Warning: Spoilers are ahead for The Politician season 2 finale.
Eleven minutes into the season 2 finale, The Politician suddenly turns into a Ben Platt concert. While fans might not be complaining — hello, Platt has the voice of an angel! — they might be confused by the tonal switch. Though, perhaps they shouldn't be since The Politician has been known to break out in song before. But listen close and you’ll realize Payton’s songs tell the story of The Politician season 2.
After agreeing to a rock paper scissors contest to decide the now tied New York State Senate election, Payton's opponent Dede Standish (Judith Light) is feeling a bit down in the dumps. It seems the career politician is physically unable to win a game of rock paper scissors, which is why her campaign manager Hadassah (Bette Midler) decides to take her out for a drink at a local piano bar.
Dede is confused by the locale, which is a bit more celebratory than she's feeling, but soon they hear a familiar voice singing at the piano. It's Payton letting off some steam by tinkling the ivories. The song he's singing is actually a Ben Platt original, "Run Away."
The song off his 2019 album, Sing To Me Instead, is dedicated to Platt's parents, but its use here is a throwback to last season and a reminder of how much has changed in these short years. Payton plays the song on the piano in the first season of The Politician while imagining his love River (David Corenswet) joining in. Back then, Payton just played the melody, there were no lyrics. Perhaps because his story was still unwritten. (Cue: Natasha Bedingfield.)
Here in season 2, these lyrics about a baby and a proposal hint at what he wants from his relationship with Alice (Julia Schlaepfer), who is looking for him to care about her and her dreams as much as his own. These lyrics are the things he couldn't say before she left him, but should have. “I may not be wise," he sings. "And I won't save the day, but look in my eyes and know I'll always stay. And I won't run away."
Those words, "I won't run away," echo what he says in final moments of the previous episode when he decides not to give back the ballot box Infinity stole. He chooses to screw ethics and follow his own moral compass, which is faulty at best and completely shattered at worst. He's rationalized his decisions so that whatever is good for him is good for everyone because his political intentions are good. His political motto is that he won't run away from a fight with Dede or anyone else because he is fighting for what is good, but it appears that is his motto for life, too. He won't give up on the things he wholeheartedly believes in.
This season, Payton struggles to figure out what those things are, but in this moment, it starts to come to light. He struggles to find his authentic self, but behind the piano this theater kid suddenly finds the words to explain the kid of man he wants to be. He wants to be the one who truly does stand up for what is right and not just when it wins him elections. He wants to stay the course, something he pledges when he does become state senator.
When Payton dedicates his encore of Pippin's "Corner Of the Sky" to Hadassah and Dede, "his enemies," the two women realize they are seeing the real Payton. Possibly, for the first time, which is why Dede is so taken back by him and this big "I Want" song from a 1972 Broadway musical about a young man going on a journey to find meaning in his life. Payton was on his own journey this season to find out what it really means to him to be a politician. What he realized is it is more than being ambitious, but being willing to put in the work. These songs hint at this transformation that is only just beginning.
With "Corner Of The Sky," written by Stephen Schwartz, Payton reaches out for acceptance and something he can call his own. He wants a that little piece that he can claim as his own and feel proud of it. In his case, he wants that state senate seat to show what he can do. Not just to his constituents, but to himself, who has always been more focused on the campaigning than the governing part of politics. He wants to show others that it is not too late to fight for better government — a message we could also use right now — and that he is in for the long and arduous battle ahead.
Payton is a showman at heart, and this song allows him to really show off, but this feels more genuine than his viral cold shower stunt or his speech about appropriation. This seems to be coming from a place of compassion, which isn't a word most of us would use to describe Payton Hobart throughout the season.
It also shows how similar he and Dede are at heart. They both want to do good for others and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The season was about giving young people a seat at the governing table, to let a new generation decide what comes next for them. To let them have control of a future, which is more theirs than those older than them.
It might be why Dede in left in tears after hearing Payton's song, which in actuality is more like a mission statement. It's hard to believe there were any dry eyes in the room after that performance. The most honest one Payton has ever given.