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‘Vida’ recap (1.3): Emma On Top

Even if you’ve been on the fence about Vidafor the first two episodes, “Episode 3” really cements just how quietly revolutionary this seriesand its writers roomis. It opens with direct confirmation of Emma’s sexuality, through a queer sex scene that is actually free of the straight- and male-gaze. We quickly learn that Emma is a top, that she’s direct and confident, and that she isn’t really into sticking around afterwardall of which we already saw her in everyday personality. The scene stands out because it’s actual realistic sex that isn’t filmed with the sole aim of putting on a show for men (though it is definitely thrilling and sexy, especially as a cold open). There’s no lingering glances on women’s bodies, no absurd positions, no gross fetishization of queerness. It simply showcases Emma (and her partner) in that urgent moment, emphasizing Emma’s pleasure while also deepening her character.

The reason why this is so successful is due largely to everything behind the scenes (though, yes, the acting is solid as always). When I interviewed Vida creator Tanya Saracho for The Hollywood Reporter a few weeks ago, she explained that the writers room is “all Latinx. There’s one cis male, and we love him, and the rest is female-identified And half the room is queer.” Vida has women directors, editors, cinematographers. Womenand especially queer womenmake up a large part of the on-screen characters; it only makes sense to have this expand to the crew as well. It means that a scene like the one between Emma and her hot online hookup feels like it comes from a lived experience, not one that’s just mimicking porn. (As a side note: I also love that Vida has a range of queer representationfrom sweet and sensitive butch Eddy, played by non-binary actor Ser Anzoategui, to bossy, steely top femme Emmainstead of just a bunch of carbon copies of each other.)

What also works is that it fits entirely with who Emma is outside of the bedroom: the way she immediately took charge, her impatience, her insistence on doing things her way even though she’s only one of the bar’s three owners, and her habit of remaining closed-off to those around her. After sex, when Sam offers to send Emma a playlist, Emma instead swiftly takes a photo of Sam’s computer screen rather than swap Facebook information.

There’s another great, lovely moment that comes early in “Episode 3” as Emma comes out (while eschewing specific labels) to Lyn. Coming out is different for everyone but television, understandably, often leans toward the ultra-dramatic route that takes up much of a single episode, or turns it into a minor arc about queer suffering. Vida simply portrays it as a casual, brief, and supportive moment between two sisters. When Emma shows Lyn a photo of Sam, Lyn exclaims “I totally knew it!” and both women wonder aloud why the other didn’t say anything. “When do we ever say anything?” Emma asks. “That’s so true,” Lyn responds, “We should say stuff.” Instead of being solely about Emma’s coming out, it also highlights the established dynamic between the two sisters and their inability to communicate. But at least this conversation goes wellLyn reveals she was “a little fluid” herself for a bit, and then explicitly gives her supportbefore they’re forced to deal with the realities of the bar.

Eddy, too, is dealing with some harsh realities in “Episode 3,” as she continues to struggle with life after Vidalia. Though, as I’ve mentioned last week, Eddy is the one who is trying to connect with Emma and Lyn, you can see how the frustration is starting to get to her. She tries to be patient, but both women are dismissive or rude (Emma more aggressively so than Lyn) and also simply don’t understand the sacrificesand truthsEddy (and Vidalia) made for the bar. Emma can only really understand the financial problems, but wasn’t there to see how Vidalia’s health was part of what caused those problems, and how Eddy and Vidalia were just trying to stay afloat in her last days. And Emma doesn’t seem keen on hearing the truth. Plus, Eddy is having a hard time sleeping alone, she’s sliding under the water to scream in the bathtub, she bears the brunt of Carla’s misdirected anger, and she’s opening up to a friend about the plans that never came to fruition. Vidalia wanted to make things right with Emma; they both wanted to reveal their marriage and get the family back together. Vidalia died before either was possible.

Lyn’s plot this week is both frustrating and heartbreaking. Though Lyn claims that drama follows her, Emma is more accurate when describing Lyn as a “full-on agent of chaos.” After all, Lyn didn’t have to post an obvious photo of her sleeping with Johnny on social media, and she didn’t seem totally surprised when Carla stormed into the bar to confront her. It’s so easy to be annoyed with Lyn’s childish, obnoxious actionsones that hurt outside peoplebut “Episode 3” softens this annoyance by showcasing more of Lyn as a person, or really, as a mistreated woman with awful boyfriends. We saw it in how Juniper waited until after sex to dump her. Here, after Johnny makes a shitty comment, she tells him about getting her breasts done: Her ex “didn’t like, force me. I just didn’t know how to say ‘no.’” And it wasn’t the last asshole, but another asshole; Lyn has just been dating a string of assholes, including Johnny, who is cheating on his pregnant fiancée and who takes Lyn to a romantic spot to break up with her.

But in the world of Vidaand in the real world, toothere are shitty men all around. Sometimes they’re ex-boyfriends, sometimes they’re predatory loan sharks, and sometimes (as we see with Mari’s c-story), they’re the cute activist crush who uses his phone to record her giving him headwithout her knowing.

It’s hard to tackle everything that happens in a given episode of Vidaand I particularly just wanted to talk about the queerness of “Episode 3”especially because we are, technically, at the midpoint of the series. But that’s part of what works about Vidathese packed and rapid-fire episodes that mirror how life itself never slows down.


Pilot Viruet

Pilot Viruet is a freelance culture critic and teen drama expert based in New York City.

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