'Love, Victor' Bosses Break Down That Cliffhanger and What's to Come in Season 2 (Exclusive)
By John Boone
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By the end of Love, Victor's first season, a lot has changed for Victor Salazar: He makes a new friend in a certain blog-posting Creekwood alum, shares a disastrous kiss with his dream guy -- and then eventually a real first kiss -- and finally gains the courage to come out to his parents. But unlike the Hulu series' big-screen counterpart, there's still a lot of drama for Victor (Michael Cimino) to deal with when the credits roll on episode 10.
"I loved Love, Simon, but I really loved the idea of telling a different story and making Victor's journey more challenging," executive producer Brian Tanen tells ET. "In television, you can tell a longer, more nuanced story. In film, the journey has to be wrapped up with a bow in two hours, but on TV, someone can struggle and grow and change over many, many episodes."
There's the fallout of his relationship with girlfriend Mia (Rachel Hilson) -- who sees the aforementioned kiss between Victor and Benji (George Sear) -- and the question of how his parents (Ana Ortiz and James Martinez) will react to him coming out. Tanen, plus showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, break down season 1, the finale's cliffhanger and what's next for Victor.
ET: One of my favorite scenes this season is Victor coming out to Felix. How did you decide who the first person Victor would come out to should be?
Brian Tanen: The first time Felix takes Victor through school, you get that Felix is a great guy, but he does warn Victor that Benji is gay and while he doesn't care, you might not want people getting the wrong idea. And you can see on Victor's face that he's a bit taken aback by this. It wasn't mean-spirited, but Felix, like everyone else in Victor's life, made an assumption about him that isn't true. But over the course of the season, they become such deep, pure friends that you really understand why he would tell Felix first. Felix has his back no matter what, and that's what you end up seeing in that scene. Felix is surprised but knows immediately that the first thing he has to do is embrace his friend. I find it so adorable when Anthony Turpel, who plays Felix, is so touched that Victor has told him that he becomes emotional. And the jacket that Simon gives to Victor in [episode 8], you may notice in the next episode, Victor puts on that jacket almost for strength as he comes out to his first friend.
Simon never had a girlfriend, so any crushes on him were ultimately easier to set aside. But Victor and Mia spend the majority of this season as a couple. Did you have any concerns about viewers becoming too romantically invested in that relationship, especially because Mia is such a great character?
Brian Tanen: For the LGBTQ writers in the room -- and there were a lot of us -- that was a universal part of our experience. I had a girlfriend in high school, who's still one of my absolute best friends in the world, and we wanted to tell this careful story of having that relationship and having it be real. It's not Victor pretending to have feelings. He isn't using her. We wanted to make it clear that he loved her in a way, that their connection was real and, in some ways, a confusing part of his journey, that he felt as close or closer to her than he ever had with other friends and maybe this is what it means to be straight. As you see along the way, the sexual compatibility and feelings aren't quite there for him, and he realizes that the relationship he's having with Mia is not the relationship that she's having with him. We just felt like that was a real part of the journey, and both of them are such great actors but Rachel Hilson has this incredibly deep inner life where you are rooting for her. She's just so compelling that even though you're rooting for him to figure out who he is, you also really don't want him to break this poor girl's heart.
Victor and Benji finally get their big romantic moment in the finale. It's what we've been hoping for all season -- and then Mia sees, so it packs a betrayal, too. Why did you decided to play those moments together?
Elizabeth Berger: It was very important to us that Victor gets a big, romantic, wish-fulfillment kiss at the end of our season, and that the season isn't all about the downer of the fallout from Mia discovering that he is gay. That being said, obviously it's a major thing we've been tracking all season, that he's been in this relationship with her, trying to make it work. So, it's something that we gave a lot of attention to and Brian, specifically, was really leading the charge in making sure we really landed the wish fulfillment while also honoring the plot threads we had to deal with.
Brian Tanen: Life is complicated, right? One person's romantic victory is a sad and surprising moment for Mia. It was important to us to allow Victor and Benji to have that moment uninterrupted for a beat -- and let the audience experience that joyful, happy feeling with the boys -- and then, of course, there's the moment where it gets punctured by Mia. Noticeably, in the moment, neither Benji nor Victor is aware that they've been discovered. There's a real bittersweetness to Victor walking back into the school gym on cloud nine and having no idea that Mia's heart has just been broken.
We learn this season that Simon and Bram are still high school sweethearts, but that's probably the exception more than the rule. Should viewers brace for some heartache with Victor and Benji?
Brian Tanen: In season 1, the character of Benji is almost this dream guy for Victor, who exists a little bit outside of the group, and because he's such a fantasy, you don't totally get a sense of who he is. I'm definitely eager to see in future seasons more of who Benji is and how he came to be the only out, gay teenager at Creekwood and what possible future he would have with Victor.
