If you had a big family growing up, there’s a chance that somewhere along the family tree, there will be two branches don’t get along. Perhaps you have a cousin who the family really doesn’t really talk to anymore. Maybe a beloved relative wasn’t there for your big day, and that’s all you can remember when you think of them now. Maybe there’s a chair at the table for Noche Buena that remains empty, its owner no longer invited to family get-togethers.
Fights and grudges can happen in a moment’s hasty slip or action, but they can be difficult to mend even with time and plenty of space to let tempers cool. For many Latino families, blood feuds are an accepted part of having an extended family, but it doesn’t make them hurt less. It’s topical enough that even this season of One Day at a Time explores what the alternative of grudge matches may look like with a little more effort towards healing and reconciliation.
The third season’s first episode opens with a funeral. Don’t worry, hardly anyone in the Alvarez family remembers which tía is the one they’re burying, but it sets the stage for the long-awaited showdown between Lydia (Rita Moreno) and her sister, Mirta (Gloria Estefan, in a hilarious cameo). Lydia rages about her sister, calling her “la diabla” and blaming her for taking the family’s precious mantilla, an heirloom shawl a bride wears that’s embroidered with the names of the family married with it. “Family means everything. You have to hate my sister!” argues Lydia, but her daughter sees the fight another way.
Penelope (Justina Machado) is over her mother’s feud, and her experience of their grudge represents the cost of family squabbles. Back in the day, Penelope and her cousin, Estrella (Melissa Fumero), were best friends before their mothers separated them and forced them to choose sides over the missing mantilla. Even though they couldn’t see each other, Estrella and Penelope kept their prima relationship strong, with Estrella even sending letters to Penelope while she was in the army. Penelope threatens to tell the family about Lydia’s stroke – which she wants to keep secret – if she doesn’t make amends with Mirta.
Of course, since it’s up to the resident petty queen to make peace, it takes some back-and-forth negotiations before some kind of a truce is called. It begins slowly at the funeral, as Mirta and Lydia reminisce over ancient family history. They joke about the mantilla when their great-grandmother got married – and then executed – in it. It’s one of the subtler jokes of the episodes with a bit of edge, not just because of Cuba’s various bloody conflicts, but also because they’re the keepers of that family history. Unless they pass on the lore, it is lost, and when some member of the family is cut off, that history may disappear with them. To reference another recent popular example of a blood feud, think of the way Miguel’s great-great-grandfather was cut off from the family in Pixar’s Coco after his wife assumed he had run out on them. It was a hatred that outlasted his generation and was passed on to other members of the family until Miguel solved the mystery of his disappearance.
But back to One Day at a Time, where the first episode concludes the importance of making peace before it is too late. “Who knows how much time we have,” says Mirta to Lydia before embracing her. True to her character, Lydia tries one more attempt at one-upping her sister by saying her coma beat the seriousness of Mirta’s cancer, but it doesn’t sour the moment.
Unlike languages and family recipes, you don’t have to pass down a feud like tradition.
Bookending the season is yet another great moment of forgiveness. Because so much of the family is involved with Penelope’s ex-husband’s wedding, Penelope ends up attending, facing torturous comments that she’ll “find someone someday.” However, the real star of this moment is Elena (Isabella Gomez), who is still coping with the traumatic moment two years ago when at her quinces, her dad, Victor (James Martinez), left her before the father-daughter dance because he was uncomfortable with her sexuality.
In the last season, she finally met with Victor to make some uneasy peace after the quinces. Now, at his wedding, she calls him a hero during her toast and remembers the good times they had when she was growing up. Later, she disappears into the chapel away from the party and tells her brother, Alex (Marcel Ruiz), that she feels like her speech wasn’t honest. She left out the parts that would hurt or embarrass him on his day.
In a show full of hard truths, this was one of the more painful moments in the episode. “I should not be doing all the work,” Elena tells Alex about her fragile relationship with their dad. Most of us would have not blamed Elena if she never spoke to her father again. However, because of Elena’s efforts to reconnect with Victor, he’s able to try and make it up to her with a dance at his wedding. It won’t change what happened before but she’s visibly moved by his genuine attempt to fix things and let her know he accepts her.
Families are an abundant source of stress, but fallouts needn’t last forever. Of the many issues and subjects One Day at a Time explores like mental health, relationships, and identity, it’s great to see forgiveness explored in the mix. It gives characters the space to learn from their mistakes and find resolution. We may not be so lucky to fix every family scuffle, but wouldn’t it be something if you could start that conversation with your family? Unlike languages and family recipes, you don’t have to pass down a feud like tradition.