(There will be four sections of this review, one for each Act. Part 1 is here. Spoilers and ranting below).
Well. I’ve finished Act 2 and…things have not gotten better.
They’ve gotten worse.
I’ll get to the plot in just a second, but for now let me just say that characterization is still a horrid mess. Even the characters that don’t appear get short changed. Neville—our brave, amazing Neville—is briefly mentioned by McGonagall as a good person to help them look for the missing Albus and Scorpius, because “his knowledge of plants might be useful” while searching the Forbidden Forest. Right. 1. Yay reducing characters to their one basic trait (Neville knows Herbology!). 2. I’m pretty sure that’s a flimsy excuse at best, given that we’ve seen the Forbidden Forest multiple times and the danger has never been the plants. (What’s he gonna do? Forsake a tracking spell to follow broken leaves and twigs?). And 3. The excuse is useless anyway because Neville doesn’t even come along.
Probably for the best. Spare him this horror.
Ron continues to be a caricature of his former self. He arrives at the search party in a “gravy-stained napkin," exclaiming that he couldn’t find the right Floo, essentially eliminating any of the, you know, legit worry that his best friend’s son is missing. Play!Ron doesn’t get to experience real emotions anymore. Oh, and he says he “ended up in the kitchen somehow" so presumably that gravy-stained napkin is because he stopped for a snack, rather than coming straight from dinner or something, which is what I originally assumed. Yeah. Wow. This Ron is an asshole.
And Harry… wow, Harry. Okay. So for everyone here who hasn’t read the play, Albus and Scorpius go back in time to try and save Cedric, mess things up, and they come back to a horrible world where Ron and Hermione didn’t marry, Rose doesn’t exist, everything is awful—we’ve seen this trope a thousand times before. So Harry is awful too right? He’s really awful. He somehow gets it into his head (based on the advice of a centaur that hates him…) that Scorpius is the “black cloud” surrounding Albus, so he decides the boys have to stay away from one another at all costs. He tells Albus that he’ll have to spend all his free time in the Gryffindor common room (which is now his House in this timeline), McGonagall will stalk him with the Marauder’s map and separate the boys if she ever sees them together, and if Albus still refuses to keep away from Scorpius, Harry will put a spell on Albus that tracks all his movements. Harry ends it all by saying that Albus doesn’t have to like him, just obey him.
You know all those creepy stories about awful parents that keep their kids locked up and go through every piece of their social life, from diaries to tracking their phones? Yeah. That’s Harry, except with the extra aid of magic.
But it’s fine right? Because they changed the future—this is the messed up version of Harry. It’s not our Harry.
Except it is.
We get two narrative declarations that Harry hasn’t changed at all. The first is when, with everyone else changing jobs and spouses, Scorpius notes that Harry is still working at the Ministry, is still married to Ginny, still has three kids. The implication is that he is exactly the same. The second is when Albus himself says that he doesn’t think his dad has really changed at all. Now despite this I, the reader, continued to wait for the “surprise” reveal that messing with time turned Harry into a real asshole… but it doesn’t come. The boys go back to change time again and this second timeline finishes, with Harry never called out on his actions. If anything his actions are labeled as just another fatherly ‘mistake’: Ginny and McGonagall are (understandably!) horrified by his decisions and Harry eventually caves, asking for help in finding Albus because he wants to apologize for his initial reaction.
Messing with time didn’t make Harry awful. This is literally how Harry is supposed to be now. A man who tells his kid he doesn’t want him. Who stalks him because he dares to make friends with a Malfoy. Where did the real Harry Potter go?
(He’s also apparently a Harry who says “Good. You still recognize me, Bane” like an 11-year old Draco who’d be offended if someone didn’t know and cater to him on sight).
Meanwhile, everyone else remains equally, tediously terrible. Albus’ character is still a non-existent contradiction. He says all angsty, “I’ve never been good at spells,” so what is he good at then? Not flying or potions or the backbone of all magic, apparently. We’re meant to believe that this kid is just so bad at everything, presumably so we’ll sympathize with him. Oh no wait. He is good at one thing: “[Albus] is a great liar.” Okay. That’s nice. Glad we got that squared away.
In the new timeline Ron is very serious and married to Padma, “not even an inch of the man he was.” Good. The Ron from Act 1 was equally awful.
