“Do you have any poems on the subject?”
“Poems about the border? Only about a thousand of them.”
These words start the final sequence of Party of Five’s eighth episode, “Dos y Dos.” The remaining lines are Natalia reading her poem of the same name as we see Emilio drop off his four siblings at the border and head back to Los Angeles. You see the chain-link fence and you feel the weight of this family’s separation. It had me crying (again) as this episode explores the many ways our hearts can break like a reverse-emotion — Love, Actually.
“Dos y Dos” was preceded by a suicide prevention warning and I spent a lot of it worried that someone was going to try to kill themselves. Certainly, everyone was struggling. Val spends almost all of her screen time crying or yelling, eventually running away from home in an attempt to cross the border by herself. Hers is the pain of being separated from the person who loves and knows you the best, of being lost in their absence, of not having the power to bring them back. It’s too much for a middle schooler or any kid to have to bear. My heart went out to her.
But the warning isn’t for Val’s plotline but rather for Beto’s. In this episode, he learns that girlfriend Ella was institutionalized a few years earlier. Ella tries to explain that she didn’t try to kill herself, she was just using “magical thinking” in the hopes that her actions could bring her warring parents back together. Beto tries to understand but you can see Ella’s fear coming true as he starts to “look at her differently.” To care for someone injured and hurting is no easy thing nor is it to be the hurt one. Compound that with all the ups and downs of first love and you’re in some very dangerous territory. I couldn’t help but feel for both Beto and Ella, as their young relationship hits some adult-league problems.
So later, when Beto tells Lucia “you don’t know what it’s like to be in love,” his words have extra sting – because of the danger it puts his young heart in and because of what we know Lucia’s been dealing with (and not telling her family). She’s been getting closer to activist Sulli, molding herself to be more like her (you want kids? I want kids!), drinking too much wine after learning that Sulli’s in an on-again-off-again relationship with Allison, and then drunkenly confessing her affection. So that’s why Lucia hasn’t had any romantic plotlines while Emilio and Beto are lousy with them! Homegirl is dealing with being queer and 16 and she’s got her heart set on someone wildly inappropriate: a mentor not a girlfriend. Sulli’s amazing though, letting Luz down gently but firmly in a masterclass for all the Bill Clinton, #MeToo-ers who say “but she came on to me!” Still, Lucia took such a risk and to have it not turn out for her was devasting with the rejection feeling like a referendum not just on this one relationship but also on Lucia’s sexuality and activist identity.
Finally, Emilio’s heartbreak was with himself. He admits feeling disconnected from his identity, having spent much of his life up until this point running from his Mexicanness with white friends, white girlfriends, and white interests. Now that his parents’ and his immigration status is front and center in his daily life, he doesn’t know who he is anymore. He’s disappointed in who he was and unsure of who he’ll become. He’s just as lost as Val, just acting out in different ways.
Party of Five is dealing with some of the biggest themes in Latinx art: immigration, the border, family, identity. It’s exploring the contours of heartbreak like the classic boleros, inviting us in to share a tear and an embrace. As the season winds down (just two episodes left in the first season!), the show’s only getting more insightful. I can’t imagine the anguish that’s to come when the Acosta kids have to say goodbye to their parents again and return without them to the trials and tribulations that await them in LA. It’s going to be rough but I am going to tune in — heart in hand.