Returning to Hulu for its third and final season “Love, Victor” brings the story of Victor Salazar’s (Michael Cimino) queer coming-of-age full circle. While at its heart the show remains a romantic comedy, it also finally embraces the artistic freedom to truly explore his sexuality.
As Season 2 ended, the students of the fictional Creekwood High, located in a privileged suburb of Atlanta, all found themselves at a crossroads on the night of Mia’s father’s wedding. Victor has to choose between his boyfriend Benji (George Sear) and the attraction he feels for his new friend Rahim (Anthony Keyvan). Felix (Anthony Turpel) has to choose between patching things up with his girlfriend Lake (Bebe Wood) and exploring his feelings for Victor’s sister Pilar (Isabella Ferreira). Disappointed in her dad’s choice to take a job in Stanford, Mia (Rachel Hilson) and her boyfriend Andrew (Mason Gooding) head off to see if she can patch things up with her estranged mother. And last, Victor’s parents Mando (James Martinez) and Isabel (Ana Ortiz) have to decide if they’re going to give their marriage another try. The first episode of season three picks up that same night, with the choices made by each character propelling the rest of the season.
Although Season 2 includes one incredibly memorable moment where Isabel catches Victor and Benji in bed together, much of the first two seasons still hedge a little closer to the same sanitized version of teenage sexuality as “Love, Simon.” However, Becky Albertalli’s source novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” features a much more unfiltered queer coming-of-age, filled with realistic teenage horniness, including frank depictions of teenage sex acts, including masturbation. Finally, with the end in sight, the writers of “Love, Victor” allow Victor that same authenticity, with Victor experimenting with casual sex and having his first STD scare. It’s not exactly “Euphoria,” but it’s at least expanding beyond just romantic queerness.
While Nick Robinson remains a producer on the show, the season no longer includes his voice-over replies to Victor’s messages. At the end of Season 2, Victor realized he no longer needs guidance because everyone important in his life already knows he’s gay. Robinson’s absence is missed most in the first episode, where an early attempt at shoe-horning in the same voice-over style of their epistolary friendship with another character doesn’t quite work and is later abandoned. Despite Robinson’s absence, Simon’s impact on Victor and his confidence echoes throughout the season, including a misguided attempt on Victor’s part to be a “Simon” for a classmate he thinks is in the closet. Cimino keeps Victor’s wide-eyed earnestness, which at first reflected his inexperience and self-doubt about his sexuality, but now showcases his voracity for new sexual experiences while still harboring a desire for romantic love.
With the introduction of Rahim, a first-generation Iranian-American Muslim, to the cast in Season 2 the show further explored the way coming out can be different for those with religious families. Much of Isabel’s arc in Season 2 deals with her attempt to reconcile her Catholicism and her son’s sexuality. This season allows a similar arc for Rahim and his relationship with his mother but without treading the exact same ground. Both Victor and Rahim’s journey’s with their families serve as a counterpoint to Benji’s relationship with his parents, who at first seem incredibly loving and accepting of their son, but as season progresses a more complicated reality is revealed. Each thread finds a unique way to explore how parents can be supportive and yet still damaging at the same time.
Keyvan is a delight as Rahim, who is given much more screen time this go around. While both Benji and Victor can straight pass if they want to in a given situation, Rahim is much more visibly queer. A femme fashionista who expresses his queerness through a love of aesthetics, Rahim is a target of homophobia, both from strangers and within his family. If visiting a gay bar in the first season taught Victor that there is no one way to be gay, through becoming closer with Rahim he learns why public pride is still so important. This messaging can sometimes be a bit on the nose, but Keyvan’s complex, raw performance keeps it grounded.
Another new addition to the cast in Season 2 was Ava Capri as Lucy, Benji’s friend and Andrew’s ex-girlfriend who was far less upset about their breakup than she thought she should have been. As Lake nurses her broken heart over the collapse of her relationship with Felix, she finds in Lucy a shoulder to cry on and then something more. Considering Albertalli’s sequel novel “Leah On The Offbeat” was all about the bisexual coming-of-age of Simon’s friend Leah, it’s about time the show which takes place in the same universe had a bisexual female character (and maybe even a lesbian too!). Wood and Capri have amazing chemistry, with Capri in particular mastering the art of the longing lesbian gaze. I would watch a spin-off featuring these two ladies in a heartbeat.
Oh yes, the straights. There’s still plenty happening with Victor’s parents, as well as with Felix and Pilar, and Mia and Andrew. But it’s harder to care as much about the other characters in the universe when the queer storylines feel far more urgent and far more original than the trials and tribulations of their straight friends. Mason Gooding as Andrew and Isabella Ferreira as Pilar, in particular, continue to do stellar work, taking characters that could easily have been one-note cliches, the jock and the surly sister respectively, and adding both nuance and internal growth throughout the show’s run, while always maintaining their sharp edges.
There’s a lot of pressure for a final season to wrap everything up in a manner that feels like a comprehensive story. Thankfully, “Love, Victor” does just that. The finale episode ending at the Winter Carnival, just as the pilot episode does, underscores that what seems like an ending is really just the beginning of a new story. Victor is now out and proud, brimming with the confidence to live his life and his truth and his love any way he pleases. We should all be so lucky. [B]
“Love, Victor” Season 3 debuts on Hulu on June 15.