From the very first minute of the second season of “Bonding,” the show reveals itself to be startlingly self-aware, as if the first season were something that had happened to it in another life, or a child that it’s been unwillingly charged with.
The season opens with Tiff (Zoe Levin) and Pete (Brendan Scannell) in a dungeon waiting to learn if they have been forgiven by the New York domme community for their grave lack of judgment in the season finale’s disastrous house call. Here, we are introduced to Tiff’s former mentor Mistress Mira (Nana Mensah), a no-nonsense woman who now runs a training school for dominatrixes. She offers Tiff a chance to join her dungeon if she and Pete complete her course “Domme 101.”
At first, the two laugh at the offer. How could they be in an introductory course? Yet, when looking back on the events of the previous season, the answer is obvious not only to the audience, but to Mistress Mira and eventually Tiff herself. Tiff’s recklessness, resulting in a near-death experience for her and Pete, a stabbing in self-defense and a subsequent police chase, could have been easily avoided had she done the proper vetting for her clients.
This is the season’s strength. The first season was a fun romp, but it was also effectively a buddy-comedy set in a dungeon. It was cute and touching, but hardly any sort of serious exploration into the world of a dominatrix. The second season looks back on that first season and asks, “What were you thinking?”
And the focus on growth doesn’t end with the dungeon. Before, Tiff treated Doug, her psychology classmate, as a sort of annoying puppy who followed her around, but now that they are dating, she is forced to learn that Doug is a real person with a past who deserves to be treated as such. In this way, Tiff finally opens herself up to facing her flaws and her traumas; the season not only ends with Tiff finding acceptance in her role as a dominatrix but also as well as someone with a past of her own. It’s an incredible moment from Levin, showcasing her ability not only to play a disgusted (and comical) domineering presence, but also to bring a more sensitive and nuanced approach to Tiff.
Pete’s arc in the first season concerned finding his voice on the comedy stage and coming to terms with his romantic past with Tiff in order to find a path forward in friendship. Whereas before being a dominatrix’s assistant was a challenge that pushed Pete out of his comfort zone and forced him to build his self-confidence, he now treats it as an endless joke to be used in his comedy routine. When Tiff and Pete are given a second chance to rebuild their reputations in the dungeon community, Pete jeopardizes it by focusing on trying to make Tiff laugh, which nearly results in Mistress Mira kicking them both out of class.
But the jokes don’t stop there. In the penultimate episode, Pete goes into his set poking fun at Tiff and the dungeon community more broadly, which scores Pete an agent and a slot on “The Latest Show.” Tiff explicitly tells Pete that he is making a mockery of a community he is not really a part of and that performing it on national television could do great harm to people who are already struggling for respect and understanding. While Pete’s actions suggest single-mindedness, shots of Scannell in between conversations, particularly in the comedy club, show all the doubt and second-guessing beneath the surface, bringing a dark undercurrent to what was previously a slapstick bit.
While this moment shows that Pete has failed to grow and consider the consequences of his actions more broadly, it does show that the second season of “Bonding” has done just that. Where once the dungeon was a quirky backdrop, it is now the focal point in a show concerned with questions of sex work, consent, power and confronting past mistakes. If given the opportunity to make a third season, it is clear that there will be a lot of material to work with, from Pete’s budding comedy career to Tiff’s new managerial position.