Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 2×12 “Zoey’s Extraordinary Session” is an emotional hour of television, one that both tugs at the heartstrings, takes us back to the family focus that worked so well in season 1 – while giving us a glimpse at what the Clarke family was before Mitch’s illness – and once again establishes Clarkeman as the ship we always knew this show wanted us to root for.
The problem is, of course, none of what this episode does effectively, and it’s a lot, can really make up for the mess they made of the last few episodes, for the lack of focus on a grief that doesn’t just appear conveniently ever few episodes or so, for the dropped storylines – what happened to Zoey’s nightmares? – or for the way the show has played around with the love triangle in a way that’s fundamentally unfair to all three people involved.
Especially Simon, because if this indeed a “love story” between Zoey and Max, as this episode establishes, then Simon has never been more than a distraction, and he deserved much more than that. His fans deserved much more than that. Maybe Simon was never the writers’ choice for an endgame, but it’s hard to say this season has truly given Zimon a chance to win people over, or to be much more than a roadblock on the way to the chosen endgame. And even as someone who ships Clarkeman, that’s troubling, to say the least.
I don’t want Zoey and Max together right now, and I love Max and Zoey, okay? I have since “I Wanna Be (500 Miles).” But I’m a fan of journeys, and their journey this season has been entirely too messy for me to want it to be somehow fixed in the season finale. I would have rather the show had given Zimon a chance – a real chance – to sink or swim, and I don’t believe they did that. It’s not the only ball they dropped in season 2, but it’s the most egregious one, and I really do hope we get a season 3 and there’s some sort of plan as to how to make that work, something other than “give everyone a little bit of what they want and hope for the best.”
Because of things outside the love triangle, because of the Clarke family, because of Zoey’s emotional growth and yes, because of the Clarkeman backstory, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Session” is the kind of episode that stands out. It’s easy to forget all that’s been wrong with the show while watching it. But as I sit down to write this review, I realize it’s impossible to gush about the hour without pointing those things out. Because this show could have been tremendous. It still has the potential to be. I just hasn’t lived up to that in season 2, not for me, and I’m willing to bet not for most people.
So, let’s talk about the love stories (not all of which are romantic) in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 2×12 “Zoey’s Extraordinary Session”:
I FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU EVERY SINGLE DAY
When the therapist said this was a love story, he wasn’t just talking about Zoey and Max, though obviously he was, there was no way this show could have made the endgame any clearer. But I think the writing has always been on the wall for that. However, fans don’t watch because of the ending, or at least not just because of the ending. You also need a satisfying journey. And I don’t particularly believe the Clarkeman journey has been that, so far.
But boy, did it start out right. Skylar and Jane play off that antagonistic-because-we-don’t-understand-each-other vibe really well as Max and Zoey meet, and they play the turn from that to real friendship very well, too. It’s easy to see why these two people liked each other, and it’s easy to see how they became best friends. It’s also super easy to see why Zoey shut herself off from Max, from the possibility of him ever being more than her best friend.
Zoey has been running from loss, from pain, from long before she lost her dad. Sometimes the idea of loss is just as devastating as actual loss, and it is both incredibly sad and incredibly real that Zoey deprived herself of something she might have wanted to explore because she was scared of losing it. It is, in many ways, what she’s doing now with Max, too. Better to put some distance and keep him as a friend than lose him if things go wrong, right?
Except now Max is leaving. She’s lost him, just the thing she wanted to avoid. And she’s done that not by omission, but through her own actions. And that would all be great if she actually wanted Simon more. Max deserves to be first in someone’s life, and if he wasn’t going to be first in Zoey’s, then letting him go was the right choice. But …is Max second in Zoey’s life? “Zoey’s Extraordinary Session” establishes that, perhaps, he never has been. In fact, it’s possible he has been so important that she has built failsafe after failsafe to prevent herself from losing him.
Just like Mitch could have lost Maggie. Just like Maggie ended up losing Mitch.
The thing Zoey doesn’t understand is that, for Mitch and Maggie, if they were asked, they’d likely say it was all worth it. It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, and all of that. And yes, love is scary, and it comes with built-in pain, because we don’t live forever. But not letting yourself enjoy love because you’re afraid of losing it …that’s half living. It’s not something anyone who has had what Mitch and Maggie had together would recommend.
And it’s also, as I discussed before, incredibly unfair to the people you drag into your lie. Simon, like Max, deserves to be first in someone’s life. Was he ever that in Zoey’s? I’d argue “Zoey’s Extraordinary Session” makes clear the answer is no. I just hope Simon figures that out soon, or better yet, Zoey tells him.
But I don’t hope that leads to Clarkeman getting back together, not right away. I’d rather have a good story than a rushed reunion. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist already botched the landing, so now they gotta do a lot of maneuvering to make sure everything is in the right place, at the right time, once again. This ship, the one you set up in this episode, deserves it.
