Dana Getz
March 15, 2016 AT 12:00 PM EDT

When we last left Palos Hills High, Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards) and her comrades had started to shed their Awkward skin, leaving high school behind only to usher in a fresh chapter of collegiate drama. Sadie (Molly Tarlov) and Tamara (Jillian Rose Reed) were headed to New York, Jake (Brett Davern) was hunkering down for a year at home, and Jenna and Matty (Beau Mirchoff) added long distance to the list of pressures placed on their perpetually on-again, off-again romance.

The midseason premiere, airing Tuesday, dives in one year after we last saw the crew. Promos have teased a radical return for the beloved but fumbling teens: relationships have crumbled, friendships have swapped, and more than a few new faces have arrived to shake up the summer.

Awkward has always championed the blunt realities of adolescence, and the series’ final stretch mirrors the often volatile launch into adulthood. “I feel like it’s definitely true to life. You have to kind of go through that moment of leaving behind each friend you’ve known,” Reed tells EW. “[It’s] a very real thing that kids have to go through.”

Reed adds that viewers can expect something heartfelt and true to Awkward form when the back half kicks off, but not everything is as it was. “When we come back, everyone’s kind of like … How do we get back to normal?” she says.

For the full scoop, EW spoke with Reed about where the time jump lands us, what the remainder of the season holds, and what it’s been like to wrap up her Awkward journey.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When we left off, the cast was beginning to navigate that critical leap from high school to college. What can we expect when we jump back in?

JILLIAN ROSE REED: We’re going to get to see what happened to the gang after their first year of college. It’s really exciting for Tamara specifically, because she went away to New York for school. When she comes back she’s a little different. She’s a little more grown up. She’s a little bit more sophisticated. She comes back with a newfound friendship in someone you’d never expect her to be friends with. This back half, the first couple of episodes, really take a look at how everyone’s changed and how everyone has to come back together and figure out how to be friends again.

Tamara was questioning whether or not she could conquer this next chapter. How does that play out?

It’s a little difficult at first. I would assume much like any other kid who goes away for the first time to college, there’s a lot of things that she has to readjust to. Tamara kind of has this moment in her life where she’s like, where do I fit in? Where are my friends? What am I going to do now? She has to figure that out, and you’ll see pretty quickly how she does that. A lot of it has to do with becoming friends with Sadie, which we teased in the trailer. Sadie kind of takes her under her wing and teaches her all of the ropes about living in New York.

That stretch between high school and college is often a testament to the strength of both friendships and relationships. What’s Tamara’s connection to the rest of the characters? Did she keep in touch?

I think the gang did a pretty good job of keeping up to date with each other, mostly through social media, which is great thing for kids going away to college nowadays. The real disconnect actually comes from Tamara and Jenna. They have this moment where Jenna goes M.I.A. from social media and loses touch with the rest of the gang. When we come back in the first episode, everyone’s kind of like, ‘Hey, you haven’t been talking to us. What’s going on? How do we get back to normal?’

That’s such an interesting departure. She’s becoming friends with the last person you’d expect, and drifting apart from the person she was closest to throughout the series.

I feel like it’s definitely true to life. You have to kind of go through that moment of leaving behind each friend you’ve known. Yes, there’s that twist with her becoming friends with Sadie, but I feel like losing touch with your high school friends is a very real thing that kids have to go through.

Definitely, and you said she changes a lot over the course of that year. How does her experience compare to the rest of the characters?

I think when you’ve lived in California for your whole life, going to New York is extremely different. It’s an entirely different lifestyle. This is a young girl who’s never experienced anything other than that easy, breezy California lifestyle. She comes back from New York, and she’s dressed differently, she’s a little more chic. She even has different hair. The way that she’s behaving is a little more East Coast than West Coast, so that’s definitely an adjustment for those around her to see this new version of who she is.

There were definitely some lingering sparks between her and Jake in the midseason finale, which would throw a wrench in her relationship with Adam. What’s T’s status when we return?

