High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 2 Episode 3, “Valentine’s Day,” is all about love. First instincts point to this episode being all about romantic love, but “Valentine’s Day” goes beyond that initial interpretation of the holiday. Doing so reinforces the power of love in all of its forms, with oneself or between significant others, friends, and family.
This tactic works by delivering a deeper understanding of some characters. However, it’s still not doing any favors for some of the other characters that should be significant players by now. Moreso, it points out which romantic storylines HSMTMTS should let go by the wayside. This show is starting to hit its stride in its second season, but it will not get any better if it doesn’t let go of some of the tired cycles from Season 1.
“Valentine’s Day” excels when it explores Ashlyn and Kourtney’s self-doubt and how they’re finding their specific ways through those feelings. They’re not ignoring their doubts. Instead, they’re directly naming them, which takes away some of their power. Kourtney does so by saying that she will no longer apologize for taking up space. This is an act of self-love that Kourtney deserves to celebrate on Valentine’s Day. We see Kourtney put action behind those words when she meets Howie. Kourtney doesn’t let him tell her that what she knows is right is wrong, and Salt Lake Slices’ delivery system is better for it.
This goes way beyond Big Red’s family business because this has to do with Kourtney stepping into herself more than ever before. We’ve seen that in smaller scenes in the first two episodes, but never more so than when she sings “Beauty and the Beast” in this episode. Seb’s kind gesture in adjusting the song’s arrangement to fit Kourtney’s stellar voice is not only a sweet moment between two new friends. It’s a moment of solidarity between two people who are still trying to find their spots in East High’s theater department. It’s proof Kourtney doesn’t have to make herself smaller to be heard and seen because things can change to accommodate her.
Meanwhile, Ashlyn does so by admitting that she doesn’t feel like she is leading lady material. Of course, Ashlyn is met with a chorus of encouraging comments from the people who love her most, telling her that she is perfect as Ashlyn and as Belle. Ashlyn raises a fair point when she speaks about how Belle traditionally looks, and she’s met with an equally valid point from Gina. Belle is a cartoon, and Ashlyn is her everything. Belle is a cartoon, and Ashlyn is the real deal.
Belle is a standard that is unreachable because Disney created Belle (and so many other princesses) to provide an unrealistic image for women to uphold. Not only are those representations of women’s bodies entirely unrealistic, but they’re also outdated. Disney princesses are meant to be ideal, but that logic has proven to be flawed repeatedly throughout the years. There is no way to look exactly like Belle or any of the other Disney princesses because they aren’t real. With HSMTMTS on Disney+, this meta-commentary is necessary as society becomes even more tolerable to accepting all bodies as beautiful.
It’s not lost on me that HSMTMTS is targeted towards a younger audience, making me think of a similar moment on TV from my childhood. That moment is from That’s So Raven Season 2 Episode 8, “That’s So Not Raven,” when Raven stands up to magazine says that there is only one look that’s beautiful. Raven goes on to say, “Because, in case you haven’t noticed, people come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re all beautiful.” Raven was right then, and she’s still right now. Bodies aren’t made to fit clothes; clothes are made to fit bodies. That episode has stayed with me for seventeen years. I can’t help but think that Ashlyn helping to redefine what a Disney princess looks like, like so many new Disney princesses like Moana and Raya are, will stick with HSMTMTS’ audience for seventeen years, too.
This sentiment of pushing aside self-doubt to take up space meant for you even extends to Seb as he continues to face issues within his relationship with Carlos. This is also where HSMTMTS misses the mark because the show has yet to deliver appropriate scenes to make this couple feel more established and developed. It appears that it’s working to do so this season, but it undercuts the tension between them because HSMTMTS didn’t do it sooner. This underdevelopment makes their relationship come across as both rushed and out of place. It appears that all of Seb and Carlos’ meaningful moments are happening off-camera, which doesn’t lend itself to their relationship on camera.
