She season 2 — now streaming on Netflix — might be one of the worst things Imtiaz Ali has ever put on paper. From the start of season 1, Ali’s tenet with She has been that sexuality can empower women. But he hasn’t had the faintest idea how to go about it. (And though Ali wants sex to be at the root of the protagonist’s growth, She continues to show a puerile face. I wasn’t expecting a Blue Is the Warmest Colour, but there’s nothing here approaching an honest sex scene.) And though the Jab We Met director may not have accepted defeat in pursuing that angle, She season 2 has so much more on its plate that it’s definitely not central to the story anymore. Now, it’s a tale of an undercover cop who loses her way and ends up crossing the line, a tale told a thousand times better elsewhere.
Inspired in parts by what feels like B-movie rip-offs of Narcos and Breaking Bad, She season 2 is unable to sell us on any of it. One of the biggest problems for the Indian Netflix series is that there’s no scale to it. What we see on screen often conflates with what people spout in dialogues. The villain keeps telling us how big the protagonist is going to be, but in reality, she feels like a small-time player. Everyone who is aware of the villain’s plans keeps telling us how grand they are, but the show’s world makes it seem tiny. Character traits aren’t revealed via their actions, but someone else’s mouth. And much like on season 1, characters swing wildly from one end to the other, without giving us the necessary proof that they’ve gone through the requisite growth.
What it boils down to is that Ali’s scripts — brought to life by returning director Arif Ali — are entirely incapable of sketching its characters and its world out for themselves. Basically, he doesn’t know how to show it, so it’s shoved into empty dialogues. And it seems like the She showrunner has never heard of the words “narrative momentum”. Because if he did, She season 2 wouldn’t exist. Multiple episodes that are seemingly going in one direction put an abrupt halt to their ongoing storyline, before going on a tangent for several minutes, or for the rest of the episode. It’s as if the script has dissociative personality disorder or something. She season 2 is a glorious showcase of Ali’s poor writing abilities, as he delivers a six-hour series — every scene drags — that I felt like stopping after watching the first 10 minutes.
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Some of this might be because several seasons are being squeezed into minutes of episodes. A voiceover-driven coda in the season 2 finale hints that She is ready to wrap up for good, which comes out of the blue, for the episodes leading up to it had all seemingly teased a larger story to come for the protagonist. Instead, all of that is squeezed into a finale flashforward. It’s also surprising because Netflix India hasn’t presented it as the final season anywhere in its marketing — though we’ve been here before, with Sacred Games season 2.
She season 2 picks up right where the first one left off, a day after Mumbai police constable Bhumika Pardeshi (Aaditi Pohankar) offers herself to become the “new Sasya” — a double agent — for the big bad and drug kingpin-in-making Nayak (Kishore Kumar G). Given it’s been two years between seasons, you may not recall who’s who. (It’s been so long that I had completely forgotten which characters were associated with whom. And the season 1 recap by Netflix India does barely anything to catch you up.) Sasya was played by Vijay Varma, arguably the best part of the show then. But I suppose I spoke too soon in my review, because Ali had already killed him off in the episodes that weren’t released to critics. And boy, is his absence felt on She season 2.
Pohankar continues to deliver a hammy performance as Bhumi, with an accent that is still unconvincing, all over the place, and funny when it shouldn’t be. Kishore has a much larger presence on the second season than he did on the first, most of which he spends in front of an array of monitors, interacting with them à la Tom Cruise in Minority Report, sans the gloves. And though he’s fine in the muted performance that’s asked of him as Nayak, he plops to the ground the moment a more dramatic delivery is needed. It doesn’t help that there is virtually zero chemistry between the two — Bhumi is sleeping with Nayak not just for the job, but because he “likes having sex with her”, something she’s never had with another man before — but the dialogues cannot hold up what we see with our eyes.
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Not only is She season 2 utterly unengaging from the start — as I noted earlier — worse, there’s filler in the first episode itself. Soon after, it’s both rudderless and directionless. It meanders in places, lies to the audience elsewhere, and forgets the main narrative now and then. Its biggest crime, on a minute-to-minute basis, is that there’s no progression. A scene doesn’t pay off on those that came before it. Instead, She season 2 is a hodgepodge of a variety of scenes — some retreading ground, while others walk back what we’ve seen only a few minutes ago — stacked one after the other.
At times, it feels like even Imtiaz Ali knows he’s running around in circles. Early on, the villain Nayak admits to delaying his actions, just so Bhumi’s subplots could be expanded upon. It reads like an admission from the She season 2 writer and showrunner that he’s slowing down the primary storyline to carve out room for side missions. And then deeper into the new season, when Bhumi’s place in the story becomes precarious, Nayak states that he will try and make sure she stays “useful”. Once again, it feels like a realisation on Ali’s behalf that his own protagonist has become tangential to the story he’s telling. And now, he’s going to try and keep them relevant as best as possible.
Additionally, the police work in this police show continues to be a joke. Bhumi’s handler and third-billed main cop figure ACP Jason Fernandez (Vishwas Kini) sanctions police brutality even though a man of his “intelligence” would know it doesn’t work. She season 2 claims — via some hilarious news broadcasts, which feel like have been made by the production team’s third unit — that drug consumption has gone up in the whole of Mumbai because of one guy whose operation is getting off the ground. What is he, Pablo Escobar? And even as Bhumi turns into a triple agent, with her superiors believing her to be compromised, they trust her fully for the most part, opting not to track her when they easily could — something that seems particularly laughable in the wake of the finale.
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Ultimately, some bigger questions must be asked here. Of the 28 Indian original series that have directly premiered on Netflix since 2018, She is the only second one to reach a second season. The Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui-led hit crime thriller Sacred Games was, until now, the only one. (Dhruv Sehgal’s rom-com Little Things and TVF’s Jitendra Kumar-starrer Kota Factory began elsewhere, before getting more seasons at Netflix.) So, why did She get season 2 when others haven’t? It’s not like it broke any viewing records, otherwise Netflix would’ve been tooting its own horn. And I’ve never met a fan of She, let alone legions who were clamouring for a second season.
Given all that, it feels like Netflix India is — for reasons unknown — desperate to be in the Imtiaz Ali business. Maybe they want his next movie, whenever the writer-director decides to return to feature films. But it can’t be just about maintaining relationships. After all, this doesn’t seem to have been a problem in the past. Netflix India quietly cancelled the cricket drama Selection Day after two lacklustre outings, but they still landed the revenge thriller Thar years later. (Both were productions of Anil Kapoor’s AKFC.) Similarly, though the irresponsible spy thriller Bard of Blood never got a season 2, Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies continues to work with Netflix, including for the upcoming Alia Bhatt movie Darlings.
Just then who exactly is She season 2 for? (Did Netflix really see a creative reason for it to exist? Because I’ve even more questions then.) Because it increasingly feels like no one needs to be in the Imtiaz Ali business.
All seven episodes of She season 2 are released Friday, June 17 at 12:30pm IST on Netflix in India and around the world.
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