Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist boss breaks down that game-changing season 2 finale twist
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's season 2 finale of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.
Consider this our official plea to NBC: Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist absolutely needs a third season. Please, please renew this gem of a show. Because if the series ends on the mic drop, twist moment of Max (Skylar Astin) hearing Zoey (Jane Levy) sing a heart song — and not the other way around! — we will officially riot.
The season 2 finale of NBC's musical drama featured so many game-changing moments, from Simon (John Clarence Stewart) breaking up with Zoey and getting a major promotion at work to Mo (Alex Newell) taking on this new, mature relationship with Perry (David St. Louis) and his kids, to Maggie (Mary Steenburgen) dipping her toes back into the dating pool for the first time. Oh yeah, and how could we forget, Max and Zoey finally got back together!
But all of that pales in comparison to the moment after Max surprises Zoey after not getting on the plane with Rose (Katie Findlay) — anyone else get major Friends finale vibes here? — and to his (and all of our) surprise, he sees Zoey and the entire park of people sing "I Melt With You" and realizes he now has Zoey's powers.
"We've been setting the stage for this for a long time," creator Austin Winsberg tells EW. "We've talked about Max getting the powers in the writers room pretty early on in season 1 as something that we would want to do in the future. When you look at superhero shows and superhero origin stories, it seems like there's always a period or a moment in time where the hero discovers that somebody else also has the powers, and when we're talking about the evolution of the show and how does this show continue, giving the powers to somebody else felt like a natural evolution."
So what does this all mean? Below, EW got Winsberg to break down that twist and so much more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Zoey sings a heart song to Max! I was screaming during that entire scene. What's going on there?
AUSTIN WINSBERG: Starting in season 1 but especially throughout season 2, there were a lot of conversations between Max and Zoey about the inequality of their relationship and the fact that Zoey has an insight into Max's brain and what Max is feeling and Max doesn't have the same insight into her. It was very carefully dropped throughout the season his frustrations that there's an imbalance in their relationship. And then in [the finale] when she's visited by her dad and he talks about being part of the universe now and how the universe does everything for a reason, and then she brings up the idea of the universe right before the song switch/meld happens, I think you can infer from that that he is being given this power for a reason, to create a version of equity or equality in their relationship. In order for relationships to succeed in general in life, there needs to be equality between the two sides and the only way to achieve that equality between Zoey and Max is for Max to experience what Zoey's going through. The other piece of that is romantic comedy purposes — I think it's really good for us for season 3 that you have two characters who are trying to make it work with each other while also [laughs] knowing exactly what's going on in the other person's brain at all times.
Does Zoey still have her powers? Is this now something that they share together or did he take it from her?
Uhhhh … I don't know if I should answer. [Laughs] No, I better not.
How does this twist shape what a potential third season would look like?
It just opens up the possibilities for what can happen next, especially in terms of the relationship between Zoey and Max and the complications of that. By giving Max his own insight into Zoey's world, maybe the way that he views musical numbers and maybe his takeaway from those musical numbers could be different than hers, or maybe by him getting the powers he can then help Zoey with her emotional procedural stories in different ways. There are lots of avenues that we can take by giving him the powers as well. There could be a fun role reversal for her too because she's always been the one who's had to figure it out so it's kind of nice to have her be the one who maybe has a deeper insight now. That deeper insight, the whole reason that she has the powers and got the powers in the first place, the result of that was teaching her about empathy and compassion and teaching her to not judge a book by its cover. It's to get away from her computer coder brain of living in black and white, zeros and ones, and starting to see the world in more shades of grey. Part of her arc over the last two seasons has been a growing understanding of human behavior, and to be able to now impart that onto Max is another interesting wrinkle for their dynamic.
Was it always the plan to end the season with Zoey and Max coming back together?
Yes. There was a lot of talk, especially in social media circles, about the love triangle this season. When I was trying to figure out the arc of season 2, the love triangle was at the forefront of my mind. And I thought the worst thing we could do is to have Zoey be indecisive all season, and to be vacillating between these two guys and play it out in that way. It was important for Zoey to be decisive in what she wanted. So early on in the season, I said something like, "Zoey makes a choice and we're going to put the love triangle to bed," and I wasn't trying to toy with people when I said that. I really genuinely believe that's what we were doing. She does make a choice in the first episode to try to pursue something with Max, and it just so happens that it's too early in her grief journey, and she's not ready for a real relationship yet.
