Over the course of Vida’s first season, there have been quite a few moments where I had to pause the television slack jawed in disbelief and mutter to myself, “I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to see this on TV.”
There’s an intimacy and carefulness in its love letter to QTPOC and Latinx communities, particularly dedicated to those Chicanxs who hail from the west coast and Los Angeles. Tanya Saracho talked about it with us before the show even began; how she personally made runs to the botánica for candles to dress that altar or how she’d obsess that the Last Supper clock be placed just right on the wall. The show’s been lauded for being television’s first entirely Latinx writers room. When filming what’s already become an infamous, ground breaking queer sex scene, they spent days discussing every aspect and camera angle — even the background music choice. They took their role in representing a queer feminist gaze seriously. That care has bled through every piece of dialogue, every actors’ eye glance, every set piece of the last six weeks.
Still, I don’t think I’ve felt as raw or intimately seen in Vida than I did in the opening sequence of its finale. Lyn has visited Doña Lupe for una limpia, a spiritual cleansing. Lyn’s visited her earlier in the season too, so we knew she’s cool with brujería (witch work). That’s not quite the same as watching Lyn stand vulnerable, eyes wide and ethereal, as Doña runs an egg over her body; swirling steam and cigar smoke around her, cleansing her with alcohol.
Brujería, faith in the spirits and the unknown, is one of those things that a lot of Latinx families believe but don’t talk about. Not out loud. Especially not in front of outsiders and definitely not in front of white people (you know, like the white audience of a television show). We might make vague references here and there, we might share a knowing eyebrow over a superstition — but, like most religious beliefs, it’s personal. Hundreds of years of colonization and white imperialism have shamed us into believing our own indigenous practices are backwards or malevolent. At the very least we’ve been taught that they’re a little silly.
Watching Lyn in that bathtub, it was so devastatingly beautiful. I hate to admit that I felt a little blush of embarrassment creep up my cheeks. I imagined, how would I explain to all of you reading along that I believe an egg can cleanse a soul? That I don’t believe witches are fictional playthings for Halloween. I’ve kept an altar at my bedside since I was 16 years old. I believe in candles and cigar smoke and that my ancestors guide me. I believe in brujas. I believe that we have our own magic and have within us the tools for our own healing.
So does Lyn.
In this moment she’s is presented to us stripped down and without judgement. Beads of sweat clinging to her body as Doña Lupe discards her bathing gown. Lyn must find a street that she will never cross or pass again, and leave her bathing gown there. It’s wrapped in a bag that contains all the porquería (toxicity and pain) in her life. She’s being set free.
Of course Lyn, being Lyn, doesn’t heed la Doña’s parting advice. She’s now separated from all the negativity, even those blockages that we unknowingly cling to as our security blankets. As such, Lyn’s new life may feel strange and overwhelming. It’s not until later, laying in bed with Johnny after blowing up his life, that it dawns on her.
“I’m the porquería.”
Yeah Lyn, we’ve all known that. Welcome to the club.
Emma’s holding on to some blockages of her own. She can’t let go of Vida, whose spirit and actions haunt her at every turn. When she first arrived home, Emma’s one goal was to bury her mother, sell the bar, and hightail it back to Chicago as fast as possible. Now everything’s murky. Her mother, who forced her away as a young girl for her queerness, turned out to be gay. The pain Vida lashed out on Emma — it was internalized to herself. Then, Vida came out, got married to a wonderful woman, and turned her bar into one of the neighborhood’s few LGBT safe spaces. How is Emma supposed to process all of that? How is she supposed to reassess everything that she thought she knew?
Distraught, she visits Cruz (and her perfect, perfect tattoos) in the middle of the night for a hook up. She falls asleep there, the sun cresting through the windows as Cruz wakes her up with sweet shoulder kisses.
Listen, Emma never falls asleep at a hook up’s house. But with Cruz everything is safe, you know? It’s warm and gentle and soft. Emma’s built her whole world into sharp edges. Cruz brings out parts that she long thought she buried. And despite herself, she craves it.
I think Cruz knows it too, and that’s why she felt it was OK to talk to Emma about selling Vida’s building. They are more than just lovers, they’re one of each other’s oldest friends. Cruz can see Emma’s growth since coming back to Boyle Heights, and she wants Emma to keep growing. She also doesn’t want to lose a neighborhood institution and a home for Boyle Heights’ queer community. Maria Elena Laas finds a way to balance those multiple motivations delicately, even when Emma blows up at Cruz for broaching the subject at all.
“I know you wanna do that thing where you take off, but you’re not doing that,” she warns Emma, sealing their fate with a kiss. Up to this point, Emma’s only ever run. It’s a habit she’s learned from Vida, who ran her own daughter out of her life.
Borrowing some plain clothes from Lyn, Emma switches tactics and busies herself fixing up the bar. Eddy’s small shy smile as she watches is heartbreaking; she thinks Emma’s cleaning up the space because she’s ready to invest in it. She has no idea that Emma’s close to selling her family’s entire legacy away.
