“Mom, Dad … I’m gay.”
When Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino) decided to come out to his parents on the night of his first Spring Fling at Creekwood High School, he let out a major sigh of relief that could be felt as much as it could be heard. But as Victor comes to realize over the course of his junior year, the journey to coming out — and the perpetual fear of being outed — doesn’t exactly end when you say the two life-changing words you can never take back.
Although the second season of Love, Victor picks up immediately where the first one left off, there is not a lot said in the immediate aftermath of Victor’s long-awaited announcement. While his younger sister Pilar’s (Isabella Ferreira) first instinct is to hug him and say that she loves him, Victor’s blindsided (and newly separated) parents offer little support besides a pat on the shoulder and a line of questioning that implies Victor decided — one day, out of the blue — to be gay. “I didn’t decide it. I just am it,” he says calmly before his parents decide to call it a night, with the promise of talking about it in the morning. (Cimino delivers a quiet but heart-wrenching performance in this season opener as Victor struggles to balance his budding relationship with Benji (George Sear) with the need to walk on eggshells around his parents, especially his more traditional mother.)
When the show picks up ten weeks later, not a lot has changed. In his end-of-summer update to Simon (Nick Robinson, who reprises his role from the first season and the groundbreaking 2018 film Love, Simon), Victor says that, despite having “kind of the best summer of my life,” things have slowly come to a head with his parents. On the one hand, Victor’s religious mother, Isabel (Ana Ortiz), knows he is dating Benji, but she always groups him together with the rest of Victor’s friends. On the other, Victor’s overzealous father, Armando (James Martinez) — who has just gotten a new place of his own and seems really keen to sell the limited amount of light his new living room gets during the day — can’t stop channeling his discomfort into awful nicknames for Benji. (I mean, I couldn’t have been the only one who cringed when he said Benji-meister, Benjamin Button, and Ben Benito all in succession and when he called his new place Papi Palace later in the episode.)
But, Victor assures, the summer is not a complete bust. Between making fruit smoothies and mocha lattes at the Brasstown Coffee Company, Victor and Benji — who are in the “perfect summer bubble” of the episode’s title — can’t seem to keep their hands to themselves, resorting to not-so-secret makeout sessions in the back room that are frequently interrupted by their friends (and fellow couple) Felix (Anthony Turpel) and Lake (Bebe Wood). After Victor, Benji, and Felix finish one of their last summer shifts at Brasstown, they sit down with Lake at the café and make plans to drive to Lake Lanier on Saturday to have a bonfire. There’s just one complication: Mia (Rachel Hilson), Lake’s best friend and Victor’s ex-girlfriend, who has spent the summer off the grid at a summer camp in Brevard, North Carolina.
With Mia returning on Sunday, Lake warns that it’s “hos before homos” — which is just one of the memorable one-liners that Wood delivers in the premiere — and that she will have to side with her best friend when school starts again. Since his mom is planning to make pollo guisado on Saturday, Victor suggests that Benji, Felix, and Lake come over for dinner before the bonfire, which would be a disarming way for Benji to step foot in the Salazar house for the first time since they started dating. “How am I supposed to be out to all of Creekwood on Monday if I can’t have my boyfriend over for dinner?” Victor says with a doe-eyed and lovey-dovey look.
What Victor doesn’t anticipate, however, is just how uncomfortable his mom gets when she sees him and Benji acting like a couple. After seeing Victor and Benji kiss on the sidewalk through the kitchen window, an agitated Isabel decides to throw the entire pot of pollo guisado in the trash, tells Victor and his friends that she burned the chicken, and suggests they go out to get some pizza on her. Victor retorts that they should order a pizza for delivery instead, which only exacerbates everyone’s uneasiness. As they wait for the pizza, Victor, Pilar, and Felix all try to sing Benji’s praises — insisting that Benji and Isabel share a common love for music and Billie Holiday — but Isabel reaches her breaking point when Benji calls Victor “my boyfriend.” “Victor, if I don’t feel good, I don’t feel good. Déjame, okay?” she says before walking away from the conversation. It’s at this point that the teenagers wisely decide to leave for the bonfire — and not a moment too soon.
