Last week Netflix released the third season of On My Block, a coming-of-age dramedy that follows a group of friends in South Central Los Angeles as they navigate everyday teenage life with the challenges that their neighborhood brings on.
The third season picks up right where season 2 left off, with the four friends (Monse, Cesar, Ruby, and Jamal) being kidnapped on their walk home from school. Once their kidnapper is revealed the four friends are roped into tracking down a former Santos gang member, Lil’ Ricky, who has been presumed dead for decades. The remaining seven episodes follow their struggles to find Lil’ Ricky while navigating their changing friendships and trying to have fun on their summer break.
Fans were shocked during the finale episode when all seemed fine until the show decided to give us a glimpse into these characters’ futures by jumping two years into the future. Many of them took to Twitter and other social media websites to vent their confusion and disappointment with the season 3 finale episode.
While I’ll admit the ending was shocking and tears were shed I completely see where the writers were coming from and am going to defend their decision. After all, if you watch the series closely enough you will see that the characters’ outcomes aren’t that shocking at all.
Don’t believe me? Keep reading and you will.
From the very beginning of On My Block, Monsé has been the de facto leader of the core four and the glue that holds them all together. As the only girl of the group she also takes over the reins as the “mom friend” who is forced to worry about her three best friends who are constantly getting themselves into trouble.
At the start of this season, she’s caught in the middle of wanting to get out of Freeridge to attend a boarding school and staying to keep her friend group together. Over the course of the season, we see her exhaustingly try to keep Cesar, Ruby, and Jamal together. She’s consonantly refereeing the boys and their countless arguments that sometimes get too personal.
On top of that, she’s trying to move on from her own grudges including forgiving Cesar for sleeping with someone else while she was away during season 2. And she also has to deal with the loss of her estranged mother this season which brings up and interesting array of feelings for her.
By the end of the season, Monsé is generally scared about what her future holds. On one hand, she’s just gone through an extremely traumatic experience with her friends and she’s seen them fight and nearly leave each other for dead. On the other hand, she’s mended her relationship with Cesar and finally has a girlfriend she can confide in. And yet, she has to give it all away to go to this new boarding school.
After everything is said and done, Monsé texts the core four asking when they can hang out again. We see each of the characters look at the message but no one answers. This is the beginning of the end of their ride or die friendship. Fearing this, Monsé begs her dad to let her stay in Freeridge but her dad and Cesar stand firm. Monsé was destined to get out of this place and this is her ticket out. We watch as Ruby, Jamal, and them on the curb to say one last goodbye.
Jasmine hands Monsé a homemade frame with her face decorating the edges and a picture of the core 4 inside. Monsé looks at it dearly and promises that she’s going to display it prominently in her new dorm room. The core four plus Jasmine share a group hug and for a moment everything is right in the world. But if you look close enough you can sense the tension and strain this is going through.
Eventually, Monsé gets in the car and drives off with her dad, the core four has officially split. And even though Cesar, Jamal, Ruby, and Jasmine watch Monsé’s car disappear together that sense of “everything is going to be okay” is lost now that the glue to their friend group has left.
And then the writers stab us in the hearts by showing Monsé two years later in her new dorm having a movie night with her new friends. The camera slowly pans to her nightstand and we see the beloved picture frame has been pushed to the back of her nightstand, overshadowed by pictures of her new friends and her new life.
Some might say it’s a classic case of teenagers growing apart and I think that’s part of the reason. After all, not everyone is destined to be best friends forever with their childhood friends. I think the other reason they grow apart is that Monsé can’t play her role as the mediator from towns apart. She isn’t there for the day to day arguments, to calm everyone’s nerves and remind each other why they’re all friends. In addition, she’s now living a very different life than her friends are. They don’t have the same problems anymore which means Monsé doesn’t have all the answers anymore.
More importantly, maybe she’s flat out tired playing that mediator role and with her new friends, she doesn’t have to. These new girls don’t force her to fix their problems, they don’t expect her to be the one constantly reaching out and checking in on them. Perhaps, they actually support her unconditionally which is something Monsé desperately needed not too long ago.
In the end, Monsé’s worst fear did come true — the core four disbanded but instead of being sad by it she almost seems relieved. And fans felt that was out of character for Monsé but is it? I don’t think it is. Monsé has spent years defusing arguments and we can see that’s she’s really fed up this time. She’s broken the vicious cycle of forgiving her friends (at least for now).
