Welcome to the last batch of recaps for season two of One Day at a Time. Things fall apart and then get rebuilt a few different times, so let’s get into it.
2×08 “What Happened”
At the end of 2×07, Elena had just found out that Alex was seeing their father behind her (and everyone else’s) back. This episode toggles between flashbacks from 2001, the year Elena was born, and present day.
Penelope and Victor are just moving into the apartment we’ve come to know as their home, both smitten with their newborn child. Both Lydia and Berto move in with them, and we also get to see past Schneider, whose look can only be described as Penelope puts it: Glen Stefani. When 9/11 happens, both Victor and Penelope decide to re-enlist, despite Penelope’s fear and doubt about what could lie ahead. But they both agree that they have a duty to their daughter to serve in the military. I’ll keep my opinions about the military to myself here, so that’s all I’ll say about that.
In the present day, Elena, Penelope, and Lydia are all angry with Alex for seeing Victor without telling anyone, but more angry at Victor for sneaking around and enlisting Alex to do the same. We quickly learn that Alex was trying to bring Victor around to the other side of his homophobia. He even called him a “typical cisgender male,” which makes both me and Elena very proud and happy.
Penelope confronts Victor about how she can’t reconcile the father who loved his daughter so much with the one that stood her up at her quinceañera and then didn’t talk to her for a year. Then Elena shows up and schools Victor on how awesome she is and how much he’s missing out on. In the end, he and Elena decide they will slowly try to rebuild a relationship. I’m sure this storyline will carry into season 3, but that’s the last of it we see this season.
2×09 “Hello Penelope”
This episode was tough to watch. It deals with Penelope in a bout of severe depression. I can relate to this particular struggle, and I think the show did a pretty decent job of portraying some of the ways depression can manifest itself and how impossible it can feel for the people who love the depressed person to reach them.
The episode starts with Penelope deciding to go off of her antidepressants and to stop going to group therapy. She still feels shame about it and doesn’t want Max to find out. Plus, things are going so well with Max and her family that she thinks she doesn’t need them anymore. Schneider, of all people, is the first to see the glaring red flag, asking Penelope if this is really a DIY kind of situation and shouldn’t she talk to her doctor? Penelope shrugs him off, but quickly descends into paralyzing depression.
She won’t get out of bed, and it’s painful to watch Lydia’s attempts to reach her daughter in order to help her. Penelope’s feelings of worthlessness prevent her from feeling anything but guilt, shame, and sadness. She blows up at Schneider, saying mean things she would never normally say. “I don’t want to be on drugs for my whole life, I shouldn’t need it,” she tells him.
“I shouldn’t need glasses, but I need them, to see,” he responds. When Penelope says it’s different, Schneider takes them off and says, “Want to go for a drive?” It’s a really simple but effective comparison, because mental illness is like any other illness. We humans are riddled with them but mental illnesses belong to the category that gets shamed.
In the end, Penelope goes back on her meds and tells Max about her depression. Perfect Max, of course, doesn’t care and wants to stay with her regardless.
2×10 “Storage Wars”
This episode features Elena in her new role as “handy ma’am” and that’s the most important thing you need to know. It may be a lesbian stereotype but it’s also awesome because she’s awesome, and that’s how the show treats her.
While Butch!Elena effortlessly fixes everything, Penelope finds out that the family has had a garage included in their rent the entire time they’ve lived there and she never knew about it. That’s because Lydia filled every last inch of it with boxes of stuff and told Schneider to not tell Penelope. Yes, Lydia is a hoarder. And Lydia kept the garage a secret.
While the family works to clear out the space so Penelope can park her car there, Lydia has a hard time letting go of sentimental objects (i.e. everything) because Cuba is so important to her, and leaving was so painful. It’s very poignant, but at the same time, she gets pretty manipulative in order to hold onto all that stuff. Luckily, Butch!Elena builds a huge set of shelves that solves the space problem—after she learns that being a handy ma’am involves emotional support as well as just fixing what’s physically broken.
Y’all. This episode opens with THE WORLD’S CUTEST QUEER PROMPOSAL from Syd. I could watch it on loop all day.
As indicated by the title, the central event of this episode is the homecoming dance. Alex goes with an older girl who it turns out was using him to make her ex jealous, but when Max points out that it worked, Alex feels pretty good about himself again. But that’s not the important part in my opinion.
Syd and Elena both look super cute in their dance outfits, but Elena has gotten it into her head that she needs to impress Syd by pretending like she has a lot of friends. Why she would think homeschooled-Syd would care how popular she was is beyond me, but after a bunch of awkward photobombs, Elena comes clean about what she’s trying to do. Syd also has basically no friends, and they bond over that, and kiss, and then decide they should probably get some friends. They’re so cute.
Also at this dance is the entire family, because Penelope got roped into chaperoning, so she took Max, and somehow Lydia decided to go to. Then Leslie shows up to cover the rest of Penelope’s shift because she needs 20 hours of community service for the school to not have to pay a hefty fine.