Isaac Aptaker: Part of why we were so excited to tell this new story and this new class is because there's nothing more boring than watching people be happy in a relationship on a TV show. [Laughs] It feels like Simon and Bram are off to the races and are happily ever after -- no one wants to watch that anymore -- so, yes, season 2, we'll definitely test Victor and Benji.
Brian Tanen: We're hard at work on a writers' room for season 2 right now. And one of the exciting parts of getting to tell a story about a character who knows who he is -- as opposed to a character who is figuring out who he is -- is that you get to tell stories about first relationships and first conflicts within relationships and first sexual experiences and first heartbreaks and all the things that you normally see in other teen romances and soaps, but you never get to see with a gay protagonist. I think it'll be really exciting to tell those stories in future seasons. Hopefully many, many seasons.
The season ends on a cliffhanger with Victor officially coming out to his parents. Knowing the season would end there, did you know how his parents would react or did you save that for the season 2 writers' room?
Brian Tanen: We knew all along that the central journey for Victor all season was, "Is he going to come to this conclusion about who he is and will he be brave enough to say the words out loud?" But in the execution of the moment, we toyed with different ideas of seeing the parents' faces. We knew that they were at a moment of peak marital strife, and so we wondered would this news drive a deeper wedge between them or would it bring them together as they discussed how to handle it? Ultimately it felt like those were questions for season 2.
Elizabeth Berger: We had an idea, but it's been the main topic of conversation from the moment we got going on season 2 is, "What do these reactions look like? How are they different between mother and father? What's surprising here? What are these journeys that we want to take?" That's been a huge focus as we break season 2.
Brian Tanen: While you're desperate to hear what everyone's reaction to this is going to be, there's also an ending to [the season]. There's a sense of completion of Victor's journey. I love the way that Michael Cimino performed the moment. There's just this almost hopeful sigh of relief that he has after he says the words. Like, I finally got that off my chest. So while it's this scary moment and he almost doesn't say it -- because it's in the middle of this giant conflict in his family -- he realizes that it's never going to be the perfect time and he has to do it now. And he does it and it's kind of heroic when he does. I think it ends on a feeling of hope, even though you don't know what's going to happen next.
Obviously, his parents' reactions will be different than anything we saw in Love, Simon, but Jennifer Garner's "you get to exhale now" speech is my favorite part of the movie. I don't know anyone who didn't cry during that. Does that put pressure on you to deliver something like that here?
Elizabeth Berger: It does now! [Laughs] At the end of the day, we want this to be a very hopeful series and a series that makes people feel good after they've watched it. So even though we want it to be a complex journey and a compelling journey and one that makes people feel like they're seeing a story that maybe looks like theirs, we also want it to be very hopeful and very filled with love. All to say that yes, there will probably be speeches that we have to write in the near future, and we hope that we do a good job.
Brian Tanen: And one of the nice things about doing this for television is that the parental journey in a season 2 doesn't have to be encapsulated by a single speech. It can be a journey for them as well, in which they have to make peace with and learn to embrace this thing.
If you want to bring back Jennifer's character to start a PFLAG chapter and maybe have some scenes with her and Ana Ortiz, I would not be mad at that.
Elizabeth Berger: You would do very well pitching in our writers' room. [Laughs] You're right in the sweet spot.
Brian Tanen: We love our characters from the film. So, I know on our wish list is continuously being able to bring characters from the film back into the world of our TV show.
Isaac Aptaker: Not just with Nick [Robinson], this extends to the rest of our cast from the movie who are just terrific actors and terrific people. We're always looking for ways to have the two worlds touch on each other when it feels appropriate.
If season 1 was about Victor's journey to self-acceptance, what will season 2 be about?
Brian Tanen: One of the things that resonated for me -- and I think for a lot of the other LGBTQ writers in our writers' room -- was this notion that you have to get over your own internalized homophobia and your own fears about [coming out], and then let everyone else deal with it. That's what season 1 is about, then season 2 is a lot of the reaction and fallout and all the various complications that come from being yourself. At that point in Victor's journey, he has tackled the greatest demon, which is confronting this within himself and making himself OK with it and even proud of it.
Isaac Aptaker: Season 2 is really about him declaring the most honest, real version of himself to the world and figuring out how him being who he truly is fits into the rest of his life. You hear a lot about, "Why is it always a coming out narrative when it comes to LGBTQ stories?" And what's so exciting for us about this one, because it's a TV show, is it's not just that. That's just the first chapter, the first season. So now that we've told that part of the story, we get to live in the rest, to live in what it's like for Victor to be in his first relationship with a guy, what it's like for him to be an out gay kid on the basketball team, what it's like for a very religious mom to have to accept that her son is in a loving relationship with another guy. It's such a bigger story than just the coming out, that's just chapter one.