Sacred Games season 2 hits the ground running. Gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) pulls off the first great escape of the second installment. Elsewhere, Mumbai police officer Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan) and his team investigate a possible nuclear threat looming over the city. In the seven subsequent episodes, more drama and revelations follow as past and present come together in ambitious but also confusing ways.

Based on Vikram Chandra’s 2006 novel of the same name, the Netflix Indian original series returned for a second season on August 15. Sacred Games 2 has been directed by Anurag Kashyap and Neeraj Ghaywan, while season one co-director Vikramaditya Motwane serves as executive producer. The ensemble cast includes Kalki Koechlin, Aamir Bashir, Sameer Kochhar, Luke Kenny, Ranvir Shorey, Girish Kulkarni, Chittaranjan Tripathi, Jatin Sarna, Vikram Kochhar, Amruta Subhash, Neeraj Kabi and Elnaaz Norouzi. The second season has been written by Varun Grover, Dhruv Narang, Nihit Bhave and Pooja Tolani.

The first season kicked off with a phone call by Gaitonde to Sartaj, cryptically warning him of a violent plan in store for Mumbai. The gangster then kills himself after setting Singh on a 25-day countdown. The narrative cleaves into two timelines: Singh works to thwart the impending attack on Mumbai, while a parallel flashback follows Gaitonde’s rise and the waxing and waning of his fortunes from crime.

Sacred Games season one.

Season one concluded with Sartaj uncovering an arsenal for a possible nuclear attack. Gaitonde’s storyline, meanwhile, ended with him being ferried out of prison by a group of mysterious abductors. In the second season, we find Gaitonde being held captive at sea, somewhere off the coast of Africa. He’s forced into teaming up with Research and Analysis Wing operative Kusum (Amruta Subhash) and do the intelligence agency’s bidding in the interests of national security. Hoping to eventually find his way back to Mumbai, Gaitonde agrees to assist RAW and sets up a new life in Kenya.

Equally significant is Gaitonde’s evolving relationship with cult leader Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi,) who was introduced in season one as the don’s latest mentor and the man who eventually spurred his decline.

Pankaj Tripathi in Sacred Games season 2. Courtesy Netflix.

Sartaj, meanwhile, joins a Special Investigation Team looking into the threat to Mumbai and tracing links to Islamist terror groups. He, however, believes that Guruji is equally central to the conspiracy.

The first season made several tweaks to Chandra’s novel, and in the second part, the source material is a distant memory. The creative team seems to have had fun fleshing out life in Guruji’s ashram (which was not explored in the book). The series depicts the spiritual facility as a place where drugs and sex share space with ascetic lifestyles and mythological musings mix with sinister designs.

Some characters return, while others make their debut. After the high body count of the first season, which included fan favourite constable Katekar (Jitendra Joshi), Gaitonde’s lover Kukoo (Kubra Sait) and RAW operative Anjali Mathur (Radhika Apte), the second season adds to the mix Kalki Koechlin’s Batya, an influential member of Guruji’s ashram. Those who showed up briefly in season one, such as Surveen Chawla’s Jojo and Tripathi’s Guruji, also get a lot more screen time.

Assassin Malcolm (Luke Kenny) continues to loom large in season two, showing an uncanny ability to commit murder without detection. More villainy arrives in the form of Shahid (Ranvir Shorey), a Pakistani terrorist who wants to wreak havoc on India.

Kalki Koechlin in Sacred Games season 2. Courtesy Netflix.

The cast is strong and some of the writing is clever, but the plot frequently veers off course as it hurtles towards its climax. The supply of cliffhangers is seemingly inexhaustible, and the second season struggles to join and capitalise on the various fragments and compelling possibilities teased at the end of season one. Season two tackles militant Hindu nationalism, majoritarianism, the abuse of religion by the power elite, and government corruption. The team works overtime to keep the socio-political backdrop up to date with the times, weaving in references to rising authoritarianism and mob violence towards minorities.

The second season only ends up tripping up over itself in its ambition to weave together multiple sub-plots and elaborate agendas for its large ensemble cast. Some of the sub-plots are a snooze, especially the scenes involving Neeraj Kabi’s corrupt police officer Parulkar, whose moral compass goes from evil to erratic in the second season. Another track involving Sartaj’s father, Dilbagh Singh (Jaipreet Singh), and his devotion to Guruji beggar belief. The already weighed-down Sartaj didn’t need daddy issues added to his lot of woes, and the ensuing identity crisis do not result in any memorable scenes.

Sacred Games season 2.

In the bid to trade the source novel’s slow pace with thrills, the series ends up replacing careful plotting and delicate links with convoluted and redundant events. The contenders include most of the scenes involving the ashram, the overstretched present-day investigation into the nuclear attack, and the uncanny ability of some characters to show up at the right place at the right time. The latter episodes go off the rails, before resuming some coherence towards the end. (The series ends on yet another cliffhanger, suggesting a third season).

The performances by the leads remain on course. While Nawazuddin Siddiqui can play a gangster in his sleep, his considerable skills get more room as Gaitonde’s world crumbles and his god complex gives way to an insecurity complex.

Saif Ali Khan too is perfect as Sartaj, who is dogged by fresh doubts and conflicts. His estranged wife, Megha (Anupriya Goenka), has more screen time in this edition as Sartaj simultaneously grapples with his mounting loneliness. Among the ensemble cast, Amruta Subhash is particularly noteworthy as KD Yadav, while Tripathi strikes the right notes as the shadowy Guruji, whose silken voice barely conceals his sinister designs.

Saif Ali Khan in Sacred Games season 2. Courtesy Netflix.

Also read:

How ‘Sacred Games’ stays true to the source novel but also turns it on its head

‘Sacred Games’ 2: Meet its new director and the woman who stands up to Ganesh Gaitonde

Pankaj Tripathi’s challenge on being Guruji in ‘Sacred Games S2’: ‘Engaging without being bloodless’

‘Dark, criminal, funny, with truth underneath’: Alokananda Dasgupta on the music of ‘Sacred Games’