During the dance, Max tells Penelope he loves her, and she briefly freaks out and then says it back. But then he says he can’t wait to have kids, and we get a big uh-oh face from Penelope.
Special shoutout to everyone in this episode using correct pronouns for Syd throughout, like the not big deal that it is.
2×12 “Citizen Lydia”
Ah, the breakup. It was clearly coming, and I’m not sad, because Perfect Max annoyed me with his perfection.
Penelope thinks and thinks and, after spending time with a baby Schneider was babysitting, decides she doesn’t want kids. She will be very happy to be a grandmother, but she’s done having kids of her own. She and Max then have a tearful breakup over this.
Meanwhile, both Lydia and Schneider pass their citizenship tests and interviews, and everyone is very happy about it.
When Penelope gets home and tells her family what’s happened, she and Lydia get into a fight. Lydia insists it’s a mistake to break up with Max, and that Penelope should stay open to the possibility of kids with him if it means having a man to take care of her. Penelope gets angry, and frankly so do I. She insists she can take care of herself, and Lydia goes to bed, saying that maybe Penelope will have more sense in the morning.
When morning arrives, Penelope tries to coax Lydia out of her room with coffee and pastries ahead of the citizenship swearing-in ceremony that day. When Lydia doesn’t respond, Penelope goes into her room and finds something very wrong.
2×13 “Not Yet”
The season finale opens with Lydia in the hospital, having had a minor stroke that required some kind of surgery. Penelope informs her family that everything went well and that Lydia is in a temporary, medically induced coma. It’s kind of the perfect setup for a season finale, because it gives each character a chance to have an emotional monologue as they rotate through Lydia’s room, talking to her.
Alex paints Lydia’s nails while relaying church gossip. Leslie tells her she’s the love of his life, even if Berto is the love of hers, which is good by him. Elena puts lipstick on her and confesses how terrible she feels about losing her Spanish, and thus a major connection to Lydia. She thanks her for her surprising love and acceptance when she came out, helping her get a girlfriend. She also tells her she could crush it as a lesbian and says she’s her hero.
Schneider sets up a large array of string lights and fake candles around her bed as he recounts how much it meant to him when she showed up at his fourth rehab with chicken soup and told him, “You eat this, you get some sleep, you try again tomorrow.” At this point I’m legitimately crying, and I’m not ashamed. Then he pulls out his most prized snowglobe, and says she—and the rest of the Alavarez’s—are his family.
But Penelope, when it’s her turn to be alone with her mother, is still angry. “You can’t have a stroke to win an argument,” she tells an unresponsive Lydia. “This is dramatic even for you.” She recounts the times she didn’t feel supported by her mother: when she enlisted in the army, when she got divorced, when she tried to wear brown lipstick. In short, the other blow-up arguments they’ve had through the years. “I didn’t need your support then, so I guess I don’t need it now,” she says, before kneeling next to the bed in tears.
Like all mother-daughter relationships, this one is complicated, and this scene does a great job of showing the fraught feelings that characterize this one. But at the end of all of that thorny complexity, animosity, and weariness is the kind of deep love that is specific to mothers and daughters. In the end, Penelope crawls into bed with her mother and cries herself to sleep.
Then we see Lydia, standing at the foot of the hospital bed in a glittery gown. Berto comes in from the softly lit hallway and says he’s been waiting for her. They dance, and Lydia explains how foolish she thinks it is that Penelope broke up with Max over not wanting to have more babies. Berto points out that Lydia didn’t want to have more children either, because she wanted to go back to being a dancer. She suddenly drops the anger. She calls Penelope a magnificent woman, mother, nurse, fighter, and healer. She realizes how much she’ll miss her grandchildren, her family. After declaring that her work here is done, and that God could really use her help, Berto asks Lydia if it’s time. She kisses him and says, “Not yet.”
Watching this, I was convinced there was no way Lydia would die, but the scene between her and Berto had me on edge for a second—I wasn’t so sure. I am really glad that didn’t happen. This show needs Rita Moreno. Everyone on it is fantastic, but it needs her nonetheless.
So Lydia wakes up, and we get the group hug, and it’s all lovely. Cheesy, perhaps, but I’m all in. There’s something to be said for sentimentality, for sincerity. And these characters have my heart.
The episode ends with the long-awaited swearing-in ceremony, and the requisite singing and dancing.
Overall, this season was just as satisfying as the first, most of the time. It’s rare that a first season is as strong as it was for One Day at a Time, and that puts a lot of pressure on the follow-up. But despite my qualms with the random bits of tone-deafness and Max in general, I still love the core characters so much, even Schneider and Leslie. And it is rare for me to love cis-het white male characters. Much rarer than a show having an excellent first season.
This show is the good kind of emotional roller coaster. The family at the center is complex yet tightly bound to each other no matter what comes up, whether interpersonally or globally. It’s what Sitcom 2.0 looks like, and it looks beautiful.
Here’s to season three!