WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Disenchantment Season 2, streaming now on Netflix.
The biggest problem with Disenchantment can be traced back to the show's overall lack of focus. The series nominally centers around Princess Bean, a curious and headstrong heir to the throne of Dreamland. When the show actually focuses on her and her adventures, it's far more enjoyable.
But the series is constantly distracted from the improved Bean that appears in the second season of the series. If only Disenchantment could fully focus on Bean, it would be a better show than what it is now.
The Adventures Of Bean
After an overall unimpressive first season, Bean actually spends the sophomore year of Disenchantment becoming a more engaging character. The best episodes highlight her curiosity and stubborn spirit, one of the few positive traits she inherited from her father. She's not defined by a rigid code of honor, but more by a realistic sense of ethics. She lies, cheats and steals sometimes, but always with a good cause in the moment.
Even the more lackluster mid-season episodes showcase how Bean is growing to become a more complicated and compelling character. She's actively learning how to speak out for herself and learn, and it makes her the kind of endearing lead that a good fantasy series needs.
But the writers also craft her into an interesting subversion of fantasy heroes. She's confronted with the deaths she caused in the previous season and doesn't try to amend or move past them. She's not pleased she killed someone, even the serial killer cannibal versions of Hansel and Gretel, but it doesn't weigh on her or drive her actions. She's not motivated by a drive to seek out her destiny or to achieve justice for her family. She's committed only to her own sense of exploration, which works well given her place as a wandering princess. At its best moments, the new season allows Bean to indulge in these ambitions and let her drive the story.
Learning About Herself (And The World)
There are even subtle hints throughout the season that Bean may be a bit more attracted to women then she's been open about. While partying with mermaids, she requests a couple of ear nibbles and tries to sneak out the next morning. When she arrives in Steamland, she hitches a ride with a female cop and gets her phone number. It works well with her general curiosity about the world. She spent most of her life sheltered and lashing out, but in her more exploratory moments, she seems excited and curious in more ways than just one.
It gives her (and the show) a sense of wonder and adventure that feels genuine. There's a sense of liberation for Bean in this new season, especially when she's exploring a new place or setting. It gives her a natural reason to propel the plot forward, whether it's through her refusal to just accept whatever destiny has been set aside for her, her drive to defy heaven and hell to save Elfo or just her general curiosity about mechanics leading her straight to Steamland. It gives the show momentum, which it sorely lacked in the first season. Unfortunately, Disenchantment keeps getting in its own way.
Just Be About Bean, Already
The problem is that the series has a tendency to get distracted. Each digression focuses on any number of the show's forgettable minor characters, never affording them much in the way of personality. The episodes become lost in the process of dealing with their minor problems within a fantasy world, such as elf thieves, roommate problems and dating troubles. None of them are nearly as compelling as any of the adventures that Bean goes on, so it's confusing to see the show shift focus to them.
There's not much done in the name of developing the characters in these subplots. Their stories generally don't move any arc forward and just fill time with tired routines based on their broad characters. The sitcom plots starring characters like Elfo and Merkimer are a more forgettable version of Disenchantment, whereas the narrative featuring Bean is actually enjoyable and exciting.
If Disenchantment wants to really become the best version of itself, then it needs to redefine its focus. Bean should be front and center, with the more minor sitcom plots pushed aside. All they do is distract from the overall series and its narrative, which is a shame. Bean actually makes for a very fun protagonist, especially in the better episodes of the second season. Now, if only every episode could give her that level of freedom. If the show was just about Bean exploring a strange world, Disenchantment could stand out as something special.
The second season of Disenchantment is currently streaming on Netflix.