Young Royals’ season 2 sees the intensities of falling in love replaced by a much more poignant exploration of mental health.
Dust off your uniforms, it’s a new term at Hillerska, Sweden’s most prestigious boarding school. After his unreciprocated ‘I love you’ and a bleak winter break, Crown Prince Wilhelm (Edvin Ryding) is heading back to class in the midst of navigating his new role as sole heir to the Swedish throne after the death of his brother Erik (Ivar Forsling). And so this term, not only is Wille juggling his grief, some hefty new responsibilities and a strained relationship with his mother (Pernilla August), he’s also crippled with heartbreak at the dissolution of his relationship with Simon (Omar Rudberg) and festering in the sting of August’s (Malte Gårdinger) betrayal.
While Young Royals’ first season felt much like a first love does – intense and exciting and like everything is happening all at once –, season 2 feels a lot calmer and keen to delve into the emotional aftermath of such a turbulent first term. Season one was an exploration of sexuality, tiptoeing those first steps into becoming who you are and navigating just how scary that can be. It focused on the cloying alienness of being thrust into a new environment, a new role and a new relationship all at once, as well as the rush of falling in love and staring at a precipice wondering whether to jump off it and into a life of authenticity or not.
Season 2, then, is about the fall afterwards. It’s much more focused on Wille’s mental health, on the ripple effect the video with Simon had not just on their relationship, but on the dynamics between Wille and his mother, his friends and himself. As this new term begins, Wille is running on anger. Anger at his mother, at the Royal Court and, perhaps most specifically, at August. He’s angry at being heart broken, at his duty and inability to be free. But he’s also grieving his brother, his place as ‘the spare’, and the end of his relationship with Simon. His façade is cracking, and this season is about exploring how he feels about it all, rather than the expectations of everyone else or the rush of infatuation.
It becomes an exploration of his fragility, at how he’s buckling under the pressure and the loneliness that comes with having to deal with such messy situations on his own. Because despite a stable friendship with Felice (Nikita Uggla), and a few more blossoming ones with fellow classmates, Wille’s still incredibly lonely. He confessed to Simon in the first season that he was the only one he could talk to and finally be himself around. But now, thanks to the obligation of his Royal title, he doesn’t have that. He can’t have that. For heavy is the head that would wear the crown.
Ryding carries himself with such raw vulnerability as Wille desperately tries to keep himself together. The moments when he gets to unleash his emotions, even just a little bit, land really well because they benefit from the build-up of season one where they’d been simmering under the surface, just waiting for him to gain the confidence to let them out. And that’s the crux of Wille’s arc this season: trying to reconcile his losses, be they friend, family or romantic, with his own feelings. Because while being open with other people is hard, sometimes it’s harder to be open with yourself. It’s such a raw and emotional subject, and is perhaps Young Royals’ stand out aspect this time around.
As a result of this, though, the relationship between Simon and Wille is much less of a driving force in season 2. As much as they want to be together, and as much as the audience may long for more of the sweet moments they shared in season one, it’s refreshing that the series dedicates the time to allow them the chance to navigate through all the complications. For as much as they care about each other, they also hurt each other, and it’s so important that they get the opportunity to come to terms with that. It’s a delicate position, trying to navigate the space between friends and lovers, but the series keeps the mishandled moments, the longing glances and the emotionally charged conversations just as compelling, if not as intense and all-consuming, as their arc in season one.
It also gives the supporting cast more chance to develop their own individual arcs. Rudberg’s Simon feels a little bit short-shifted of the two leads, which is a shame, but the performance is still really impressive. There’s a softness to Simon that betrays his projected ambivalence to the class politics, and Rudberg’s expressive face highlights Simon’s struggle to keep his distance from Wille and do what he believes is right for him.
But the series’ supporting stand-out this time around has to be Gårdinger’s August. Rather than the hissable school bully he seemed poised to become in the pilot, he’s a much more layered character by the second season. August knows he’s done a despicable thing, and the season opens with him expressing guilt and concern, albeit for his own future as a result of his impulsive and, not to mention illegal, decision. But as he oscillates between moments of genuine pathos and being a complete twat, it’s a grey area in trying to decide whether he deserves our forgiveness or not. He’s a fascinating character, and should there be a season three, there’s even more wiggle room for him to grow one way or the other.
Frida Argento’s Sara also gets a chunkier arc in season 2, as she becomes a resident and navigates the world of the upper classes and wrestles with her own feelings of guilt, but Uggla’s Felice doesn’t get the development we might have expected after the first season. The complicated relationship with her parents is a plot thread that’s often referenced but left unexplored, and she ends up taking the role of ‘friend who gets to offer sage advice but doesn’t particularly get a stand out moment of her own’. Perhaps it’s expected with an ensemble piece, but perhaps the airtime given to some new characters might have served her a little better.
Looking hopefully ahead, it’ll also be really exciting to explore more of the relationship between Wille and his mother. Their relationship since the first episode has always had an element of combativeness, and while season 2 gives them each a chance to argue their side – family versus duty, honesty versus reputation – it’ll be exciting to see how Wille’s growth this season will impact her relationship with him as both a mother and a monarch.
Young Royals follows up its confident, neon-soaked first season with a more sedate, emotional second. It allows its characters to evolve and gives them the space to make mistakes. It keeps them relatable – and it helps they look like actual teenagers – but also keeps that element of drama that captivated audiences so heavily the first time. This time it’s not necessarily about the thrills of first loves or the onslaught of intensity that comes with being a teenager, but instead it’s about navigating the emotional tribulations that those two things bring. It’s a show that invests in its characters as individuals as much as it does collectively, although admittedly some more than others.
This second season adds dimension to a series that is, essentially, about a prince falling in love with a commoner. But most importantly, Young Royals offers its target audience the opportunity to see the importance of prioritising your own truth, regardless of circumstance.
Season 2 of Young Royals will premieres globally on Netflix on November 1, 2022.