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Noughts & Crosses: Series Two - Review

by Ted Ryan 3 months ago in tv / review · updated 3 months ago
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The second season of Malorie Blackman's dystopian

After season one of Noughts and Crosses concluded on a cliffhanger that felt more like a definitive ending, I was surprised that the BBC had renewed the show for a second season - especially when they had wrapped up so many storylines previously.

Based on the novels of the same name, the second season continues the story of Callum and Sephy, who are desperately trying to flee the city in search of a new life together.

The structure of this season is focused on the third act of the first book while introducing elements of the second novel throughout the four episodes, two episodes less than the prequel season. Koby Adom reprised his role as director, this time directing all the episodes. Many of the cast from the first season have reprised their roles alongside leads Masali Baduza and Jack Rowan.

So first and foremost, I was sceptical of how this season would play out - given that there had been little setup for a second season or groundwork for tackling book two. Therefore many plot points had been retconned from season one’s finale - e.g. Kamal Hadley publicly steps down as Prime Minister but is back in the office a month later.

While much of this season focuses on Sephy and Callum’s many attempts to be together - which fail on many levels - quite a large portion of the show focuses on Albion's political and racial tensions. However, the star-crossed romance and the political aspects felt very rushed throughout the episodes. There was also the third element of a Cross extremist group being brought in to rival the previously established Nought extremist group - the fallout of this reached a rather hasty conclusion.

This season, in particular deviated more so from the source material, particularly in how Jude was written. There was a crucial moment where Josh Dylan’s character reaches a point of no return in the book. Still, Jude never reaches that dark side - his lack of identity conflict felt somewhat repetitive, albeit more layered and believable than the previous season.

The broader world of this universe was explored more with a rival political party, including Helen Baxendale’s Meggie (who is still one of the best characters and actors throughout the show), which mirrors Doreen Lawrence’s own political journey to change racial discrimination laws after the murder of her son. This was one of the strongest storylines and her character development was logical within the narrative.

There’s even the introduction of the Empress of Africa, whose character represents the equivalent of the monarchy. However, the parliament and monarchy conflict had some of the best storytelling moments and honesty highlighted the racial and political tensions in much more realistic ways.

I had this issue in the first season, but I feel like Noughts and Crosses are still missing opportunities to explore the wider universe. For example, we’ve only seen two mixed-race characters throughout two seasons. Interracial relationships are deemed illegal in this universe, but we rarely get to delve into the complexity of the children of these relationships. In this season, Cora is introduced as Jude’s love interest and is the daughter of a nought and a cross. Her character's psyche was rarely explored, despite many characters making assumptions based on her ethnicity. Also, Jude and Cora were written more like a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde - this was drastically different from their book counterparts and missed the point of Cora’s character. Cora represented genuine love and acceptance of Jude that he rejects in the most horrific way, but in the show, they deviated far from that storyline; it’s barely recognisable.

The final episodes are really how season one should have ended, but because the BBC had greenlit less episodes, there was little time to feel the impact or consequences of choices or actions. Instead, I wondered how key moments had happened when we never saw the characters’ thought processes. One example of this: Sephy considers having an abortion so Kamal will drop the charges against Callum. However, she decides against it and refuses to go through with this - but the show hasn’t explored Sephy’s feelings of impending motherhood until that point.

So this season concludes with Callum being executed for attempting to murder the prime minister (despite it being Jude who did it with several witnesses there to testify to that), the Brotherhood being dismantled for their racist acts, Kamal is sacked - again - and it's heavily implied he'll face criminal charges, Jude goes on the run with the LM, and Sephy gives birth to Callie Rose.

Again, this show ends on a pretty safe conclusion, but I’d wonder what season three would look like with the drastic changes from book to screen. I finished this show in two days, and although the acting was good and there were some poignant scenes, the overall storyline needed space to breathe, and it was hardly given it.

My rating of the second season of Noughts & Crosses is ★★½.

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Ted Ryan

Screenwriter/Director/Playwright/Reviewer

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