Though it bares all the hallmarks of a YA series, YouTube Premium’s Impulse has a decidedly more mature tone in mind as it progresses into season 2. It may be a teen drama centered on Henrietta ‘Henry’ Coles (Maddie Hasson), as she navigates her tumultuous adolescence and sometimes difficult home life, one that includes her single mother Cleo (Missy Piles) and sort-of step-sister Jenna (Sara Desjardins), but this particular story also delivers an attractive sci-fi angle. That blend of young adult angst and genre — concerning Henry’s nascent ability to teleport, and the increasingly complex mythology being constructed around it — makes Impulse a sure-fire contender for audiences eager for the next Hunger Games or Divergent.
What the series offers, though, is something much darker and, surprisingly, mature. That is in part due to the coarse language peppered throughout each episode, which gives this world of high schoolers a somewhat more authentic feel, but it also has to do with the tone of the series itself, which is violent, desperate, and at times unrelentingly bleak. It’s a step forward for the series from showrunner Lauren LeFranc and executive producer and director Doug Liman, who have already ushered audiences through a season that didn’t exactly play nice with its main characters, guiding Henry through her first experiences teleporting by dropping her into a corrupt small town run by the equally unscrupulous Bill Boon, played by David James Elliot. It was a successful mix of small-town crime and high-concept sci-fi that managed narratives big and small, filling them with a surprisingly rich array of characters.
Season 1 ended with an irate and irrational Boone threatening Henry and her mother for answers about how his son came to be injured (while trying to sexually assault Henry, no less). Fittingly, the season 2 premiere — also directed by Liman — picks up right where things left off, and it resolves the Bill Boone issue with haste and violent precision. But there’s collateral damage, as Henry’s attempt to teleport away leaves her would-be assailant dead and her mother on the receiving end of his wrath. It’s a gruesome opening that gives Henry even more emotional baggage to contend with, as the season pushes her, Jenna, and high school friend Townes (Daniel Maslany) toward the truth about her abilities and those who are gathering to stop them developing any further.
Season 1 dangled a greater mythology based on the Jumper books (and movie) from author Steve Gould, but for the most part kept the story of Impulse as grounded in a very chilly kind of reality as possible. This made the moments where Henry actually jumped all the more thrilling, and it gave Callum Keith Rennie’s Nikolai an air of mystery and suspense around him. That continues apace in the season 2 opener, ‘Mind on Fire,’ as Nikolai bares witness to the end of Bill Boone and Henry’s ever-increasing ability, before he goes full Winston Wolfe, helping rid the scene of (most) evidence that Bill was killed.
Nikolai’s efforts and his largely silent presence throughout the hour suggest that season 2 plans to expand on the series’ mythology in the episodes to come, putting Henry in the hands of a questionable guardian or mentor, as she searches for answers to who her father really is and why she can do the things she can do. In essence, it feels as though Impulse is eager to begin playing around in the enormous narrative sandbox it has at its disposal, while still keeping things fairly contained within the fictional town in which it is set. That might go against the notion of a sprawling genre storyline, but in this case it actually works, mainly because LeFranc and her writers’ room have filled their snow-crusted town with intriguing characters, whether or not they can teleport.
‘Mind on Fire’ spends a great deal of time exploring Henry’s reaction to what happened: her guilt over abandoning her mother, coupled with the weight of not only being forced to lie to interim Sheriff Anna Hulce (Enuka Okuma), but also the fact that her abilities allowed her to take a man’s life — and she kind of liked it. That’s not to say that Impulse season 2 is cataloguing the birth of a villain, but rather that it takes the moral implications of its characters’ awesome powers seriously, especially since they’ve been bestowed on someone so young who still doesn’t quite know what sort of person she’s going to be. Henry’s concerns are dealt with in visceral fashion, as she attempts to numb the pain at a party with weed and alcohol, only to be besieged by violent visions.
It’s an effective re-introduction to the series that continues to be visually striking and dramatically engaging. Hasson is as compelling as ever, while the supporting cast — Maslany in particular — helps leaven the sometimes bleak tone with much-needed humor and empathy. In all, season 2 marks another strong entry in YouTube Premium’s lineup of original programming, one that has a little something for everyone.
Impulse season 2 is currently available to stream on YouTube Premium.