It’s FINALLY HERE!!
Last night Vida, a new half hour drama about two Chicana sisters, one of whom is queer, grappling with her mother’s death and the knowledge that she was secretly married to a woman, made its debut on Starz. I have been dying to talk about this show in detail with you, and now we finally can! We can gripe about the Hernandez sisters! We can swoon over Eddy! We swim in the richness of the script, the warm hues of the cinematography. We have six full weeks to dive deep into this prestige drama about family, sex, love, and grief — all told from a queer Latinx lens.
Let’s get this… funeral party?… started!
The first “character” we meet in Vida is Boyle Heights, the Eastside Los Angeles neighborhood where our show takes place. And it’s in the middle of a war for it’s very soul. Our guide in the trenches is Marisol, who has taken to her YouTube channel and is ready to ride again.
She tightens her ponytail. She paints her lips midnight blue, telling the camera “this is a manifesto, mi gente. So get a pencil and get ready to take notes… ”
Across town, Vidalia, an older Latina with a brilliant streak of grey hair, wakes abruptly from sleep. Her skin’s a sheen of sweat. She runs to the bathroom in search for her pills. It’s too late. She watches with eyes wide in horror as blood trickles from her nose, and collapses dead on the black and white tile of her bathroom floor.
That’s why Emma Hernandez, long lost daughter of Boyle Heights, is finally finding her way home. We first meet Emma in the back of her Uber, stoic with candy apple red drawn lips and immaculately manicured burgundy nails. Her long, dark bob frames her face like a work of art. Right away you can tell her whole game; everything about her screams perfection and power.
Her car pulls up to El Bar, which bids Bienvenidos (Welcome) to the neighborhood in faded, chipped paint. Emma rolls her eyes and reaches for the metal door beside the main entrance, readying herself to climb the stairs to her mother’s old apartment.
Inside waits Lyn, Emma’s little sister, whose doe eyes are out of focus with tears. She’s sits ghostlike, listening as Eddy — Vidalia’s “roommate” — drones on and on about how much her mother loved both of her girls.
Before their awkward encounter can prolong any further, Lyn hears a knock at the door. The minute she sees Emma, her face crumples into even more tears. She grabs her big sister and holds on for dear life.
Her older sister doesn’t reply. She also doesn’t shed a single tear.
“Emma,” Lyn interjects. “This is Eddy. She helped Mamí run the bar, and was like, her roommate”
“I’m sorry. Vidalia had a roommate?”
Eddy breaks out her most charming smile, her navy blue hoodie open and her tiny gold cross sparkling in the sunlight from the window. “Heeeeey, it’s so nice to finally meet you! … I mean… not under these circumstances…”
Yeah. This is not going well.
Emma won’t give Eddy an inch of kindness; it’s like she’s the human equivalent of a brick wall. But, Eddy, ever loving, pushes right on through. She explains the funeral plans, that the burial will be at Boyle Height’s iconic Evergreen cemetery, and the reception will be inside Vidalia’s bar downstairs.
Left alone together, the sisters fall in to what feels like a well rehearsed fight. Emma wants to know why she’s left out of everything (Ugh, girl, maybe because YOU NEVER COME HOME? OR PICK UP A PHONE? ) Lyn gets that Emma and Vidalia had their long standing feud, but she’s begging her older sister — their mom is dead, “can [her death] please override your cunty-ness — just while we bury her? After that we can both go back to our regularly scheduled programing of not talking, but just for today… please.”
Some shows are for the actors, others are for the directors, and while Vida has both ins spades, I can’t help but feel like at it’s core — this is a show for writers. The characters don’t speak in monologue, but, there is exacting detail in every character of Vida’s word choice. Tanya Saracho got her start as a playwright and you can’t miss that here. Even Vida’s humor, at times cutting or wry, often depends on specificity of wordplay (a reoccurring bit about all the funeral flan bets on the audience laughing at the repetition of the word. Later, Marisol’s slur of “Y’tina bitches”, a clever play on “white” and “Latina” that’s not unheard of Latinx slang, is a perfectly deployed portmanteau in heat of the moment). Such focus on script and crafted dialogue is not always common on television. In Vida the attention to details of language feel as important as the characters themselves.
Emma and Lyn stand side by side at the funeral service. At the bar, tamales are overflowing on plates. The sisters stand together while relatives and neighbors come forward to pay their respects. A neighbor comes up to Eddy and explains that Vidalia gave her an important role, she was to tell Eddy not to cry. Eddy collapses onto her shoulders. We also get our first glimpse at Eddy’s lesbian crew, who gather around her to make sure that she at least ate something today, in the middle of all this unimaginable pain.
Lyn and Emma don’t notice any of this, of course, because they are too busy being snide about their relatives (Emma calls them “Mi Vida Locas”, which is supposed to be a diss, but joke’s on her because that movie is ICONIC). This is my first problem with the Hernandez sisters. Your mom magically has a butch, sexy in that everyman kind of way, heartthrob of a “roommate”, whom you’ve never heard about, but is crying her eyes out at the funeral and being attended to by everyone in the neighborhood — and you have ZERO QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT?? How self-centered can two people be!
