“Love, Victor” Comes to a Somewhat Rushed but Undeniably Heartfelt Ending
The spinoff of the landmark big screen romantic comedy Love, Simon has been a bright spot on the small screen since its premiere in 2020. Now, the saga has come to an end after 3 seasons and 28 episodes. Here, I review the final season and reflect on its legacy.
The History of Love, Victor: A Brief Recap
In 2015, Becky Albertalli wrote a young adult novel called Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. The book (which I am embarrassed to admit I still have not read) was released to great acclaim, being feted with multiple award nominations and wins. It was then adapted into a feature film in 2018 entitled Love, Simon by out-and-proud director Greg Berlanti (best known for creating iconic, soapy primetime television series like Dawson’s Creek and Brothers and Sisters) and screenwriters Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger. There was a great deal of buzz around the film given that it was the first time Hollywood film in history centered on a gay teen romance. The film was a modest critical and commercial success, grossing $66 million worldwide (several times its production budget) and garnering a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
In 2019, the film’s screenwriters pitched a spin-off series to Disney called Love, Victor that focused on a closeted Latino teen and his family moving into the same Atlanta suburb that Love, Simon took place in. It was given a straight-to-series order, with the ten-episode first season premiering in June 2020 on Hulu. It was met with critical acclaim (the first has a 92% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and within weeks of its release was renewed for a ten-episode second season. The show sidestepped the COVID production delays that sidelined many other shows and its second season premiered right on schedule in June 2021. The second season was met with even more rapturous acclaim, obtaining a perfect 100% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
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Love, Victor: Season Three Review
[Author’s Note: The remainder of this article contains spoilers about the second season of Love, Victor. If you have not seen it and wish to, I recommend you bookmark this article and return to it after you have completed watching it.]
Prior to its premiere, it was announced that the third season of Love, Victor would be its last. This was surprising to many given that the show had come off of two consecutive buzzy and critically acclaimed seasons and the characters still had a long way to go until high school graduation. (And it wasn’t like Hulu had a huge slate of successful original comedies that it needed to invest in.) But nevertheless, the show’s creative team said that they would be wrapping up the Creekwood High saga with an abbreviated eight-episode third season.
I had the opportunity to see a sneak preview of the Season Three premiere on June 4 at the Outfronts, a festival in West Hollywood celebrating LGBTQ programming put on by OutFest. After the season premiere was previewed to a gasping, cheering, and laughing audience, six members of the ensemble and showrunner Brian Tannen took the stage for a moderated panel discussion. Victor himself Michael Cimino appeared via videoconferencing from New York. It was a joyful, heartfelt discussion during which you could see how much the cast truly appreciates one another and how much the show meant to them both personally and professionally. Although the discussion was frustratingly heavy on Season Three spoilers, it was a delightful opportunity to see so many of the series charming ensemble in the flesh and hear them reflect on the series.
Once Season Three officially dropped, I binged it. Within a couple of episodes it became clear that the knowledge that the show was going to end led the writers to focus on wrapping up all of the disparate plot threads from the prior season instead of introducing new characters or creating new conflicts. The result is that the third and final season feels a bit like a lengthy epilogue to Season Two as opposed to its own distinct entity. This is in stark contrast to the show’s second season, which in many ways felt like a soft reboot of the series with new characters, new plot lines, and huge character development.
The third season kicks off the moment the prior season left off, with the revelation of who Victor (Michael Cimino) decided to run after following the drama at Mia’s dad’s wedding. To my disappointment, it turned out to be Benji (George Sear). Although it was perhaps inevitable that he would run after his boyfriend as opposed to Rahim (Anthoney Keyvan), the out-and-proud friend he had budding feelings for, it’s hard not to groan given what a relatively whiny and dull character Benji is compared to Rahim. Nevertheless, Benji welcomes Victor back and the two go off on a romantic escapade. However, a DUI checkpoint reveals that Benji had been drinking that evening and in fact fell off the wagon months ago (if he was ever really on it at all). And just like that, Victor and Benji’s brief reconnection is dashed as Benji is shipped off to rehab.
For the remainder of the season, Victor feels understandably lost. He doesn’t know where things will stand with Benji when he returns from rehab and even when Benji comes back he gets frustrating mixed signals. Finding Rahim uninterested in resuming their friendship (at least at first), Victor ends up on hook-up apps and begins a casual fling with promiscuous Nick (Nico Greetham). Victor turning to sex (or everything but) is actually a very natural and honest plot development, but its execution is frustratingly sanitized. Victor almost gets an STI but it turns out to be something easier for him (and the viewers) to deal with. Victor almost gets his heartbroken but it turns out Nick just needed some encouragement to give up casual sex and have a meaningful relationship. It’s a decidedly fairy tale approach to some of the darker aspects of the lives of young gay men that for me was a bit harder to swallow than the many other harsh realities the show sugarcoats.