TWO PEOPLE I COULD LOSE AT ANY MOMENT
“Zoey’s Extraordinary Session” very effectively examines grief, or the idea of it, for Zoey, and also for the Clarke family in general, as David and Mitch get to grapple with the possibility of losing Maggie. It’s especially striking because we already know it’s not Maggie they will lose – but Mitch. And yet, this also allows us a glimpse at something we already suspected in season 1, but rarely got to see play out, which is the notion that, when it comes to love stories, well, Zoey has been just trying to live up to her parents.
As Mitch sings “Dream a Little Dream of Me” to Maggie with David and Zoey watching, this becomes obvious, but this moment isn’t about Zoey. Or David. This moment is about Mitch and Maggie, about their love, and not about what they lost, but about what they managed to build together. A life, a family. Death is always a tragedy, and I would, to this day, give up whatever you asked me to give up to get my father back. But I also feel immensely proud of the time I got with him, of the life he built, of the family he had, of the love he gave me. That’s the kind of thing you never, ever let go of.
Yes, you can lose it. Mitch didn’t, but Maggie did, and Zoey and David also lost their father, as I lost mine. That’s the thing Zoey has been scared of this whole time, the thing that has kept her on the sidelines of life. But loss isn’t something you can prevent, no matter how much you try. And yes, you can live so cautiously that the losses “don’t hurt” as much, but is that really living?
For Zoey, the question is …what now? What do you do with this realization? What do you do with the things you learn about yourself, or figure out about yourself? The healthy answer is …apply them to life. And I think Zoey – and we – already know what it means in regard to the love triangle that should have never been.
IN DEFENSE OF MAX RICHMAN
Max Richman isn’t a perfect character – and truly, who would want him to be? Perfect characters are boring. But, as the main love interest – which he very much is – the spotlight means that he gets more chances to express negative emotions, to mess up, to express himself in ways that aren’t always constructive. But I think the show has always wanted us to see Max as the man this episode proves him to be, a good guy, who cares more about Zoey than about his own needs.
He didn’t need to prove it to me. Asking for what you need in a relationship, confronting Zoey with her issues, expecting honesty from your best friend …aren’t bad things. Sure, sometimes Max and Zoey struggled at the actually communicating part, but that was never all on Max, and the show has always portrayed him as the guy who would literally step aside and take the loss if he thought that’s what she needed.
In many ways, that’s what he did with their relationship. And that’s what he did, all those years ago, with the job he wanted, the one that would have meant the respect of his father. And though you can argue that, in the present, Max’s reasons for stepping away from Zoey romantically were all about his feelings, it’s hard to argue the same after one day. Back then, Max was only trying to be fair. He was trying to be a good person.
These two things shouldn’t require applause, they should be the norm, and I’m not particularly applauding Max for them. But I do want to point out that if Max were the guy some people want to paint him as, well, he certainly would have used the sacrifice he made for Zoey as some form of emotional manipulation. But in all these years, Max has never brought it up. He didn’t do it so she would know. He didn’t do it to win the pretty girl over. He didn’t do it because he felt bad for her.
He did it because it was the right thing. Not for the girl who would become his best friend, the one he would end up falling for, but for anyone. Because that’s who Max Richman is, at his core. And yet, he’s also more than that. He’s the guy who has always, always come second. To his dad, to Zoey, to everyone but Rose. So now he’s taking that chance to be first, for himself. The question is, of course, is that what Max really and truly wants or is he just acting out of self-preservation?
One episode to go. Let’s find out together. And let’s hope, whatever’s coming, it makes sense for the characters. That’s all I’m asking.
Things I think I think:
- I missed John Clarence Stewart this hour.
- CAN I GET AN ENTIRE BACKSTORY EPISODE ON HOW DAVID AND EMILY GOT TOGETHER?
- Maggie and Mitch reminded me so much of my parents, and I was a wreck the entire hour just thinking about it.
- I’m so glad they found a way to get Mo in there.
- The little moments of music were perfectly done. Particularly Max’s “Thinking Out Loud” moment, because yeah, I love that song, what can I say?
- DMD is a character, lol.
- I still don’t get the appeal of coffee, don’t murder me.
- Leif’s man bun was a sight to behold. I’m still not sure if I love it or hate it.
- I’ll take backstory on Leif and Tobin’s friendship, too.
- Also, Tobin has been there the longest and he’s never even been remotely considered for a promotion. Feels like there’s a lot there to be explored, and I hope we get the chance to.
- MITCH KNOWS MAX HAS A NATURAL SPARKLE.
- “Deep connection with Max.”
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 2×12 “Zoey’s Extraordinary Session”? Share with us in the comments below!
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs Sundays on NBC.