High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 2 Episode 4, “The Storm,” is the strongest episode of the season so far because it makes a case for the show’s new direction. Whether that will hold up throughout the rest of the season is yet to be seen. Leave it to a massive snowstorm to push characters together that may not have even crossed paths without it and for it to work, for the most part. This episode could have used some more music since this season has yet to deliver a real showstopper. All of the songs and performances are great; there’s no doubt about that, but something is missing. Regardless, “The Storm” delivers on character development that the Wildcats can write and perform great songs about in future episodes.
New Season, New Tone
The first season of HSMTMTS is very self-aware and funny, helped by the school’s High School Musical production. It adds to the meta-humor laced through every part of Season 1. However, now that factor is almost entirely removed from the show’s equation. The physical location of East High is the only remaining piece of that puzzle. With that factor removed, HSMTMTS tries to find a way to stand on its own, and it works for me.
The tone of Season 2 is entirely different from last season, but it works for the content HSMTMTS is giving us. It would feel a little out of place for an overbearing amount of tongue and cheek humor when these characters are unpacking pretty heavy topics. That doesn’t mean that this dramedy should be void of humor, and the show agrees since, well, it’s not. It’s just that humor isn’t HSMTMTS‘ knee-jerk reaction anymore. This may not appeal to all of its fans, but it works for me because there can be more than laughs on a comedy.
To get to the heart of these characters, we have to see around or through the humor. HSMTMTS is still trying to find the perfect balance, but its journey isn’t bumpy enough to make this season unbearable. Instead, it aligns with the periods of change many of the characters find themselves in this season.
Will Carlos and Gina Be Able to Dance It Out?
Just like HSMTMTS Season 2 Episode 3, “Valentine’s Day,” this episode introduces a new pair that could become friends one day…maybe. Everything comes together nicely for Kourtney and Sebastian in the previous episode. As for Carlos and Gina this week, their reconciliation feels more forced than their initial interactions. This is another instance when I wish HSMTMTS would give us a little more.
Carlos and Gina’s journeys to being comfortable on stage and at East High are unique and exciting in their own right. HMSTMTS‘ decision to pair them together, since they’re both excellent dancers, to learn to work together as choreographers works, as well. Alternatively, the tension between them becomes all too serious, much too fast. This results in a weird moment of reconciliation where they find common ground after appearing like that wouldn’t happen for at least a bit longer. Maybe that would have been a better option to add some tension to the season beyond romantic pairings.
Carlos’ parting words of “But you do matter. Try to remember that, okay?” are sweet and impart confidence that Carlos and Gina could be good friends one day. But did that olive branch have to come so soon into their creative differences? It would have been more intriguing for HSMTMTS to develop this into a longer arc so that Gina and Carlos could come together in agreement closer to production or a different even before that. Gina is still at odds with herself and other people at East High, including Ashlyn, as she struggles to find her place there. That could have extended to Carlos, leading to a much more earned reconciliation and moment of unity.
EJ Can Work This Out
Where “The Storm” really succeeds is with its attention to Nini and EJ. Even the way their paths cross in this episode adds so much to the stories at play. As much as I wasn’t a fan of their relationship, I thoroughly enjoy the idea of them still being friends. It appears that Nini and EJ could have a similar dynamic moving forward to that of Gina and Ricky but with less flirting. That all hinges on if the show wants to dedicate the time to that friendship before EJ graduates.
This episode gives me what I have been asking for since this started, more of him. He encounters a ton of change that his friends don’t have to experience for a bit longer. The only other person that could relate to going to a different school and leaving behind the people they care about right now is Nini. That’s why their scene in the hallway, though brief, is so impactful. So much so, I found myself rewinding it to catch the nuances in Olivia Rodrigo and Matt Cornett’s performances.
That’s why it matters that Nini is the one who tells EJ, “If it helps, sometimes dream schools are a little overrated.” This piece of advice is meaningful to EJ because it comes from someone he cares about, but it’s evident from a slight squint in Cornett’s eye that EJ knows this isn’t all about him. Something is going on with Nini, and this is the first time she’s opened up to someone about it, even though it is indirectly. Maybe Nini feels confident enough to share this with EJ because of their past or because EJ tells Nini about Duke when he hasn’t told another soul yet, not even his father, especially not his father.
