What is a surprise birthday party if not “a night to remember”? In the fifth episode of the new season of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” it’s Carlos’ (Frankie Rodriguez) birthday weekend! Despite his concern that his boyfriend Seb (Joe Serafini) has not planned anything for his birthday, the Wildcats are in full party-planning mode, making centerpieces, decorating Seb’s barn and of course, preparing routines to perform at the quinceañero Carlos has always wanted.
Before the party, the drama kids must continue rehearsing for the spring musical, “Beauty and the Beast.” Though episode four reintroduced Nini (Olivia Rodrigo) to East High, her return did not include a role in the show. Without Nini having a part in the musical, Ricky (Joshua Bassett) fears they may drift apart. Confiding in Gina (Sofia Wylie), Ricky debates whether it is worth persuading Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders) to let Nini perform. Frustrated with Ricky’s ignorance of her own feelings, Gina dismisses his problems in order to focus on Carlos’ party. Ricky asks Miss Jenn directly if Nini can participate to which she declines, stating that Nini would only be able to return for the fall musical.
Meanwhile, Ricky’s father (Alex Quijano) is similarly focused on his own romantic pursuits. In order to capture the attention of Miss Jenn, he decides to attend Carlos’ party with Ricky and Nini. However, East High’s STEM teacher, Mr. Mazzara (Mark St. Cyr) similarly attempts to gain Miss Jenn’s attention despite their previous rivalry in season one.
Just as these tensions rise … surprise! Carlos arrives with Seb, utterly shocked by the transformation of Seb’s barn into an elegant space. At the start of the party, Gina gives a brief speech onstage in which she compliments Carlos’ confidence. Through their shared love of dance, the two seem to understand one another, something further illustrated through Gina’s performance: a recreation of one of Carlos’ old dance videos.
E.J. (Matt Cornett), the newest member of East High’s A.V. club, interviews Gina after her energetic performance. Shocked by E.J.’s newfound compassion prior to the interview, Gina connects with him, something further reaffirmed at the end of the night when Mr. Mazzara catches the two admiring each other from afar.
Seb takes the stage next, expressing his appreciation for Carlos as both a boyfriend and as someone who is not afraid to be himself. Leaving “High School Musical” songs behind, Seb starts “pumpin’ up the party” with Miley Cyrus’ iconic power ballad, “The Climb.” As Carlos steps on stage to embrace his boyfriend, he gives a quick, heartfelt speech that prompts the announcement of Carlos’ madrina, or godmother. It is perhaps the only unsurprising moment of the entire episode when he chooses Miss Jenn, who, upon hearing the news, begins to sob profusely.
Yet, this lighthearted moment does not last for long. In a surprising turn of events, Miss Jenn discovers through an Instagram video that North High will not be performing “The Little Mermaid” anymore; instead, they will be performing “Beauty and the Beast” in order to outperform East High. The video also reveals that Lily (Olivia Rose Keegan), the student Miss Jenn did not cast in the show at East High, will be co-directing the production alongside North High’s drama teacher, Zack (Derek Hough). In shock, Miss Jenn considers her options and, ultimately, turns to Nini. Without revealing much of her plan, Miss Jenn determines that Nini must be involved with their spring musical in order to help East High win the high school musical theater award known as the Menkie.
The episode concludes with Gina on the phone with her mother, remarking that she is ready to come home. Having lived with Ashlyn (Julia Lester) for the semester in order to stay at East High, Gina has sacrificed time with her family in order to stay with the Wildcats. If she were to leave, the group may not have a chance at winning a Menkie.
As each episode of season two of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” has proven so far, there are always surprises at East High; they may not always be as “fabulous” as a surprise birthday party, but they certainly will initiate the “start of something new.”