Stage direction: “Ginny is not sure what she’s supposed to be.” Yep. That basically sums this Ginny up.
Moaning Myrtle isn’t moaning anymore. She’s nothing but flirty and has a bunch of stage directions for grinning and the like. Not a single tear. Which would be fine if we’d get even an inkling as to how she’s changed so much in recent years. If there’s one thing Myrtle is known for, it’s crying.
And Hermione—my brilliant, compassionate Hermione—has become the new Snape. We’re given a brief DADA lesson with her (she’s “Teaching. For my sins.”) where it’s emphasized that she’s very mean now, insulting students and docking points left and right. Because presumably not getting Ron as a husband turned her cruel.
Give me a break.
I'm legitimately mad about this one. Hermione ‘teased-mercilessly-despised-Snape-and-fought-blindly-for-House-Elf-rights’ Granger bullying students? Because she doesn’t have Ron? Excuse me while I set things on fire. The implication that Hermione's core personality, her goodness, relies entirely on the love of a man is insulting in the extreme.
In an effort not to destroy the text in my hands, let's return to the plot----which continues to not only be ridiculous but also riddled with holes. Not even the “I’m an English person paying attention to every detail” kind of issues, but the, “wow you just did not explain that” kind. Let’s make another list:
After the angsty declaration about how bad he is at spells, Albus trains with Delphi and becomes “quite some wizard.” Uh… how long did they train? A few hours? For a narrative surrounding time, the actual passage of it is incredibly confusing. The scenes flow from one to another like only a few hours are passing, but then characters drop lines that imply days have gone by, or even weeks. Which is it then?
As said, Albus is in Gryffindor now… but why? No explanation is given. He just is. Because I guess big stuff like that has to change when you mess with time. But he still managed to befriend Scorpius. Oh, and he hates his house… even though he hated being Slytherin in the original timeline… I swear to god this plot is held together with paperclips and cheap tape.
There’s continued, random rules thrown out about Time Turners. This is beginning to read like Moffat’s Doctor Who: ‘This rule suddenly exists because I say it does, with not context or explanation given.'
Albus’ arm was broken in the past, he comes back, and apparently it’s now not a new break, but one that occurred two decades ago and healed wrong. If their bodies were aging like then wouldn’t the boys actual age twenty years? I’m honestly so confused. (How did his arm even break in the first place it just kind of happens??)
Albus steals gillyweed to use in the past during the second tournament. Again: how? We had whole chapters about how hard it was for Harry to get gillyweed in the original series, and now Albus just has it randomly on his person? Writing a shorter story (play) doesn’t give you an excuse to just ignore basic logic. Stories still have to hold together.
The climax of this Act: the boys decide to engorge Cedric’s bubble-head charm during the second task. So that he floats away. And doesn't die at Voldemort's hands. And that actually works. And then they throw up random “Ron loves Hermione” fireworks to get them back together. And are we reading the same book? I'm sorry, but how is anyone taking this text seriously?
Favorite lines from this Act:
Dream!Aunt Petunia wants to “build” Harry into something decent but all she’s got to work with is a “limp disappointment.” (Is he failed al dente pasta?)
“Are you okay, Albus? You look a little pale. And red. Pale and red at the same time.”
“A black cloud around your son, a dangerous black cloud.” (Real talk: I repeat words a lot in my writing. 85% of the time it’s an accident, 15% it’s because I think it sounds ‘deep,’ 99.9% I’m dead wrong about that. The difference is that this play actually had editors).
Delphi says that, “every owl [Albus] sends I feel your [Scorpius’] absence.” (The wonky time passage aside, the Albus/Scorpus queerbaiting is setting my teeth on edge. Heaven forbid we actually get some overt representation this time around. I’m done with ‘reading into’ things or having queer characters confirmed only after the series is over)
“This has worked. That’s Ludo Bagman.” (Please say “This has worked” aloud and tell me that’s a good line to put in one of the biggest shows in years).
“Your hair really does very much suit you.” (Please say that out loud too).
“Cedric Diggory is turning into a balloon, and this balloon wants to fly.”
“You’re upsetting the dementors and entirely ruining Voldemort Day.”
I’ll leave you with that. Sad dementors. Voldemort Day. Those two words end Act 2 and are supposedly a crushing, awful reveal—a cliffhanger to carry us into the second half. I stand amazed.
I can only imagine what Act 3 might bring. Until then,