High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Season 2 Episode 12, “Second Chances,” steps away for the Menkies long enough to show what’s mattered all along — the Wildcats. This season finale could easily leave the characters on a cliffhanger regarding the competition. Don’t get me wrong; there are cliffhangers in this finale. There are plenty, but all of them set up a potential third season that will take place in the Summer. All of that potential is enough to keep us on the edge of our seats, awaiting a renewal.
Until then, “Second Chances” gives us plenty to analyze and appreciate. HSMTMTS 2×11, “Showtime,” was all about East High’s Beauty and the Beast. “Second Chances” deals with the very grounded fallout of everything the previous episode sets up. This episode never loses sight of the reasons why HSMTMTS is so special. It leans well into this found family, their interpersonal relationships, and the music that pulls them all together.
“Second Chances” spotlights the Core 4 (Ricky, Nini, EJ, and Gina) at their most significant turning points yet. Though they do receive most of the screentime, HSMTMTS takes the opportunity to prove my pessimistic tendencies wrong regarding Howie’s motivations for acting so weird. I’m thrilled it’s because he’s “in awe” and “intimidated” by Kourtney and not because he’s scheming with Lily. This bodes well for his future with Kourtney and his possible role in helping the Wildcats learn the truth about their rival.
Looking ahead at the future, hopefully, HSMTMTS doesn’t forget the way Miss Jenn acted this season. Her scene with Ricky is heartfelt and necessary. However, I wish there was more for Miss Jenn’s final scene to pay off. That turnaround comes fast for someone so narrowly focused on one thing for so long. But that quick change also exemplifies something more remarkable about the theater: It’s not about what you’re doing; it’s about who you’re doing it with. Miss Jenn changed these kids’ lives, and they changed hers.
The best way to break down this season finale is by doing it the way the episode intends, by looking at how far the Core 4 has come since the first episode. The song “Second Chance” isn’t the best song the series has released, but it is one of the most moving in its ability to culminate the Core 4’s journeys into a few verses and a chorus. Ricky’s verses are all about beginning again. So much of Ricky’s journey this season is about accepting change, no matter how hard that may be. With “Second Chances,” he’s looking forward to that second act, even though they’ve never been his strong suit.
Change is awkward and uncomfortable, but there’s always something, however big or small, that we can take as a positive from it. Ricky’s confidence in himself and his ability to land on his feet is a profound quality he should take pride in possessing. That resilience will only help Ricky through the many changes that await him. HSMTMTS shows the Core 4 in their original outfits from the first episode and their first auditions for HSM. Ricky admits that he’s not much of a skater boy anymore, which acknowledges his personal evolution.
To follow that up with him stating that he’s happy “or getting there” leaves Ricky in a much better place than Season 2 finds him. Ricky’s happiness is no longer defined by his relationship with Nini or the status of his parent’s relationship with each other or otherwise. That, my friends, is growth. It wasn’t linear, and it got messy at times. It’ll probably continue down that path because that’s life. But this chapter of Ricky’s life has come to a close with a beautiful parallel to where Ricky was in the Season 1 finale. It’s poetic that Ricky and Nini can stand where they both declared their love for each other mere months prior and get the closure they need to move on.
That moment in Season 1 was the start of something new, too. Unfortunately, Ricky thinks his chance to begin again is with Lily. Because Olivia Rose Keegan is so very good at her job, it’s difficult to tell if Lily is genuinely interested in Ricky. No matter her intentions, Ricky is still being used in the process. She’s using his kindness to get closer to him and manipulate East High further, or she’s using his kindness to gain herself a second chance she hasn’t earned. Ricky deserves to step into this new chapter of his life without concerning himself with Lily’s drama.
This tension between the viewers’ fierce protection of Ricky and Lily’s quest (for power, forgiveness, or both) does put us all in a tricky place heading into a potential third season.
Nini’s arc this season is all about coming into her own and harnessing her power as a songwriter. It’s safe to say she did that in small and large ways, whether it be an Instagram account or ending a relationship because it’s what’s best for her. “Second Chances” could have centered around lighting a spark of that possibility between Ricky and Nini. Instead, the show focuses on other relationships that are more important to Nini at the moment — her friendships with the women in her life.
Nini and Ricky get to be on the same page, if only “just for a moment,” and it’s beautiful. Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett genuinely do some of their best work together. Although, Rodrigo’s scene with Sofia Wylie’s Gina is the one that stands out to me in “Second Chances.” That’s the one that everything else orbits around. It’s not even because it’s shocking. HSMTMTS lays the groundwork for this scene early on. Nini mentions Gina as one of the reasons why she wants to move home to Salt Lake. Their friendship may not be at the forefront of the show all the time, but it’s there, and it matters.
This season, Nini comes to terms with her desire to not let a romantic relationship entirely consume her identity, if she can help it, which sounds reminiscent of Kourtney’s views on love. She even speaks the truth to that earlier this season by telling Kourtney that’s a part of her Nini always admired. Nini flipped the script during HSMTMTS 2×11, “Showtime,” by reminding Kourtney. Now, she does the same thing for Gina. That’s when the truth around the box of chocolates shakes out exactly how I wished it would. Ultimately, it brings them closer rather than driving them further apart.
Women are pitted against each other far too often on TV, and it’s comforting to watch HSMTMTS subvert that expectation. It does so in favor of a more promising alternative that presents Nini’s friendship with Gina as one of the most influential relationships of her life, most certainly her future. Nini’s cliffhanger having to do with a budding professional partnership with Gina’s older brother Jamie is pitch-perfect. It is a reasonable progression of every little step Nini took for herself this season. She’s earned this.
