Around four years ago, Netflix premiered “On My Block.” The series, which stars four young actors who were, at the show’s outset, completely new to the industry, centers around four teens of color navigating life in the fictitious and violence-ridden Freeridge, California. The grounded portrayal of the coming-of-age show’s characters hits the hearts of many watching at home. The teens are not defined by their circumstances, and instead experience the highs and lows of adolescence paired with serious crime and death.
“On My Block” has never had an easy job. An article from Mashable details how the show’s attempts to portray classic high school tropes like homecoming or field day have never been its high points. Rather, the series juggles drama and comedy by focusing mainly on the group’s adventures outside of school — finding the Rollerworld money, confronting gang leaders … the usual trials of a normal teenage life.
This challenging mix leads to two relentlessly unstable tensions: one involving the kids simply surviving the unsafe circumstances that they live in, and one involving the kids sharing heartfelt moments as they try to support one another and thrive. The show’s cast is packed with sheer fresh talent. The actors’ chemistry pulls the dichotomy off and keeps the show worth watching, even when the plot falters after the end of the first season.
The final season of “On My Block” returns to Freeridge two years after the third season’s finale, with the core crew still separated. Monsé (Sierra Capri) is living her best life at boarding school, Ruby (Jason Genao) and Jasmine (Jessica Marie Garcia) are still passionately dating and Jamal (Brett Gray) has found popularity on the high school football team. Likewise, Cesar (Diego Tinoco) has taken over his brother Oscar’s (Julio Macias) role as the gang leader of the Santos, as Oscar is preparing for fatherhood. The previously mentioned dichotomy is strongest in Cesar, since he has the closest affiliation to the violence in Freeridge. He is forced into a situation that leaves him with no choice but to try and grow up faster than he should have to.
The group is forced back together to protect their safety after police find the remains of the crime boss Chucillos. The audience then witnesses the characters’ attempts to move on as they grow into young adulthood. Now seniors in high school, the teenagers are figuring out how to become their own people.
Jamal, with his newfound popularity, becomes the school hotshot, weakening his loveable dork moments and changing how he views his relationships. Even so, Gray continues to handle Jamal’s plotline with grace, keeping his character enticing to watch even if his behavior is a little underwhelming.
Monsé and Cesar fall into their old patterns almost immediately. Toward the end of the season, Monsé learns that she must stay in Freeridge because her father can no longer afford to send her to boarding school.
Ruby and Jasmine’s relationship also experiences some shifting dynamics, as Jasmine’s urge to nurture Ruby morphs into a desire to control him. Jasmine realizes that her whole life has revolved around making sure the people around her — mostly her father — are okay, and she instead begins to focus on caring for herself. As she matures and reflects, Jasmine’s character arc becomes emotionally fulfilling, with Ruby now rightfully obsessing over her after their breakup. On the other hand, Jasmine’s fate feels flat, as her dreams of leaving Freeridge are cracked when she has to stay home and care for her father again.
The overarching plot of the Santos, however, feels the most disappointing. This had nothing to do with the actors’ deliveries: Tinoco and Macias acted with a tenderness that really sells the tension both between them and within their individual characters. Rather, the content of the plot seems a bit backward.
Oscar has experienced incredible character development throughout the course of the series, going from a tough and scary gang leader to the soft and kind protector of his brother and his friends. However, all of this growth is cut short with Oscar’s sudden and mediocre death. His demise catalyzes the conclusion of series-long mysteries via a few lines and flashbacks. The conclusion took seasons to build up to, but it was unimpressive and left viewers with more questions than answers.
The messy way that Netflix tied up the show’s loose ends could be due to the company’s announcement of a spinoff series titled “Freeridge,” in which a new crew could be challenged with finishing the story more neatly. Either way, the conclusion of “On My Block” felt rushed and frustrating.
Most of the characters’ fates leave me wondering if the teens really are defined by their circumstances. From the looks of it, they are trapped in Freeridge, incapable of chasing their dreams. “On My Block” was distinguished by its unique approach to crafting distinct characters and asserting a balance between violence and humanity in gang life and those affected by it. The choices made in the final season seem to undo this character evolution and compromise the tone that the series spent years fostering. “On My Block” is still definitely worth a watch — the witty delivery and poignant character moments will tug at your humor and your heartstrings — but dedicated fans would probably realize that the show’s conclusion didn’t do most of its characters justice.