Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist has done it again. They’ve given us a fantastic episode for the third week in a row. Who knew television could be so consistently good? Given the focus on grief throughout this season, this episode really wasn’t a surprise. Zoey may have been trying to take steps forward, but she’s still very much stuck in a place of loss and pain. As we’ve said before, healing is important, but it’s also not a straight line. It ebbs and flows. So while things might have been flowing for Zoey last week, they ebbed hard for her in this episode. And that’s okay! She’ll have good days and bad weeks – or even months. They’re being true to her journey. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Holding On By Letting Go…For Now
Ever since Max and Zoey kissed in the season premiere, we’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Things never go that smoothly in television land, particularly in shows where personal growth and relationships (of all types) are the primary focus.
Well, the shoe dropped this week. Zoey may want to be ready for a relationship with Max. Everything indicates she’s very much telling the truth when she says as much. But wanting to be ready for something actually being ready for something are two different things. The simple fact is…she’s not ready. It isn’t a surprise that she’s not ready, really, any more than it’s a surprise that she thought she might be. People heal at different speeds, just like people grieve in different ways.
Since we’ve watched a lot of television, this pause in the OTP relationship was more or less expected. Of course, we wouldn’t have complained at all if it had never happened. But we more or less saw it coming. Particularly with everything Austin Winsberg and the cast have said about Zoey’s story this year. So, accepting the fact that this moment was pretty much inevitable from the moment Zoey and Max kissed, the writers handled this development about as well as we ever could have hoped. This “pause” in their relationship may not be what Clarkeman fans were hoping for, but it makes sense for the characters. And yes, we do mean characters, because it makes as much sense for Max as it does Zoey. Just as important, it affords both characters respect and dignity. As fans of Zoey and Max – individually and together – that is a truly wonderful thing.
The thing is, the writers didn’t just set up this plot point from Zoey’s point of view, as a woman still processing intense grief. They set up this story for Max, as well. In fact, this episode built upon a thread from the first season. Zoey is able to hear people’s heart songs. She has a cheat code from the universe to know what thoughts and feelings they may not want to share. Even those thoughts and feelings they may be trying very hard to keep private. Our thoughts and feelings may be the only things in this world that we may be able to call entirely our own. Our minds and hearts are quite possibly the only places where we have complete privacy. It isn’t her “fault” when she invades this privacy against her will – she deserves no blame for having this ability. (Heaven knows she’s tried to turn it off, avoid it, and/or ignore it in the past.) But it’s something she has, and it’s okay if everyone isn’t always comfortable with that.
That very idea is something that we were hoping to see show explore in the second season, and so we’re actually quite glad it is. We would expect if Simon finds out about her powers, this plot would be explored even more. We wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he wasn’t immediately okay with discovering that his “magical connection” with Zoey was actually an unrevealed superpower. Or that it wasn’t that she just “got” him in a way Jessica didn’t; she saw what he was feeling in a way Jessica couldn’t. In fact, it isn’t just that we expect him to not be immediately okay with this revelation. It would be a disservice to his character to demand that he be so.
We haven’t gotten to that point yet with Simon, but we have with Max. He accepts her powers, but that doesn’t mean he’s always entirely comfortable with them. A fact he reiterated once again in the previous episode. And frankly, that’s perfectly understandable. We all have moments when we’re feeling small and petty. When we feel the ugliest emotions in our hearts or have thoughts we aren’t necessarily proud to admit out loud. All of that is human. What defines us as people isn’t what we feel – which is often outside of our control, particularly when the emotion first arises. It’s how we act upon that feeling. But Max doesn’t have the ability to keep that private part private, at least from Zoey. And, perhaps worse, he doesn’t necessarily know when she’s getting a look into his most private thoughts and feelings and when she isn’t.
So, yes, as shippers, our hearts are just a little bit broken. (Particularly since Skylar nearly killed us with the emotion in his heart song.) But in a sense, what happened this episode is necessary for Max and Zoey. And that means it really isn’t a bad thing for our favorite OTP. It’s another page of their story. After the last few episodes, even with this pause in their relationship there remains no doubt that Zoey and Max will make their way back to each other. They are it for each other. That much was evident, even in the long, silent stare they exchanged at the end. Whatever happens, they’re still in it together. They’re just not exploring a romantic relationship right now.
Zoey has to grieve, and Max has to find a way to get more comfortable with the fact her powers give her an insight neither can control. It’s a journey, and this is just a single step. It’s also a step they both took together, with mutual understanding and without anger. Which is, let’s be honest, just another sign that these two are endgame.
But, seriously Austin. We trust you, but we really hope you don’t keep our hearts broken for too long. We don’t know that we could take it.
Mo’s been dealing with a lot this season. We haven’t truly delved into everything he’s been going through, but he’s been going through it. We’ve always loved Mo, so we treasure each and every moment that we’ve gotten with him.
It’s interesting that Mo served as the person Zoey could run to with her problems in the first season, but he does plenty of running in his own right. He ran from Eddie last year. He ran from himself (in the guise of the partnership) last episode. And now it seems he’s running from Eddie again.
