In Vida’s first season finale, Lyn and Emma’s arcs come to a head. There are real, meaningful consequences for their actions here: Vida lets its characters be flawed, but it also makes sure their missteps fit into the bigger picture and don’t happen in a vacuum. The finale strikes a crucial balance between providing these consequences, but also not coming off as punitive of its characters.
The episode is bookended by two stunningly shot sequences. The first shows Doña Lupe giving Lyn a limpia — a sort of spiritual cleansing based on deep-rooted Mexican healing traditions. Doña Lupe explains to Lyn that she has removed her porquería, all the bad, toxic stuff within her. The scene is ethereal, with beads of sweat gathering on Lyn’s face, steam and cigar smoke swirling around her, the bright lighting suggesting a sort of out-of-body experience. Lyn comes out of it flying high, but the hesitation and foreboding tone from Doña Lupe hints at swirling darkness.
Sure enough, things start falling out of place in Lyn’s life as she goes about her day post-limpia. She finds Johnny at the bar, off of work early and seemingly uninterested in seeing her. (On a side note, I love that Johnny seems to exclusively hang out with lesbians.) Later, she witnesses Carla having a full meltdown, looking helpless and alone, her main support system no longer around. Something flickers within her but doesn’t quite ignite until later, when Lyn lies with Johnny and he talks about their future together. He mentions that people have been taking their business elsewhere because of how he treated Carla. He says that he wants to get a house outside of the neighborhood. But Lyn halts. What does that mean for his father, who depends on Johnny’s support?
Finally, Lyn sees that her actions have impact outside of herself; finally, she sees the true cost of being with Johnny. “I’m the porquería,” she realizes with a shock. Her whispered “oh God” that follows is heartbreaking with a tinge of dark humor (Lyn accusing Doña Lupe of “Ursula-ing” her leans into that humor). Much like its characters, Vida can be a lot of things at once, blending colorful comedy with darker explorations of pain, grief, and fear.
Emma especially holds a lot of contradictions at her core. Even within this episode, she’s fixing up the bar at one moment and contemplating selling it the next. And she can’t wrap her mind around her mother’s paradoxes. After spending the night with Cruz, she becomes perplexed over the thought that the same woman who sent her away for acting on her queerness eventually married a woman herself and then built one of the only queer-friendly spaces in the neighborhood. She can’t figure it out, and maybe she never will. Already, she seems to be flirting with the idea of keeping the bar, but the second Cruz tries to push her in that direction, she lashes out. She doesn’t want to be told what to do or how to feel. In every situation, Emma wants to be in control (even, as we’ve seen, during sex). That makes sense, given the loss of control over her life when Vida sent her away.
Emma later lashes out at Eddy in the same way. When she shouts that there’s a correlation between when Eddy came into Vida’s life and the bar started failing, the way Ser Anzoategui’s face contorts — a mix of sadness, hurt, and shame — is devastating. Eddy certainly doesn’t deserve this, but she especially doesn’t deserve what happens next.
Forced out of their safe place by Emma’s words, Eddy and her friends go to another bar in town, where they’re promptly harassed by a homophobic, sexist, violent man. It becomes immediately clear just how necessary Vida’s bar is, and why Eddy can’t bring herself to even think of selling it. The value of a place where people not welcome elsewhere can gather and share a sense of community cannot be measured. The man viciously attacks Eddy in the bathroom, landing her in intensive care. Emma and Lyn rush to her side, and hearing Lyn say, without hesitation, that she’s their stepmother feels very overdue. It’s a brief moment of catharsis in the midst of a horrible situation.
The finale then moves into its second stunningly shot bookend. This time, Lyn and Emma are in the bar, the weight of their emotional days carried in their bodies and movements. The lighting adds an ethereal quality here, too, though much different than during the limpia — shades of purple, blue, and red enveloping them. Emma blames herself for what happened to Eddy, and Lyn tells her to stop always blaming herself for other people’s misfortunes, bringing forward a layered, complex character history by talking about how Emma used to do this when they were young. In a way, they’re both right: Emma’s actions did lead to this, but she also can’t shoulder the blame entirely. That ignores the role of the homophobic monster who hurt Eddy. Again, Vida plays with the nuances and contradictions of the situation without landing on any clear-cut answers.
Emma digs deep into her complicated feelings about the bar. Lyn mistakenly thinks she hates this place. People constantly assume Emma hates where she came from, but that has never been the truth. Emma loves the bar, and she recounts just how important and formative it was for her, pulling forth happy memories. Of course, it doesn’t have to be said that these memories came before she was sent away. That moment will always be the catalyst for her muddied feelings toward home, the bar, and her family.
Lyn asks her what she wants, and finally, Emma knows how to answer. She wants to keep the bar. And just like that, the finale charts a new and exciting course for the sisters. They watch a beautiful sunrise from the roof of the building, drinking and snacking on bar garnishes, entering a new phase of their relationship and lives. Vida came right out the gate with a strong sense of itself, how it wanted to look and feel. That carries through all the way to this finale, which simultaneously explores, challenges, and redefines the meaning of home.