Despite being the senior athlete who appears to have it all together, EJ spends a lot of Season 2 fighting doubt at every turn. He is always concerned that he’s misreading signs about Duke and Gina. Matt Cornett leans into EJ’s vulnerability when the camera lingers a little too long on EJ after he calls off his date with Gina. It’s in that moment that you can see him doubting himself again. It all becomes more heartbreaking when it sets in that the doubt stems from EJ thinking he doesn’t measure up.
While Nini and Ricky sing about their newfound willingness to accept second chances, EJ sings about questioning whether he’s even good enough to deserve one. He has come so far from that first episode and that first audition. HSMTMTS introduces him as someone who could have easily remained a stereotypical athlete who only relies on all the tropes. Thankfully, this show is too good at knowing its characters are always more than people perceive them as on the surface.
EJ may have started this show as someone who was unabashedly arrogant and selfish, but he’s not that person anymore. He’s come a long way from “A Billion Sorrys.” This season sees EJ give more of himself to the people around him than he ever before. He goes out on a limb to return a kind favor to Mr. Mazzara tenfold. He’s willing to put his feelings for Gina aside if it means protecting the relationship he has with her already. Of course, that bit of miscommunication is the perfect setup for a confession, but it also shows EJ’s growth in such a succinct way.
Imagine Season 1 EJ looking at the Wildcats and saying, “I’ve won a bunch of trophies over the years, you guys. But I’d trade it all for this group right here tonight.” Regardless of how things turn out with Gina, that right there is the biggest sign in the world that EJ should never doubt himself as someone worthy of a second chance. He got one already. He proved it to be one of the best things that has ever happened to him. This found family with the Wildcats has changed him for the better, and now he’s one of my favorite characters on this show.
It’s bittersweet that we didn’t see EJ process that this is Senior year and final musical with the Wildcats more this season. My fingers are crossed that there is more introspection in a potential season taking place during the Summer. Graduation is sure to stir up a lot for him.
Gina’s verses in “Second Chance” are about her fear of opening up and believing that she’s safer on the run. It’s understandable for her to sing about this for many reasons, especially on the heels of EJ breaking things off before they’ve even started. Gina is so excited to allow herself this second chance at love that she twirls at the sight of EJ. Sure, it’s to show off her outfit, but there’s no denying she’s overwhelmed with joy at that moment. That’s why you can feel that punch to your gut just as Gina does when EJ says they’ll “play it by ear.”
HSMTMTS doesn’t allow Gina to sit in that sadness alone. Surprisingly, EJ isn’t the first person Gina opens up to beyond Ashlyn; it’s Nini. Nini finds Gina trying to put herself back together in front of a mirror despite yet another heartbreak. It’s almost as if Gina believes that erasing any proof of her emotions will dissuade people from asking any questions. Nini sees right through that, though, because that’s what she did all night long. Throughout Beauty and the Beast, Nini could sense the tension and knew precisely how to settle the room. She does the same thing for Gina. It’s Nini’s kind and honest words that remind Gina good things can happen when you open up to people.
This finale could have had EJ run after Gina, knowing something is wrong, and have him be the one to tell her all of these uplifting things. That could have been the moment the two of them finally come together. This episode is so much stronger for delaying Portwell until a little later. Not only does it build up the tension, but it also paves the way for such a genuine scene between Nini and Gina. It may be one of my favorites from the series so far. That scene finds Gina in one of her most vulnerable moments yet, and it feels so good to watch Nini build her back up.
It makes the payoff of Gina running after EJ all the sweeter. It’s at that moment when Gina asks EJ, “Will you be my first kiss?” that everything collides perfectly. Portwell deserves nothing but the best. Suddenly, EJ knows that he’s no misreading things, that he is worthy of a second chance at love. Similarly, Gina knows that opening up isn’t easy, but what comes of it can be so great. Instead of being safer on the run, she knows that she can be safer in East High. Gina can be safer running to her friends when she needs them. She can be safer running to EJ to get her first kiss finally.
HSMTMTS has been a bright spot for many people this season, myself included. This season could have ended with more intense drama leading up to Season 3, but this finale is stronger for its belief that stories will follow these characters wherever they go. The Wildcats are more sure of themselves and each other than ever before. There’s no stopping them now! Somebody cue “What Time Is It?” because it’s Summertime!
Other Fabulous Moments:
- We’re all in agreeance that Benjamin is the only correct choice for Miss Jenn, right?
- “You make him happy. What else is there?” – Ricky to Miss Jenn about his father
- The Wildcats giving Ashlyn a standing ovation is so special, and she deserves it!
- Why am I so shocked to learn that Joshua Bassett is left-handed?
- I appreciate that everyone, mostly the guys, still has a bit of eye makeup on from the show. It’s the little things.
- Big Red put Ashlyn’s name in lights!
- “Am I muted?” – Miss Jenn
- Nini standing by Gina at Slices
- Kourtney taking the Menkies noms and putting them into the pizza oven is PERFECT.
- The bloopers at the end of this episode are the bow on an already sweet season.
- If you don’t openly weep as the cast sings “You Are the Music In Me” to the crew and each other, then there is no hope for you. What a beautiful love letter to end this season!
What did you think of HSMTMTS‘ “Second Chances?” Let us know in the comments below!
Season 2 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is streaming now on Disney+!