Netflix’s Disenchantment started out as a curiosity. Much of it felt like standard Matt Groening fare, akin to The Simpsons or Futurama. But it ended on such a promising note, it made me eager to see what was around the corner. The sophomore season has buffered out the rough edges, embracing the show’s unique strengths while teasing out a rich and textured world. But in the end, that’s all we get. Teasers for a bigger story yet to come.
The series picks up immediately after the events of the first season. The people of Dreamland have been turned to stone, leaving King Zøg (John DiMaggio) alone in his dying kingdom. Princess Bean (Abbi Jacobson) has run off with her mother, Queen Dagmar, to Maru. It doesn’t take long for Bean to realize something is off about her newfound family, especially with Dagmar telling Bean she’s destined to fulfill some “great prophecy.” What that prophecy actually is remains a mystery to both Bean and the audience (a recurring theme this season).
Even in the midst of this strange new place, Bean can’t help but think about her friends—especially Elfo (Nat Faxon). She feels extremely guilty that she chose her mother over her best friend, and wants to redeem herself by saving him. The show frames her decision as the wrong one and doesn’t let her reasoning be justified. This was a bit unfair to Bean, I think, as I still feel she made the right choice for herself and her family in that moment. She missed her mother and there was no way Bean could have known what she was capable of.
Anyway, Bean and Luci (Eric Andre) work together to save Elfo, who’s been hanging out in heaven and having a grand time. Elfo overall is a much better character this season. His romantic obsession with Bean has mostly been written out of the show (in a way that narratively makes sense), which gives him more time to be the optimistic, jolly angel to Luci’s devil. I can’t tell you what happens with them, as I don’t want to spoil it, but let’s just say nothing can keep the Three Amigos apart. Not even death itself.
The rest of the season centers around the aftermath of what happened in Dreamland and how our characters cope and move forward. It feels like the tragedy had a ripple effect across the kingdom. Everybody seems to be searching for something they didn’t have before and they’re each trying to grow as a result of their experience. I enjoyed all of it.
There are far fewer Groening-esque pop culture references than the first season, replaced with jokes that actually serve the story and character journeys... which are thoughtful and fun to watch. It’s refreshing to see folks like Zøg, Luci, and Queen Oona break out of their stock tropes and develop as people—something we’ve seen done in Futurama, too. Even Bean’s half-brother Derek gets his own episode, where we learn that beneath his naïve exterior lies a big heart... and some impressive survival skills.
But that’s not all. There’s a lot of strange stuff going on underneath the surface of Disenchantment. Midnight alliances, mysterious prophecies, and secrets galore. It seems like every character (apart from our main heroes) has something up their sleeves—including the elves, who have cozied themselves up to Dreamland for some strange purpose. Not to mention Bean’s journey to a land of steampunk and science, challenging everything about her reality and hinting that the world is way bigger than any of them could have imagined. Quite possibly... as big as imagination itself.
Only problem is: We never find out what any of the hints actually mean.
That’s the big flaw of the second season of Disenchantment: It’s all set-up with very little payoff. We get ten episodes that tease a lot of really cool plot lines, only to end up right back where we started. The episodes were good, and overall I really enjoyed them, but they failed to resolve anything. The best thing about the first season was there was this overarching mystery about Bean and her mother that paid off in a huge way with the final two episodes. If you’re looking for anything like that here, you’re going to be left wanting.
I know Disenchantment is playing a long game, and that’s okay. I love a good mystery. There are things in motion here—and, much like Nibbler’s story in Futurama or the truth about Leela’s parents, some of them may take a long time to come to fruition. Plus, I’m sure there are secrets lurking in the backgrounds that diligent fans will discover and dissect—it already happened last season. But it doesn’t make this one any less frustrating for being more about what’s to come than what we’re getting right now. I’m excited for where Disenchantment is going, but this season left me a tad disappointed about where it’s been.
Disenchantment returns to Netflix on September 20.
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