Sunday, May 6, 2018

REVIEW: 'Vida' - Emma and Lyn Return Home to Deal with Their Mother's Death and are Surprised by Her Life in 'Episode 1'

Starz's Vida - Episode 1.01 "Episode 1"

Circumstances force estranged sisters Lyn and Emma to return to their old neighborhood where they are confronted by their past and surprised by family revelations.

So many shows out there at the moment explore culture and identity in nuanced and interesting ways. And yet, it's still so welcome whenever a new show debuts and is able to add something new to that conversation. Vida is a part of Starz's push into more programming geared towards the Latinx demographics. But it also just tells a universal story about cultural changes and the ways people view the world around them differently. It tells a complicated and personal story about one family that has been torn a part because of actions from the past. This family has gone their separate ways and have never really trusted each other with the truth because of past mistakes. And now, death forces them to come face-to-face with life and what it truly means to be a family no matter what. It's at times a really grueling and difficult episode to sit through. But this premiere does such a fantastic job in revealing this setting and family. They are all actively fighting for the lives they have made for themselves. Sisters Emma and Lyn have traveled away from their home community to build their lives. They only return now because their mother has suddenly died. It forces them to reconnect with their past and face some hard truths about the secrets that were kept from them. At times, the show can be a little too obvious with the twists that are bound to unravel this family and make their lives more complicated. But it also feels like a world that has already been lived in. The show doesn't make it easy for the audience to track the specific motivations for why Emma and Lyn do what they do throughout this premiere. It just shows that they both have bad feelings towards this neighborhood. But now, they find themselves caught up in the gentrification debate and whether or not they should maintain this world as it exactly is in order to help the people who still proudly live here. It's a fascinating story that forces both of them to delve into emotions they haven't felt for awhile.

Emma presents as the more put-together and successful sister. She is a lawyer in Chicago who already has work that she needs to return to. It's already an inconvenience for her to fly out to Los Angeles for her mother's funeral. And yet, she does that because it's her familial responsibility. She returns to this world and is immediately condescending to anyone who would choose to live in this community. She doesn't think highly of it. She just sees a world of poor and impoverished people who could never escape it. She did and that makes her a proud success story. But she also just never believes that her mother was proud of her and her accomplishments. That's what created a rift between them. There is no one in this community that is happy to see her. She no longer has any strong connections to this place. Yes, she grew up here. But that doesn't make it her home. She has no one that she is looking forward to seeing. She basically just puts up with her flighty sister. Lyn has always been asking her for money without ever repaying it. Emma does it even though she's encouraging that pattern. She keeps it going because she continues the cycle of support. She has always seen herself as the responsible one who will come to the best business solution no matter what. She wants to sell her mother's building and bar simply because it's the best solution for everyone involved. Once it's gone, she will no longer have any connection to her past in this community. She's fine with that because she has made a new life for herself in a city far away from here. She's proud of her Spanish heritage but she also doesn't feel a connection to this specific neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Lyn is the more free-spirited sister who gets obsessed with things and then quits them after they don't pan out in a meaningful way for her. She's the one who was always getting into trouble and doesn't think about the consequences before she acts. She's the one who isn't exactly welcomed back into this neighborhood because of her actions from the past. As such, she has fled and tried to form a new life for herself. She just hasn't had a whole lot of luck yet. But she doesn't feel defeated just yet. She had more of a relationship with her mother. She knew that she had a roommate. But she mostly just turned up whenever she needed financial help. She's that kind of person who wants to have the superiority of eating vegan while also desperately needing help as an adult. She doesn't really feel responsible about anything. She is the more emotional one during the funeral. She is the one visibly crying thinking that her mother is no longer alive. It hits her hard and she openly shares that with everyone. But she's also perfectly fine having sex with her ex-boyfriend afterwards even though he now has a pregnant fiancé. She stirs the pot without ever thinking through her actions. She believes the world around her is so fascinated and obsessed with her. She believes that Johnny only came to see her and have sex with her one more time. She believes he's ready to leave his baby mamma behind for her. That couldn't be farther from the truth though. He's here to support his friend, Eddy, who lost her wife today. That's the first context he is really seen in during this premiere. He helps Eddy when she's going through a really depressive moment behind the bar.

