Breeders ends its second season with an emotionally heavy twist. The FX parenting comedy has derived witty humor out of its premise—Paul (Martin Freeman) and Ally’s (Daisy Haggard) tendency to casually yell at their young kids out of frustration and tiredness—with surprising bouts of sentimentality. Season two began to shift the perspective from just them because it jumps ahead a few years after season one, introducing their kids Luke (Alex Eastwood) and Ava (Eve Prenelle) at age 13 and 10 respectively. It means they’re developing their own personalities and their parents have to be more levelheaded in dealing with them. Over the last few episodes, Breeders revealed Luke’s anxiety that stems from Paul’s temper (which he tried to control by going to therapy). However, the finale causes their tension to boil over in an overdue consequential manner.
The episode, titled “No Power, Part II,” kicks off from the previous one’s cliffhanger wherein Luke runs away from home in the middle of being chided by Paul for breaking the no devices rule while he was grounded. When Paul finds him in a park, they have a confrontation which leads to Luke punching his father on the face. The dramatic developments after this play out over the half hour finale during which both of them have a difficult heart-to-heart about the poor impact of Paul’s outbursts on their bond. Freeman, who co-created the show, told The A.V. Club in April that it attempts to paint a realistic picture of raising a family. The outing proves that despite his unbridled love for his children, and even if he often shows them real affection, Paul’s priority needs to be more about self-reflection than anything else. To that degree, he decides to move back with his own parents and give Luke some space.
This introspective twist is a smart game-changer for Breeders. As dryly comical as the show has been with its sitcom humor, deadpan delivery of one-liners by the two leads, and a spectacular supporting cast—Joanna Bacon and Allun Armstrong as Paul’s parents Jackie and Jim are extraordinarily funny—the subject matter has always been quite poignant. It examines the modern day notions of how working-class parents are able to provide for their children. Paul and Ally are loud but they’re also presented as multidimensional, loving people with strong careers, especially Ally. Over the course of these new episodes, the two have discussed whether or not they want to have more children and navigated the fallout of their decision. It’s put them in a stronger place as a couple, and it’s why their journey in the finale is believable.
“No Power, Part II” takes place mostly during the events of Ally’s mother Leah’s (Stella Gonet) wedding, with some flashbacks to two weeks ago right after Luke and Paul’s argument. Luke has been living with Leah and her groom-to-be, Alex (Hugh Quarshie), quickly forming an impactful, fatherly connection with him thanks to his calm presence. Luke refuses to come back home because he isn’t ready to be around his own dad. This doesn’t cause a massive blowup between Paul and Ally. The episode doesn’t dissipate their relationship. She encourages him to reach out to Luke during the wedding and politely convince him to return but that doesn’t go down well.
The sophomore season has been nuanced, and Paul and Luke’s confrontation adds to it. Luke admits that he thinks he cannot be happy at home, and that despite his best efforts, Paul doesn’t have it in him to change. Being around him tends to make Luke miserable and anxious, so he’d rather stay with his grandmother or even with his best friend, Jacob. This conversation is an astute way for Breeders to acknowledge the long-lasting impressions of Paul and Ally’s parenting, because it’s not just their love that’s ingrained into their children, it’s also their screaming. The finale showcases that Paul isn’t a purposefully negative person but he does have deep-rooted issues to work on. He closed out season one by going to therapy but not earnestly enough. The finale makes room for that storyline to thrive in a potential third season because Paul makes the choice to move out so Luke can at least live with his mother and sister. Ally isn’t thrilled about these circumstances but they realize this might the best way for everyone to cope.
The well-planned idea to bring in talented teenage actors adds balance to the show’s point-of-view while maturing Paul and Ally as parents. Eastwood puts up a lovely performance, going toe-to-toe with Freeman, whose work is heart-rending in scenes where Paul witnesses the growing bond between his son and Alex. Haggard doesn’t get as much to do in the finale but she finds a way to shine in the scenes she does get with Freeman, and their chemistry remains rock solid. The finale successfully revamps Breeders’ original comedic scope by tightening its more weightier themes. They’ve been building on it the entire season, with early episodes dedicated to showing Luke’s anxiousness and loneliness, when it was Paul who got through to him. Their relationship isn’t weak, but “No Power, Part II” and the show overall manage to meaningfully talk about those gray, in-between areas by holding Paul accountable for his rage.