Okay, let’s just jump in: this episode of the family sitcom One Day at a Timeis all about masturbation, complete with a variety of euphemisms for the term provided by Penelope’s therapy group (or sang and danced by Lydia). It’s sort of like a bottle episode in that the A, B, and C plots are all about masturbation and what the different members of the Alvarez crew think about it: good, bad, ugly, sinful, great, just for single people (which is somehow the moral of the story, but more on that later), on and on.
The main plot: Penelope tells her therapy group that Alex walked in on her masturbating when she thought she was home alone, complete with a flashback to the buzzing of a vibrator that Alex mistakes for his lost phone. (Delightfully, Penelope’s porn of choice is the Starz show Outlander, which leads Schneider to try to set her up with a Scottish guy) The B plot is Lydia aggressively shaming her daughter for her choices and encouraging shame in her teenage grandson, before admitting that she’s never experimented with self-pleasure; the C plot is Elena gleefully trying to convince her abuela to have a “ménage à moi.” I admit that I hoped the episode would end with Lydia’s conversion, if only to hear Rita Moreno make another vibrator joke. Instead, she throws out the book on orgasms, I’ll Have What I’m Having, that Elena gifts her, and ends up vindicated in her belief that masturbation is just for men and depressed women. At the end of the episode, Penelope’s ex, Max, shows up at the Alvarez’s door, fresh from his stint with Doctors Without Borders in Indonesia. He and Penelope reconcile, seemingly putting a stop to her adventures in “DJing for one.”
This reconciliation comes after Max reveals that Lydia ran into him at the grocery store and told him that Penelope is so lonely, she’s resorted to indulging in a “dirty, sinful habit for sad, ugly people.” Max isn’t the first man Lydia’s aired her daughter’s dirty laundry to—she set up a Tinder account for Penelope to find Catholic men to date, and told one on a fake date that Lupe has been “making love to a robot.” (Yes, these euphemisms are out of order but yes, I’m going to cram in as many as I can) Schneider finds out, of course, and veils his concern for his friend’s love life in further jokes on “opening the curtains.” In “Boundaries,” Penelope seems to be the only adult who doesn’t think masturbation is detrimental, desperate, or designated only for single people.
This line of thinking tracks with Lydia’s often entertaining (and contextually harmless) socially conservative outlook—remember how funny and heartwarming it was when she went from denial to acceptance of Elena’s sexuality in less than five minutes? But in this episode, everything feels a little bizarre: Lydia thinks masturbation is shameful, but still brings it up incessantly with everyone from Dr. B to Alex; Schneider probably has his heart in the right place by bringing a kilt-clad Scottish date over, but admits he’s “very concerned” with Penelope’s little problem; and Penelope herself seemingly gives in to the general message of the episode—that masturbation is strictly for single, lonely people—when she is reunited with Max. I know that Max is hot and distracting, but the ending to “Boundaries” has left me scratching my head. Is it a good thing that Lydia meddled with Penelope’s personal life to the extreme, shouting in front of her grandchildren that she “cannot be a mother-in-law to a dust buster”? Is it not somewhat weird that Schneider is as involved as he is in the events of the episode? Is anyone going to listen to Elena? In the end, I think I’m with Alex this time around, ducking my head under a blanket and avoiding the conflicting opinions on “doing both parts by yourself.” Despite what Lydia says, there’s nothing wrong with masturbation—but there’s also nothing wrong with Penelope getting a lock on her door and keeping her business her own.
Amelia Merrill is a New York-based journalist and theatre artist. Her writing can be seen on Shondaland, American Theatre magazine, Bright Wall/Dark Room, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @Miajmerrill.