Wednesday, January 11, 2017

REVIEW: 'One Day at a Time' - Things Get Complicated for the Family When Victor Returns in 'Hurricane Victor'

Netflix's One Day at a Time - Episode 1.12 "Hurricane Victor"

Just when Penelope starts to date again, her estranged husband Victor makes a surprise visit home that rekindles old feelings between them.

A lot has been said about Victor Alvarez this season. He's Penelope's ex-husband who served with her. He's the father of Elena and Alex. He and Penelope broke up for a number of reasons - largely because he didn't want to get any treatment for his PTSD. He instead chose to go back to Afghanistan working private security instead of staying and fighting for his family. He messed up. The marriage was really bad at the end and Penelope had to leave. She had to do so in order to keep the children safe. She no longer felt comfortable living in the safe house as him. That's the basis for the show. Penelope and Victor separated. And now, she's taking care of their two children. She has moved on from her marriage. She's forged a new life for herself. All of this is important information to have. It paints a full picture of what Penelope's life has been up to this point. But there's hearing so much about it. And then, there's actually seeing it on the screen. It's not surprising at all that Victor shows up before the season is over. But what happens next is truly fascinating.

Victor has been built up as this mess of a character. He was a man in a pretty dark headspace. That makes it surprising when he shows up and seems like the funny and strong man Penelope married in the first place. It's startling because the family hasn't seen him in so long. He has missed so much of their lives. But he shows up a week before Elena's quinceañera because he wants to be more involved in their lives. He no longer wants to be the absentee father. He returns saying that he is working the program. He got help for his problems. And now, he's capable of being the husband and father the family deserves. He's seemingly doing all of the right things. Sure, he connects well with Alex and Lydia. He knows how to win them over. He knows he can just get Alex a PlayStation while Lydia still believes that Penelope and Victor can work things out. It's more of a struggle with Penelope and Elena. With Elena, he has no idea what her interests are. She's no longer his little girl. That person he understood. The young woman who now stands before him is a total mystery. Meanwhile, Penelope has moved on with her life and started dating again. She doesn't want to be sucked back in. And yet, the appeal and temptation is still very real for her.

Of course, Penelope's new romance with Ben has only been a recent development. He was a comforting voice for her in a time of need. This episode opens on them in a car making out. They've apparently gone out on several dates now. This is becoming something serious for her. She's finally letting herself be open to the idea of dating a new guy. Earlier this season, she wasn't ready to take that step. And now, it's clear that she is willing to go that far. She's still not having sex with him. She's just having some nice and simple fun with him. They both feel like kids having to sneak around their families and their expectations. It's funny that Lydia is constantly texting Penelope to make sure that she's not doing anything sinful. This scene is important because it establishes a new life for Penelope. This is something new and exciting. It's completely separate from Victor. But as the main story goes along, it makes it seem like this new relationship is also something completely separate from her family.

And family is so important to Penelope. She needs to feel confident and secure with them before she's able to walk out that door and explore something new for herself. Her family is her number one priority. For better or worse, Victor is a part of that family. He is Elena and Alex's father. She wants to make sure that they still have a relationship with him. She's surprised when he comes home early. But she understands the sentiment of him wanting to be here for Alex's cello recital. Of course, it's a weird moment because Alex has never been seen playing a cello before. His passion has been with baseball. That's where he has really been excited this season. That world also emphasizes how absentee a father Victor has been. Schneider has had to serve as a father figure for Alex. That clash between Victor and Schneider doesn't completely work. The emotions of it are solid but the over-the-top reactions from Schneider play to the punchlines instead of the characters. That makes it a little too weird. But it's not that big of a deal in the episode. Schneider gets to have his moment of triumph in the family while Penelope and Victor also get to bond. It's in that moment where it seems like this really would be a perfect and happy life for Penelope. It's in this moment where everything feels good.

Of course, it's just Penelope once again falling into a false sense of security with Victor. She ultimately breaks up with Ben because she's too distracted with her family to be totally committed to their dynamic. It's difficult for them but also hard to feel too upset about it because it was such a new relationship. It's much more devastating when Penelope returns home and gets a true taste of Victor's current reality. He's still not any better than he was before. He's done a better job of pretending to be good and healthy in front of the kids. He's no longer taking pills to help his problems. But he's not actually admitting his issues and working a program to get better. He's carrying that burden alone. Penelope was willing to open her heart to Victor again. She opens it just a crack and he reveals himself to still be a problematic person. She has so much sympathy for Victor. She understands that he needs help. He just stubbornly refuses to get it. Earlier, it seemed like he was finally ready to listen to Penelope's reasoning and move back home to be with the kids more. But now, it's clear that he still holds the same opinions as he did before. That means Penelope will still constantly be thinking about him drinking too much and then making a big mistake in front of the kids. She's done her best to protect them from that. That's why she kicks him out yet again. It means more now because Lydia sees it as well and agrees with what her daughter does. It's a devastating note to end on - especially leading into the season finale. But it's a vital one for this family unit as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Hurricane Victor" was written by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit & Peter Murrieta and directed by Pamela Fryman.
  • Before all of the devastating stuff at the end, Victor also gives Penelope the signed divorce papers. That's his gift to her. They could finally make this divorce official if they wanted to. That's what made it appear like he has gotten his act together again. That's what made Penelope uncertain of herself.
  • Elena is unsure if she should come out to her father. They don't have a great relationship. It all stems from them having nothing in common. Penelope jokes that they both like girls. But it's still awkward when Victor gives Elena a doll as a present. That was a bad idea. And yet, they do seem to be better at the end. He gives a donation to charity on her behalf. She likes that but she still doesn't come out to him.
  • Alex's big musical performance is less of a recital and more of a performance at a nursing home where the residents can barely hear them anyway. Plus, it was nice that the show recognizes that the performance isn't that great but the sentiment comes from being there to support the kids.
  • Does that karaoke machine only play "Total Eclipse of the Heart?" That's a fun song that helps push Penelope and Victor together. But it sure would get tiring after three performances of it. Did they not think to try something else?
  • Once again, there's a big joke about Penelope and Schneider being a couple. He's comfortable just walking into the apartment not wearing a shirt. But that sure does create an awkward sight when Victor is there and not sure what to believe about them.
  • After a lot of buildup, James Martinez does a solid job in inhabiting the role of Victor. It's easy to understand how his charm could win over Penelope and the rest of the family. But he also does a solid enough job with the tragic reveal that Victor isn't better at all.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.