Photo Credit: Ishika Mohan Motwane/Netflix
Sacred Games fans had a lot of questions coming into season 2, but the Netflix series opted to not answer one of the biggest — if not the biggest — in the finale, leaving viewers in the dark about whether Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) actually managed to save the city, as Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) had instructed him to last year. (Though if you've seen enough movies and TV in your life, you know where it goes.) Sacred Games 2 did answer a lot of other things, for what it's worth. We now know what happened between Gaitonde and Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi): sex, drugs and murder, in short. Two men with God complexes, fit for each other.
We also know what (partly) happened between Sartaj and ex-wife Megha (Anupriya Goenka). Sacred Games 2 also strongly hinted that Sartaj is related by blood with terrorist Shahid Khan (Ranvir Shorey), with the finale cold open — involving Shahid's mother and Sartaj's mother looking at an old photo — showing that their family was separated during the Partition. Or maybe it was just an eleventh-hour attempt at socio-political commentary by the show's writers, on how the division of British India decided the fate of future generations. If so, the point didn't come across as it was meant to.
It was one of several things that felt like had been swept under the carpet because Sacred Games season 2 had no time to touch upon, let alone explore in detail and with nuance. And while some of them were minor enough to not warrant a larger discussion, others were much more important. Now that all episodes of the second season of the Netflix series are available, it's the right time to analyse what Sacred Games 2 tried to do and how it fared.
As part of its primary characters' — Sartaj and Gaitonde — story arcs, Sacred Games has always wanted to explore the concept of self-worth: its importance to an individual, and what the lack of it does to someone. And in the second season, it dove into that in a more urgent fashion than before with the intent of breaking their spirit. The aim was simple and singular, to put Gaitonde in Sartaj's position and vice versa. Sacred Games 2 achieved that at the end of a rushed sixth episode, with the one helping to destroy the city of Mumbai (Gaitonde) now suddenly wanting to save it, and the one tasked with saving it (Sartaj) now seemingly fine with letting it be destroyed.
With Gaitonde, it's all seemingly linked to Guruji. Towards the end of season 2, through Trivedi (Chittaranjan Tripathi) and then Jojo Mascarenhas (Surveen Chawla), the gangster finds out that he's essentially been a puppet on strings. Suleiman Isa (Saurabh Sachdeva) wasn't involved in the death of Gaitonde's wife Subhadra (Rajshri Deshpande). Rather, it was meant to push him to do something that would put him in jail and undermine his resolve, which is exactly what happened. And then by keeping him away from Bombay and unable to exact revenge on Isa, Gaitonde was made to feel both alone and worthless, which is how he ends up in Guruji's lap.
(Figuratively and later literally, Sacred Games 2 drew from the Rajneesh movement to set up its spiritual cult, we think, with Guruji proclaiming the importance of freewheeling sex. That was among the tangential similarities between Guruji and Osho, and Batya and Ma Anand Sheela.)
With Sartaj, the spotlight had largely been focused on his many failures: both personal and professional, sometimes entangled with each other. On the former front, Sacred Games 2 revealed that one of the thornier issues of his failed marriage with Megha was having a baby. As Sartaj tells Batya (Kalki Koechlin), we are shown in a flashback that Sartaj felt betrayed by Megha's decision to have an abortion without consulting him. He feels that she didn't trust him to be a good father, but Megha simply states that they had previously decided not to have a baby, considering the state of the world.
But what Sartaj is truly irked by is the fact that Megha has since changed her mind, as he finds out at his boss Parulkar's marriage anniversary. After he forces her to have a conversation despite her wishes, Megha reveals that she is marrying her new boyfriend Umesh. Sartaj wonders why Megha is rushing into it, considering it's only been six months since she started seeing him. Megha then reveals that she's pregnant. It's left unsaid that Megha wants to have this baby, but it's quite obvious from their interaction. For Sartaj, this feels like an additional attack on his self-worth, something Batya explicitly says later.
(If you want, you can read Batya's existence as a character to simply be a mirror to Sartaj, which is why she has a backstory of a Palestinian mother who left her and an always-travelling Jewish father, contributing to her own lack of self-worth.)
On the professional side of things, Sacred Games has been showing us Sartaj's failures from the start. When we first see him, we find out his career as a police officer has largely stagnated. All he's known for is catching a small-time pickpocket. And then the first season piled on it. Sartaj put both Constable Katekar (Jitendra Joshi) and Nayanika Sehgal (Geetanjali Thapa) — the woman Bunty (Jatin Sarna) abused — in harm's way. And he blamed himself for their deaths. The somewhat-unnecessary flashbacks in season 2 remind us of this fact, just as Sartaj fails to protect another asset, this time a Muslim kid named Saad, the brother of a cooperating asset.
