“What is the perfect level of gay that will keep everyone happy?”
That is the biggest question on Victor Salazar’s mind, as he grapples with his evolving identity as an openly gay (former) star athlete at Creekwood High. After reaching a major milestone in his relationship with Benji, Victor — who was told last season that “there’s no one way to be gay” — is forced to confront another loaded question: Is he willing to sacrifice a part of his identity to forge a new one?
It’s just a day away from the first game of the basketball season, and Andrew has made one thing clear: He wants Victor back on the team. (Correction: He needs him back on the team.) But with no one willing to compromise or have a change of heart, the team is as good as chopped liver. So when Andrew, who also happens to be the desperate team captain, sets out to win Victor back, he misses the mark … more than once. First, it’s acting all fake-nice and proclaiming himself a “queer ally” — without actually standing up for Victor publicly. Then, at Benji’s after-school “family and friends concert,” it’s calling Victor “the least gay gay person alive.”
And while that line might be enough to unnerve anyone, it’s actually Benji and his musical friends who sow the most doubt in Victor’s mind. During a preshow meet and greet with the band, Benji jokes in front of his bandmates that Victor is “in the early stages of jock recovery” and “just escaped the cults of cheap body spray and casual misogyny,” implying that he doesn’t think Victor should return to the team. When a bassist named Stevie (Kevin Norman) jokes that Victor — with his athletic physique and “church boy haircut” — is Benji’s “perfect straight-boy fantasy,” Benji laughs and admits to being relieved that he doesn’t “have to sit with the basketball girlfriends and do the whole ‘go Grizzlies!’ dance.”
Victor, understandably, can’t seem to shake the feeling that he doesn’t belong anywhere and leaves the concert early, and Andrew later finds him shooting hoops at an empty public court. “Please tell me what’s the exact level of gay I should be,” he tells Andrew. “Because apparently, I’m too gay for the locker room, but I’m not gay enough for Benji and his friends. So where do I belong?” When Andrew insists that he belongs on a basketball court, Victor asks what would happen if he returned but then decided to change the way he dressed or dyed his hair pink? “Well, then, I think you should do it. If anyone has a problem with it, they can answer to me,” Andrew says before Victor rightfully confronts him about not wanting to “risk your reputation for the gay kid.” (I was expecting to see a story line like this in season two, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to see the writers confront the double-edged nature of allyship, because a lot of people like to claim the title of “ally” without actually working to advance a culture of inclusion.)
The next day, Victor receives an emergency text from Andrew, urging him to come to the locker room. There, Victor discovers that Wyatt — presumably the teammate who filed the original complaint about Victor changing with the rest of the team — was kicked out and the rest of the team, including the eccentric coach, has dyed their hair pink. “This is our way of saying that you can be as gay as you want, in whatever way that you want, and we will forever stand [by] you,” Andrew says, before the other teammates ruin the moment (but, hey, at least they are trying!). Victor’s presence on the court is immediately felt by everyone, as the team goes on to dominate their first home game with Benji in attendance. (Full disclosure: Seeing Benji do the “go Grizzlies” dance with the other “basketball girlfriends” might have been the highlight of the episode for me. What can’t George Sear do?! The man is easily a triple threat.)
Back at the Salazar house, Isabel and Armando both can’t stop thinking about what happened the other night, and Isabel suggests that they have dinner the next day to discuss their future together. Later that day, as Armando attends another PFLAG meeting and chats openly with a woman named Shelby, Isabel pays a visit to Father Lawrence (Sean O’Bryan) — and the contrast in the way they are handling Victor’s coming out is striking. While Isabel insists that one of the root causes of their marital problems is Armando’s inability to talk about his emotions, Armando tells Shelby that he feels way more in touch with his feelings ever since he began to attend these meetings. While Armando says that he thanks God “for giving me the courage to come here and to love my son for who he is,” Father Lawrence tells Isabel that she is right to express her disapproval if she wants Victor “to know God’s love.” This highlights one of the most glaring reasons for Isabel’s reluctance to accept Victor’s sexuality: The traditional religious values that have become so ingrained in her conflict with the seemingly unconditional love that she has for her son, and she doesn’t know how to talk about it.
When they sit down for dinner at a fancy outdoor restaurant the next day, Armando says that he thinks their marital issues started long before Isabel’s affair with his former boss. They were stuck in a never-ending pattern of fighting and guilt-tripping, and in order to break the cycle, he wants her to attend PFLAG meetings with him. The idea that the (newly separated) parents are not on the same page could not be more clear when Isabel brings up her conversation with Father Lawrence: “He said, ‘If Victor chooses this path … he will never know God’s love.’ And I’m thinking, How can that be? He is such a good son. He is such a good person. Why is this happening to him?” In response, Armando insists that nothing is “happening” to Victor: “It’s just who he is. You know, this whole thing with Victor, it’s made me really look at myself and really try and change. But if you’re not gonna change with me, I don’t know what the future holds.” (Ana Ortiz and James Martinez have always been able to use their own experiences as actors and parents to lend gravity and credibility to this show, but I really appreciate how the writers have given them stronger and more difficult material to work with this season.)
Meanwhile, Felix decides to take another major step in his relationship with Lake by introducing her to his mom, Dawn, who is doing a lot better on a new medication and has begun decluttering the apartment. The three of them have a lovely dinner together, but things quickly take a turn for the worse when Lake says that she has to get going and politely declines to have dessert. Dawn begins to experience a manic episode and seems insistent on giving Lake all of her fancy plates, which are family heirlooms. When Lake tries to deesclate the situation, Dawn drops a cardboard box and breaks most of the plates before fleeing the scene, leaving Felix and Lake to clean up the pieces. Deflated, Felix realizes that nothing has really changed. But when Lake suggests that he get some professional help for Dawn, Felix says that he has “been handling this alone for years” and forces Lake to promise that she will never speak of this. Yet when her mother Georgina (Leslie Grossman) notices that something is up, Lake decides to tell her the truth, which will only set off a series of unfortunate events.
Finally, after the game, Andrew shows up at Mia’s doorstep and tells her that Lucy broke up with him. “For as long as I can remember, any time I wanted to take the easy way out, there was always this annoying voice in the back of my head, pushing me to do better, to be better,” he tells her, using his reconciliation with Victor as an example. “Even when you’re not around me, I always hear you. So when Lucy ended it, I figured, ‘Hey, I’ve taken a million shots with you, but I’m about to take a million … and one.’” The ensuing kiss that literally sweeps Mia off her feet was a long time coming, but man, it was worth it.
• After Victor and Andrew both leave Benji’s after-school concert, Lucy has an interesting chat with Mia, where she admits to being surprised that her relationship with Andrew lasted as long as it did. Mia later reveals that she and Andrew had hooked up a long time ago, but instead of getting angry, Lucy admits that she doesn’t feel weirded out in the slightest and implies that she didn’t really feel much for Andrew at all. Part of me thinks that there is more to Lucy than meets the eye … and it might have to do with her (lack of) attraction to Andrew.