Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

HBO’s Betty highlights the power and resilience of community in season 2

The cast of Betty
The cast of Betty
Photo: HBO

When Betty opened back in season one, viewers were treated to a B-roll cut of Kirt (Nina Moran) skateboarding her way through New York City. From the first two minutes of the series, viewers were made aware of the fact that Betty—like its predecessor Skate Kitchenis a very NYC production. In the first episode of season two, viewers are once again unceremoniously dropped into the middle of the city. We get gorgeous pre-war Brooklyn brownstones as the backdrop to a scene in which Indigo (Ajani Russell) is talking to her mom… but she’s wearing a mask under her chin. Because this time around it’s a very different New York. This time, when Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) grabs her ’board and the rest of the girls and tries to get some killer footage of their skills, she rides past George Floyd and BLM posters adhered to fences. And like Indigo, Camille and the rest of the crew are all wearing masks. Though the characters’ handling of COVID-19 throughout the season is a bit inconsistent (i.e., scenes where everyone is skating indoors and maskless), it becomes immediately clear to viewers that Betty accurately reflects its real-life setting.

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In our review of season one, we described the series as a “tale of community and agency,” a phrase that rings even more true with what we see from Janay (Dede Lovelace) this season. Her activism comes in the form of skating, obviously, and she easily steps into the role of community organizer. When she and her crew get displaced and need a new place to skate, Janay (understanding the importance of having a location to engage in skateboarding fellowship) is tasked with finding them all a new home base. She checks out empty warehouses until she finds a suitable spot, and in the process, she gives her uncle a place to set up his food delivery outreach service for seniors stuck at home because of the pandemic. She is empowered, on top of her shit, and, with the help of handsome, smooth-talking, (and, in Janay’s opinion, sometimes to a fault) respectfully cautious Sylvester (Andrew Darnell), able to bring her goals to fruition, even though things don’t turn out the way she planned.

Janay’s new role can also be seen as representative of real life: Last summer, in midst of COVID-19 and the protests that broke out in response to George Floyd’s murder, many people who felt powerless but incensed by the tragedy got involved with grassroots organizing. Whether it was donating to bail funds for protestors across the country, or zeroing in on neighborhood-focused projects like food pantries or handing out masks and water to protestors marching under the unforgiving NYC sun, many teens and young adults dipped their toes into local activism.

Most of the groundwork laid for the characters in season one becomes fully actualized in season two and viewers get to see substantial development and growth. The Camille we met last season has matured. No longer content to sell her friends out for acceptance into exclusive all-male skate spaces, Camille is fiercely loyal in season two and willing to stand up for herself and stay true to her image—even if it means giving up some crucial clout on skateboarding Instagram.

After stumbling upon a stuffed octopus-kitty (or “Octopussy,” as she calls it in her own words) toy, Kirt feels inspired to go out and find her purpose. And though her journey leads to her making a pilgrimage outside of the city, she eventually makes her way back, and the ladykiller turned woman whisperer is forced to learn a tough lesson in love. Throughout the season, Kirt’s character continues to be the series’ comedic relief (although, full disclosure: the blaccent she puts on is grating to the point of irritation) and some of the most wholesome moments of the season come when she is at the park or sitting out on a skate ramp, teaching her crowd of boys/eager pupils the smooth art of understanding their girlfriends and prospective crushes.

Indigo has a rough go this season. The carefree upper-middle-class girl with the bleached brows and a fashion sense that is unique and eye-catching enough to get her scouted on the streets of NYC decides to make money in a provocative but undoubtedly risky way. Indigo’s familial struggles and nightmarish career shift highlights one of the most difficult pandemic lessons: Even when the world is seemingly at a standstill and experiencing an outpouring of collective grief, personal hardships will continue to arise and one must find a way to pull off an unimaginable balancing act. The quiet, not-quite-yet-out-as-queer Honey Bear (Moonbear) enters season two in the middle of an upscale sex shop. She and her girlfriend Ash (Katerina Tannenbaum) trade sweet kisses while browsing dildos at the Babeland location in downtown Brooklyn. The scene underscores just how comfortable Honey Bear has become with her identity and within her first relationship. However, that comfort and assuredness is tested when Honey Bear and Ash decide to explore polyamory.

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Many of the characters are weed enthusiasts and spend their time taking cheeky hits from vapes. That relaxed vibe is palpable in both the script and the performances; the plot is slow and unhurried, and the conversations between characters are easy to follow. Both aspects make the series perfect for marathoning. Even when filmmaker and series creator Crystal Moselle ups the ante on the drama in season two, it remains understated. Betty manages to deliver the same slice-of-life charm of season one, even while set against the sobering reality of a global pandemic and the feverish June protests. Moselle never tries to exploit the trauma New Yorkers have experienced within the last year: the city becoming the first COVID epicenter and the NYPD lining up to beat BLM protestors every night for a month. The filmmaker doesn’t pour salt on still-raw wounds—sure, she gives us villains, including a white Karen-type neolib who dresses up as the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg for a costume party while proclaiming to “love Vice” a few episodes before calling the cops. But there’s never a heavy-handed tragedy porn storyline or any moment where things start to feel like a crash course on racism, after-school special-style. What Moselle gives us instead is also one of the most important lessons of the last year: In community, there is survival and there is joy.