I don’t think it’s funny; I think it’s supposed to be funny, and I think a lot of people will find it funny. I think a lot of people will also find it endearing. I think a lot of people will find it realistic. I’m purely viewing it as someone who knows that other people will see it that way. [laughs]

Royce: Oh, yeah, they play the scene off as a fart fetish joke. The lap dance is suddenly interrupted. And this whole scene of the two of them together — the mood shifts suddenly, and…

Courtney: It’s like, “Ooh, I’m being all sexy.” And now it’s like, “Oh, now I’m, like, cracking up laughing,” and…

Royce: Yeah. Yeah.

Courtney: And she’s like, “Shut up! Shut up!”

Royce: She’s like, “You have to do it too! That’s the only way this is going to be even. Like, you have to fart now too.” And I think the fact that they had the conversation beforehand — like, this long, intimate conversation beforehand — and then they got really comfortable together and started laughing. Like, that is what…

Courtney: Got it up.

Royce: Yeah. That’s how we got to this situation. And the context just became, you know, a gag in the middle of it.

Courtney: Right. But then that’s the situation at hand. And here, I’m like, “I swear to God, if this show comes out with two Aspec characters who are both troubled young white men who get better after finding themselves through finding a relationship, I’m gonna lose my mind. I am gonna lose it.” So they did not ever call him Demisexual, but the context was very much, “I cannot get an erection,” and the only time he got an erection was after he has formed a level of emotional closeness and comfort with this girl who he’s been secretly seeing for a while and now wants more and wants to be public and wants to have, like, a real romantic relationship with her now.

Courtney: And, I don’t know, I’m just gonna say it. They did not say the word Asexual in the first season, but they said Ace in the second one. The way they’re setting this up here, if they drop that he’s Demisexual next season, I don’t know how I’m gonna feel! Because I want more Demisexual representation. Do you remember how pitiful Sex Education was? That one teeny-tiny sign —

Royce: The one sign in a crowd.

Courtney: — of the also white boy, just being like, “I think I’m Demisexual.” There are so many white guys who are Aces in TV media. There really are. And the thing is, I said this in the first one, when Cash came out as Asexual, everyone’s like, “Finally, an Asexual guy on TV.” And I’m like, “There are actually lots of Asexual guys on TV!” I guess not lots, but percentage-wise… [laughs]

Royce: The amount of —

Courtney: In mainstream TV.

Royce: The amount of mainstream Ace rep is so small that your media bubble may have a demographic slant to it [laughing] of what representation you’ve seen.

Courtney: [laughs] Well, yes, also that. But yeah, off the top of my head: Cash. Todd. Who even was the name of that character who held up the Demisexual sign? Steve?

Royce: Steve.

Courtney: Yes. Steve.

Royce: Isaac.

Courtney: Isaac. Evan Waxman from High Maintenance. Elijah is male Asexual rep, but he’s Black and has that intersection handled pretty well.

Royce: Rabbit was neither lengthy nor mainstream —

Courtney: Rabbit.

Royce: — but there was another one.

Courtney: Rabbit. Rabbit was a white guy.

Royce: If we’re going for bad rep, there’s Sheldon Cooper. There was that guy in the House episode.

Courtney: Anne Rice’s vampires in the original novels. [laughs] That didn’t make it onto TV, though. They made them sexual for TV, and they made one of them Black for TV — which, I do actually appreciate that change. Making them have sex, not as much. I guess there’s Jughead in the comics, but in the TV, they also erased his Asexuality, so there’s that. But yeah, the thing is, though, like, I saw this with Elijah too. Like, for Big Mouth, I would see people be like, “Finally, we have a male Asexual character.” And I’m like, “This is not the first.” The first male Asexual character, I swear to you, has become Disney’s first gay character.

Royce: [laughing] Oh.

Courtney: [laughs] Right? How many first gay characters did Disney have? We are constantly getting the first male Ace character. I swear it. I swear it. It’s just not as mainstream as Disney or the Disney conversation, [laughing] so not everybody’s gonna see it. And, like you said, there are so few examples on the whole that, if you’ve only seen one or two examples of Ace rep on TV, even though there are more now, you might not be aware of this demographic shift.

Royce: Do you have any idea of what the first unequivocally Ace character was? Because, like, when were the Sherlock Holmes books made?

Courtney: Yeah. I mean Sherlock is… I normally stray away from calling Sherlock Asexual, but he is very much headcanoned as Asexual. I do definitely say he is the most famously sexless character in media. But yes, Sherlock Holmes as a sexless male character.