At least Lyn has more significant problems underfoot when Johnny, her high school boyfriend, walks through the door. Oh yeah, with a pregnant fiancé on his arm! I don’t know Johnny, and I don’t know their whole deal, but from the way Lyn claws her way behind her older sister’s back, there is D-R-A-M-A and I can’t wait!
Speaking of old, hot flames, within milliseconds of Johnny’s arrival, here comes Cruz and her cocked to the side, newsboy cap! What’s with Cruz? I can’t be sure. But, I know the whole time her eyes never left Emma. Her stare ate that girl up like she was a snack and Cruz was all out of Snickers, if you catch my drift. When they part, their hands are still holding like they’ve forgotten how to ever let go.
Eddy, drunk and in grief, breaks a few beer bottles, yelling at her homegirls, “¡Déjame!, ¡Déjame!” (Leave me alone!) They’re trying to wrestle a small knife out of her hands. She’s mad with grief; and can’t imagine living without Vidalia. Johnny comes to to help, reminding the grieving widow that no one can handle another funeral. She wouldn’t want to do that to her community, would she? Not today.
Seriously, we’re only at the half way point! It’s painful. So painful. My eyes can’t handle anymore tears. Rey, played by real life Boyle Heights community rights activist and genderqueer trans man Rey Fukuda, picks up the music while Eddy cries on her friends’ shoulders.
Lyn finds him in the back alley behind the bar. They talk for maaaaybe 3 minutes? And then they fuck. Well, to be more explicit, Johnny eats her out on the stairwell. And then they fuck. Ugh… grief? Amirite?
When they’re done, Johnny tells Lyn that he only came to the reception to support Eddy. Because her wife died today.
Yeah Lyn, duh. WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GOING ON THERE?? Come on Mamí, you’re better than this.
It turns out that Eddy and Vidalia had been married two years by the time of her passing. Emma’s first reaction? That her mom was a hypocrite. Her second reaction? She wants to see the will. Over her dead body is she going to share the building and the bar with Eddy. With that, she slams out of the apartment and down to the street, Lyn hot on her heels.
On the street, Emma launches into a curse-laden tirade like few I have seen, in life or on screen. She calls her own mother a carpet-muncher! (That’s… kinda horrific.) That she bats for team tortilleras! (It’s Spanish for dyke. I’ll admit I chuckled, despite myself.) Our girl, who has been steely collected the entire episode up to this point, is really flying off the handle!
The sisters share tacos nearby and who do they see after their meal? Marisol, Boyle Heights’ Avenger from the opening scene. She’s busy taking down the hipster foodie filming outside the restaurant. When Lyn and Emma get caught up in the fight — You wouldn’t know it by looking at her, but Emma is scrappy! She stepped right to Mari and called her act “Chola 101”, I howled! — Lyn recognizes Marisol right away a “Little Mari”, Johnny’s younger sister. Ooops!
Never one to lose face, Mari calls them Tía Toms (get it? Like Uncle Toms?) one more time for the road.
Back home, Emma goes up to the roof of her building for fresh air at sunset. There, she sees a little girl in a pink party dress sitting on the ledge. She runs to to her, telling her to get down, it’s dangerous! The girl jumps, pink dress floating in the air, and for a second I thought the worst. But, she’s fine! She just went down a single story and runs off, giving Emma the middle finger for good measure.
Emma goes back downstairs to find Lyn at home, watching old videos of the girls when they were young, singing along to Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” with their mom and practicing their cumbia. Together, alone for the first time without the pressure of strangers, the Hernandez sisters finally find room for their grief. They hold hands and Emma let’s go. She weeps, watching the smiling silly faces of the VHS tape.
The camera pans out to Boyle Heights once again, giving us one last glimpse of the neighborhood. Across the street from El Bar, there’s a old, worn out mural dedicated to the social movements of the 1960s and ‘70s, namely the Chicanx militant group, The Brown Berets. The camera’s passed it a few times this episode already, but now it lingers in the bottom right corner. Because who is painted in that long forgotten mural? The same little girl in the same pink party dress; the one who gave Emma the finger just a few scenes earlier.
How is it possible that the living, breathing little girl we just saw is also painted on a decades old mural? I have no idea. But, I love me a ghost story and I can’t wait to find out.
We’ve only had a half hour with the Hernandez sisters so far, but there’s already a lot to pull at and explore. I’ll keep it real with you — they are frustrating. But, so is grief. It’s a moment where any of us are our best selves. I think it’s brave of Vida to delve deep into those ugly spaces right from the start. To show us the worst of their lead characters before you get to see the best of them. Is the approach working for you? Do you find yourself wanting to know more? Do you feel for Eddy? Chat with me in the comments!
If you’re interested in Vida, but don’t have access to Starz, I wrote you a handy watch guide last weekend! Check it out! If you missed any of our in depth coverage of the show leading into the premiere, you can find it here.