They go about cleaning out the dumpsters out back, poking fun at each other about how cold it is in Chicago and how strong Emma is for someone so tiny. They’re bonding. They are — finally! finally! — finding their way to each other as a family. It’s everything Eddy ever wanted. Which makes what comes next all the more wretched.
Nelson, asshole villain Nelson who we haven’t seen since the second episode (when Emma poured hot coffee on his crotch), takes this moment to break our beautiful Hernandez family bubble. He sleazes his slimy way up the back alley and immediately Eddy’s guard goes up.
Eddy goes inside, and Nelson starts spewing the same racist self-hate shit logic that he always spews, trying to convince Emma to sell the building to him at a better deal than anyone else has offered her. Emma tells him to — and I quote, “get THE FUCK off my property” — but the damage has already been done. Eddy’s not stupid, she knows why Nelson is sniffing around. Emma’s selling the building. The thing is, Emma maybe isn’t selling the building, she honestly hasn’t decided yet, but the optics look terrible and Eddy has put together all the puzzle pieces in the wrong way.
Surrounded by her awesome crew of lesbians (I wish I had more time to write about them!), Eddy confronts Emma and whatever fragile truce they had found together gets blown to bits. Ser Anzoategui and Mishel Prada dance their pain around each other masterfully. Feeling cornered, Emma lashes out, inferring that Eddy was the reason that Vida’s bar failed in the first place. That’s not true, the bar started to fail because of the neighborhood’s homophobia — Emma’s neighbor told us as much in the second episode. To take that homophobia and then blame it on Eddy, it’s the cruelest of low blows. It’s nasty. And I hate to say this, it’s a trick that Emma learned from her mother.
Driven out by the fight, Eddy and her crew find themselves at another bar that I swear to God I wish they’d never walked in to. They’re drinking beers and making jokes, trying to ignore the uncomfortable stares around them. They’ve been marked by their queerness from the moment they stepped through the door. This is unsafe. I know that we sometimes use the terms “safe space” in an emotional sense, which is important in its own right, but right now I am talking about safety in the primal, physical definition. They are not safe.
Eddy’s femme friend goes to play music from the jukebox when a drunk asshole hits on her. She tells him to back off, and he won’t. He assaults her, grabbing her ass without permission. Eddy steps in to defend her. He spits out that Eddy’s a marimacha, a dyke. Then he provokes her into a shoving match before the rest of the bar steps in, seemingly squashing the conflict.
That is until Eddy is left alone in the bathroom later that night. She’s washing her hands and doesn’t see him enter the stall with a beer bottle until it’s too late.
Lyn gets the call first. Eddy’s in ICU. She grabs Emma and they’re off in a blink. I started crying from the minute Eddy looked up in the mirror to see her attacker, but when Emma asks the nurse for Eduina Martinez, it was all over.
I just openly sobbed, gasping for air, as the nurse told the sisters that ICU was for family only. Lyn doesn’t flinch: “She’s our stepmother.” I brought my t-shirt up to cover my tears, and soaked right through it.
The police say that they can’t help, but they have no idea who they are messing with when Emma’s mad. And do you know who visits Eddy in the hospital that night, holding her hand and making sure she’s not alone? The little girl in the pink dress. The one from the hallway. The one from the rooftop. The one painted on the mural.
She’s Vida. She’s been Vida this whole time.
Lyn and Emma end the episode together, alone in the bar. Eyes wide open from her limpia, Lyn sees her sister differently. Emma has always carried this weight around her; she’s always been anxious and blamed herself for others shortcomings. And Lyn’s right about that, but she’s wrong about so much else. She’s wrong to think that Emma hates the bar — that she hates where she came from.
Emma breaks down into tears. She learned how to walk on these sticky wood floors. Her first memories of her abuelo are from behind that bar, she can still remember what Vida sounded like singing to her daughters from the stage. She’s proud of Vida for turning the bar into the safe haven. She’s proud of her mother for at least, in the end, being brave enough to love herself before it was too late.
Lyn asks her what she wants, and finally Emma knows the real answer. She wants to keep the bar. She wants them to do it right this time.
And with those simple words off we go, into a new chapter for the Hernandez women.
I thought a lot about how I wanted end this recap and our time together. What kind of bow would be appropriate to wrap this show up in as a final gift to you?
Here’s the truth: I don’t want a bow. I don’t want a final gift. I refuse to wrap it up because instead I’m going to stubbornly push fore more. I want more episodes like this one, stunningly directed by queer puertorriqueña Rose Troche. I want more of Eddy. And Emma. And Cruz. (And, yes even Lyn.) I want more of Tanya Saracho’s magnificent words. We need more of this thoughtful, gut wrenching, unapologetic, queer, brown show in our lives.
So instead, my shout out goes out to Starz: Do the right thing. Renew Vida. NOW.
And how’s this for a fun post-script: Two hours after this piece was published, STARZ RENEWED VIDA FOR A SECOND SEASON!! In honor of Lyn, cigar smoke, egg cleanses, candles, and the powerful brujas that we both know are real – I choose to believe I manifested the show’s renewal with my words. We all have the power, buried deep within us.