Courtney: But you do also… I mean, it is very much worth noting that, once you do get into other genres, once you get into, like, books, novels, even sometimes video games, comics, like, there is more diversity in other genres too. So, like, if you’re just reading books on Asexuality, it could be that you’ve read 10 books with an Ace, you know, woman character and haven’t read a book with a male character yet. But there are those, too. There are books with male Ace characters. We’ve covered at least a couple of them on the podcast, too. A-okay, the graphic novel by Jared Green. Never Been Kissed has a male Demisexual character.

Courtney: And that’s not even mentioning all the, like, villain characters like Dexter. Dexter was very, very Ace in early seasons and also a serial killer, but then they decided to try to humanize him by making him not Ace anymore but still a serial killer. [laughs] So, like, we do have these things. And I just think it’s silly every time someone’s like, “It’s the first Ace man on TV,” because it almost certainly isn’t. Even Evan Waxman was kind of early. Wasn’t that, like, early 2010s?

Royce: 2013, yeah.

Courtney: But yeah, I just… I want more Demisexual characters. I really, really do. And maybe I am making this all up and they’re never going to say that word and they’re never going to continue this implication that he needs a deep emotional bond with someone to develop sexual attraction. Maybe I’m way off on that, but please don’t make the only two Ace characters in a single TV show both white guys, who are both the villains who are on a redemption arc, where a strong component of their redemption arc is having a relationship with somebody. Please, please, don’t do that!

Courtney: I feel like the new things I learned about Australia in this season were not as important as the things I learned about Australia in the first season. Because, like, the first season, I was learning things about, like, the Black, the Indigenous experience there, other little cultural things, eshays, whatnot. In this season, we learned about Ned Kellys. [laughs]

Royce: Ned Kelly and which areas of the continent psychedelic mushrooms grow on.

Courtney: [laughs] Um, and also that Australia is, like, really into the song “Nutbush City Limits” by Tina Turner, which really surprised me. Because that came on at, like, their Formal dance before the school got burned down — by the Ned Kellys, of course — and everyone freaked out and was like, “Aah, it’s ‘Nutbush’!” And I was like, “Is this your —” What even would be… For a moment, I was like, “Is this your, like, ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ or ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?” I guess there are a ton of different ones that are just, like, a song that most people at a party will freak out and be like, “Aah, it’s this song!” I could probably come up with a dozen different examples. But then everyone went to the dance floor and started doing exactly the same dance, and I was like, “Wait a minute. [laughs] Is this like your ‘Electric Slide’? Is this your ‘Cupid Shuffle’? Is this your ‘Soulja Boy’? Like, why does everyone know this choreography?” I was so surprised.

Courtney: Because, for as big as a lot of Tina Turner songs are and have been over here, “Nutbush” is not one of them. [laughs] In fact, I know a lot of people who had never heard that song until it got covered on Glee that one time. So, that was fascinating to learn — that, yes, there is a choreographed dance to that. That song did get very big, particularly in Australia. And then we were reading that they sometimes even, like, learn this dance in school.

Royce: When I looked it up, I had read that it is performed pretty often at things like weddings and school concerts and things like that.

Courtney: That was the vibe I got, because it’s like, oh, it’s like the Macarena, it’s like the YMCA, like, everyone knows the choreography to this, which was fascinating. I never knew that. But that does not seem, I guess, quite as important about learning about, like, [laughing] racial profiling and police discrimination. But it is fun to watch shows from other places. I do like when I’m able to see something portrayed organically on TV where I’m like, “That was an unexpected reaction that everyone had. Let me now research why that was. What is this cultural difference I am viewing?”

Courtney: But speaking of Australia… Is that a good segue? [laughs] Our featured MarketplACE vendor of the week happens to be from there. Kian’s Queer Crafts has handmade giftware and cards by an Australian, multiply disabled, transgender creator. And let me tell you, I have had my eye on this shop for a while, just wishing I could order something. They have candles, they have bath products, jewelry. Especially the candles are of interest because we use a lot of candles in our house. We have candles in just about every single room. We buy candles pretty frequently. And so when I saw that we had a MarketplACE vendor who made candles, I was like, “Yes, this is where I’m gonna get my candles from!”

Courtney: But alas — and I understand, Australia is a long way away from us. International shipping is very expensive. It is not the most eco-friendly thing in the world. I get it. We could not actually ship these things to our house, so I have just stared at it in sadness. So please, let me live vicariously through you. If you are an Australian listener of ours, check out Kian’s Queer Crafts. Buy some of these awesome things. Let me know how lovely they are. Links for that, as always, are in the shownotes and we will talk to you all next week. Goodbye!