We fully anticipate we’ll get a whole episode – or more – with which to explore his story more thoroughly. We can’t wait to see it! However, we do hope this breakup with Eddie is more of a temporary, COVID-forced thing. That they had to do a temporary breakup because quarantine restrictions would be too burdensome on actor Patrick Ortiz for the occasional episode. (Cruises don’t last forever, after all, so they have to explain his absence somehow.) Mo’s relationship with Eddie brought out another side of him, one we loved getting a chance to see. This breakup may give Mo a chance to confront that part of him that makes him run from his problems, but we really hope he works things out with Eddie in the end. These two were always very sweet together, and we’re not quite ready to say goodbye to Mo In Love.
Jenna, Jenna, Jenna
We’ve definitely mentioned this before, but…we just love David and Emily so much. So, so much. Individually, they’re fantastic. Together? Magic. So the introduction of Jenna into this dynamic is just the cherry on a sundae of All That Is Wonderful.
There was a moment in the first season where we couldn’t help but feel that this show gets sibling relationships. And, let’s be honest. Not every show does. With siblings, there’s always that’s that fine line between “I would totally die for this person…if I don’t smother them with a pillow first.” Add in the extra dynamic of temporarily residing with a brother-in-law (and apparently a single bathroom)? Awkwardness abounds.
As lovely as Jenna is as a character in her own right, it’s even better to see the side she brings out in Emily. We’ve adored Emily since the first season. She clearly tries hard to project an outward demeanor of “don’t mess with me or I cut you.” But she’s just this soft, squishy marshmallow on the inside. (Okay, granted, a marshmallow that will probably still cut you if you cross her. But, like, she might feel a little bit bad about it afterwards? Secretly? Or not.) As much as we enjoy seeing Jenna bring out a different side of Emily (and Maggie!), there’s still that tension there, so we wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t always remain smooth sailing ahead.
That said, if this “sticking around to work with Maggie” thing is gonna work out, Jenna’s really gonna need to learn to embrace some boundaries.
A Friend in Need
The show hasn’t explored much of Simon’s story yet this season, but there’s been no question that he would have a significant role to play in helping Zoey with her grief. This episode really leaned into that dynamic, giving her an opportunity to talk about her nightmares with someone who has experienced something similar.
Zoey provided a shoulder to Simon last season, so it’s really good to see him provide a shoulder for her this year. (Although we continue to take exception with the idea that only someone who’s experienced loss can be a shoulder in one’s grief. Having gone through similar grief ourselves. But perhaps that’s just one of the lessons both Zoey and Simon have to learn. They can rely on others, even those who haven’t had the same experiences, and it’s a disservice to those they love and those who love them to assume otherwise.) We haven’t had a chance to explore how he’s been processing his own grief in the six weeks of show-time that passed between finale and premiere. However, he has a lighter “vibe” this year. He seems happier, at least. Whether or not that’s an act he’s putting on in an effort to help Zoey as she helped him last year remains to be seen. But we hope it’s not. Simon went through a lot last season, and we’d love for him to be happy this year.
As a side note, are we the only ones who feel like Jane Levy and John Clarence Stewart are completely underplaying any romantic chemistry between their characters this year? Throughout the first season, even in “friendship” scenes, there was always that underlying sexual tension. (Whatever our previous issues with the development of the Zoey/Simon romantic arc, we’ve never questioned their chemistry!) That hasn’t been the case this season. Of course, given that Zoey was in a relationship for most of this week’s episode, it wouldn’t have been to the credit of either character to play it up too much. But the fact we know that they can bring it when they want makes us feel that the lack of romantic tension is a deliberate choice. And that makes us think that we’re right in feeling like Austin Winsberg has implied in recent interviews that the “love triangle” as we usually know it is dead. Apparently, we’ll have to wait and see.
“Brogrammers” No More
That there haven’t been many female programmers on the show so far is (as far as we understand) fairly true to real life. However, we love to see the SPRQ Point characters expanded and diversified a bit more. So far, there have only been hints that this new dynamic may help propel Tobin’s story forward. (Or is that only wishful thinking on our parts?) But the new level of responsibility has already shown glimmers of a lot of character progression for Leif.
Leif was a great – if somewhat divisive – character in the show’s freshman season. Appearing almost as the stereotypical mustache-twirling villain at first, it seemed like the writers were setting him up to have ambition with no thought to consequences. They turned that trope on its head when he ended up falling for Joan, rather than trying to use her for his own purposes. But he did start off as something of an antagonist for Zoey, if not of the arch-nemesis variety.
This season, he’s stepping a little more into his own. He also clearly didn’t know quite what he was getting into with the coveted promotion. It’s one thing to want to be a leader. Even to think you’d be a good manager. But actually managing people, particularly friends, is another thing entirely. Leif is going to have to learn to toe the line between friendship (and perhaps feeling a greater desire to be liked than one might have realized) and having to be the boss. We don’t often see men struggle to find a balance between being boss and wanting to be liked on television, and that alone will make it fascinating to watch.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC.