Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 2×09, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Mystery” – the annual glitch episode – isn’t easy to define. It may not be quite as over-the-top hilarious as last year’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Glitch.” Or at least it’s less second-hand cringe. But if it isn’t, that honestly makes sense. Last season, the show had to give the viewers some hilarity so we wouldn’t need to be hospitalized for dehydration after the heart-wrenching scenes that bookended the episode. This year’s episode has its comedic moments, but it isn’t entirely a comedy. It has its fun moments, but it has too much underlying drama to be exactly “fun.” So what is it? Moving…mysterious…important? Maybe all of the above?
Or perhaps it can’t easily be defined by any one word, and maybe that’s okay. The number and quality of the musical numbers alone warrant a standing ovation for choreographer Mandy Moore. Let’s dig in to the rest, shall we?
A SORROW UNSEEN
Zoey is the center of the show, and there is much to discuss about her arc this episode. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the importance of Emily’s story this episode. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is – and has always been – about grief. Throughout the first season, it did a better job of highlighting the depth and complexity of grief than perhaps any other show on television. Throughout the second season, Zoey has tried different methods to avoid her grief. Not all of them healthy. Meanwhile, we’ve got glimpses of her family members – mostly her mother – dealing with their own grief.
But life goes on, even while people are struggling with grief. And the loss of a parent isn’t the only sorrow a person could experience.
Through the season, we’ve seen Emily struggle with motherhood. She’s missed work and looked forward to getting out of the house. And now it’s clear that she’s struggling with postpartum depression (PPD), as well. It’s a storyline that we don’t often see on television – at least not in a sympathetic light.
PPD impacts a staggering number of mothers each year. Approximately 1 in 7 women will experience PPD during their first year of motherhood, and 10 to 20% of new mothers report clinical depression. It doesn’t matter how smart a person is. How strong. It doesn’t matter how put-together or loved. It’s not a cause for shame, but shame is something many sufferers feel.
This season, Emily has become one of my favorite characters on the show. Her relationship with David has been at times humorous and at times sweet. But it has always been supporting and loving. So one might think it’s weird that David wouldn’t see what his wife is going through. (And it does not seem like he is seeing it.) But it isn’t that unusual when you consider that the stigma around PPD prevents many of those who suffer from it from seeking the help they need.
Emily is smart, she is strong, and she is loved. But she’s also struggling with her own pain while her husband grapples with his own grief. Even if she doesn’t feel the shame many PPD sufferers feel, it isn’t unreasonable to think she’s reluctant to ask her husband to carry more than he already is. Even if doing so is what she should – and what he would want her to – do.
Presenting PPD with honesty is important. Treating it with compassion is perhaps even more so. It probably won’t be (and realistically shouldn’t be) the easiest story to watch. But if treated with the care the series handled Zoey’s struggle with loss in the first season, it may well end up being one of the most meaningful stories the show tackles this season. Or even at all.
On that note, I want to take this moment to say that there is support out there for those who are struggling with PPD. If you’re suffering from PPD, remember that you don’t have to go through it alone.
A CONFESSION DENIED
Okay, so there isn’t a great segue from Emily’s story and the rest of the episode. But while Emily’s arc is just launching, there are things that fans have been waiting to see from Zoey for some time. Most notably, fans want to see Zoey tell Simon about her powers. Which she had a chance to do this week and chose not to do.
The desire to have Simon “in the know” isn’t just for shipping reasons. (Though Zoey and Simon moving forward romantically does sort of bring the matter to a head.) I may think the show could have handled the implementation of this romantic arc a bit better. But I am also realistic. They can’t go back to the past to have their flirtation carry through the first half of the season. We can only go from here.
And let me say that Zoey and Simon did have some really cute, sweet moments this episode. Of course, if you’ve read my reviews, you’ll know that I’ve never hidden the fact that I ship Clarkeman. So it may come as a bit of a surprise when I say that, having put Zoey and Simon together romantically, I hope the two stay together through at least the end of the second season. Exploring the relationship through the first half of season three would be even better.
If there are things that Zoey and Simon have to explore in their relationship, then I want the show to take the time to really explore them. Why do they work, if they work? Why do they not work, if they don’t work? What do they both want in the relationship? Are they both on the same page about where they are now and where they see their relationship going in the future?
If the show is going to explore this relationship, explore it. Don’t have Zoey undergo an eleventh hour change of heart this season. But wanting Zoey and Simon to fully explore their relationship comes with wanting Zoey to let Simon in on her secret. Frankly, it’s well past the time that he deserves to know.
Zoey’s concern about how he will react if and when she lets him in on her secret is understandable. For several reasons. Yes, her secret caused some tension in her relationship with Max. But that really isn’t now – and hasn’t been – the problem when it comes to telling Simon. Simon and Zoey may have grown close as friends because they have a similar grief, but she only knows about that grief because of her powers. She used her powers to get close to him, to become his friend in the first place. And she knows it to be true. In the first season, she said she used information she shouldn’t have known to form a connection with him “like some sort of adorable psycho.”
So maybe Simon will feel insecure about her power. Maybe he won’t. Feeling conflicted about your significant other hearing your most private thoughts is, I think, a natural reaction. I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable with it. But people react differently, and that might not be Simon’s issue. At least, it might not be Simon’s biggest issue.
More than any other character that is or has been on the show, perhaps, Simon has a right to both know and be upset when he discovers the truth. That Zoey didn’t really “get” him in the first season. She had the power to hear the emotions he tried deliberately to hide from the rest of the world. During the first season, Simon was a character who hid his feelings from those around him. Sometimes to his detriment. But he was an emotionally private person. And while it certainly wasn’t intentional, Zoey’s powers invaded his emotional privacy. (That inadvertent insight into innermost emotional secrets was something that bothered Mo early on, as well.)
But the very fact that Simon has a right to know – and be upset when he learns – the truth makes sharing it an even more daunting prospect. I can understand Zoey’s reluctance. Her fear of what will happen when he learns the truth. Still, it’s not a situation that’s going to go away on its own. Not as long as she wants a relationship with him of any kind, be it friendship or romance. The longer she withholds the truth, the worse it’s going to get. And the more he’s going to be upset and hurt when he discovers it.
And one could say that Zoey’s scared of telling Simon because of how Max reacted, but she didn’t tell Simon the truth in the first season, even before she and Max had become romantically involved. When she told Max she was thinking of telling Simon the truth, she was going to someone who she knew had struggled with the inequality her powers bring to relationships. There was no way she spoke to him thinking he was going to profess that there was no chance that such a confession could go badly for her. (Nor would pretending as much really be setting her up to be prepared to handle Simon’s probable understandable and justifiable emotional reaction.) Which makes one wonder if she wasn’t deep down looking for an “out” to avoid the confession.
After all, if Zoey truly wanted a (relatively) unbiased opinion, she could have spoken to Mo – who had both struggled with and embraced Zoey’s powers at times and could be a bit emotionally removed from the romantic impact of it all. And if she wanted a really unbiased opinion, she could have spoken to the medium, who is – as far as we know – the only other person she’s met who might have powers others may not be willing or able to understand.
Zoey’s decision to not tell Simon – in an episode where they both seemed to be sharing their deepest secrets – is sympathetic when one considers the fear that she might not just lose him as a romantic partner but possibly even as a friend. Her fear that he may likely view her actions from the very beginning of their friendship as a betrayal. But keeping her silence will only compound that problem, and make no mistake about it. This one isn’t on Max for how he reacted or Mo for not setting her straight. This is very much a decision she’s making, and it may well be one that causes turbulence at least in her relationship with Simon in the future.
A SHARED “OTHER”NESS
If Emily’s story this episode was the most wrenching and Zoey and Simon’s the most obvious to set up future trouble ahead, Zoey’s interactions with the medium could be the most interesting for Zoey’s character as an individual.
While there has been some speculation in the fandom that perhaps Mitch had Zoey’s abilities, or perhaps the x-ray technician had the same, it has never been canonically established that anyone has her powers. Or strange and unusual powers of any kind, similar to hers or not. Until arguably this episode.
Now, maybe the medium really had powers, and maybe she didn’t. Since we weren’t given insight into her mind the way we are Zoey’s, the show left some ambiguity on this issue. But in a sense, whether or not her powers were legitimate isn’t terribly important. What’s important is how Zoey responded to them.
For the first time, Zoey was presented with a person who claimed to have remarkable, inexplicable, impossible powers. Powers that couldn’t be explained any more than they could really be 100% proven. And she responded to the professing of such abilities with skepticism. Even derision. As many people would, to be honest.
The fact of the matter is that we in the audience know Zoey’s powers are real because we see heart songs through her eyes. We believe in them because we know them to be true. But to an outsider without such insight, the medium can prove the truth of her abilities no more emphatically than Zoey can prove her own. To an outsider, the things that the medium – and Zoey – knows about others could be the result of inexplicable powers or just lucky guessing.
Naturally, the fact that Zoey has abilities of her own doesn’t mean she has to believe every unproven – and unprovable – claim of mysterious abilities. Zoey’s skepticism is natural, certainly for her character. (One might expect someone like Jenna to more readily believe.) But her own natural skepticism might help Zoey in the future to see her claim through another’s eyes. Be it through Simon’s or Maggie’s or Emily’s or Tobin’s. Her claim to hear people’s feelings through song is as plausible to one not seeing the world through her eyes as the medium’s claim of being able to speak to the dead. Her skepticism – even her derision – is something she may see reflected in others and should prepare herself to confront with compassion and understanding.
I suspect we won’t see the medium again, which is almost a shame. Knowing someone else who supposedly has powers people cannot understand could help Zoey navigate her own path. In the same way that the medium helped Zoey to see that she was relying too heavily on her abilities to tell her about the feelings of those around her. Which was helping her to relate to people when prompted by a heart song, but not seeing what was in front of her without this cosmic cheat code.
It’s a lesson I hope she carries with her into the future. Her powers should help her read other people’s emotions. She can’t rely on them entirely to do the work for her. When it came to Emily’s initially unheard cries for help, it’s a lesson that luckily didn’t come too late.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs Sundays at 9/8c on NBC.