And yes, it shouldn't be surprising to learn that Eddy wasn't just the roommate of Emma and Lyn's mother. It seemed inevitable that she would be revealed as her wife. That seems obvious to the audience and the show doesn't waste too much time before making that reveal. Of course, Emma and Lyn are completely thrown by it. They don't know how to react to learning that their mother was married to a woman and kept it from them. Lyn possibly knew because she always thought that it was weird her mother had a roommate in the first place. But she never asked about it nor actually wanted to have an in-depth conversation with her mother about what they were feeling. She has always just ran away from all of the complicated emotions of the world. That has always been her response to newfound responsibilities. She's not ready to be an adult even though she has been one for a long time now. Meanwhile, Emma just sees it as so hypocritical for her mother to be married to a woman. The show never really explains why Emma is so angry about this news. She is so visibly upset upon the revelation that that means the inheritance will be split three ways and it will be much harder to get Eddy on board with the plan to sell the bar. She is furious because of some past interaction with her mother. This obviously stirs up a lot of feelings for Emma. It's something that confuses Lyn as well. In this moment, it is clear that they are capable of acting as loving sisters. They are able to escape from the rest of the world and just be able to have a simple lunch together. They are bonded through this experience. And yet, they will still have the same reactions to the changing circumstances as they always have. They still enjoy pointing out their differences.

The fight against gentrification appears to be a huge theme of the show as well. The premiere opens with Marisol passionately arguing against the corrupt real estate developers who are buying up buildings and restructuring these historical neighborhoods so that they can push the people living there out. She is proud of the culture and community she comes from. She doesn't want anyone to exploit it for personal benefit. That may make her the angry latina a lot of the time. But she's very passionate about her beliefs. She is not selling herself out like she believes Emma and Lyn are. She doesn't have time for them even though Lyn is eager to reform this connection with Johnny and his sister. Emma just wants to escape this reality because she sees the benefits of change. She understands that change forces people to grow their expectations and make them fight for what they believe in. Change is inevitable and will be beneficial to someone. She won't be around to see the consequences of whatever will happen next. Of course, it seems inevitable that Emma and Lyn will stay to figure all of this out because the show delves so deep into introducing this world in the premiere. It wouldn't just immediately abandon it so that they can return to their separate lives. In many ways, this neighborhood hasn't changed at all. But now, Emma and Lyn are seeing it with the new perspective of being the adults who will have to decide which side of this issue they will fall on. Eddy believes in the future of this community. She's the one who will stay behind to pick up the pieces. Emma and Lyn have become outsiders and that could make this story a huge awakening for them and their views on the world. That's very exciting to think about for the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode 1" was written by Tanya Saracho and directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios.
  • Emma and Lyn really are the only people who don't know the truth about their mother and Eddy. The rest of the bar knows the truth and believes that they do as well. They don't make a big deal about it. Eddy knows that the truth was kept from Emma and Lyn because she understood what it was like being a part of this family. She was kept as a secret. And now, Emma and Lyn need to reckon with who their mother was during those years when they weren't around.
  • Emma and Lyn share their truest moment of bonding at the end of the premiere where they are simply watching an old home video. Their mother still proudly kept those tapes in her home. They probably brought her comfort as well. But it's also seeing her again as the woman they remember. She was so strong and confident. And now, she presents as a complete mystery and that is heartbreaking to both of them.
  • It's also notable that Emma put in the effort to learn Spanish when Lyn didn't. Lyn believes she can just get by on the few words that she actually knows. She has never needed to learn more of the vocabulary. Of course, that has led to others being judgmental of her place in the latin community. It's another way for her to be seen as conforming to white culture instead.
  • Lyn notes that it's potentially really dangerous to think about selling the building because some of the tenants are undocumented. Emma has no sympathy for that. She's surprised Lyn is even worried about their well-being. But then, it's teased that that is a personal issue for them because of something that happened in the past with their father. That should be an intriguing detail for the show to explore.
  • Emma is approached by Nelson who immediately presents as a shady business dealer interested in buying the bar from the family. He's making his move at the funeral which is so creepy and annoying. Emma needed a break away from the people inside. She wanted solace from a cigarette. Instead, she is presented with the realization that this property is still desired by several people in this world. She'll have to choose who to support.
  • There's also a running story about Emma seeing a girl sitting on the edge of the roof of her mother's building. When it first happens, it seems like such a random image. She looks away for a moment. Then, the girl is gone when she looks up again. But she also confronts the girl near the conclusion of the hour about her being reckless sitting there. Now, is the girl real? Or is she a figment of Emma's imagination or a memory of the past?