overnights

Vida Recap: The Wife Left Behind

Vida

Episode 3
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Erica Parise/Starz Entertainment, LLC

Given the nature of its six-episode first season, Vida has to move quickly. But it’s doing so in a way that still feels natural and isn’t at the expense of character development. Now at midseason, this third installment brings several key character moments to a head, propelling the story forward in compelling, emotional ways.

The episode starts with Emma hooking up with a stranger in one of the most erotic, enthralling queer-sex scenes between two women to air on television since The L Word ended. The fact that there are several queer women in the writers room shows, and the direction makes the scene sexy but also realistic, fixing the viewer in Emma’s perspective. She’s an aggressive top who, just as in her everyday life, seems to know exactly what she wants, and the scene emphasizes queer desire as it exists outside the scope of the male gaze. Emma is in complete command of her sensuality and pleasure.

The thorny nature of Emma and Lyn’s relationship steps center stage: First, there’s a genuinely sweet moment between the two, with Emma essentially coming out to Lyn for the first time by showing her a photo of the woman who was just sucking on her toes hours before. Lyn says she knew; Emma asks why she didn’t say anything; Lyn asks why she didn’t say anything; and then the two have the sort of sad realization that they never really say anything to each other. That kind of complex sibling relationship, where two people aren’t necessarily estranged but also aren’t wholly close, is difficult to capture, but Vida has mastered it from the start. “Your sister supports you,” Lyn says to Emma, who doesn’t really want to use any kind of labels when it comes to her sexuality. It’s sweet, but it’s undercut with a tinge of sadness because of the underlying implication that they were never close enough for this conversation to happen earlier.

Part of that is because both sisters are too consumed by themselves to really think about others. They’re both incredibly selfish people, and that’s at the center of this episode. For Emma, it shows in the way she treats Eddy, dismissively referring to her as “the wife” all episode, insulting her intelligence, appalled by the way she ran the bar. If she took even two seconds to get to know Eddy, she’d see that she’s a warm, kind, selfless person. She’d also see that she’s drowning in grief. At one point, Eddy literally screams underwater in an intensely vulnerable scene. Ser Anzoategui gives the MVP performance of the episode, bringing Eddy’s grief to the forefront in even just their physicality. Anzoategui nails the anguish of Eddy’s monologue to the ungrateful sisters, explaining how Vida became so underwater at the bar. But even that searing moment doesn’t get Emma to entirely change her tune when it comes to the way she regards Eddy.

The moments when Eddy is alone are as telling as when she is with others. We see her with Doña Tita, one of the older women in the building who helps Eddy process some of her overwhelming grief. Eddy has a huge heart, but her own is more than broken — it’s struggling to remember how to beat on without Vida.

It’s clear that the people who truly know Eddy respect her, feel her quiet but enveloping warmth. She’s a tender stud, a caretaker — but not one who necessarily expects anything in return. When Johnny’s fiancée Carla comes around the bar to confront Lyn, she ultimately backs down, not because Lyn doesn’t deserve it, but out of respect for Eddy and Eddy’s space.

Which brings us to Lyn, who shows her absolute worst flaws in this episode. She’s the kind of person who thinks she attracts drama when really she’s the one starting it — something Emma tries to throw at her, but Lyn ends up just throwing Emma’s own flaws back. When Lyn tries to deflect Carla’s anger by telling her to talk to Johnny, since he’s the one who put the ring on her finger, not her, it’s a truly ugly moment. Even Emma guffaws. Lyn is selfish, manipulative, attracted to chaos. She knew what she was doing when she took that photo of her and Johnny, postcoital. It’s wildly hypocritical when she calls Carla calculating for showing up with a sonogram of her and Johnny’s baby.

But on Vida, these characters aren’t flawed people; they’re people with flaws. The distinction there is that their flaws are just components of who they are, not what wholly defines them. Because even within this episode in which Lyn acts like a monster for much of it, there are also moments where it’s easy to empathize with her, easy to see trauma she carries. That comes to the surface in the beginning of the episode, when Johnny thinks he’s complimenting her by praising her sex moves by comparing her to porn and saying he likes her new boobs but the old ones were fine, too.

That clearly unearths something deep within Lyn, and it comes spilling forward when she meets with Johnny after the Carla showdown and he ends things with her. The sex moves and the boob job were things she did for the trash men she has dated, not for herself. Her sex scene with Juniper last episode plainly shows how willing she is to give others what they desire without expecting to be fulfilled in return. As she explains to Johnny, her ex didn’t force her to get a boob job, but she didn’t know how to say no. That kind of male control over women is deeply rooted in patriarchy, and Vida unspools some very complicated nuances regarding sexism, autonomy, and emotional abuse with this story line.

And that connects with Mari’s subplot, too. She continues to crush on Tialoc, the guy from last episode who’s involved in the same political movement Mari is. She attends a meeting where he speaks on the same issues she’s passionate about, calling for an end to the colonization of their neighborhood. She’s all starry-eyed, and when he asks her to hang back, she ditches one of her friends for the opportunity to get closer to him. He seemingly returns her affection. But less than two seconds after they kiss for the first time, he unzips his pants and expects a blow job. As with Lyn in her situation, Mari isn’t exactly forced to have sex with him, but there’s clear hesitation in her eyes, as if she doesn’t really know how to say no in the moment. And it feels gross and manipulative on his part.

Again, Vida is exploring complicated power dynamics here. Just because a guy is supposedly socially conscious doesn’t mean he can’t also be a misogynistic asshole. Tialoc may be woke when it comes to the movement to stop gentrification in his neighborhood, but his actions with Mari prove that he also subscribes to patriarchy and uses women. Vida does a brilliant job of investigating nuances and challenging assumptions about who people are.

Vida Recap: The Wife Left Behind