Of course, I don’t think Monsé purposely forgot about her friends, I do think they drifted away. And I don’t think this rift is permanent; after all, that’s what season 4 is for.
Cesar has had a very tumultuous ride over the course of On My Block. In the first season is was forced into the Santos gang by his older brother and was instructed to kill a member of the rival gang. Unable to pull the trigger, the ramifications of his actions hurt those closest to him and jeopardized his future with the Santos. We saw those ramifications play out in the second season as Cesar struggled to live on the street and get back in his brother and his friends’ good graces. And by the end of season 2, he had succeeded.
Season 3 opens with Cesar being pulled back into the Santos life by the leader of the Santos herself. He and his friends are left with no choice but to help Cuchillos get what she wants or else their life is on the line — something Cesar is accustomed too but his friends are not. On top of that, Cesar’s estranged father, Ray, gets out of jail and wanders back into Cesar’s life. Having never had a relationship with him, Cesar jumps at the opportunity to get to know his father despite his brother’s warnings.
As time goes on Cesar begins to realize the severity of the situation he and his friends are in. After realizing how much Cuchillos has hurt his family, Cesar decides the only way he and his friends can win this war is if they kill her. As we get closer and closer to the end goal, we see Cesar tap into those gang mentality thoughts he fought so hard against in prior seasons.
After everything is said and done, we see the Cesar from prior seasons emerge as he comforts Monsé and pushes her to leave Freeridge. The old Cesar isn’t long for this world though. In fact, when we jump two years into the future we see Cesar’s worst fear has come true, he is now the leader of the Santos wreaking havoc on the rival gangs.
Out of all the time jump scenes, Cesar’s was the most jarring and the most heartbreaking. In fact, it’s the scene that got the fans most riled up because they felt it was wrong and uncalled for. Once again, though, if you watch the season closely enough you can see Cesar undergo this transformation from a teenager who wanted nothing to do with the Santos to a teenager who is ready to join them.
Cesar’s father returning is the first catalyst in his transformation from anti-Santos to Santos leader. That might seem silly since Ray is a new man after prison and is trying to have a better life now, but it’s the truth. Cesar has always known his father was part of the Santos but seeing him for the first time reinforces this idea that Cesar’s family lives, breathes, and dies because of the Santos gang. It’s their way of life. And even though Ray praises him for getting out and being smart, there’s still this undertone that Cesar is meant to be a Santos because it’s all they know.
If Cesar’s dad’s presence is the first catalyst to his transformation, his dad leaving is the final push Cesar needs. Why? Because it fills Cesar with rage and resentment and as Oscar said rage is how he survived in Freeridge for so long. Instead of channeling his rage into something positive, Cesar does what his family does best, turn their rage into violence.
When Cesar finds out Ray has left he tries to fight Oscar. He puts the blame for his shitty life on Oscar’s decisions. In fact, he utters the same exact words to Oscar that Oscar screams at Ray. One would think this would make him want to break the cycle of violence and his family’s need to be in the Santos gang but it only drives him closer to it.
We really see his transformation begin when the core four and Oscar decided its time to take Cuchillos down. After three days of not hearing from Oscar, Cesar begins to get worried and jumps into the action. The only problem is, he doesn’t want to put his friends in more danger than they already are so he turns to the only other family he has, the Santos. Cesar gets extremely agitated when he realizes the Santos aren’t looking for him. Worried that they’ve turned on him, Cesar confronts them and is ready to fight them but luckily he doesn’t have to. Oscar’s right-hand man steps up and defends Cesar’s wishes sending the Santos to the streets to find their leader. In doing so, Oscar’s right-hand man tells Cesar “We got you, Little Spooky,” which is the first time Cesar has ever seen the Santos truly protect him — and he likes it.
In the same episode, the core four is pulled together by Ruby after he receives a text from Cuchillos. This leads them to believe that Oscar has failed and forces Cesar to make the decision that he needs to be the one, now, to take Cuchillos down. Before the core four arrive at the hotel, Oscar’s right-hand man meets with Cesar to give him a gun. He promises to ride with Cesar no matter what, another hint that the Santos are willing to accept Cesar as their new leader if and when the time comes.
