After Maya's grotesque sexual experience with Derrick—after which he unceremoniously dumped her—she and Anna return to the drudgery of middle school. For the first time in the second half of season 2, the two protagonists hang out with their group of seventh grade friends: Jafeer (Tony Espinosa), Sam (Taj Cross), and Gabe (Dylan Gage, also featured in Fear Street 1978). Much of the drama of the final episodes takes place outside of school and involves the duo's parents and older boyfriends, so this is a refreshing return to form for Pen15. The show handles its mature topics deftly, and the message it hammers home is that while thirteen-year-olds are regularly faced with serious issues, they often struggle to engage in an emotionally mature way. With audiences reeling right alongside Maya from her jaunt with an older boyfriend, depicting Maya and Anna in a context appropriate for their development allowed for a collective sigh of relief.
Pen15's finale highlights how strange middle school is with jarring tonal shifts. As Maya still recovers from her experience with Derrick, her friend and longstanding love interest Sam (played by Taj Cross, also featured in Young Rock) entertains her with a terrible Ace Ventura impression, prompting her to jump in and one-up him with a spot-on impression. This bizarre juxtaposition emphasizes that while they are growing up and getting older, Anna and Maya should be free to remain innocent. Seeing Maya bantering with her friends shortly after seeing her sexually coerced creates an upsetting dissonance that reminds viewers how quickly innocence can be snatched away — and how important it is to preserve the pockets of innocence that can be preserved.
Without even fully knowing the extent of her trauma, Maya's friends mobilize to support her in her time of need by offering to egg her ex-boyfriend Derrick's house after school. Sam, Gabe, Jafeer, and even Maya's older brother Shuji (played by Dallas Liu, who will play Zuko in Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender adaptation) show up for her in her time of need, reminding her that while she may have felt alone in her struggles, she has steadfast friends in her corner. Anna shows her support most fervently, breaking up with her beloved boyfriend Steve when he refused to side with her and Maya over Derrick. This is a beautiful act of love from Anna, as she had been obsessed with Steve, underscoring the deliberate choice for Pen15 to explore crushes and romance extensively but ultimately value the friendships most. Anna is also the only one of Maya's friends to know the full story about Derrick, although neither Anna nor Maya truly grasps the profundity of Maya's trauma; as a result, all Anna can do is recognize that Maya is struggling and be there for her by fully prioritizing her over Steve.
The series ends right where it began: in Anna's bedroom. Konkle and Erskine—who has been cast in the upcoming Obi-Wan Disney+ show—turn in their best performances of the series, rooted in the fears and hopes of their seventh grade selves, as they wonder grimly whether they will one day outgrow their friendship with one another. After a long moment, they instead describe an alternative future where they live together and raise one another's kids. Pen15 is coy about actual answers, preferring to push viewers to ponder along with Anna and Maya whether they will remain best friends forever. While the future they present is fantastical, it's also difficult to picture them leaving one another behind entirely; the truth is likely somewhere in the middle, but it is satisfying to enter into their dream scenario with them. The show's final moments depict Maya and Anna enraptured by a video of their younger selves, reminding them how far they've come—and how far they have to go.
Anna's mom (played by Melora Walters of Boogie Nights fame) and dad (Taylor Nichols), listen patiently to Anna in the finale as she describes her misgivings about Steve. When she asks them to fix it for her, her dad replies, "Oh, sweetie. We can't fix everything, you know that." This lesson is representative of the show's arc, with Maya and Anna both fighting for independence and adulthood, realizing it can often be too much, but ultimately coming to terms with the fact that they're on the brink of maturity and have to struggle through things anyway. Their friendship remains a core part of who they are and how they process their struggles, and Pen15 pushes us to believe in the purity and strength of adolescent friendship, mirroring Konkle and Erskine's real-life relationship and creative partnership. It's not always clear how things will turn out, but the Pen15 season 2 ending reminds its viewers that it's just as important to remember where they came from.
Pen15 is streaming now on Hulu.