Abbott Elementary’s “Zoo Balloon” Captures the Heart of Belonging Somewhere

ABBOTT ELEMENTARY - “Zoo Balloon” – While on Abbott’s annual zoo field trip, Tariq unexpectedly reveals that he has been offered a job in New York. As Janine struggles with a big choice, Barbara starts questioning her future after finding out her favorite tuatara has been retired because of old age on “Abbott Elementary,” TUESDAY, APRIL 12 (9:00-9:30 p.m. EDT), on ABC.
(ABC/Temma Hankin)

Abbott Elementary “Zoo Balloon” Spoilers Ahead

Abbott Elementary‘s Season 1 finale, “Zoo Balloon,” allows its characters to quietly contemplate what it means to belong and how to move forward from circumstances that are no longer challenging the best of them to come forward.

Thematically, this episode addresses feelings that are all too common in every workplace—the moments where you start to feel stuck. The moments where few things make sense until they finally do. And when a school field trip to the zoo brings these feelings to the surface, Janine, Barbara, and Gregory are forced to confront parts of themselves in an episode that highlights a teacher’s position.

Staying Put and Moving Forward

ABBOTT ELEMENTARY - “Zoo Balloon” – While on Abbott’s annual zoo field trip, Tariq unexpectedly reveals that he has been offered a job in New York. As Janine struggles with a big choice, Barbara starts questioning her future after finding out her favorite tuatara has been retired because of old age on “Abbott Elementary,” TUESDAY, APRIL 12 (9:00-9:30 p.m. EDT), on ABC. QUINTA BRUNSON, TYLER JAMES WILLIAMS
(ABC/Temma Hankin)

In Abbott Elementary’s “Zoo Balloon,” both Janine and Gregory make decisions for themselves that work to exhibit why this school is remarkable. While in the penultimate, we learn that he’d do anything if she asked for it; this week, we understand that Gregory does genuinely adore this job even though he isn’t principal. He values the kids and his co-teachers, but he also cherishes the impact he has by teaching.

But it’s also about Janine because no one knows him the way she does so far at Abbott. Taylor also doesn’t know him as well as Janine does, and the whole clam chowder incidence is proof of this. And while we can argue that they haven’t been dating for a while, of all the things about Gregory, his eating habits should be the one thing we all remember. Still, for now—whatever’s between them, there are ways to go until it grows into something more and the ride we’re on isn’t one we want to come off of any time soon.

In the same way that Gregory chooses to take a full-time position, Janine decides to stay while Tariq’s job takes him to New York. We knew they weren’t fit to be a couple from day one, but much of what we see is Janine staying put because it’s comfortable. And the episode makes it clear as day that no one should stay behind to benefit anyone but themselves. We saw much of this in “Work Family,” and the show confronting it once more, only to come to a final decision in an episode like this, is an incredible move on the writing department.

Almost Confronting Fears in a Zoo Balloon

(ABC/Temma Hankin)

Our real heroes are our teachers—the kids write for Mr. Johnson’s Breakfast Club assignment, and all that boils down to this moment in the hot air balloon. Janine needed to choose for herself, and confronting her fears had to do with more than just heights. It’s about ending something she’s been in for a long time. It’s deciding to believe that she can be soft and assertive. And it’s knowing, with every fiber of her being, that when it comes to protecting students, she’ll always take risks.

To watch her go after Kenny from the beginning to ensure that he knows teachers in the second grade will take care of him is what a good educator should do to exhibit that they care. And no one does that the way Janine does. She doesn’t just say she cares, but she consistently goes out of her way to prove it, even when that puts her in a deeply uncomfortable situation. After all this, she could finally believe (and feel) that she genuinely does belong.

A New Routine

SHERYL LEE RALPH in Abbott Elementary Season 1 finale
(ABC/Temma Hankin)

Sheryl Lee Ralph continues to be one of the most riveting performers in the series, showing us not just with words but with actions how much Barbara wants to do the right and how fervently she cares about those around her. She can either crush your heart or put it all back together through a single look. When Barbara tells you she’s proud of you, you know you’ve done something right. When she’s disappointed, it’s time for you to look inward. And it was easy to appreciate where the series took her arc in this finale, making it clear that though Barbara isn’t ready to leave yet, she will trust her instincts when the time comes. She is going to make the decision that feels right for her.

Abbott Elementary’s “Zoo Balloon” beautifully demonstrates why this show has become a comfort series for all its viewers. Most of us watching are adults, but the serenity we can find in understanding that there are teachers who care as fiercely as they do brings forth an incredibly special feeling. Because sometimes, feeling stuck forces people to believe that they aren’t good at what they do.

Sometimes, being stuck makes us question whether or not we’re on the right path. But this episode tells us that belonging somewhere equates to finding people who’ll be there through the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s about finding people who’ll stick by you through everything and people who’ll notice when you’re not around. It’s about the people who know your fears and remember them, wanting to be by your side while you confront them even if it doesn’t go as planned. It’s about the people who’ll notice when you’re gone and the decisions that are made despite the fears that arise. It’s about a family.

Is it time for Abbott Elementary Season 2 yet!?

Further Thoughts

  • “I just say whatever I want.” We know, Ava. We know.
  • Mr. Johnson wanting Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but getting The Breakfast Club. I love this journey.
  • Zack also being a chaperone at the zoo is aces.
  • Gregory not loving clam chowder? I feel that.
  • I don’t know, y’all. I genuinely miss being on a school bus.
  • Gregory’s facial expression when Tariq says, “I single-handedly can stop drug use,” is grand.
  • Duster, the lizard, isn’t a name I ever thought would exist.
  • Abbott is a special place. Janine made Gregory realize it.
  • Jacob saying he can’t imagine Abbott without Janine and then almost crying!?!?! I LOVE THIS PEACHY DELIGHTFUL HUMAN.
  • “I’m not doing jail time for you.” Who would Ava do jail time for?
  • SUPER BARBARA MODE. “Unlike the fancy lizard. No one’s gonna take you and put you in the back.”
  • Gregory and Melissa and voices!
  • Barbara’s facial expressions during this entire episode made my heart twice in size.
  • That final, teary shot of Janine with the apple on the desk was so wholesome.
  • The entire cast was ACES in this episode.

Now streaming on Hulu or ABCWhat are your thoughts on Abbott Elementary’s “Zoo Balloon?” Let us know in the comments below.



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