The whole arc of season 2 for Zoey is about her path to recovery and the way that I pitched it was recovery, relapse, regression, rebirth, and redemption. Those were the stages of her grief throughout the season. If she makes a concrete choice to be with Max but then ultimately she's not ready to be in that relationship — my wife and I, when we were dating, we decided to take a break before we got married and we did see other people during that time. So I thought it was important at some point after some space for her to explore things with Simon, because I did feel like there was an undeniable chemistry there and she had a natural curiosity to see how that would play out. It was important to give both men their relationship due in some way during the course of the season, but I did feel like Max was the one that she was more meant to be with in some ways, and that by the end they will get back together only to have this new complication befall them.
And what does this mean for Max's pop-up plans since he never went to New York?
We did have some lines about that that ended up getting cut for time. [Laughs] It's going to throw a wrench into the franchising in New York but that doesn't mean that they're not going to still try to find new ways to expand the business.
Why did you want Zoey and Simon to not only break up but also have Simon be the one to initiate it?
As we were doing those [last] episodes, Zoey was keeping something very, very big from Simon, and it was something that she felt comfortable being able to tell Max in season 1, saw the ramifications of telling Max, and was very scared of what would result from her telling Simon. She felt like she couldn't tell Simon. Maybe it was the fear that their entire relationship was predicated on her hearing him sing "Mad World" and what the results of that would be or the fear of his judgement of it or whatever it was, she didn't feel like she could open up and express herself to him in that way. There was a mutual effort on both sides in episodes 9, 10, and 11 where they're trying to make it work but it's not an easy fit, and I just didn't want to make Simon the victim in the end. I wanted to make Simon the master of his own domain, controller of his own fate, and to give him some proactive decision-making in the process.
And by the end, when she hears him singing "I'm Still Standing," to know that Simon's okay because he's been on his own grief journey through the first and second season and all the stuff that he was going through with his own father, I didn't want to end Simon on a down note. And by him getting that victory with Danny Michael Davis, and by starting this inclusivity incubator at SPRQ Point, this diversity initiative, that was a good road for him going forward and it was really important to show that Simon's going to be okay. Personally, I like positive, upbeat Simon and I feel like we've kind of dragged him through the emotional wringer. [Laughs] Especially after everything he went through with all the systemic racism stuff at SPRQ Point and speaking out and being an advocate, I wanted to end him in a place of positivity and a place of looking forward and not looking back.
And we've got to talk about Zoey's dream because Mitch and Zoey's dance felt like such a lovely follow-up to last season finale's dream dance. What did you want to accomplish with this sequel?
Any time that we can bring Peter Gallagher back is so magical for the show, and despite Zoey now having a therapist to talk to and Mo and Max, we still feel like her father is her guiding light, her shining star, all of that stuff. All season long, I wanted to tell this story from my own life about how after my dad had passed away, my mom had a dream with my dad in it, my sister had a dream with my dad in it, but he hadn't visited me in a dream yet and I was very angry that he hadn't visited me. And then he did visit me in a dream one night and it was really emotional for me. We had a scene in this episode that we ended up having to cut for time where David and Maggie were both talking about Mitch visiting them in dreams and Zoey being frustrated about it. And then you have this moment where she's at her lowest point, her time of need, and Mitch comes to her.
At Zoey's highest point of crisis, it was the perfect moment for her dad to come to her and give her advice or wisdom. For two seasons, part of what's been holding her back from Max has been this fear of what could happen if you truly give yourself over to somebody. There's so much vulnerability attached to that. And she's dealt with real loss — she almost dealt with it with her mom which is also based on something that happened in my own life, and she had to watch Maggie deal with it with Mitch, and she was always afraid of what that might mean with her and Max and to have her dad be the one to tell her, "You've got to live your life," and for him to sing that song to her felt like the boost that she needed after everything she's been through to stop embracing fear and to start moving forward and just trusting it no matter what happens.
And when Mitch points out how uncomfortable Zoey's weird office chair is, how long have you been waiting to drop that line?
[Laughs] Those chairs have gotten more and more uncomfortable over the last two seasons. They keep falling apart and we've been gluing them back together. [Laughs] I love it when anybody can comment on things on the set that we make fun of ourselves. And I needed a moment of levity in the dream sequence so it wasn't so earnest.
What have the conversations been like with NBC about any renewal chances?
[Sighs] We're just waiting to hear. I know that there's a lot of internal love and support for the show. And there's a lot of great media attention and a super strong fan base and possible awards consideration. There's wind in our sails but we just don't know the specifics yet.