Vida episode 2 review: the controversy ball keeps rolling


The 2nd episode of “Vida” offers increased conflict, as well as signs of unity. Can a family stay together when greed threatens it with division?

When we first met Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera) in Vida, the two sisters were at odds regarding their mother’s death and their inherited business property. Emma had the idea to sell it, but Lyn was hesitant. On top of that, their mother’s newly discovered wife, Eddy (Ser Anzoategui), is steadfastly refusing to sell the business — recognizing it as part of her wife’s legacy.

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This is occurring amidst a greater political struggle against gentrification — or the so-called “growth” and “development” in the neighborhood. Much like in real life, Vida’s characters feel that increased gentrification is intended to drive out the Mexican population, or at least substantially weaken its culture. In Vida, this process is largely represented by the businessmen named “Nelson” (Luis Bordonada).

Marisol, Rebel and Vandal

As we learned in the opening episode, Marisol (Chelsea Rendon) is a self-determined anti-gentrification, anti-colonialism activist. It is basically at the forefront of her being, and she spends nearly every moment of the show trying to cause a ruckus. This episode isn’t completely different.

She is shown harassing and vandalizing an art gallery, spray painting “F*** WHITE ART!” on its windows. When the gallery employee (David Wylie) confronts her about it, Marisol tells him, “Get your cracker a** out of our neighborhood, alright? Nobody wants you here!” It definitely ramps things up, and one wonders if there’s a vague chance of peace between her and anyone she perceives as a threat to her culture.

Marisol (Chelsea Rendon), not looking stereotypical at all. (Vida, Starz)

Obviously, Marisol is a controversial character, because she hasn’t acted in any other way. Here we have her attacking an art gallery just because the owner looks white. Does she talk to him, does she express herself in a calm, rational manner? No, not at all. She just assumes he’s a natural enemy because he’s a white man.

“Vida” seems to hint at some excess vanity in the character, too, as she’s always treating her activist blog as a “selfie” opportunity. While episode two offers a glimpse into her more human side — she apparently has a father, and is attracted to another activist named Tlaloc Medina (Ramses Jimenez) — it’s clear that she’s on the more destructive side of things overall.

Personally, I would like to see her calm down a bit, and actually, engage in a civil discussion with someone like the art gallery owner. Were she to do that, she might find more allies than enemies. This is the direction the show could go in, but it is a drama in our contentious,”identity politics”-centered times.

Juniper, Another Male Pig Sleazeball Character

In this episode, we’re shown some slimy male characters, including a new one named “Juniper” (Jackson Davis). What can be said about him? He is first shown receiving sex gratification from Lyn — after which he promptly breaks up with her (while hinting they might not be over). It is, yet again, an indication that heterosexual men want nothing from women but sex, or maybe good customer service.

Sure, Lyn herself is a questionable character, as she’s going after a married man (even having sex with him near her mother’s funeral!), but the man’s weakness is more clear.   Why is he fooling around when he claims to love his wife, who most certainly wouldn’t approve? The married guy, Johnny (Carlos Miranda), seems to always think with his other head.  In contrast, Lyn is just pictured as innocent — not fully understanding her actions (almost infantilized, in fact).

On that note:  For a show that claims to defy stereotypes, this one tends to pile them up — one on top of the other –, probably until the whole works comes tumbling down. In fact, it would be refreshing to see something that genuinely does defy stereotypical and categorical writing. Like, how about men and women simply getting along for once? Or, how about a Mexican American and a white American character getting along? These things could conceivably happen in this world, couldn’t they?  That being said, it’s interesting to watch and may mirror real life.

Thoughts on Nelson, the Greedy Developer Guy

As if perfectly defying my previous suggestion, you have Nelson, a greedy developer guy. That is basically all he’s been thus far, with the added perk that he sexually harasses Emma, when she goes to discuss the future of her mother’s building with him. She promptly pours coffee in his lap, then pledges to fight him rather than sell out to him.

While it’s certainly plausible that he could harass her, I again have to wonder: Did the writer(s) even possibly consider another route for the characters? Obviously, it’s a show that can do what it wants, but what it wants seems to endlessly feed stereotypes, every which way imaginable. This show clings rigidly to the whole “identity politics” phenomenon, it appears.

In this instance, it seems to be missing an opportunity, too. From a liberal/leftist perspective, I almost think it would be better to have Nelson be a better guy. It would actually highlight how gentrification is bad systematically, rather than make us think it’s due to having sleazeballs in charge.

See, this is one of the fascinating aspects of what’s commonly called “the system” — plenty of decent, normal, not particularly sleazy or wicked people are involved. For the most part, they’re just trying to make some money to avoid poverty themselves. Buying property is a time-honored method of doing that, even if full of societal pitfalls.

It’s not just a problem for Mexican Americans or even political minorities in general. In fact, it’s arguably not just a problem for people lacking money. Sure, race and male dominance can be involved, it’s not 100% about that. So far, Vida has failed to delve into this point, which is a bit unfortunate.

Next: Vida: reflections on the overtly political Starz series premiere

Final Thoughts

Despite this, it is a watchable show, and I am interested to see how it develops. However, what interests me is how it claims to be unique while doing so much of the expected. I’ll be watching, waiting for something that was truly unpredictable. Thus far it’s basically been everything I thought it would be (though, obviously, I couldn’t have known every last detail).  It’s an alright show.

What are your thoughts on Vida?  Did this episode work for you?  Let us know in the comments!