Mia, meanwhile, has returned home from camp a day early and finds her father, Harold (Mekhi Phifer), and his pregnant fiancée, Veronica (Sophia Bush), knee-deep in baby prep. When she goes to pick up dinner from a local Chinese restaurant, she bumps into Andrew (Mason Gooding), who sent her a mysterious care package while she was at camp. Mia apologizes for never responding and explains that she fruitlessly spent the summer trying to figure out where she fits in the world. But right when you would expect Andrew to say that he fits with her, he reveals that he has been dating a girl named Lucy (Ava Capri) for the past couple of months. While Mia has insisted in the past that she did not see Andrew as more than an old friend, she is visibly shaken and decides to drive to Lake Lanier after receiving a last-minute invite from Lake. Yet when she arrives, Mia sees the two couples sitting together at a distance and realizes that, as a fifth wheel, there would not be a place for her at the bonfire either, so she turns around and leaves without a word.
The bonfire, while elevated by the comedic timing of Felix, sets the stage for Victor and Benji’s first onscreen private conversation and shows that the writers — who wrote a sweet but chaste first season for Disney+ before the show was moved to Hulu — will not be shying away from difficult conversations about sexuality this season. When Benji brings up the fact that Isabel won’t even tell Victor’s younger brother, Adrian (Mateo Fernandez), that he’s gay, a disappointed Victor says he was able to forgive his mother despite everything that she has put their family through, but now that he has come out, she can barely look at him anymore … and he worries that others might look at him differently too. “On Monday, we start school, and part of me is so excited to yell from the rooftops that you’re my boyfriend, but there’s another part of me that is completely terrified,” Victor says before Benji reassures him that, as long as they lean on each other, they will be okay. (Sear plays Benji with such a charming calmness, but I can’t help but wonder how him having to guide Victor on his coming-out journey will affect their relationship in the long run.)
Back at the Salazar house, Armando, who is dropping off Adrian for the night, has a tough conversation with Isabel about their indefinite separation — which they think was the right move to break the unfair “cycle of fighting and guilt-tripping” in their marriage — and about Victor being gay. When Isabel asks if he will ever come to terms with their son’s sexuality, Armando says, without missing a beat, “Of course. He’s my son, and it’s who he is. I have to … We both do.”
Seeing Armando and Isabel both struggle with Victor’s sexuality in different ways will leave plenty of room for compelling story lines this season, but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to see that Armando was slightly more accepting of Victor’s sexuality than Isabel, because we have seen the story of a bigoted father too many times in these coming-out stories. In fact, Martinez has already played a traditional father struggling with his daughter’s sexuality in the modern-day reboot of One Day at a Time, so it’s refreshing to see him take on a slightly different role this time around.
• When Mia and Lake first reconnect at the end of the summer, Lake asks if it’s okay that she has been spending time with Victor and Benji and delivers another one-liner that seems almost too on the nose this Pride Month: “Queens before peens. I mean, you say the word and I will ditch these gays like a corporation after Pride Month,” she says, referring to the history of “rainbow-washing.”
• After returning home from the bonfire, Felix finds his single mother, Dawn (Betsy Brandt), who has manic depression, in a depressive state, and we discover that their rent is overdue. This explains why Felix was asking Victor if he could pick up some extra shifts at Brasstown — he needs the cash to avoid getting evicted.
• While he does not get as much screen time in the premiere, Adrian briefly steals the show with a one-liner that explains why he doesn’t want a new pet turtle named Heather if she can’t move from one apartment to another. “I already miss you half the time … I don’t want to miss the turtle, too,” he tells his dad. (Naturally, Armando ended up getting two tanks so that the turtle could live at both apartments.)
• We eventually find out what was in the care package that Andrew sent Mia: an AOC bobblehead, a bag of candy, and a handwritten note that reads, “I miss you. I want to be with you.” (Ouch. Mia has had a really rough past couple of months.)
• In the final line of the episode, Victor tells Isabel, “Benji’s my boyfriend, and I’d like you to call him that,” reminding her that this is not just a phase in his coming-of-age.