In just six episodes, with a team staffed entirely of Latinx writers, Saracho crafted a story rooted in personal experiences. Vida’s first season explored subjects as complex as gentefication and internalized homophobia, capturing Emma’s fierce anger at her mother for the shame she made Emma feel about herself, as well as the efforts of local activists to preserve their community. But the show also considered broader themes: grief, nostalgia, sisterhood, hope. In the Season 1 finale, Emma and Lyn determined that they wanted to try and keep the bar open, culminating in a gorgeous final shot as the women watched the sun rise over their neighborhood, the cityscape of downtown L.A. shimmering in the distance.
In the second season, which has been expanded into 10 half-hour episodes, the partnership between the sisters remains fragile, while the financial effort to save the bar is an uphill battle. Lyn is still hedonistic, selfish, and chaotic; Emma is as emotionally withholding, icy, and demanding as ever. (“You are the classic cautionary tale of why mothers need to hug their children,” a girlfriend tells her.) Emma’s efforts to upgrade the bar to attract new clientele and ensure its future enrage community activists, who see bits of the fabric of Boyle Heights being chipped away. Lyn’s mistakes from Season 1—sleeping with her engaged ex, Johnny (Carlos Miranda), and engaging in credit-card fraud—keep catching up with her. Eddy tries to recover from her injuries while also grieving Vida, whose unseen presence looms over the series. She’s there in the blinking neon sign over the bar that bears her name, in the possessions Emma gathers for a garage sale, in the secrets that somehow keep emerging.
But Vida is most present in the sisters, and in the ways their lives reflect how she raised them. Prada communicates how much Emma’s modes of behavior come from her mother’s hurtful (and hypocritical) rejection, and how Emma has constructed armor around herself—lipstick, an immaculately blunt bob, a forbidding affect—that keep other people at arm’s length. Emma is enraged when her appearance is derisively labeled as “baby queer” at a gay wedding in the third episode, as if she’s not yet confident enough in her identity to dress the way she really wants to. The scene itself, with its discussions about sexual “tourism” and gender binaries and the rites of passage of coming out, is anchored in particulars. It’s also riveting, fraught with tension, and set against the backdrop of an event celebrating the relatively new freedom of Americans to love whomever they choose.
Vida is replete with graphic sex scenes, almost all of which serve a distinct purpose. Emma and Lyn’s sexuality is key to understanding them as characters, and sex, in the show, is rarely just about gratification. Saracho has a shrewd awareness of how people often weaponize sex: for distraction, for power, for consolation. Emma has casual encounters with men and women, but it isn’t until the final episode of Season 2 that she gets intimate enough with someone to kiss them. Lyn, as stunted as Emma by Vida’s pronouncements that beauty is her only asset, uses sex as a tool to get what she wants, whether it’s emotional or material. She’s internalized the idea that her effect on men is her currency.