If you’re still not convinced that Cesar is beginning to accept his Santos lineage, the scene between him and Monsé should have you convinced. Monsé looks at Cesar holding the gun and asks him straight out, “this is just a one-time thing right? Because you have to.” Cesar has to pull his attention away from the gun to look at Monsé but his reaction doesn’t scream “one-time thing.” In fact, this really isn’t a one-time thing considering Cesar has held a gun to someone twice before. The difference is this time Cesar has the rage and motive to pull the trigger — and perhaps, he likes that power.
Because that’s the thing, being in the Santos means power. It means belonging. It means mattering. In the earlier scene with Cesar and Ray, Ray tells Cesar that he’s never needed anyone that he’s always known who he is and that Ray is jealous of that. But it’s not the truth. Cesar has struggled with his identity from the very beginning of the series. He’s struggled with finding acceptance within the core four because of his ties to the Santos. And for the first time, he’s seeing that maybe his place really is in the Santos where he can’t put his friends in danger anymore. Where he can be in control and be powerful instead of scared and helpless.
As if deciding to kill someone isn’t proof enough that Cesar is becoming a Santos, his willingness to fight Ruby when Ruby speaks the truth and “disrespects” Cesar. It only escalates when Jamal chimes in that being Cesar’s friend is a “liability.” Cesar’s fears have come true his friends have turned on him and the only one left for him once Monsé leaves is the Santos.
And the final knife into old Cesar happens when we watches Oscar make a deal with 19th Street to end the senseless violence and make things better for themselves. Instead of praising Oscar for this groundbreaking deal, Cesar tells Oscar he’s soft and that it’ll never work. As he watches Oscar give up his position in the Santos, Cesar sees this as his opportunity to take over.
Because even though everyone in Cesar’s life tells him that they’ve made them a better person and that he has the ability to be different and be better, Cesar doesn’t see it. He’s filled with rage. And the only way to take out that rage is to be the new leader of the Santos.
Jamal’s journey to the two-year time jump is a bit less intense than Monsé’s and definitely not nearly as intense as Cesar’s, but it was still a shocking twist for fans.
When we first met Jamal in the first season of the show he was the core fours goofy friend who was always up to something. He spent most of the first season trying to figure out a way to get out of playing football because he was afraid of getting hurt. After he finally quits the team, Jamal spends his time trying to find the rumored Rollerworld money. At the end of the first season, he does, in fact, find the money which is great considering the money becomes a key component of the second season.
The third season opens with the Rollerworld money gone and no puzzle for Jamal to solve, though that’s fixed rather quickly once Cuchillos gives them their new mission to find Lil’ Ricky. Jamal spends the rest of the season trying to be the leader of the group which is harder than he thinks given Jasmine’s new presence in the core four. In addition, he gets his first glimpse at high school romance thanks to a strange homeschooled girl who has taken to stalking him.
Jamal goes through a very emotional journey as he struggles to come to terms with his new role amongst his friends and how to juggle his new relationship with the rest of his life. In addition, he’s stuck trying to solve an unsolvable puzzle.
By the time the two-year time jump happens, Jamal has accepted he’s not the leader, fought with his friends, broken up with his girlfriend, and realizes that he doesn’t have a mystery to solve anymore. In turn, when we see him two years later he is now laughing and enjoying his life while wearing a football jersey. As Ruby passes Jamal and him share a look so many of us can relate to — they’ve grown apart.
A lot of fans were caught off guard that Jamal, who actively spent an entire season trying to avoid playing football, would suddenly join the football team again. But it’s not that shocking.
Think about it, the only reason Jamal was against playing football was that he was afraid of being hurt. By the end of the season, he’s literally been threatened by a powerful gang leader and cheated death on more than one occasion. He’s faced his biggest fear of getting hurt and being dead and now, with that fear gone he can enjoy the game of football without worrying what’s going to happen to him.
It’s not just his newfound bravery that makes football the perfect fit for him though, it’s also the fact that Jamal loves puzzles. He spent three seasons tracking down money, missing people, and trying to figure out how to get his friends out of trouble and he loved it. When you think about it football is a great place for someone who loves to solve puzzles because plays are puzzles. He would actually be a great asset to the team if he was able to dissever the opponent’s plays.
On top of that, Jamal’s always wanted to be a leader and yet, his friends have never taken him seriously. He’s never been a leader in the core four’s eyes and its something that has frustrated him for years. In that time jump, he has the undivided attention of the team, he’s the one telling the story that’s making everyone laugh with him and not at him. Jamal finally found a place where he could be a respected leader.
