The Wildcats welcome one of their own to Camp Shallow Lake when Corbin Bleu returns for a wonderfully meta camp tradition in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series 3×06, “Color War.” This episode dials up the healthy competition to tune out the drama that makes itself known with all the flare of a fireworks show.
Even this far in Season 3’s run, HSMTMTS continues to become a sharper version of itself. From start to finish, “Color War” balances a lot of drama with a ton of great comedy, including pitch-perfect self-referential jokes. The performances — musical or otherwise — are dialed in and full out. The Wildcats never hold back!
This show refuses to fall into fatigue the breakneck speed of a season spent at a summer camp almost encourages. Instead, “Color War” races towards Frozen‘s final product and a camp prom while carving out space for the characters to take much-needed breaths — some more efficiently than others. Overall, that pacing benefits the story.
For example, it’s wise that HSMTMTS gives EJ and Gina a beat post-argument in 3×05, “The Real Campers of Shallow Lake.” The show throws a lot of them this season. It’s beneficial for Gina and EJ to discuss what those obstacles mean for them without the heightened stakes of all the other campers being present, like in the last episode.
Plus, the symbolistic blocking of EJ and Gina being in a canoe on land during both of their big scenes in “Color War” speaks volumes. EJ and Gina reaffirm their commitment to their relationship, but they keep getting stuck. HSMTMTS pairs that conflict with the metaphor of waiting for fireworks at the end of the episode, which doesn’t bode well for their future.
Matt Cornett and Sofia Wylie‘s excellent chemistry pulls at EJ and Gina’s growing frustration with that cycle. Cornett’s last look after Gina’s promposal is so good. It comes on the heels of Camp Shallow Lake’s no-date policy for prom so no one gets hurt, and Gina gets hurt anyway. Cornett’s expression shows how that sticks with EJ.
EJ has a lot of weight on his shoulders this season, and “Color War” lets him shake some of that off with the return of Kate Reinders as Miss Jenn. The two essentially take on a gender-swapped version of My Fair Lady when Miss Jenn teaches EJ the ropes to direct a show. However, the true lesson lies in her giving EJ the confidence to believe in himself.
That lesson extends to all the Wildcats in an almost serendipitous way. EJ invites Miss Jenn for advice to make the show more successful and not to let his friends down, but he helps them the most by bringing in Miss Jenn’s reassuring voice after the season’s tensest episode yet. Her comments center the Wildcats before the season’s final two episodes.
Overall, it’s great to have Kate Reinders back on HSMTMTS. Miss Jenn brings such eccentric energy to the show, and only Reinders could deliver Miss Jenn’s lines with sincerity. Plus, Reinders plays the bit that Miss Jenn carries around a moon rock in her bag until her exit so well. She’s a tricky character to navigate, and Reinders still does it effortlessly.
Cornett and Reinders deliver five-star comedy during EJ’s training montage. The dynamic duo also embeds a bit of Season 1 nostalgia into those scenes. Plus, Miss Jenn’s nonchalant callback to Susan Fine and 3×03, “The Woman in the Woods,” is as hilarious as Ashlyn’s dig about throwing the Color War results into a pizza oven.
HSMTMTS knows itself and Disney history well, and that knowledge never plays better in “Color War” than with Corbin Bleu. Everything from Corbin doing the classic Disney Channel tag but swapping it out for Disney+ to his comparison of the Color War to the Disney Channel Games is fantastic. Jason Earles‘ presence as Dewey ties it all together.
Dewey’s reference to Alyson Stoner‘s dance moves and the line “She’s really good” when Caitlyn Gellar shows her talent on her keyboard in Camp Rock during the HSMTMTS‘ campers cover of Camp Rock 2‘s “It’s On” couldn’t be any better. It’s like a meta matric of Disney Channel history, and it’s a real treat to watch from every angle.
