I didn’t think that this week’s episode of One Day at a Time would tug on my heartstrings when I saw that it was about romance. As gratifying as the reunion between Penelope and Max was, and as cute as the teenage couples on the show continue to be, I felt a little overwhelmed with the amount of romantic developments this season. Fortunately, “Moonlight” turns the rooftop proposal trope on its head for an episode full of warmth and healing that brings the Alvarez family back down to earth.
Schneider and Avery decorate the roof with heart-shaped chocolates, string lights, and a sign reading “Together Forever” while they discuss the future of their “Schnvaby,” a term Avery quickly rejects. With a fake-out proposal causing audience laughter, it’s clear that the super moon set-up isn’t for them—and it’s refreshing to see that the two don’t feel pressured to get married. It would also feel superfluous if their romance served as the main plot for another episode this season.
Elena and Syd then explore the roof’s display, while good-naturedly complaining that the super moon isn’t actually larger than an everyday moon. In a moment of honesty, they confess their celebrity crushes to each other: Syd chooses Ruby Rose, Ellen Page, Halsey, Samira Wiley, and Hermione Granger, while Elena reveals that she’s attracted to Tanya, a barista she feared Syd was dating back in the first episode of the season. Before the two can discuss this revelation too much, someone—the people the roof was set up for, they assume—is about the open the door to the roof, and Elena and Syd hide.
As much as Alex wants to think he’s smooth enough to have decorated the roof for Nora, she sees through the lie, but appreciates the view regardless. Alex then panics when he thinks they might have sex (at this point, Syd and Elena reveal themselves so they can flee), because he thinks it will inevitably lead him to marriage and divorce. It’s a bit of a heavy mental load for a fifteen year old to carry around, but Nora assures him that they’re not going to be having sex any time soon, let alone get married (and divorced).
Later, a sweatpants-clad Penelope tells the kids that Max is excited—maybe a little too excited—to go up to the roof to show her the super moon. Thinking their mom is about to get proposed to, Alex and Elena implore her to wear something nicer. “A woman shouldn’t have to dress up just to satisfy a cultural ideal created by men, for men,” Elena says. “Except for tonight.”
But when Penelope sees the rooftop décor, she emphatically rejects Max—roughly fifty times. Max, for his part, wasn’t planning on proposing and genuinely did just want to look at the moon. The two have a frank conversation about marriage: Penelope has vowed to never remarry for the sake of stability in her kids’ lives, while Max wants to continue working abroad with Doctors Without Borders, meaning he’ll spend a good deal of time away. “So you’re telling me you’re here for a couple months, and then you’re gone for a couple months? That’s like my dream.” Penelope says. It’s a healthy take on modern love that allows both people to balance their goals and pursue everything they want—that is, unless Max still wants kids, but that’s a conversation for another day.
We still don’t know who the roof was set up for when Alex and Elena burst out from their spying spot, but the whole gang soon has to hide behind solar panels when the mystery couple finally claims their romantic hideaway: Lydia and Leslie. Thinking the two are about to have sex for the first time, Penelope begs her mother to keep her clothes on, and sees that Lydia’s actually holding the urn of her late husband, Berto.
This finally ties up a loose end from the end of the third season. Lydia and Dr. B flew to Cuba to scatter Berto’s ashes in his home country, but now we learn that Lydia couldn’t go through with it. “It was not the Cuba that I remembered,” Lydia says. “It wasn’t home anymore.” Instead, she decides to scatter the ashes in the rooftop garden, where Berto spent so much time.
In a poignant scene, each member of the Alvarez family spreads some of Berto’s ashes while reminiscing on what they love about him, and wondering what he may think of where they are now. With so much loss ravaging the world lately, it was comforting to watch a scene about death that acknowledges both the pain of grief and the value of moving forward. With the future of the fourth season in flux due to production shutdowns, I’m glad that this is the note the (live-action) Alvarez crew may end on for now: one that rings out strong without sacrificing emotional truth.
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.