Nini discovers something she never knew, and the Wildcats buckle up for the time of their lives at Camp Shallow Lake’s Frozen auditions on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series 3×02, “Into the Unknown.”
If HSMTMTS 3×01, “Happy Campers,” is the Wildcats’ introduction to the camp and the preface to Nini’s trip, “Into the Unknown,” is the beginning of a new chapter for everyone. This episode builds on the season premiere’s momentum with big risks, meaningful traditions, and self-referential humor.
The Wildcats learn that a summer away from East High doesn’t exempt them from classic young-adult drama. For instance, Ricky coming to camp with the literal baggage meant for his ski trip with Lily is symbolic in one breath and the source of a hilarious practical gag during his Frozen audition in another. That symbolic baggage becomes tangible in his scene with Gina, where plenty remains unspoken.
HSMTMTS uses Rina’s lack of closure from last season to propel them into an awkward hug and an arc that will ideally give them the resolution they deserve. Their conversation, though brief, allows Joshua Bassett to lean into Ricky’s goofy side, which is a delight to see again. Meanwhile, Sofia Wylie continues to express Gina’s growing confidence in herself.
HSMTMTS doubts the simplification of Ricky and Gina’s promise to “start fresh” when the camera pulls focus to Gina watching Ricky from backstage during the Frozen auditions.
Nevertheless, Gina’s avoidance of EJ’s question about Ricky eventually plays as an attempt to offset the first earthquake — potentially history repeating itself — she anticipates in the “Previously On” segment. Considering the trio’s past, it’s reasonable for Gina to worry about how she or EJ will react to Ricky coming back into her life — even platonically. Likewise, Gina’s fear of being hurt again arises when she sees EJ with Val.
“Into the Unknown” lets that angst brew before carving out space for a Portwell scene that reinforces their strengths. EJ and Gina’s paralleled arcs last season are compelling in how two individuals who were hurt healed together. So, even though EJ doesn’t clock Gina’s tone when she mentions Val, it’s huge that EJ stops Gina in her tracks to reassure her.
EJ’s romantic affirmation is as confident in his relationship as his tone is unintimidated when he initially asks Gina about Ricky. Like Marvin later says, everything seems so unpredictable at their age, and Gina knows how quickly unpredictability can uproot her. It can’t be understated how important it is for Gina to know she’s on solid ground with EJ.
That comfort is written on Gina’s face; Wylie beautifully captures Gina’s awe and feelings for EJ. Similarly, Cornett brings a new layer of vulnerability to EJ when he’s around Gina, which compliments the character’s journey.
Portwell will come up against more problems at Camp Shallow Lake because relationships come with growing pains, but “Into the Unknown” sets a precedent in their favor.
Hopefully, all of this results in a cover of High School Musical 2‘s “Gotta Go My Own Way,” Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam‘s “Wouldn’t Change a Thing,” or both. EJ’s heavy workload works in favor of either being a possibility. Sofia Wylie and Matt Cornett need a duet!
EJ’s responsibilities as Frozen’s director result in repeatedly asking for more time, underscoring his dwindling adolescence ahead of college. Consequently, Val’s presence will likely extend beyond the musical’s choreographer. She’s a psychology major with experience and hindsight that could be useful to the Wildcats.
The latter also applies to Meg Donnelly as an accomplished Disney Channel alum in her own right.
The Frozen production is an excuse to see all the Wildcats and Camp Shallow Lake campers together, and it’s a joy to watch the two worlds clash and then meld together. Matt Cornett nails the physical comedy of channeling Miss Jenn in an acapella cover of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” That meta-joke becomes even funnier paired with Ricky’s late arrival and Frankie Rodriguez’s pitch-perfect line delivery of “Now that’s tradition!”
It sets the stage for a jaw-dropping performance from Adrian Lyles when Jet auditions. If Jet channels Camp Rock‘s Shane Gray with his attitude and by staring at a tree in the first episode, he channels Mitchie Torres as the person with the voice that stuns everyone in “Into the Unknown.” It’s beautiful to see the Wildcats rally around him. Furthermore, it’s exciting to imagine what his potential mentorship with Ricky will mean for both of them.
Considering next steps, Gina is more confident in hers than ever. HSMTMTS combats Ashlyn and Kourtney’s concerns about Gina 1.0 with a literal beat of introspection in the number “Balance,” which exemplifies Sofia Wylie‘s star power as a triple threat. But, most importantly, “Balance” encapsulates Gina’s journey to this point, making it a show-starting number as she embraces herself at Camp Shallow Lake.
In addition, the number reframes specific comments like Gina’s assertion to go out for the lead with “no apologies, no prisoners” because her tone and intent differ from Season 1. Gina’s undeniable growth shines through “Balance” when she embraces her ability to walk the often intimidating tightrope of self-acceptance in the face of an impending earthquake, aka anything in young adulthood.
Gina’s empowering song bookends Nini’s “You Never Know” — a culmination of her series-long arc. This episode tackles the hefty task of giving Nini closure in the uncertainty of her future beyond HSMTMTS. A portion of this manifests via Nini’s biological father, Marvin (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). Refreshingly, HSMTMTS avoids heteronormativity by not enforcing Marvin as an essential father figure in Nini’s life since she has loving parents in her moms.
Instead, it uses the narrative to reignite Nini’s creative spark. The unexpected reveal of University Clowns reiterates that the unknown can be exciting and offer a new perspective. In a full-circle moment for HSMTMTS, Nini writes her own song titled “You Never Know,” accentuating the characters’ journeys as they all leap into the unknown. Like with HSM, you can bet on it that the HSMTMTS‘ Wildcats will always leave their mark.
Other Fabulous Moments:
- EJ and Gina drinking out of their mugs from East High’s Morning News is a good callback.
- Camp Shallow Lake’s morning bugle reminds me of The Parent Trap — another Disney property set at summer camp.
- Carlos and Ricky have one of the most underrated friendships on the show.
- Jet staring at the ceiling is as funny as Ricky laying ace down on Lily’s bed.
- Dara Reneé is hilarious in the talking head when Kourtney begs one of the crew members for their phone.
- Ricky staring the camera down when asking if the Frozen male leads are lovers is too good.
- Ashlyn with the rose at the end of the episode is a sweet moment.
- What is going on with Maddox in the woods? Is this leading to a Halloween-inspired episode?
- Olivia Rodrigo can sing anything, and I would stop everything to listen.
- EJ and Ricky’s mini pillow fight is something so personal to me. Let their friendship rise in Season 3!
What did you think of HSMTMTS 3×02, “Into the Unknown?” Let us know in the comments below!
New episodes of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series premiere Wednesdays on Disney+!