If there was ever a time when we needed a One Day at a Time episode like “Boundaries,” it’s now.
Whether it’s because you’re still crying over tonight’s exquisite Schitt’s Creek finale, or because real life has become increasingly more terrifying (or both), this superb ODAAT episode should help quell your nerves for at least half an hour. “Boundaries” is like an all-you-can-eat buffet of sitcom greatness — there’s something for everybody. In the mood for a healthy debate over self-gratification? We’ve got opinions from a religious, old-school abuela, a sexually liberated divorcée and her equally sex-positive teenage daughter, and an all-female veterans’ support group. Looking for some superior under-an-afghan-blanket acting? Marcel Ruiz has got you covered. Feeling there’s just not enough Outlander in your life? Then, boy, are you in for one helluva crossover treat. Thirsting for a surprise romantic denouement? Oh, yeah, “Boundaries” delivers that last one in spades.
This is one of those rare episodes where the major theme — this time it’s, “Penelope learns that boundaries don’t really work in a close-knit family like hers, especially if you’re going to be a hypocrite about it” — is secondary to the brilliant rapid-fire comedy, and I’m totally okay with that. Every joke is a gem (even when they include Lydia calling masturbation “dirty” and “sinful”), which makes recapping “Boundaries,” written by Brigitte Muñoz-Liebowitz, that much more challenging, because I want to talk about every single one.
There is no beating around the bush (sorry! Had to!) in this episode. Well, at least not in the cold open, when Penelope shares in her support group that Alex accidentally caught her having a date with herself. Before I go any further: Can Justina Machado be nominated for an Emmy already? Her facial subtleties are a joy to watch, so much so that she doesn’t even need to verbalize what happened. Her expression says it all.
While Penelope narrates every humiliating detail of the incident, we cut back and forth between the group and Casa Alvarez. One Friday night, Lydia, Alex and Elena left the apartment to go to the movies (I faintly remember that used to be a thing back in the olden days of 2019), while Penelope opted for some alone time with red wine and Jamie Fraser. Pam (Mackenzie Phillips) acts as a surrogate for any ODAAT fans who aren’t familiar with the epic time-traveling series, but if I’m being honest, you may want to get on the Outlander bandwagon now, only to get the full “Boundaries” experience. Take it from Ramona (Judy Reyes): “It’s quality television, Pam. Culture yourself.”
Penelope was in her bedroom enjoying the “Skye Boat Song,” and, most likely, a shirtless Sam Heughan, when Alex came back looking for his phone. After calling it from the landline, he heard a distinctive buzz, so he headed toward the sound. Except the buzzing wasn’t coming from an iPhone. “I haven’t seen terror in a man’s eyes like that since Afghanistan,” a mortified Penelope tells the group.
Next comes the big talk, and I am here to say your family discussion about this subject will never, ever be as entertaining as the Alvarezes’. Penelope, against the advice of everyone in her therapy group, tries having a heart-to-heart with her still understandably very, very embarrassed son about the normalcy of masturbation. But who wants to watch that when it’s so much funnier to see a livid Lydia burst through her curtains to offer an invective against self-pleasure? Rita Moreno, never one to disappoint, is a Lydia’s-greatest-hits machine here, tossing out insults (masturbation “is a dirty, sinful habit — for sad, ugly people”), double standards (men can do it, but not women), and ignorance (“No one in our family has ever done that!”). Though Elena does put her abuelita in her place by listing several mental and physical benefits of self-love, as well as bluntly asking, “Are you saying you never opened the curtains?”, it’s not enough to keep Lydia from insisting to Alex, who is begging for some boundaries at this point, that shame is character-building. “You should be proud of your shame!”
Finding out that Penelope is spending her free time making love to a robot — no, sorry, personal massager — is too much for Lydia to handle. So, she does what any concerned Cuban-American mother would do: Catfishes Adam Rodriguez and interviews him to be her daughter’s new suitor. Underhanded, sure, but like Lydia’s cohort Schneider explains, it could’ve been so much worse if he hadn’t gotten involved: A “Lonely Catholic Nurse Seeks Big, Strong Man to Fill the Hole in Her Life” Tinder profile is way preferable to a “Free Stuff” Craigslist posting, amirite?
Once Penelope gets wind of her mother’s latest scheme, more fights ensue about boundaries, with Alex calling Penelope on her hypocrisy well before Schneider does. But it does take her in-house landlord/therapist (“Dammit, Schneider!” = “You’re right, Privileged White Boy”) to help Pen see that she can’t demand space from her mother if she’s not going to let there be any privacy between her and her son.
See, sometimes zero boundaries can be a good thing — as long as Penelope puts a lock on her bedroom door going forward, that is. Because as Lydia hints at in the final scene, she would do anything for Penelope’s happiness. Like, say, bump into the perfect guy for her daughter at the grocery store and invite him over without permission.
Let this be a lesson to Penelope that an oversharing, meddling mother is a loving mother, and regardless of her backwards views on masturbation, Lydia’s got our best interests at heart. That’s right, I said “our.” That “perfect guy” from the grocery store? It’s a home-from-Indonesia Max, who is more than primed to update Penelope’s 18th-century chiseled-man fantasies into a 21st-century reality.
As for restarting his BFF-dom with a certain wealthy hipster? Eh, that’s a bit lower on Max’s priority list. But don’t tell Schneider that. Let the poor guy think those really were high-fives from Penelope for now.
Thank you, One Day at a Time, from the bottom of our exhausted, saddened hearts, for giving us yet another unexpected happy ending in the span of one hour tonight. They’re few and far between these days, and they do not go unnoticed.
This Is the Rest!
• Special thanks to my Puerto Rican husband for helping me translate Old Hispanic Lady for this episode.
• I love Elena for trying, but we have a better chance of witnessing an actual hookup between her grandmother and Dr. Berkowitz before we see Lydia talking about the female orgasm.
• Listen, Angus from ScottishHotties.com, throwing on a kilt does not make you Jamie Fraser. Smoldering is a learned skill.
• Schneider walking into Casa Alvarez with AA batteries for Penelope. Hehehehehehehe.