“High School Musical” is perhaps most commonly recognized by the song “We’re All In This Together.” Though this mantra may seem blatantly straightforward, the second season of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” demonstrates the importance of sticking together, particularly when there is a strong temptation to go your own way. The fourth episode of the second season, entitled “The Storm,” presents a both literally and metaphorically dark and stormy atmosphere as the crew works through conflict while being trapped inside East High School during an intense snowstorm.
Prior to the turbulent weather, Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez) and Gina (Sofia Wylie) ignite conflict as they struggle to work out their co-choreographer dynamic. While rehearsing “Be Our Guest,” one of the most grandiose numbers for “Beauty and the Beast,” Carlos and Gina maintain separate visions for the style of the performance.
While this casts a dark shadow over the drama club, Gina continues to participate in tense confrontations. After the painfully awkward Valentine’s Day incident in which she mistakenly assumed that Ricky (Joshua Bassett) had given her a gift for the holiday, the two try to tease and joke about the event. Yet, the catastrophe still seems to be a sore subject for Gina, leaving room for audiences to wonder if her relationship with Ricky will ever truly progress.
Though these tense moments initiate the episode, Nini’s (Olivia Rodrigo) surprising arrival to East High casts some positive light on the drama department. Before her trip back to Denver, Nini says goodbye to Ricky and, in another awkward turn of events, her ex-boyfriend, E.J. (Matt Cornett). In a dark and depressive stupor, E.J. admits that he has been rejected by his dream school, Duke University. Seeing him without his usual confidence and swagger, Nini attempts to grant him some helpful advice — “Sometimes dream schools are a little overrated.”
Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) offers to drive Nini to the bus station, but when the storm finally hits Salt Lake City, the car breaks down and the two are trapped. While, at first, Nini stresses over her absence from her new school, her entrapment with Miss Jenn reveals the extent of her loneliness. Confiding in her ex-high school drama teacher, Nini describes her typical days at Youth Actors Conservatory, or YAC: forced silence, harsh rules and depressing nights full of Fiona Apple’s music. Recalling the pitfalls of auditioning for Broadway musicals, Miss Jenn describes the process of changing dreams, something that Nini resonates with.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats also find themselves trapped in East High and are unable to break free from the drama within the drama club. As Gina and Carlos attempt to workshop their contrasting choreography, tension builds, leading to a stormy confrontation. It seems this argument does not necessarily stem from eight counts and high kicks; when the two finally confront each another, they are able to open up about their own struggles with understanding their respective identities in high school.
As the theater kids start experiencing major cabin fever, a new character comes to save the day with pizza — an employee from Salt Lake Slices named Howie (Roman Banks). Despite their stormy beginnings at the pizza shop, Nini’s best friend, Kourtney (Dara Reneé), and Howie finally reconcile. Yet, just as the group finds contentment, the storm subsides and the Wildcats go their separate ways.
The roads being clear means one thing for Ricky; he can visit Nini before she leaves for Denver. Racing to the bus station, the two finally reunite once again and emotionally embrace before her trek back to school. In true Rachel Berry fashion, Nini departs with the song “Granted,” which outlines her deepest fears and desires regarding YAC.
Pondering the pros and cons of YAC and East High, Nini decides to go her own way and leaves the bus to retreat to Miss Jenn back at East High. Nini expresses her love for Miss Jenn and the drama department, noting that East High is truly the place where she belongs.
Despite the conflicts that separate the East High Wildcats, this sentiment seems to be widely shared. That is, if only the group can continuously recall the main themes of the film that brought them together in the first place.
“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” is streaming on Disney+ every Friday.