SPOILER WARNING: Do not read if you have not watched Season 2 of “Love, Victor,” streaming now on Hulu.
The second season of “Love, Victor” — the spinoff series of the groundbreaking 2018 coming out feature “Love, Simon” — picks up right where the first left off, with Atlanta teenager Victor Salazar (Michael Cimino) telling his parents that he’s gay. After waiting a year, audiences finally get to see how Armando (James Martinez) and Isabel (Ana Ortiz) react to their son’s announcement.
It’s not terrible — there are no tears or screaming, no condemnations or rejections. But at first, neither parent embraces who Victor is either. Armando at least engages, if awkwardly, asking about his girlfriend (i.e. Victor’s attempt to convince himself he could be with a woman) and wondering aloud when he decided he was gay.
Isabel, however, remains silent. When Victor finally asks her to say something, she blanches.
“I think, um, that we should get some rest,” she says, barely getting the words out. “And we can talk about it tomorrow.”
When the episode cuts to 10 weeks later, Victor and Isabel still haven’t talked about it. As the season unfolds, while Armando does the work to understand his son by attending meetings of the local chapter of an LGBTQIA+ ally support group, led by Simon’s father Jack (Josh Duhamel), Isabel really struggles to accept that Victor is gay.
“It would be dishonest for him to come out and for everything to be just fine in his household,” says co-showrunner Brian Tanen. “In 2021, you really just want to see parents hug their kids and tell them everything’s going to be OK. But part of our job on this show was to tell a different coming out story than, say, Simon had in the film” — in which Simon’s parents pretty much immediately understand and accept him.
“Love, Victor” charts a different, more nuanced course; as Victor charges ahead into his first same-sex relationship with his boyfriend Benji (George Sear), Isabel flounders, avoiding spending time with Benji — let alone acknowledging he’s dating her son.
“This is going to sound slightly odd, but I was actually kind of excited when they told me,” says Ortiz about Isabel’s arc in Season 2. “It was really exciting to play — it was really different.”
Usually in coming out stories, the mother is the one who is understanding and devoted to her LGBTQIA+ child. Ortiz even played that role to perfection on ABC’s beloved telenovela “Ugly Betty” as Hilda Suarez, who fiercely protected her young gay son Justin (Mark Indelicato). So she relished the reversal.
“I thought about it constantly,” says Ortiz of the differences between Hilda and Isabel. “They are two sides of a coin, aren’t they? Hilda really would would fight anyone to the death if they looked at Justin cross-eyed. Whereas, I think Isabel is so hung up on what people think of her and her family and of her as a mother. Like, ‘How could you raise a gay son? If it was me, I wouldn’t let them be gay.’ I’ve heard that quite a bit from people in my community: ‘Well, just, no — tell him he can’t be gay. Tell her she can’t do that.'”
Ortiz saw this dynamic at work from within her own family. She relays how her late cousin Freddy was devoted to her paternal grandmother Ramona, despite the fact that for a long time Ramona could not accept that Freddy was gay. That dynamic helped inform Ortiz’s understanding of why Isabel would take so long to support Victor.
“She’s not a monster,” Ortiz says. “She loves her son, she loves her family. The way in for me really was just thinking about Freddy and Ramona and how much we all loved her, despite those flaws — how human she was. She was still there for Freddy, and yet, there was always that little thing — until there wasn’t. Until that light switched.”
The “Love, Victor” writers also mined their own personal experiences with coming out to their parents when crafting Isabel’s journey this season. Take Isabel’s initial reaction to keep postponing the hard conversation with Victor to another day.
“For those whose parents didn’t immediately embrace the idea of coming out, this idea of a non-answer was something we heard about over and over again,” says Tanen. “This idea of a parent just holding back and not really wanting to say one way or the other because they’re, A, in a little bit of shock, and, B, don’t want to say negative things, but aren’t there on their journey.”
One of the biggest sticking points between Victor and Isabel is her refusal to allow Victor to tell his little brother Adrian (Mateo Fernandez) that he’s gay, a development that grew out of the small controversy when “Love, Victor” moved from its initial home on Disney Plus to Hulu before Season 1.
Tanen says that while the move only ended up benefitting the show — allowing for an uncommonly frank depiction of Victor and Benji’s sex life in Season 2 — the decision that “Love, Victor” couldn’t be on the more “family friendly” Disney Plus “did spur an interesting conversation in our writers’ room about whether LGBT issues are inherently more adult.”
“They are in some ways a discussion of sexuality, and sexuality is a little bit more of an adult topic,” he continues. “We wanted Isabel to grapple with whether it’s OK to have these conversations with kids. Because of course it is. These are just conversations about who people are.”
Once Adrian does learn that Victor is gay, he accepts it without a second thought, which spurs Isabel to confront the biggest impediment between her and Victor: her lifelong devotion to the Catholic Church. Early on in Season 2, Isabel even consults her priest about Victor; he counsels her to try to help her son find his way back to Jesus — in other words, to stop being gay.
“When he’s agreeing with her reluctance about Victor’s coming out, she doesn’t want to hear it,” says Tanen. “You can see on her face she wants the priest to turn her around on this. Her heart and mind are in different places.”
Later, when Adrian tells Isabel that their priest insinuated that Victor’s soul was in danger, she has the same light switch moment that Ortiz’s grandmother had with Ortiz’s cousin Freddy, and she marches into the priest’s chambers to tell him off.
“I have been raised to believe a lot of ugly things, Father,” she says. “Things that it’s probably going to take the rest of my life to unlearn, but I will unlearn them.”
Ortiz loved the scene, but she says the director had to keep reminding her to dial back her reaction. “My instinct is to be like, ‘Let me loose!'” she says with a laugh. “But that’s just not Isabel. She still is so much more subdued about it.” (Still, Tanen remembers that during the table read for the episode, “people clapped for her” after that scene.)
Tanen — who’s been writing scenes for Ortiz since “Ugly Betty” — wrote the penultimate episode of the season, in which Isabel finally tells Victor what he’s been so desperate to hear: “I accept you, Victor. I love every single part of you.”
That kind of happy ending isn’t reflective of every parent’s reaction to their child’s sexuality, but Tanen says it is in keeping with the larger mandate for “Love, Victor” to eschew dwelling on the trauma of coming out.
“We want the show to feel, at its core, inspirational and uplifting,” he says. “It can become emotional in our writers’ room as as people recount the journeys that they’ve been on, but it can also be incredibly cathartic. And an opportunity to have a little bit of wish fulfillment, as well — to rewrite history in a way, even when it isn’t perfect, to show LGBT audiences, ‘This is a way that this can go.'”
Telling queer stories from a place empathy can also lead to some unexpected places.
“It’s a little bit easier for me now to dialogue with someone in my family who has those [homophobic] views,” she says. “Before I would just get into a screaming argument over dinner. Now, maybe I can have a conversation with them and try to look at it a little bit more from their side.”
“I think having those conversations is really important,” she continues. “Right now, everybody’s so pissed, and rightly so. I mean, the world is upside down. But when it’s your family, when it’s people you love… I’m much more able to have these conversations calmly. And maybe even just watch the show with them and be like, ‘Now we can talk about it.'”