And then there were things that are out of his control. Sacred Games 2 reveals that Sartaj's father, Dilbagh Singh (Jaipreet Singh), also believed in Guruji, though it's left unsaid what kind of role he exactly played in the world-ending plot. Sartaj knows that his father had some connection to Guruji, after his mother said as much early in season 2, but he's still taken aback when Batya shows him a photo of a cult gathering in Croatia in the early 2000s, which features his father in the corner. Of course, Batya is simply trying to manipulate Sartaj to get what she needs, but it's enough for Sartaj to be pushed over the edge.
While the larger idea of Sartaj and Gaitonde's self-worth exploration and ultimately ending up in each other's position looks good on paper, the execution wasn't always convincing, thanks to several hurdles along the way. Most of it is down to how illogical some of their actions felt, or how it was inconsistent with what we had known about the character until that point. A large portion of the blame rests on the writers trying to cram in as much as possible on the second season — episodes four and six were particularly dense — which doesn't afford characters enough time to switch from one state to the other.
The Gaitonde storyline was better served for the most part, as Sacred Games 2 went about turning him from someone who loved Bombay to someone willing to let it die, over the course of several years as he listened to Guruji. But the show failed in depicting the reverse turn, which was necessary as that's what kick started the whole thing. (If Gaitonde doesn't call Sartaj in the first episode, there's no Sacred Games.) His rejection of Guruji's plan to trigger nuclear apocalypse rests on a single thing: seeing the bomb with his own eyes. And all the years of his indoctrination vanish in a second.
The Sartaj storyline, on the other hand, made several missteps. Sacred Games season 2 continued season 1's repeat offence of Sartaj never facing consequences for his actions. In the fifth episode, after he goes off the rails while trying to investigate Bipin Bhonsle (Girish Kulkarni) and drugs are found in his body, Sartaj is suspended from the investigation. But he's magically back on the trail in a few hours later that same episode. What happened to his suspension? Clearly, the rules are different when it comes to the protagonist.
And he's far from okay, as the next episode showed. With Sartaj trying to avoid taking the drug he was given by Batya, he starts to become paranoid and have visions. It's laughable that he's still on the job. This is worse than Homeland, which also features a mentally unstable — and at-times drug-addled — protagonist trying to save the world. But where Homeland can excuse itself by giving the character days to recover, Sacred Games just didn't have that luxury, and wrote itself into a corner it couldn't get out of.
Then came the season finale. By now, Sacred Games 2 had managed to put Sartaj in Gaitonde's position, with the cop not interested in saving his city anymore. That made him a passive character at the wrong time, since the show needed him to be the protagonist that he's supposed to be and save the world, considering that's how all these stories go. And that's exactly what happened, with a five-minute dream sequence — where he's confronted by Megha on his choices and way of life, and where the show sold us on why the world is worth saving, the exact opposite of what it pulled an episode or two ago — undoing what Sartaj had been through for two seasons.
And as if the rush wasn't annoying on its own, Sacred Games 2 ended up in melodramatic territory soon after. Set aside how Sartaj gets back into the city when all exit roads have been made one-way to aid the evacuation of millions of people who are trying to leave the island in two days — imagine the panic on the streets — the events of the last quarter of the season finale feel like they've been cut and pasted from a different show altogether.
First, the female nuclear expert — apologies if we missed her name — draws two random patterns in an attempt to gain access to the bomb. Why does she think this is a good idea when you only have five tries? Sartaj then says they should get Shahid Khan (Ranivr Shorey) to unlock it for them, whom they have already beaten to a pulp by this point. But after Sartaj realises that Shahid has no incentive to offer up the password, he promptly kills him. This happens quicker than we can explain it in words, and it comes as both unnecessary and pointless.
Left with no knowhow in accessing the bomb, the police simply give up on Mumbai and take off, with Sartaj the only one offering up any protests. Of course, that's because the hero must save the day. It's only at this point that Sartaj realises that Guruji's book might hold the (figurative) key to unlocking the pattern lock. It's frankly laughable that no one, except Sartaj, bothered to dig into Gaitonde's past after they found evidence of a planned nuclear attack on the city. How did no one question Gaitonde's willingness to work with Isa, Shahid Kha, and the ISI?
At the end of season 2, as Sartaj uses the only remaining pattern lock attempt on the bomb with the timer winding down, he's one of a select few characters that are still (seemingly) alive. Gaitonde has no place in the show, now that his backstory has been completed through flashbacks.
Meanwhile, all of Guruji, Shahid Khan, Parulkar, Majid, Malcolm, and Bhonsle are all dead. The supporting characters that are still standing include Zoya Mirza (Elnaaz Norouzi), Markand, K.D. Yadav, and Isa. And possibly Batya, if she didn't bleed out first. Megha and Sartaj's mother are around as well, in addition to the Katekar family, for what it's worth. Except for Zoya and Yadav, audiences didn't see enough of any other character in season 2, which is a problem for the show's future.
If Sacred Games is interested in resolving the ambiguity of its final moments, its third season faces an uphill climb. And beyond answering that big question, it will also have to justify adding another chapter to the story. No matter where it goes though, it's bound to feel like a soft reboot of the series, given the characters it will have to operate with and the lack of options at hand.