The conclusion of Hart Of Dixie’s second season was always built on a false premise. From the moment Zoe Hart went off to New York to return to her career as a surgeon, it was inevitable that she would have to return to Bluebell given that it’s where the show with her name in the title takes place. As a result, the beginning of the third season is built around a narrative feint that Zoe is only returning to Bluebell simply to tie up loose ends; we know she’s going to end up staying, and the question shifts from what to why.
“Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” takes some twists and turns on its way to making this happen, but it does indeed conclude with Zoe returning to Bluebell. The catch is that although Zoe is leaving her co-op apartment and her “semi-schmancy” surgeon job behind, she’s bringing her boyfriend Joel (Josh Cooke) with her. If the episode’s title initially referred to the cold welcome Zoe received upon returning to Bluebell, at the end of the episode it captures Zoe’s indecision: She misses Bluebell too much to go back to her life in New York, but she cares too much about Joel—or rather the stable future Joel represents—to leave him behind.
It’s admirable that Hart Of Dixie’s writers resisted using the premiere to reset the board and bring Zoe back to Bluebell without complication. It would have been easy to have Joel choose to go back to New York instead of staying with Zoe, allowing her triumphant rescue of both Founders’ Day and Wade’s father to rekindle her love affair with the town on much simpler terms. Such a result would have made the break between seasons pointless, and robbed the show of some legitimate tension following Zoe’s return, which makes this solution preferable in regards to making the false premise at least somewhat meaningful as the show moves past it.
That being said, it’s also kind of a mess. The problem isn’t just that we know Joel staying in Bluebell is a false premise that will inevitably result in his departure—the larger problem is that although Josh Cooke is a fine actor, the character has been given no development to suggest he could become a regular part of this world (especially given his lack of tolerance for fried food). Instead, Joel exists solely to stop Zoe from settling back into her normal life in Bluebell, and his continued presence is going to keep Wade and Lemon—feigning a relationship to “win” the breakup with Zoe—in similarly abnormal patterns. As much as the show acknowledging the weight of Zoe’s absence is meaningful, the way it’s been set up privileges hijinks over any kind of sustainable development.
“Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” was most concerned with setting up those hijinks, but it also offered many of the parts of the show that have been so endearing over its first two seasons, even if they’re marginalized here. It’s wonderful to see Kaitlyn Black’s Annabeth as part of the main cast, and Tom and Wanda make the most out of their two appearances to remind us that this collection of townies does indeed place Bluebell in the same conversation as its Warner Bros. backlot predecessor Stars Hollow. When the small town gossip mill starts moving in regards to Lemon’s mystery boyfriend, it’s the kind of story the show is well-designed to tell, and one that reaches a great punchline in Meatball…right up until the point Lemon gets co-opted into Zoe’s predictable, overworked drama. Whereas brief moments in the episode feel like we’re returning home to characters we enjoy and care about, other moments insist we can’t go home, at least not until Zoe works out her issues.
There’s an interesting idea at the heart—see what I did there?—of Zoe’s issues. In a brief moment when she’s saying goodbye to Wade—right before Joel shows up—Zoe explains how she chose New York because it’s her “real life.” It paints Bluebell as an escape from reality, highlighted by Zoe literally visiting Bluebell in a dream as she naps during a hospital shift. The series has always treated Bluebell as something of a whimsical fantasy, a town isolated from the vast majority of real world problems (to the point where nuisance lawsuits from a neighboring town are the only negative consequence of the town losing its only lawyer capable of staying awake). At the same time, though, the connections Zoe—and the audience—made with the people of Bluebell made it more than just a dream-like amalgam of Southern U.S. stereotypes, and she eventually realizes that the idea of Bluebell she broke up with in a series of individual, minimally copy-and-pasted emails is only what she told herself to justify leaving it behind. Bluebell is her real life, and somewhere that she and the audience want to live.
It is just unfortunate that the season premiere didn’t offer more of a chance to do so. The episode rushes to bring back Zoe and George simultaneously, leaving Scott Porter only a quick—if funny—training montage, a quickie rejection from Tansy, and a drunken hookup with Lavon’s randomly introduced cousin Lynly. Lavon barely even gets a chance to speak, yet alone a storyline of his own. The only moment the episode had to breathe was when Zoe traveled back to Alabama and the series meaningfully called back to her first trip to Bluebell: There was the gazebo on the water, there was the town square, and there was Zoe returning not as a fish out of water but as a fish who jumped back to the big pond because she thought that was what she was supposed to do once the small pond got complicated. It was a poignant moment, and yet the storyline never felt poignant, at least not as it could have.
Instead, Hart Of Dixie begins its third season asking us to invest in characters and situations that won’t last, working back toward a status quo I wouldn’t mind getting to a bit faster. In truth, I can imagine a world where I’d be lamenting how quickly the series forced Zoe back to Bluebell and put her New York adventure behind her, and this perhaps makes me a hypocrite for criticizing the writers’ choice to resist the easier path. However, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” makes a clear choice to emphasize conflict over charm, and this effort to raise the stakes ultimately lowered my enthusiasm toward returning to Bluebell.
- Were you wondering why Lemon was standing behind clothes racks, covred by pompoms, arranging flowers, clearing dishes, and never shot in full profile when not wearing particularly loose-fitting garments? I hope not, because I like to believe readers of this site have become well tuned to production tricks designed to hide pregnancies. But yes, Jaime King is—or rather, to update the tense on that, was—pregnant.
- “Tumultuous, trying, triangular”—I’d say this meta-line from Zoe suggests the writers have put the love triangle behind the characters for good, which is wonderful but also roughly a season too late to avoid Zeorge being a word people said on a television program with a straight face.
- “You can stay with us… but Wanda feels your leaving was a personal betrayal and has vowed never to let you darken her doorstep again.” I love Tom and Wanda.
- “If Tom and I get alpacas, we’re naming one after you.” Yep, Tom and Wanda are the best.
- Happy to see them adjust the opening credits shot to include Kaitlyn Black, who was sadly underserved in a role largely focused on introducing Lynly. Now we just need to lobby for Tom and Wanda to become series regulars in season four.
- If you’re wondering how Magnolia’s life at boarding school is going, check out Surviving Jack on Fox at midseason.
- “You need a 12-step plan for Shenanigans Addicts”—I like the idea of Wade and Lemon in a fake relationship in the abstract, but I’d much prefer the show were exploring the antagonistic partnership between them outside the context of Zoe Hart.
- On that note: Am I suggesting that Hart Of Dixie would be a better show without Zoe Hart? Discuss.