The status with Jake is that we’re still friends. There was that moment, and I’ll be completely honest, Brett [Davern] and I fought really hard for that to end up becoming a thing because we’re both a fan of Jake and Tamara being together. But the creators thought differently, so when we come back we’re still just friends. At the end of the day, I think Jake and Tamara will always be those first loves for each other, and there’s always going to be that connection. I hope to explore that a little more if we get another season, what it could look like for them down the line. I think they’ll always hold a special place in each other’s hearts.

And what about Adam?

You’ll see very quickly what happens with Adam. I’m not going to give it away, but you’ll see pretty quickly where that relationship stands.

I have to know: What did happen with Jenna and Matty? Can you give anything away?

I can’t give anything away about it, but it’s pretty dramatic and pretty heartfelt. You know Jenna and Matty, they’re up and down all the time. The thing with young love is that you don’t really have your life figured out yet. So you have these two characters who don’t have their lives figured out, and you throw them into this college situation where everything is different and emotions are really heightened. You’ll get to know pretty quickly what happens with Matty. It’s definitely heartfelt and I think it will keep the audience on their toes.

What are Tamara’s feelings on the couple — is she still team Jatty?

I think Tamara is team Jenna being happy. Whether it’s with Matty or another guy, I think that at the end of the day she just wants Jenna to be happy, and ultimately she wants Matty to be happy too. It’s been five seasons of this, and even though Tamara and Matty weren’t friends in the beginning, at this point Matty is one of Tamara’s closest friends. She just wants them both to be happy.

What’s T’s focus for the rest of the season?

The season takes place over summer, so T’s focus is really finding a job and trying to make money, trying to get her head out of some of the messes she made in New York that you’ll find out about. I also think it’s a summer of love for everybody. There’s going to be relationship drama for her that she’ll have to get herself in and out of, and really just have a fun summer back home with all of her best friends.

Did you approach this season as an end to a journey, or is it left on a more inconclusive note?

It’s pretty wrapped up. We did shoot it as if it was going to be the last — we usually try to wrap up loose ends. This season’s no different — we definitely shot it like that. There are some really, really beautiful, heartfelt moments at the end of the season. If it is the last season, I’ll be happy with it. We kind of all left our hearts on the table and really closed out the series in a way that would be very satisfying to people, should it be the last one.

Does Tamara’s journey wrap in the way you expected?

I don’t know what I expected. It’s an emotional experience for me, because as an actor it’s been the show I’ve held so near and dear for so many years. It’s one of those things when you’re a kid, you’re like, “I don’t want this to ever end.” I don’t know if I ever thought of an end game for Tamara, because in my head this show goes on forever and I get to work with all of these amazing actors every single day. The way that it does end this season is very good for her, but I don’t think I really had any expectations.

Were there any storylines that surprised you?

There are a few, yeah. Toward the end of the season, there’s another love interest for Tamara that you’ll get to see. You’ll find out what happens with Adam and how long that lasts, and then you’ll meet a new boy. It wasn’t crazy surprising, but the way that Tamara meets this new guy and the way that their relationship plays out is very funny and very fitting for Tamara.

Going on the assumption that this could be the last season, how are you feeling coming away from the show and what are you taking away from the character?

It’s funny because we actually wrapped the season in July, so I’ve had a lot of time to sit with the fact that it could potentially be over. At first I was a complete mess. I spent the last week on set just crying at literally everything, and you’ll see that in the final episode. I’m crying for most of it. It was definitely hard. Now that it’s been so many months, I go, “I’m fine now. If this is the end, then I’m ready to move on and do something else.” But then I’m sitting here talking to someone about it, and I find myself getting choked up because of the fact that I’m taking away a family. I never expected that. I don’t think you ever expect that going into a show, but these people are not just my castmates, they’re my best friends and they’re my family. Through it all, that’s the saddest part. I won’t get to work every day with these people that I consider my brothers and sisters.

Awkward returns to MTV Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.

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