This interaction holds much more wait than EJ’s discussion with Mr. Mazzara. This disconnect isn’t the fault of Cornett or Mark St. Cyr because they are both very great in this scene. It’s only that HSMTMTS hasn’t known what to do with Mr. Mazzara, and it shows when it pushes him into interactions with these students. His odd relationship with Miss. Jenn is frustrating on a different level, but it makes more sense than these one-on-one interactions.
Though, this scene is much better than whatever happened when he tried to convince Ricky to do the right thing on HSMTMTS Season 2 Episode 2, “Typecasting.” This scene with EJ feels more genuine, like Mr. Mazzara could be a good teacher who wants the best for his students. If HSMTMTS wants to make Mr. Mazzara a more prominent player, as someone who could fill in for Miss. Jenn, it needs to do the work to convince me that he’s someone the Wildcats would want to turn to for advice. Miss. Jenn went through a similar trial and error phase with the Wildcats last season, and it paid off. Mr. Mazzara needs to be around a lot more for an equal payoff.
Nini Is Home
Alternatively, all of this contributes to why Nini’s decision to open up to Miss Jenn works so well. Miss Jenn’s confession that she lives on the line of fun and completely freaked out is a silly thing that aligns with her character’s quirkiness, but it’s also precisely what Nini needs to hear to feel a little more comfortable. It makes Miss Jenn seem more personable. It’s a reminder that she’s lived a life and had to make big, scary decisions, just like Nini. The information we get about Miss Jenn’s backstory is so heartwarming and only appeals to her empathetic side.
Furthermore, Nini’s information about YAC makes that school seem like it sucks all the creativity and life out of its students, which tracks since the school is so grey and gloomy. It’s after Nini shares those tidbits that Miss Jenn’s genuine concern starts to show on her face, as it should. Nini needs someone to tell her that choosing to leave YAC isn’t selfish, and Miss Jenn is more than happy to be that person. She doesn’t push Nini to decide one way the other; she only reminds her that the people who love her want her to be happy. That’s enough. That’s enough for Nini to love herself enough to make the decision that will make her happy.
All of this comes together in the final minutes of the episode in the most beautiful way. Ricky has the opportunity to ask Nini to stay, but he doesn’t because he thinks YAC makes her happy. That missed opportunity leads us to believe Nini will get off the bus and go to Ricky, but she doesn’t. It’s refreshing that she doesn’t because Ricky isn’t the reason she got off the bus. Well, he isn’t the first or only reason. That spot is reserved for herself because she did the right thing for herself.
This moment becomes all the more emotional when Nini goes to Miss Jenn and refutes Miss Jenn’s belief that it was all for Ricky. No, Miss Jenn’s name is the first name Nini says as a reason to stay, and then Kourtney, Ashlyn, and Gina, and then Ricky. Nini has plenty of reasons to stay because Salt Lake is her home. Ricky isn’t the only that makes up that safe space, and that’s okay. It makes sense, and it’s much more realistic and refreshing than for Nini to step away from YAC solely for Ricky. That’s as okay as Nini not knowing what her new dream is going to be. She is just a kid, and her life path will change more times than she can count when she becomes an adult. Miss Jenn and Mr. Mazzara can attest to that.
Like Nini tells EJ, our favorite Wildcats need to “trust the outcome.”
Other Fabulous Moments:
- It is nice to see Ricky and Nini interact beyond a million facetime calls per episode.
- Kourtney being the first one to see Nini when she walks into the theater is very special.
- Howie and Kourtney are about to be enemies-to-lovers greatness, aren’t they?
- I guess I’ll buy that Nini’s moms can’t drive her back to YAC because it lets us have the vulnerable conversation between Nini and Miss Jenn.
- EJ saying Stark Industries is the best place to study robotics makes me love him even more.
What did you think of “The Storm?” Let us know in the comments below!
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