If anything, it makes Carlos appear to be a pretty awful boyfriend. He can’t tell that something is bothering Seb. But Kourtney can, and she shares her first meaningful scene with Seb during this episode. Furthermore, Carlos doesn’t even try to hide his disappointment when Seb gives him a very thoughtful Valentine’s Day present. Understandably, Seb would be nervous about sharing more of himself with Carlos because of how judgemental Carlos is with that gift alone. Hopefully, Carlos realizes how lucky he is to have such a kind and sweet boyfriend before it’s too late.
Another storyline that HSMTMTS doesn’t explore during this episode is whatever EJ is going through with Valentine’s Day. He plays off wearing all black because he’s lonely as a joke, and that’s that on that. This stings more after the last two episodes when we also get glimpses of storylines for EJ that never get followed. EJ overcompensates his confidence to get into Duke University. He speaks fondly about Beauty and the Beast being his last musical with his friends before he graduates. Now, EJ reveals that this is his first Valentine’s Day without a Valentine in a long time, and he’s feeling weird about it. Each storyline contains so much potential to learn more about EJ before he graduates, and HSMTMTS doesn’t deliver.
If you’d asked me last season if I wanted to see more of EJ, I would have been overly skeptical. I appreciate his growth and I want to see more of it before he leaves East High. For this episode alone, HSMTMTS could have explored loneliness with EJ differently than it does with Gina. Maybe EJ could have learned something about independence. He could’ve learned that there’s still work he needs to do on himself before he can love someone else. There’s potential there, and I hope we get to see it come to fruition before the end of the season.
When it comes to TV shows, love triangles are a tale as old as time. HSMTMTS knows this well enough after last season with Ricky, Nini, and EJ (and sometimes Gina). So you would think that they would retire the love triangle for at least a little while. But, nope, it just looks a little different than it did last season. This time it’s all about Nini, Ricky, and Gina. “Valentine’s Day” makes it obvious where Gina’s heart lies, and it’s with Ricky. The two go to each other for advice when they need to hear what everyone else won’t tell them. Their unexpected friendship last season is one of HSMTMTS‘ highest moments because it let us see Gina’s vulnerability in a new way.
Now, this love triangle feels like a weird way to complicate Ricky and Nini’s already complicated relationship. “Even When/The Best Part” are songs that spotlight the parts of their relationship that are out of sync. There’s something incredibly romantic about their songs for each other being perfect matches for a duet. It’s nice that even when they miss each other and can’t quite sync up, their music that they put their entire hearts into finds a way to meet in the middle.
That deep connection that Ricky and Nini have, even when they’re miles apart, is what breaks my heart for Gina. So far this season, no part of me believes Ricky has romantic feelings for Gina. It’s abundantly clear that the opposite is true. The camera follows Gina as she watches Ricky. It does this in HSMTMTS 2×01, “New Year’s Eve,” when he looks uncomfortable at the party. It does it again in HSMTMTS 2×02, “Typecasting,” when Ricky says he isn’t going to audition. She sees him even when he doesn’t realize it. There’s potential for something there, but for now, it’s one-sided, and I hate that for Gina.
Alternatively, I don’t want Ricky and Nini to break things off just yet. They’ve only just gotten together for circumstances to pull them apart. It would be a shame for that relationship to end before we truly get to see it exist. Love triangles are always their best when it’s easy to care for all of the people involved. HSMTMTS certainly succeeded with that with Nini, Ricky, and Gina. As for Miss Jenn, Mr. Mazzara, and Ricky’s dad Mike? Not so much, but ideally, HSMTMTS won’t spend nearly as much time on that trio as they do the former.
Other Fabulous Moments:
- Lily scaring Miss Jenn is so silly, but it works for me.
- Gina’s relationship with her mom is strained, and the box of chocolates is a sweet gesture.
- Gina does say that “Every girl likes a sweet gesture,” after all.
- “Even When/The Best Part” gives me “Wouldn’t Change a Thing” vibes from Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam.
- “Red Means Love” is SO PRECIOUS. The line, “If only high school were a musical,” is meta and wonderful!
- Ashlyn’s name deserves to be in lights!
What did you think of “Valentine’s Day?” Let us know in the comments below!
New episodes of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series drop weekly on Disney+!