'Vida' Series Finale: Creator Tanya Saracho Reflects on Show's Historic Impact (Exclusive)
By Liz Calvario
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Warning: If you have not watched Vida's series finale, do not proceed. Spoilers ahead!
And just like that, fans said adios to Vida. After three seasons and 22 episodes, the groundbreaking Latinx show came to end. The series finale sees Lyn (Melissa Barrera) and Emma (Mishel Prada) come together, despite all their fights and ups and downs, and understand that all they have is one another.
The Starz series concludes with both Emma and Lyn cutting ties with their estranged father, Victor, after he tried to take the bar from them and showed his homophobic and discriminatory feelings towards the LGBTQ community. Lyn breaks up with Rudy and comes to the realization that her identity shouldn't be influenced by the men she dates. Emma and Nico decide to work on themselves and call it quits. As for Eddy, she told her new love interest, Monica, that she was still grieving from Vida's death and isn't ready to be in a relationship. Emma, finally, has a change of heart about selling the bar after Lyn's emotional plea.
ET spoke with Vida creator Tanya Saracho about the series finale and how it felt to end this chapter of her life, her favorite moments from the third season, and the additional storylines she had wanted to explore before the show's cancellation.
ET: How did it feel to know that season 3 was going to be its last?
Tanya Saracho: They told me it was the last season when they greenlit me and told me I had six episodes. But I didn't believe it! I did that denial thing, with grief when you're like, "No, no, no. I can change their minds. I will change their minds with six little masterpieces." But that was foolish. But it's the process that I had to go through. Anger, denial, you know, all of the steps.
But, when I pitched it…I did a Powerpoint but the last slide was missing, and I said, "Not yet. You'll see." I couldn't [finish the story]. And when I gave them their outline, again it was missing the last scene. They were like, "So what happens?" Well, I can't know. I didn't want to go there yet, because we still had so many months to keep building it that I was like, I'm not ready.
So after all that, how did you finally decide to bring it all together?
I think I had to have some acceptance, but not full acceptance. I still had a little bit of hope and then my writers had to be told. They were the first ones that were like, "You know, we're ending this." We had this wall of all the ideas that we could not leave out this season. We could not leave this third season without those ideas, or notions, or stories. So, basically we had to put it all up there, just spill it all out [on the wall]. What did happen is that it made the season really easy to write after that. It was an abundance of stuff and then we all split up and wrote them. I wrote the last one, but the last scene, it was [written at] the last moment.
Reflecting on the three seasons, how would you describe Lyn and Emma's personal journeys?
Lyn, man. I don't think she gets a fully realized version of herself because why would you in three seasons? That's a lifetime of stuff. But we get her to a really good point by the end of the season. Not all fixed. But that girl has been a professional girlfriend! Really, that's what she's been, even before she put on breasts for a guy who wanted them. Then he left her. Now she's stuck with these breasts. She's always adapted for men, including her father. I mean, she got baptized! She's naive but smart. It's a bad combination sometimes. First season, she's so lost, but then we watch her finding herself for three seasons. And I love her because she's trying to figure it out. And she's a good person.
And then Emma, the growth that she experiences this season, it might look microscopic but it's monumental. You watched her first and second season have these panic attacks, and this season, in a couple of situations, she's able to push them off and pull her own self from that precipice. That's growth. Now, it's not the growth you might want, but [it's growth].
The show began with the death of their mother, Vida. This final season also included the death of Johnny and Mari's father. Did you always plan on including that in the story?
It was actually pitched last year and it became a story about orphan siblings. We were just really attracted to it because we had set up that the dad was sick and that the dad was un atenido, like if Mari didn't do everything for him, he wouldn't [do anything]. And that's real in our community. The dad was diabetic and wouldn't take care of himself and tenia una bolsa de conchas and he was still eating them!
We're like, if we follow this thing that we're setting up -- the dad is un atenido and only makes her do everything and Mari and him are on the outs -- let's follow that and what's the worst that can happen to them? And then also the guilt that [Johnny and Mari] have, because one didn't take him to the doctor and the other one was a cualquiera and got kicked out of her house. The guilt they're gonna carry. And in that episode, episode two, they're not dealing with it, they're shoving it down the whole episode, until the end. It brings them together, eventually.
You had a couple new characters this season. How did it feel to incorporate Jesse Borrego as the sisters' dad, Victor, and Lidia Porto, as Rudy's mom, Silvia, into the show?
I love her! I would write symphonies for her. Lidia Porto is a dream to work with. She's one of my favorite things about this season too. Jesse Borrego too! The dad, I mean, Blood In, Blood Out. Cruzito. That's, like, Latinx Hollywood royalty right there!
What were some of your favorite memories from this season and topics you touched on?
I have different favorite things. The drag kings are really important to me. Have you ever seen drag kings on TV?! I do love that we have a little bit of a love story for Eddy. It's really important for a butch to be not just a joke or a sidekick. Eddy was the heart of Vida. While the stories were the sisters, the heart, keeping the love for Vida in the bar and stuff was Eddy, and I love sexualizing a butch on television, a brown butch especially, because we don't see a lot of that. So that was really important to me.
Immigration, classism, queerceñeras…Some of the queer conversations, intergenerational stuff. Old and new queers. How they called Eddy an elder…What a great platform to be able to have them on Vida.
Were there any other storylines that you wanted to explore and were written on that wall that you didn't get to?
There was a lot! That wall was pregnant with ideas…There was this love triangle that I was gonna do with Nico, Emma and Baco. The three of them. I had set it up that way from last year, and there was no real estate for it…We always wanted to tell more immigration stuff, like Yoli (Elizabeth De Razzo) and her mother getting evicted. That was gonna be a whole thing, we were gonna see that. That had to go away. I think there were more sex scenes I wanted to show. I'm really crazy about the characters Sam (Michelle Badillo) and Alex, the non-binary characters, the ones Emma had a threesome with. I'm so interested in Sam. You can tell that Sam has a big crush on Emma and I loved that from last season, but it couldn't be expanded.
I really wish we would have had more episodes because we had Nico planned out with just a gorgeous story, like more backstory for Nico...There was more we could do. But there always will be. Hopefully when you watch the last one, you feel like, "Wait is that the end?" But also,"Yes, that's the end."
Now that the show has come to an end, how does it feel to know that Vida was at the forefront of this new wave of Latinx shows?
I have been thinking about legacy a lot, especially in quarantine. Right now, I'm able to look at Vida that way. [Look at] the experience on a personal level and on a professional level, and then sort of the mark that it made in the timeline of our history. It was one of the first prime cable Latinx shows. The first to be able to do these complicated, "ugly" [stories]. I think these ladies were ugly sometimes. Like "feaitas" -- not feaitas, obviously my girls are gorgeous -- but Lyn, first season you're like, "Ugh." [Latinxs] haven't been allowed to be the anti-hero a lot in Latinx culture because most of the time the dominant culture has been telling our stories. It hasn't been Latinx showrunners or writers or directors telling our story.
But when we get to tell our messy, raw, not ideal story, it complicates our image, which humanizes us more. Historically, for the last few decades when we have been portrayed, we're maids and cholos and that's their version of us, which we are domestic workers. We are criminals sometimes too. But we are so many more things. We're everything. And these girls are not some archetype. They're just living their lives in this neighborhood that is very real, dealing with very real problems. But also real desires that sometimes are ugly and petty. Or real fears and doubts that sometimes they can't get over…I want people to take the fullness of these characters and the realness of who they were in this time and place. Hopefully they will be like, "Oh, that's what it was to be a brown queer in Boyle Heights."