Babies are a lot of work. They’re helpless, relying on their caregivers for everything: food, love, entertainment — a clean butt. I know, I’ve got two. One is younger than the Party of Five’s baby Rafa. The older Acosta kids already knew that taking care of their baby brother was hard but the show’s fifth episode hammers the point home with most of the action taking place in the ER. Party of Five makes the trip super realistic (I think I’ve seen those stickers on the wall of my pediatrician), giving it all the more weight.
Like many trips to the hospital, this one starts out in confusion. There’s been a break down in communication with the older siblings not sharing the updates from daycare. When Val pieces together that Rafa hasn’t eaten in days, she gets Emilio to take them to the hospital. Later (spoiler), when Rafa is diagnosed with lead poisoning, they’re glad they figured it out when they did. The mistake is human of course. I’m parenting just two kids with another adult and we still miss stuff. Imagine taking care of four kids by yourself. Or one baby with three of your siblings. It’d be near impossible for things not to fall through the cracks.
Luckily, Rafa’s going to be okay even if Emilio is really shaken. As he says, “I don’t have time to get good at parenting… I need to be good at it now.” He’s right, this mistake will have lasting consequences because the poisoning triggered a call to Child Protective Services. Now there’s an open file on the Acostas. It was heartbreaking to hear the ominous phrase, “I’ll be in touch” from the social worker and know that Emilio’s job just got harder.
Not that all of his parenting was bad in this episode. While Rafa’s having his health scare, middle-brother Beto is getting serious with his White girlfriend Ella. Emilio brings his little brother condoms and gives him the sex speech, improving on what their dad told him. The two brothers start out laughing at Papi’s “treat women with respect” and “don’t get yourself in trouble” message but before long, Emilio is delivering some sage advice: “forget everything you learned in porn. Don’t rush, take it slow… Make sure she’s good. You know what I mean? Good.” It’s funny but actually useful, providing counterprogramming to all the messages our culture sends about male sexual entitlement and that only their pleasure matters. Beto takes it to heart and all of his bedroom scenes with Ella are colored by affirmative consent.
Meanwhile, in the bad-parent category falls Ella’s dad who doesn’t know who Ella’s friends are or even where she is. When he comes to the hospital after seeing her Instagram there (and getting a call from her school that she skipped), he has no clue what’s going on in his daughter’s life (who’s Beto?). Not that Ella comes off the best, she makes a scene yelling at her dad in the hall and kissing Beto in front of him before declaring, “Beto and I, are in love and there’s nothing you can do about that.” The only problem is that she and Beto haven’t said “I love you” yet, which makes the whole thing seem like she’s just using Beto to make her dad angry. It’s not a good a look, particularly since this is the girl from the catering gig last episode. We know her people are petty, but here’s hoping for Beto’s sake, that she isn’t too.
The racial optics of that one are bad but Party of Five isn’t victim porn. It’s smart about race and privilege, allowing its characters to absorb microaggressions and structural racism without becoming symbols or stereotypes. The Acostas are individuals and as such, more than just their race or ethnicity. In this episode, the show reminds us of that when Lucia, fed up with waiting for Rafa to be seen in the ER, confronts the intake nurse, accusing her of treating, “White people first.” The nurse counters that they see “people with symptoms of heart attacks first,” leaving Lucia speechless for once and Emilio in charge of smoothing things over. It’s a good reminder that not everything can be boiled down to race. Not the order in which patients are treating in this ER. Not the Acosta kids. Not any of us.