Photo: Beth Dubber/Starz Entertainment, LLC.
After Emma tells Lyn off for essentially spending her days jogging and watching TV, the sisters take some time apart in Vida’s fourth episode. Both embark on story arcs that build on character development from past episodes and give new urgency to their stories.
Lyn sits around her room, sending off manipulative texts to Johnny about how she misses him, casting herself as a victim. When he doesn’t answer, she takes the bus downtown with a bunch of credit cards in Vidalia’s name in tow. Lyn’s financial irresponsibility has been well established at this point, as have her self-centered tendencies. She goes on a lavish shopping spree, stopping at a café where a barista asks if she wants her photo taken in front of their “Instawall.” Vida’s skewering of white millennial culture in Los Angeles is as sharp as ever; when a guy in a fashionable hat asks her where she’s from and she says the Eastside, he replies, “like Silver Lake,” as if that’s the eastmost boundary of the city he knows.
Things only get whiter from there. Lyn follows him to a ridiculous house party in the Hills. Right away, Lyn meets Aurora, seemingly the only other Latinx person in the room. She’s the maid. Both the writing and Melissa Barrera’s acting shine. Lyn never explicitly says anything that she feels about Aurora or about her own self in this space, but it’s in tiny movements in her face, in slight hesitations after the guy who brought her says something like how sexy it is when people who speak Spanish roll their R’s, referencing the time he studied in Mallorca. Or when a blabbering white girl says she’s obsessed with her eyebrows and wants “Frida brows.” The contrast between the way Lyn is treated at this party and the way Aurora is treated is obvious, but again, Vida is exceptionally good at showing rather than telling. In the end, they both take the same bus home.
On a mission to do market research about other bars in the area, Emma runs into Cruz and her crew of queer friends. Vida has infused its world with queer people of varying body types and gender expressions, making for some of the most inclusive, un-self-congratulatory queer representation on television. Cruz convinces Emma to stick around, and things devolve into a wild night. A brilliant sequence has the camera fluidly spin around and catch the group at different stages of the evening — the super-positive, booze-fueled pep talk; the shots knocked back quickly, the uninhibited dancing; the mounting sexual tension between Emma and Cruz that has been simmering since the pilot. The camerawork evokes the exact feeling of a drunken evening — time seemingly moving slowly and fast all at once, feeling slightly unhinged and unmoored.
Mishel Prada is particularly skilled at acting drunk, which is no easy feat. Her little smile to herself in the bathroom mirror says so much. And then she goes from a giddy kind of drunkenness to a sad, angry kind very quickly. Cruz makes some off-hand comment about Emma not liking the neighborhood, and it awakens something almost instantly in Emma. Emma didn’t choose to leave; her mother sent her away. The first time, she sent her away after finding her kissing a girl when they were little. The second time, she sent her away after finding her journal full of love poems and longing for Cruz.
This context doesn’t necessarily forgive every judgmental, condescending thing that Emma has said since she returned, but it does complicate how she feels about and reacts to her surroundings. The sense of entitlement, of feeling better than her hometown isn’t totally genuine; it’s a mask. Because deep down, how she really feels about her home is rejected. She feels like she doesn’t belong not because she’s better than it, but because that’s the message her mother sent to her.
Emma even acknowledges that she didn’t put things together at first; she didn’t know that it was because of homophobia. But when she was older, there was no ambiguity. This sheds even more light on the complicated feelings Emma has had about her mother’s death and toward Eddy. But it also adds more context to her dynamic with Cruz. There’s an attraction there, but there’s also a sadness. Emma clearly associates Cruz with the reason her mom sent her away. Even though Emma ends up going home with Cruz and they start hooking up, she has a panic attack and has to leave. Vida again masterfully explores a complicated emotional narrative, looking at the many causes and effects of internalized homophobia in a way that feels specific and raw.
Meanwhile, Mari’s arc is further complicated by the fact that Tlaloc indeed turns out to be an abusive asshole. When Mari discovers he filmed her without her consent while they were hooking up and then sent it to a bunch of people, Chelsea Rendon’s delivery of “He recorded me? He recorded it?” is shattering. Tlaloc tries to tell Mari that the video was just for him and that he didn’t mean for it to get out, which first of all sounds like a lie and second of all doesn’t change the fact that filming her without consent was a violation. It’s another instance of Vida tackling a complex issue with nuance and depth. Mari’s story digs into a subtle, complicated side of consent and does so in a way that centers on Mari’s feelings. From Lyn’s realization of the way Aurora is treated to Emma’s panic attack and Mari’s processing of what Tlaloc did to her, Vida’s strong sense of who these characters are persists, making it easy to become fully immersed in their lives.