It was one of the best moments in the original teen romcom: the moment our hero and heroine realised that they were made for each other. But in the sequel, a damning bit of information is revealed about what Peter Kavinsky was doing in the hot tub in the first place.
Spoiler alert: This story contains in-depth discussion of To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You. If you haven’t streamed the film on Netflix yet and don’t want to be spoiled, please click away now.
The hot tub scene in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before almost didn’t happen.
In the film, I mean. Instead of the romantic, sexy scene that ended up taking place in the movie, Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor) and Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) almost had a sliding doors moment. While he was sitting mournfully outside in the hot tub, pensively surveying the bubbles and steam, Lara Jean was in her room doing Korean face masks with Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro).
“You’re the one currently carb-loading with a gay man while he’s currently waiting for you in the hot tub,” Lucas points out to her, wisely. “So I’d say if there was anyone who stupidly fell for someone who didn’t love them back, it’s not you. It’s Kavinsky.”
A beat. “You think he’s waiting for me in the hot tub?” Lara Jean asks.
Reader: he was. The hot tub scene, which unspools about two thirds of the way through Netflix’s teen romantic comedy To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, is the best moment in the entire film. After Lara Jean shrugs on her coat and slippers and rushes outside into the cold night air – in her pyjamas, no less – she finds Peter Kavinsky waiting for her. The pair are at loggerheads, each trying to figure out if the potential yield for whatever is going on between them is worth the inherent risk.
It’s the necessary push-and-pull, the required dance of any romcom pairing: how do I really feel about this person? Will this person hurt me? Do I trust them enough to let them?
For Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky it plays out in the hot tub. Lara Jean is so anxious about Peter’s ex-girlfriend Gen, and so in her own head about their fake relationship, that she can’t see the signs that are so plainly shirtless, bashfully splashing the water, right in front of her. Peter wanted to sit next to her. Peter went across town to the Korean grocer to buy Yakults for her. Peter likes her.
“For someone who has such good grades, you can be so dense sometimes,” Peter says. It’s around about now that Lara Jean gets into the hot tub, in her nightgown no less, and the two share their first real, post-fake-relationship kiss. And it’s a really good one.
The hot tub scene, filmed in rich, saturated technicolour and framed with such a cinematic and romantic female gaze, immediately struck a chord with fans of the original movie. It felt moving and intimate in a way that teen movies rarely are, a sign that the film’s producers were taking this story of a young, mixed race woman and her big, urgent desires very seriously. Which is why the sequel, which reveals something crucial about the hot tub scene, has proven to be such a disappointment.
If you remember your To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before scripture correctly, and believe me I do, you’ll remember that the hot tub scene led to nightmarish ramifications for poor Lara Jean. Unbeknownst to her, someone was filming her and Peter’s private moment and would later disseminate it through the school in an awful act of slut-shaming. Peter tried to stop the video being shared online, but in the opening moments of the sequel To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You, it’s clear that the clip has spread further than Lara Jean could ever have imagined. Even her cousin, who lives in a different neighbourhood, has seen it.
The worst is yet to come, though. Later in PS I Still Love You, Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky get into a fight about his ongoing relationship with Gen. Lara Jean knows that Peter still talks to Gen and she is worried that, if it came down to it, Peter would choose Gen over her.
“That’s bullshit,” Peter says. “When there was an actual choice, I picked you… She took that video [of the hot tub] and I told her if she ever hurt you again then we were done.”
Lara Jean is shocked. Up until this point, she thought that everyone was in the dark about who filmed her and Peter in the hot tub. Now, it turns out that at the very least Peter knew that Gen was the trigger happy recorder. And it gets worse.
“How did she know?” Lara Jean asks. “That night, I said I was going to bed, and Gen knew exactly where you were. How did she know?” She pauses, a look of anguished comprehension crossing her face. “You were waiting at the hot tub for her, weren’t you?”
“You and I weren’t like really together yet,” Peter responds.
“If I hadn’t come down to find you, you and Gen would be together. And you and I would never have happened,” Lara Jean says. “Maybe that’s how it should be.”
“Don’t do this,” pleads Peter. “We promised that we wouldn’t break each other’s hearts.”
“Yeah, well I think we both made promises that we couldn’t keep,” Lara Jean responds.
Spoiler alert, though if you’ve gotten this far into the story I would hazard a guess that you’ve seen the entire film, but Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky end up back in each other’s arms by the conclusion of the film. Lara Jean realises that Gen leans on Peter because he knows her so well, and there’s a comfort in being known like that by someone when all the other parts of your life have fallen apart. Lara Jean understands that her and Peter have a connection that is different from the one she has with John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), say, who is lovely and funny and kind but doesn’t move her the way Peter does.
Because this is a teen romcom, Lara Jean and John Ambrose kiss at the end of the film, but it’s not right. Lara Jean runs out of the Belleview retirement home and into the night to look for Peter, only to discover that he’s already there waiting for her, because he knows that she doesn’t like driving in the snow. It’s sweet and thoughtful, a reminder of the Peter Kavinsky of old who drove across town to the Korean grocer to buy the Yakults for her, a throwback to the Peter Kavinsky who splashed the hot tub because he was embarrassed at the evidence of his own devotion.
It’s hard to go back, though, to those days, knowing what we know now. The power of the hot tub scene lay in the unabashed, swoon-inducing romance of finding out that the high school hunk was waiting in the hot tub. For you.
That entire moment, bathed in the warm, reflected glow of the pool lights and overlaid with the soothing, sensual synth-pop of Anna of the North’s Lovers, was so wrapped up in this idea that it’s impossible to separate the two. Without that element of Peter choosing Lara Jean and waiting for her, never knowing if she would abandon her Korean face mask and bodice-ripping novel, the hot tub scene loses its romantic punch. Suddenly, it’s just a guy sitting in a oversized bathtub waiting for the first girl who waltzes by and decides to plonk herself in it.
“[It] ruins the first film entirely,” one fan wrote on Twitter. “Why did they have to add that in?” Another added: “I’m v upset!!!! The hot tub scene is ruined forever!!!!” As another, more succinctly, put it: “What the actual fuck.”
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the film, and you better believe I’m already counting down the days till the next sequel. But by complicating the legacy of the hot tub scene, PS I Still Love You complicated the legacy of Peter Kavinsky, too.
It doesn’t mean that he’s not ‘the one’ for Lara Jean. In fact, I’d be interested in a third film that interrogates how deep, exactly this magnetic connection between Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky actually goes. Right now, their relationship feels small and hermetic – high school, really. Which is apt, I suppose, because that’s what it is. But it’s at odds with the way that the first film, and in particular that hot tub scene, established Lara Jean and Peter’s pairing. That first film never tried to downplay Lara Jean’s big emotions. Instead, it leaned right into them until she tumbled into Peter Kavinsky’s arms.
I think this is why the ‘Team Peter’ and ‘Team John Ambrose’ dichotomy established in PS I Still Love You doesn’t quite work. It’s difficult to be Team John Ambrose if you’ve seen the first film, and yet Team Peter is unconscionable once you know that he wasn’t even waiting for her in the damn hot tub.
The only logical choice, then, is Team Lara Jean.
To All The Boys: PS I Still Love You streams on Netflix now.
Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.
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