Equally so is Corbin Bleu and Sofia Wylie‘s duet “A Different Way to Dance.” The number underscores how Bleu’s showmanship has never dimmed, and Sofia Wylie‘s star power shines alongside him. In many ways, their duet reinforces that representation matters; Gina expresses that Corbin has been her “dance hero since childhood.”
Consequently, HSMTMTS practically encourages a callback to when Seb expressed a similar point to Carlos in 2×05, “The Quinceañero,” when performing “The Climb.” Also, HSMTMTS makes a tongue-in-cheek nod to itself because Gina passes out before experiencing a music-inspired breakthrough with a High School Musical cast member.
“A Different Way to Dance” is similar to Miss Jenn’s duet with Lucas Grabeel, “Role of a Lifetime,” in Season 1 — down to Carlos slapping Miss Jenn and now Gina awake. This fun song gives Gina a confidence boost. Moreover, it moves the plot forward with the love triangle and shows that Corbin’s facade has cracks — he knows Gina’s name!
As for the love triangle, HSMTMTS‘ pacing works well in favor of Ricky realizing his feelings for Gina this season. Ricky discovers how he feels gradually, and his resistance to Channing releasing his footage suggests Ricky wants to tell Gina how he feels and doesn’t want to blow up Gina and EJ’s relationship through the docuseries.
All of this becomes a bit blurrier in time for the episode’s cliffhanger, which is likely the point. Ricky’s understanding that he let Gina slip through his fingers is complicated. He did miss his initial chance to be with Gina, but Ricky chose Nini for a reason. That complex, emotional entanglement suggests Ricky has always had feelings for Gina.
That understanding doesn’t discredit Ricky choosing Nini in Season 1 or their relationship in Season 2; it’s evident he felt differently for Nini. Plus, Ricky thought Gina was leaving Salt Lake. However, as most teen romances are, it becomes messier when envisioning how Ricky plans to reveal this information and what reaction he anticipates.
HSMTMTS notes that Ricky has yet to check off “say yes to something that scares me” on his bucket list. So, Ricky’s narrative with Gina could culminate in that. The “how” remains the biggest question heading into the season’s final episodes. Ideally, HSMTMTS will give EJ and Ricky the space to have a conversation that lasts longer than a few words before.
It’s a shame that EJ and Ricky’s potential friendship is getting lost, especially because Matt Cornett and Joshua Bassett work so well together. More often than not, they take one step forward and three steps back. Thankfully, Jet and Maddox are on their way to breaking their cycle, which is assuring since their future beyond Season 3 is unknown.
Meg Donnelly‘s Val is another character HSMTMTS could leave in its rearview mirror when the Wildcats travel back to Salt Lake. For that reason, it’s delightful that “Color War” uses Val more and lets Donnelly sing on a classic DCOM track. But, more importantly, Val’s interactions with Ashlyn are some of the best this episode delivers.
Julia Lester‘s performance when Val hugs Ashlyn while the fireworks go off is enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes. It’s never a small feat to see someone learn something about themselves, and Ashlyn’s acceptance of her sexuality is a paramount example. Her talking head is powerful because it shows Ashlyn’s relief in knowing more about herself.
HSMTMTS uplifts representation because it knows how much it matters to its audience, coming-of-age TV, and beyond. So rather than ticking boxes, this show tells meaningful stories about characters who expand representation on screen. With two episodes left this season, you never know how HSMTMTS will continue doing that and much more.
Other Fabulous Moments:
- Everything about the opening scene is perfect. No notes!
- Maddox and Gina bonding over their complicated relationships with their brothers is something I didn’t know I needed.
- EJ and Corbin’s acknowledgment of the other campers shouldn’t be as funny as it is.
- Ricky’s casual mention of his history with Nini is a subtle way to show his development.
- “You are allowed to have more than one gear.”
- What is rule #49? I need to know!
What did you think of HSMTMTS 3×06, “Color War?” Let us know in the comments below!
New episodes of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series premiere Wednesdays on Disney+!