In some ways, it’s a miracle that Tanya Saracho’s lovely Vida was allowed to exist for three seasons. Focusing on queer and Latinx themes through the lens of two very different sisters taking over their late mother’s East LA bar, the Starz series has had quiet and specific appeal. And yet, its story is also universal in the way it explores identity, authenticity, and issues of gatekeeping in a variety of different communities.
Given all of that, six episodes for this third and final season didn’t feel like nearly enough to complete the story of Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera), much less that of the crusading Mari (Chelsea Rendon), her beleaguered brother Johnny (Carlos Miranda), or the still-grieving Eddy (Ser Anzoategui). It was another chapter in their lives, but even in the series’ final, extended episode, there was so much left to explore.
With Vida, Saracho has created a world that feels like home—one both foreign and familiar, much like the sisters’ own experience with the bar and the surrounding neighborhood. There is a warmth and intimacy to the show that permeates every frame. Even at its most explicit (and it is very sexually explicit), it’s never exploitative, just real. Vida is a collection of slices of life—even though its cast is unbelievably fit and attractive, which is acknowledged in various ways (like showing Lyn working out all of the time). There’s a realistic sense of time and the characters’ languid movements as they deal with the daily frustrations of running a business and trying to find authentic romantic connections. Everything is complicated, and yet, it’s also tinged with humor and joy.
Some of the most complicated threads the third season include Mari’s relationship with the Vigilantes, who annoy her with their need to vote on every little thing, ultimately leading to inaction. “Because this is America, where it’s ok to cage fucking brown people like beasts!” Mari shouts in one of her popular videos that document the injustices to residents of her neighborhood. She also sees the hypocrisy of protesting Vida for being too gentrified as they stand, literally, on the front steps of a mixed use corporate-backed complex.
“All of the non-Mexicans only see the Mexican, and all of the ‘real’ Mexicans are like, ‘Eh, not Mexican enough,’” Lyn explains in a scene early in the season, highlighting just one of the ways the show touches on issues of gatekeeping. And yet, Lyn’s story is particularly scattered when it comes to discovering her own identity, especially in the face of news that their father may still be alive and well in LA. It leads to some tropey resolutions in the final two episodes that might have had more nuance given more time—but that’s true of many things in this truncated season. Meanwhile, we see a new side to Emma through her relationship with Nico (Roberta Colindrez, an excellent addition to the cast), but even Emma has several big moments that are darted past, narratively. Mari and particularly Eddy get the shortest shrift of all in these final episodes, although they are also gifted two of the most interesting resolutions. And there are lingering issues only hinted at about the hierarchy and bias within queer and minority communities.
Of course, there is no easy way to address everything Vida wants to while also emotionally sewing up the stories of these players we’ve come to love over the years in just three and a half hours. But the feelings we are left with in each episode, including the finale, are the same as those we’ve lived through in past seasons: love, sincerity, hope. We’re fortunate to have been able to spend more time with Vida. Not enough, maybe, but every moment has been a treasure.
Vida Season 3 premieres Sunday, April 26th on Starz.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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