Major spoilers for Season 2 of Bonding ahead!
With Bonding’s first outing coming off as quite enjoyable and anything but Fifty Shades of Grey levels of terrible representation for the BDSM community, I had incredibly high hopes for the second season to spread its wings and soar. However, with the crack of a whip and one too many tongue-in-cheek jokes, the second season fell rather hard. From aggressive, in-your-face activism that spits on real problems, to sex-shaming and outing, somebody this season covered all of the toxic things our two protagonists, Tiffany and Pete, could get into. Granted, this isn’t to say the second season did not have its enjoyable moments or funny jokes, but the overall energy of this season comes in the form of cringing.
The first season finale was left quite open-ended, with Tiffany and Pete fleeing from a house call gone wrong due to a lack of vetting the client. This led to a violent altercation, culminating in Tiffany stabbing said client. With the limitless possibilities of where to start the season off, where does the second season begin but with the situation behind them, and our protagonists hardly dealing with any consequences? Sure, Tiffany has been “banned,” or kicked out from most other facilities that practice BDSM domineering as a profession due to her neglect for consent and lack of vetting, but her saving grace, her old mentor, is willing to take her in under the condition that she changes her problematic ways. It is eventually revealed through dialogue that the pair barely escaped the police, but that’s it? I can look past a quickly snubbed plotline for what seemed to be season two’s promise of really covering the consent aspect of BDSM and all things sexual in nature. This was one of the few things positive I could have taken away from this season: the heavy focus on consent and correction of Tiffany’s behavior from the first season.
As the season bounded forward with its chest puffed out, we are introduced into more questionable dialogue and character writing. Previously, in season one, Tiffany had decided to give Doug (resident artsy man) a chance. Yet, once we get into season two, Tiffany still seems to be giving Doug the run around. According to Doug, it has been ten months, yet she still does not want to use labels like boyfriend, girlfriend, or relationship. Can we please get a new schtick? The sexually-divergent, stoic character who has commitment issues is tired; please, let’s put it to rest. Yet here we are, staring at the commitment-phobe horse in the mouth, but suddenly, within the next two episodes, Tiffany finds herself jealous of Doug’s old flame. Not only do we get this tired character trope, but we get her out of her shell through jealousy because, I guess, she realizes she really loves him?
A little peek into the few moments Doug has on screen not vying for his girlfriend, or not-girlfriend, to admit she maybe kind of likes him gives us some insight into some of what feels like performative activism. We get a scene of a Doug-led art group that laughably discusses subconscious misogyny. One of the students in his class has painted a plate of food because of how often he expects his partner to cook. He then asks Doug what he painted, leading to the student criticising Doug for not owning up to his own subconscious misogyny. Now, don’t get me wrong — there absolutely is misogyny and subconscious misogyny throughout the show, but these two examples are far from genuine recognition of real problems. We have the student who is referring to expecting his partner to cook dinner every night as subconscious misogyny… but that’s just misogyny, and who thinks that making a meal once a week is progress?
Another scene we get of Doug being accidentally misogynistic is when he is recounting how lucky he feels to Tiffany for “having her” in his life. This prompts Tiffany to correct Doug in the fact that she belongs to no one in a somewhat aggressive manner, leaving our resident art man on the defensive. Now, if the writers really dug their heels in on Tiffany not wanting to be with Doug and not needing a man to comfort her, that would have been one thing. However, they make all these declarative sentiments in their dialogue only to have Tiffany turn to Doug for a shoulder to cry on when she falls on hard times. If the season hadn’t spent most every episode having Tiffany drive home, the fact that she could handle things on her own this would be forgivable. All this does, though, is undermine her character arc; in the end, she is still written to need an emotional crutch — if not Pete, then Doug, I guess.
Beyond Tiffany’s problems, we get to look at Pete, Tiffany’s gay bestfriend and secondary protagonist. Pete is an aspiring comedian and has found his niche by wearing BDSM-dom leather clothing while doing a BDSM-centered routine. We could spend hours dissecting the issues with the set, but I’d rather talk about Pete’s relationship with Josh and how that unravels in the most unfortunate of fashions.
After discovering that his boyfriend, Josh, is closeted in some circles, one of which is his work friends and father, Pete gets a bit aggravated. I’m not searching for a character that is going to be all understanding and be okay with being a secret, but, as a gay man, I at least expected a little empathy from Pete rather then sheer agitation at his boyfriend’s situation. There comes a moment in the beginning of episode seven where Josh decides to come out to his father, and Pete is there for moral support. The scene leaves Pete in an awkward position because, earlier in the season, he had inadvertently been a part of power play with Josh’s father. Now, the father comically coming out as kinky to his son would have been a stand-alone funny scene if not for Pete panicking and, in his panicked rambling, accidentally outing Josh to his father. The scene felt overall unnecessary and just seemed like it was used for a short gag and a bit of shock factor.
After both of our self-righteous protagonists have made their way through the season cutting through most genuinely enjoyable scenes with stupid bits or outright lukewarm takes, we get the crux of the season — the clash of their toxicity. Tiffany reveals to another character that she terminated a pregnancy in highschool after her and Pete (pre-out-of-the-closet) had hooked up and kept it from Pete because they, in her opinion, could not be good parents. Tiffany then makes some jabs about feeling so bad about it that she pays him to hang out with her now.
There’s this sense of disdain for Pete, which can be seen throughout the entirety of the season, with Tiffany constantly being annoyed with him while they go through the BDSM course together. However, to no surprise, as Tiffany is finishing up her story, guess who was right outside the room to hear her big reveal? Pete! I know, what a shocker. However, this does lead to the two characters coming to terms with the fact that they just don’t really get along. Pete uses the story for a standup set, does well, and gets to talk to a talent agent. The season comes to end with our protagonists at odds, yet getting to be successful in their own endeavors.
This second season was not without its ups. I will admit that there were enjoyable and insightful scenes. The discussion where Tiffany gives insight into her terminated pregnancy really opens up a healthy conversation on abortion and makes it out as something that, when chosen, is the best choice for the situation. This does wonders for the normalization of pro-choice beliefs and really helps fuel the conversation surrounding abortion. We also get a lot more insight into the aftercare, consent, and intimate aspects of BDSM culture, which is an immense improvement from the previous season, and really lets us shine a better light on the community itself.
Finally, the character Mistress Mira — a minor character with a big impact — really drives home the best portrayal of a dom and a well fleshed out individual of the BDSM community. Mistress Mira is the character that should be looked at to really get a healthy understanding of the overall community, and also serves as a healthy example of the fact that BDSM and that lifestyle does not mean that the individual can’t have a normal life or family. Mistress Mira really is the perfect sign of normalization and understanding for the community. Overall, though, the season was lackluster, and the toxic drama sliced through the fun and comedy of it all managing to fumble the progressive bag.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Netflix