It’s starting to feel as if almost every chapter of season three is about the same thing: Victor’s increasingly desperate attempts to move on from Benji. This episode feels different, though. Maybe it’s because it clocks in at only 24 minutes or because there’s such a specific focus on Victor and Pilar’s lives that we don’t even get a glimpse of Mia or Lake. Maybe it’s because we’re finally seeing Benji as a person instead of just Victor’s unattainable crush or on-off boyfriend.
I always felt as though it took way too long for Benji to become a fully fledged person — for a while, his entire character profile seemed to just be “dreamy, swoopy-haired barista and musician who’s much more experienced than Victor.” I didn’t really react when we finally met his parents or learned about his sobriety in season two because I didn’t have many thoughts about his life or identity beyond him being Victor’s crush, catalyst, and occasional pressure source. That said, we’ve started to see small cracks in Benji’s perspective and personality through his tutoring sessions with Rahim, and this episode expertly (finally, crucially) dives into how he’s handling the breakup.
The episode opens with some bittersweet news from Benji’s father. The positive is that his record was officially expunged, meaning colleges won’t have to know about “that embarrassing day” he got drunk and crashed a car. The negative is that Benji’s father called Benji’s most traumatic, life-changing incident “that embarrassing day.” The conversation triggers something in Benji, and he wants a distraction. He wants something that makes him feel good. What he really wants, probably, is to be with Victor, but the next best thing is downloading Gay Dating and Chat App and finding someone new.
Victor has the same idea. Over at the coffee shop — I guess it’s Benji’s day off? — Rahim and Andrew help him fix his profile, which currently has no name, bio, or photo. (“Serial-killer vibes,” Rahim says.) Andrew comes to the rescue with both a fake name (Diego) and a photo (it’s a shirtless pic, obviously). After that, it doesn’t take Victor too long to find a guy named Lucas. He’s cute and smart, he’s good at banter, he’s interested in meeting up at a local gay bar for drag bingo, and yeah, you guessed it: Lucas isn’t Lucas. He’s Benji! It’s a bad idea for Benji and Victor to go on a date given the circumstances, but maybe Lucas and Diego can have just one carefree night.
They ultimately have a great time because they’re Victor and Benji, so of course they do. But after they leave the bar, things start to head in a heavier direction. Benji talks about his time at rehab and reveals he has anxiety — for a long time, alcohol helped him cope with that. Victor asks if there’s any way they could make their relationship or even a friendship work, and Benji’s at a loss.
It isn’t just the accidental date that makes Benji suddenly feel like a real, multifaceted person. Throughout this episode, we finally see his backstory in vignettes. We watch him reach for a bottle after his father asks about gay porn he found on the iCloud; we watch him overhear his mom and dad talking about his poor grades, wondering where they possibly went wrong as parents. All of this is to say, by the time “Lucas” and “Diego” part ways, we have a decent understanding of what, exactly, has been causing Benji anxiety for years. It’s not Victor — it’s his family.
But Benji’s dad believes otherwise. He shows up at the Salazars’ apartment and tells Victor he knows the two of them spent the evening together. “The problems in your relationship caused him to relapse,” he tells Victor. “Whenever you’re around, you create chaos. You’re not good for him. If you really care about Benji, you’ll stay away.”
At this point, I’m not rooting for Victor and Benji. They don’t necessarily bring out the best in each other, and Benji’s father makes one solid point that their relationship is way, way too unstable for two high schoolers to sustain. But that hardly makes it appropriate for a grown man to show up at a 17-year-old’s building and chastise him for … what, exactly? Struggling to come out to his mom? Kissing someone else while he and Benji were on a break?
In a perfect world, Armando or Isabel would’ve opened the door instead and put this man in his place. But they’re, uh, distracted. After finding birth control in Pilar’s bedroom, the Salazar parents have completely switched their tune about her relationship with Felix. Pilar tries to argue that they haven’t even had sex yet and she wants to be safe, but her parents don’t trust her; Armando takes away her phone and laptop, and she’s forced to communicate with her boyfriend via walkie-talkie. The whole thing is rough.
Unfortunately, if there’s one thing about Felix, it’s that he loves the Salazars and is terrified of disappointing them. He thinks the best course of action is to put things on pause until Armando calms down, but Pilar has other ideas. She climbs into his bedroom with the hopes of seducing him, but for Felix, the timing just isn’t right. He isn’t happy that Armando and Isabel are pissed at him, and Pilar, in turn, isn’t happy that her boyfriend cares more about disrespecting her parents than being on her side. When she leaves his bedroom, their “pause” feels a lot more like a permanent split.
We don’t get a lot of one-on-one conversations between Victor and Pilar, but whenever we do, they’re perfectly placed. Victor shares that he’s worried he’s toxic for Benji, and Pilar tries not to cry as she tells him about her breakup. “I know you’re his best friend, so you’ll probably take his side,” she starts, but Victor cuts her off.
“You’re my sister,” he says. “I’ll always have your back no matter what.”
The decision to center this episode around Benji and the Salazars pays off even though I’m excited to get back to Mia, Lake, and the rest of the Creekwood gang as we head into the final few episodes.
• How’s Rahim doing these days? Well, his uncle is “still homophobic enough that I have to wear corduroy around him.” I need this guy to get more airtime.
• The episode closes with Victor and Pilar eating Swedish Fish together, a cute callback to Pilar once gifting the same candy to Felix.
• In one of Benji’s flashbacks, he nervously tells his dad that all that gay porn on his computer was actually Lucy’s fault. I always forget that Benji and Lucy are supposed to be friends — like, independently of their respective romances. Why don’t we ever see them hanging out? It could be a nice touch to have Benji confide in someone other than Victor or Rahim.