One of the most frustrating things about the third and final season is how Victor’s arc ends. In the penultimate episode, Victor finds out that he is getting an award for bravery. He is uncomfortable with accepting an award for coming out publicly, despite the fact that Rahim makes a very compelling argument for why he should accept it proudly. It is an interesting plotline we almost never see on film or television — the discomfort of being singled out as a hero for one’s status as a minoritized identity. It also leads to a heart-wrenching, tearjerker of an acceptance speech in the series finale that beautifully ties together several disparate aspects of the show. It looks like things are going into a mature and honest direction, when Victor gets on the Ferris Wheel at the school carnival (the centerpiece of the show’s pilot episode) by himself and indicates that he’s okay with being on his own. But then Benji shows up and the two reunite. In my opinion, the ending would have been more powerful if it ended with Victor finding himself and being okay with being alone rather than reigniting his dysfunctional love affair. I don’t mind gay teens having a contrived romantic fairy tale. They deserve it. What I do mind is one that feels more obligatory than organic and one that unites two characters that probably shouldn’t be together.
The focus so far on Victor and Benji is not to imply that they are the centerpieces of the season. Thankfully, the show remains a decidedly ensemble affair. In the season premiere, Mia (Rachel Hilson) meets her estranged mother (a well-cast Tracie Thoms) and finds herself disappointed all over again. She reconciles with her father (Mekhi Phifer), but convinces him that she needs to stay in Creekwood to finish high school with her friends and boyfriend Andrew (Mason Gooding) while he moves to California. He relents, allowing her to live with Lake (Bebe Wood). However, when her new stepmother goes into labor and she can’t be there to meet her baby brother she becomes deeply conflicted and yearns to move to California to be with them to finally have a real family. Mia’s arc is a heart-tugging, complex, and mature one and Rachel Hilson knocks it out of the park.
Meanwhile, Lake (Bebe Wood) is navigating the “coming out” process after coming to terms with her bisexuality falling her romantic evening with Andrew’s ex-girlfriend Lucy (Ava Capri) in the Season Two finale. Wood is a gifted comic actress, and she does a great job with the meatier and more nuanced material this season. The highlight of her arc is when she finally confronts her mother (Leslie Grossman) about her relentless criticism. It may be resolved in a manner that is a bit too pat for my liking, but it is a long-overdue and affecting moment. Lake and Lucy’s chemistry is never particularly red hot but what their relationship does for the character of Lake is something very special.
Victor’s best friend Felix (Anthony Turpel) and sister Pilar (Isabelle Ferreira) struggle even more with their budding relationship than Lake and Lucy. At first, Pilar wants to keep their relationship a secret because of her dad’s long history of being fiercely overprotective of her. They finally reveal their relationship to Victor and Pilar’s parents and they are supportive at first, only to become enraged when they find Pilar’s birth control. In the ensuing tension, Felix fails to stand up to Pilar due to his desire to be liked by her parents. This ultimately signals the death knell for their relationship but they have a nice moment of reconciliation at the season’s end.
Speaking of Victor and Pilar’s parents Isabel (Ana Ortiz) and Armando Salazar (James Martinez), their reunion goes relatively smoothly. Compared to the prior two seasons, however, they don’t get a great deal of material. Isabel finally goes to a PFLAG meeting and grapples with her guilt that it took her so long to come around. Armando realizes he is overprotective of Pilar due to his complicated grief over the baby he and Isabel lost as teenagers. And they somewhat randomly decide to start a business together in the finale.
And don’t worry about Rahim, he gets his “meet cute” with a gay waiter followed by his own happily ever after (perhaps the least complicated one of the show).
The acting remains strong in the third season, with top marks going to Michael Cimino, Rachel Hilson, Anthony Keyvan, Bebe Wood, and Betsy Brandt, who steals each of her scenes with her soulful performance as Felix’s mother who is recovering from severe depression. The issue is that the writing is a marked step down from the prior two seasons. Several of the plotlines feel rushed and forced to unsatisfying conclusions that are reached through contrivance and sidestep thornier emotional territory. I personally would have loved to see the show get an additional season and have time to have fleshed out the plots that occurred across these eight-episodes room so they could unfold more organically.
Despite my frustration with some aspects of the show’s third and final season, it remains an absolute delight. The ensemble is full of charming actors who deserve to go on to long and successful careers. The tone remains well-calibrated with a balance of innocence and maturity and a careful avoidance of melodrama. And then there’s the fact that its very existence is something remarkably special. Like the film it spun off from, Love, Victor told a mainstream family-friendly story about queer people and did it with remarkable skill, empathy, and heart. Even though I was frustrated at the specifics of the fairy tale ending we were given, I can’t express how much I love that young gay people were finally given one.