Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Recap: The one with the hard conversations

Michael Thomas Grant as Leif, John Clarence Stewart as Simon in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. Pic credit: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Lionsgate

Tonight’s Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist presented a necessary conversation. Zoey’s Extraordinary Reckoning was one of the rawest and honest hours of television I have ever had the pleasure of watching. It was hard to watch. It was uncomfortable. But that’s how hard conversations usually are.

Following Simon’s speech about racial bias and discrimination at SPRQ Point last week, tonight we picked up just a couple of minutes afterward. What followed next was a clear-cut portrait of the reality that people of color go through not only in the workplace but in their lives.

Zoey desperately wants to help Simon somehow, but she doesn’t understand how deep and how bad the issue is.

At the same time, this is Zoey and she’s the nicest person and she just wants to help. It was so uncomfortable to watch her try to do something again and again but still falling short every time. Because she just didn’t get it.

It shouldn’t be a difficult conversation. But it was.

The moment Simon stepped down from that podium, he knew his job was on the line. He knew they would come for him, and it was absolutely heartbreaking to watch him struggle with this.

When Zoey asks him why he didn’t come to her about this, and he says, “I did. You didn’t listen”, you could see how deeply hurt he was, and how much that sentence hit Zoey like a punch to the gut.

So of course, she tries to come up with a quick solution. If the problem is that people of color don’t have a forum to speak their minds, then she was going to give them one by instituting townhall meetings.

She gathers everyone on the Fourth Floor, explains what this is about, but it backfires spectacularly. One, because there were only four black people in a group of 20+ employees; and two, because white people hijacked the moment to talk about themselves. As usual.

Simon is obviously upset, and it’s clear to Zoey that this was a terrible idea when his heart song comes out.

I can’t stress enough how incredibly powerful John Clarence Stewart III’s performance was in this episode, and his rendition of “Black Man in a White World” by Michael Kiwanuka was so powerfully raw, and it was only one of the highlights of the episode.

Zoey is shaken after this, knowing she screwed up big time, and she desperately wants to fix it. To make matters worse, Danny Michael Davis tells her that the board wants Simon to retract his statement, and he wants Zoey to be the one to tell him.

So Zoey, feeling completely lost and unfit to handle this, goes to Mo for advice. Mo, her other black friend, as he very clearly pointed out to her.

I know, facepalm.

Zoey still tries to fix it and retract her words, but the damage is done. Mo is upset and completely done with her drama and lack of tact.

His heart song — and Alex Newell delivers such a gorgeous, chill-inducing performance of “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige — has Zoey feeling embarrassed and chagrined and she leaves feeling even more lost and powerless.

Back at SPRQ Point, she tries to talk to Simon and break the news to him as gently as possible, but ends up saying all the wrong things. When she says that she can relate, Simon refutes every single one of her claims, and it’s such a powerful scene showcasing a very difficult but necessary conversation between these two characters.

Simon’s line that, “I have to constantly amputate parts of myself so that people feel comfortable in my presence”, was one of the biggest sucker punches this episode delivered.

With her eyes a little more open now, a short while later, Zoey witnesses a scene in which Tobin is being ridiculed and the butt of a tasteless joke. In true Tobin fashion, he laughs it off, but his heart song makes it clear to Zoey that he is not okay, and that the ridiculous joke was not okay.

Let’s stop here for a moment to talk about Kapil Talwalkar’s performance. Tobin doesn’t always get a turn in the spotlight, but Talwalkar took this opportunity with both hands and delivered one of the most brilliant performances of the season so far. His rendition of “The Track of my Tears” by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles had me in tears.

Zoey calls him into her office and tries to talk to him, but he deflects everything with a joke. But when she pressures him a little more, it just bursts out of him.

He tells her everything he has been through over and over in his time at SPRQ Point, and when Zoey says he should say something and he says, “to who? HR? Danny Michael Davis? What am I going to say? ‘People are treating me like an Indian guy? Guess what, Zoey, I’m an Indian guy,” it was another sucker punch.

She still tries to convince him to speak out to help Simon — because the board wants him to retract everything and say that he’s the only one in the company who feels this way — but Tobin doesn’t want to stir the pot.

Later, Simon goes to Mo for advice and that entire scene is just another beautiful, beautiful moment between these two characters. Simon doesn’t know what to do and is almost convincing himself that he should just retract everything and keep his head down. But Mo lifts him up and says that if they won’t let him be his entire self, then they don’t deserve him.

When Zoey runs into them on her way to her apartment, she’s embarrassed and chagrined and stops to humbly apologize to her friends.

Simon then decides to tell her he’s going to quit first thing in the morning and is surprised when she doesn’t fight him on it. When he asks her why, she says that he should do what he feels is right for him and that whatever he chooses, she’ll support him. It took her a while, but she’s finally taking a step in the right direction.

The next day, she’s surprised to find out that Tobin decided to speak up after all. He posted about his experience as a person of color at SPRQ Point online, which caused hundreds of other employees around the world to share their experiences.

In the end, Danny Michael Davis takes Simon to the board meeting not to retract his statement, but to present irrefutable proof of the systemic racism that happens at SPRQ Point around the world.

Later, when they’re at MaxiMo celebrating this win, Simon’s heart song is a reflection of his joy and relief at having a part in this first step in the right direction at his workplace. Tightrope by Janelle Monáe was the song of choice, and it was beautifully and joyfully performed by John Clarence Stewart III, Alex Newell and Alvina August.

Other highlights of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

  • Yay for Mo and Max getting Danny Michael Davis to invest in their company!
  • This episode was beautifully written by Zora Bikangaga.
  • Every single song performed during “Zoey’s Extraordinary Reckoning” was written and performed by a black artist.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs on Tuesdays at 8/7C on NBC.

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