Even though Disney’s Frozen is set in the Norwegian-inspired Arandelle, there’s something Latines have in common with the one-time Queen of Arandelle, Elsa. “Conceal, don’t feel,” is a way of life in the Latine community. It’s too often our way of dealing – or more accurately, not dealing – with trauma, something Mabel Mora perfectly exemplifies in Only Murders in the Building.
In many ways, Mabel feels like the least-developed character of the main trio. Charles and Oliver, played by Steve Martin and Martin Short respectively, get roughly the same amount of screen time Selena Gomez’s Mabel does in season one, and yet, we know them much better. Considering where season two picks up, that feels both like a writing decision and a nod to Mabel’s heritage. As part of the Latine community, she’s conditioned to respond to trauma by pretending it isn’t there – and Only Murders in the Building reflects that tendency.
Mabel’s history of trauma starts before the action of the show gets underway, having been devasted by the death of her friend Zoe. And while we don’t know it when the show starts, the murder the entire first season circles around is another traumatic event for her. Tim Kono was a childhood friend, part of the same group she and Zoe used to run with. Then, when the first season ends with Mabel getting arrested for the murder of Bunny, no one really believes she did it. But that doesn’t mean anyone is surprised to see Mabel in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and carrying more trauma because of it.
To know Mabel is to suspect a history of trauma, but get no real confirmation. Though Charles and Oliver repeatedly try to get Mabel to open up, Mabel is all sass and bravery without much emotional forthrightness. But that isn’t truly on Mabel. That’s just the way she’s been taught to deal with trauma, something that feels very familiar to anyone who has grown up a part of the Latine community. And we learn more of exactly how she was taught to “conceal, don’t feel,” in the second season, getting more of her backstory – namely through the untimely death of her father (Riverdale’s Mark Consuelos).
In general, TV is pretty good at showcasing stoicism in the face of death. What TV rarely gets to do, however, is deconstruct the issue – and that is something Only Murders in the Building takes on with Mabel in the second season. Because the “just get over it” mentality doesn’t work. It glorifies a toughness that is really just denial and Mabel’s arc appears to be all about breaking out of that cycle this season.
Because the Mabel we know has family issues and trouble bonding with people. On top of that, she comes from a community that, in general, views mental health matters as something you can and should overcome, preferably by yourself. If you need another example, remember Justina Machado’s arc in season two of One Day at a Time, and how hard it is for her character to admit not just that she needs help, but that she also needs medication. To her, and to her entire community, that acceptance is tantamount to failure.
Only Murders in the Building doesn’t need to follow ODAAT’s playbook as it deals with Mabel’s trauma though. But it would be smart to move beyond Mabel just acknowledging her issues. Let’s see her actively work on them. If Only Murders in the Building manages to do that while making it clear that you can’t will away trauma and that it’s okay to not have all the answers, then Mabel can be more than just a good character – she can become a good example for a community that desperately needs to chip away at the stereotype of the strong Latina who doesn’t need help.
The first two episodes of Only Murders in the Building season two premiere on Tuesday, June 28. New episodes will be released weekly on Hulu.