Figuring out who you are in life is rarely as clear cut and straightforward as we’d like to be.
While we dream of moving majestically forward, held head high and a fist full of highly-achieveable dreams in our hands, friends and family happily by our sides and bluebirds, because of course they must be bluebirds (what with their predilection for happiness), the cold, hard reality is can feel more akin to running a barbed wire gauntlet barefoot with no one around you for miles.
The chasm between hope & expectation, and the unpalatable truth of life, is a wide and painful ones at times and no two people know that better than Peter “Pete” Devin (Brendan Scannell) and Tiffany “Tiff” Chester (Zoe Levin) from Netflix show Bonding, two friends from high school days in conservative Georgia who, after an absence of some years, have found themselves back in each other’s lives in New York City.
It all sounds very warm and friendship idyllic, doesn’t it?
True it actually sometimes is, but in series two of this short-form series – it’s described as dark comedy which captures its mix of dramatic humour nicely – there are a great many times when they’re not the bosom buddies they obviously wish they were.
Part of that is down to guilt and their messy end of high school experience which send a schism rocketing down between them, and which, truth be tol, troubles them even now, but it is largely down to the fact that they, slowly but surely, going their separate ways and they can’t find any easy way to bring the other person along for the ride.
True, that happens to pretty much everyone.
Lives come together, pull apart and are rent asunder and while we are lucky to bring some people with us from birth to death, the truth is we have many people with us for just a season and their departure from our life is not always clean cut or well handled.
But with less happy lives back home, and families they are not eager to be too close too, Tiff and Pete need each other in ways that neither of them can fully articulate.
And truth be told, if they did manage to work out why they are so co-dependently fused together, they might just run a mile.
Complicating things is that they are both friends and business partners; or rather, Tiff, who funds her post-graduate business studies at university through work as a dominatrix, has employed an often fetish gear-clad Pete, who is openly gay, as her assistant, Master Carter.
There is, as you can imagine, quite a lot of focus on the poorly understood world of the dominatrix, and one thing that emerges consistently is how little peple know about people like Tiff, and her mentor, Mistress Mira (Nana Mensah), including Pete who treats it as a joke (he is an aspiring stand-up comedian but still) while Tiff is taking it increasingly seriously.
Especially after the messy and humiliating events of the end Bonding‘s first season which saw Mistress Tiff become persona non grata in a community she considered her own.
In season 2, she has to crawl back on bended knee to her estranged original teacher Mira, who agrees to let her into dominatrix 101 course if Tiff promises to take it all deadly seriously.
Her livelihood and sense of self is very much on the line and so Tiff, mindful of this at all times, throws herself with gusto into redemption on the bondage scene and finally finds a sense of self she often found absent.
But sweet, oneliner-heavy Pete, whose burgeoning kinky comedy career is taking off at the club of his friend Murphy (Alysha Umphress), is not on the same page and it leads increasingly to clashes between two people who, it becomes clear, want very different things from life.
Making things even more challenging is that Tiff and Pete might just have real, substantial relationships in the offing.
Tiff has been with Doug (Micah Stock) for ten months and while the commitment-averse Tiff is not all that keen on turning her former psychology classmate from friend to boyfriend, the reality is, against all expectations, that she might just love the guy.
While she’s grappling what to do with that startling piece of information, Pete is growing closer to Josh (Theo Stockman) who’s a lovely, well-employed guy who has, shall we see, a great big secret that could make things very interesting for the couple.
That’s a lot of life changes going on at once, and Bonding makes adroit, affecting use of them, giving us a window into the dysfunctional but needed friendship between Tiff and Pete which sits at the heart of a show which is far more tender and honest than you might give it credit for at first glance.
Take the moment when Mistress Mira and Mistress Tiff, now reconciled and closer than ever, end up having a heart-to-heart conversation about matters in life.
Mira, who is married with kids, another thing that disabuses any misconceptions about what dominatrices do or are – as Tiff says in season, being kinky is less about sex than liberation from shame – has some sage observations about being your own greatest supporter, about doing what’s right for you and prioritising what’s really important to you.
It’s a poignant, relflective scene where we see not only the point Mira has got to in her life, but how this impacts Tiff who is realising that her life priorities are changing from what they were and they may not include Pete in the way they once did.
It’s life-changing stuff and it makes a material difference to Pete and Tiff who realise they can’t escape the consequences of past decisions and that present life momentum for both of them (some good, some bad, all of it ripe with growth potential) – Tiff’s move to devote herself more fully to the dominatrix scene and Pete to land an agent and make a fulltime career of his nascent stand-up routines – is changing the entire fabric and feel of their friendship.
The transition won’t be easy and it will be painful but that’s life – rarely are the big moments easy and clean to navigate; rather they often make things worse even when you know you’re doing the right thing but there’s no getting around them, a salient fact that Bonding‘s second season navigates with warmth, heart, rawness and groundedness and a real sense that all good destinations often involve a complicated and hard journey along the way.