The most jarring thing for fans to come to terms with in regards to Jamal’s time jump scene was the fact that he and Ruby don’t talk. While I agree that we don’t see Jamal and Ruby growing apart from each other as much as we do with some of the other characters this season, the tensions in their relationship are still there. The fact of the matter is while Ruby was desperately trying to help his parents pay off his medical bills this season, Jamal was prioritizing finding Lil’ Ricky. So yeah, maybe they did just grow apart organically or maybe they truly needed time apart because they weren’t on the same page anymore.
Ruben “Ruby” Martinez Jr
Out of the core four Ruby has the most heartwarming transformation.
When we first meet Ruby he’s a hopeless romantic who’s a little too obsessed with girls. He’s often the one friend who gets the core four out of trouble and he truly is ride or die even if he doesn’t always show it.
At the end of season one, Ruby ends up getting shot at a family friend’s quince which leaves the family friend dead. Ruby spends much of season 2 juggling his intense PTSD while also trying to help his friends get Cesar out of harms way yet again.
By the time season three rolls around, Ruby is somewhat better but he still suffers from survivor’s guilt and is a bit numb to the world. His one wish at the start of the season is to just be a normal teenager but of course, that’s impossible given the world he lives in and his friends.
He begins to have feelings for Jasmine, a girl who’s been obsessed with him since childhood that the core four have often brushed off as crazy. On top of that, Ruby learns that his parents are going through marital problems partly due to Ruby’s growing medical bills after being shot.
Ruby spends much of the third season trying to figure out a way to help their friends while also trying to survive his impending death for a second time. On a positive note, he’s also trying to discover if his new feelings for Jasmine are permanent or if they’re a stress reliever given their current life or death situation.
Ruby once again takes charge of the core four after Cuchillos leaves him a burner phone that allows her to communicate with the core four. He’s the one who pulls the group together after they realize that Oscar is probably dead and he’s the one who devises the plan on how to take down Cuchillos together. Even though his actions make him appear as the leader of the group, he doesn’t feel like that.
In fact, he feels alone even when he’s with his friends. Jamal is too caught up in his first relationship and the newest puzzle to help Ruby with his financial trouble. Ruby tries to bond with Monsé after her mother passes but even she ends up pushing him away by expressing her fear of being numb to pain and loss — something he has first-hand experience with. And he nearly comes to blows with Cesar after finally admitting that everything that’s wrong with him is because of Cesar.
After he utters those words, there’s no going back. It’s the crack in their foundation that makes Ruby distance from the core four make sense in the time jump.
Even though Ruby losing his friends is sad and not what viewers wanted, it’s what he needed to finally live a normal teenage life. And the time jump is the proof of that since we see Ruby and Jasmine walking the halls of their high school happy and in love for the first time in a long time.
Oscar “Spooky” Diaz
Oscar, or Spooky as he’s known for most of the series, has the most positive drastic change during the two-year time jump. And it’s the one fans welcomed the most.
When we first meet Oscar he’s fresh out of jail and back to reclaim his seat as the leader of the Santos. His first mission is to innate Cesar into the gang life which isn’t an easy task given Cesar’s hesitance. The two have a very tumultuous relationship in season one but they do manage to share a few heartfelt moments together. Most memorable is the scene on the beach where they both fantasize about what their life could be if they weren’t stuck in Freeridge and had parents who were actually capable of being parents.
Unfortunately, that closeness doesn’t last long and in season two, Oscar is forced to turn his back on Cesar after he puts the Santos lives in jeopardy after not killing a member of the rival gang at the end of season one. It takes the entire season for Cesar to prove himself to Oscar but eventually the two reunite and take down the Prophets once and for all.
Season 3 should have been an amazing season for these two brothers who are finally starting to heal but instead, their father, Ray, comes back into the picture and drives a wedge between them. See, Cesar doesn’t remember what his father’s presence is like but Oscar does and Oscar doesn’t want Cesar to go through any more shit than he’s already had to deal with. But Oscar can’t protect Cesar from himself — and that’s an important thing to remember as the season continues.
If season 3 for Cesar is about Cesar’s transformation into a Santo, then Oscars season 3 is about his transformation away from the Santos.
This shift becomes clear halfway through the season when Oscar confronts Ray about all the shit that he did to Oscar. Oscar blames Ray for everything that’s wrong with Oscar’s life. He blames Ray for forcing him to grow up and be the leader of the Santos even though it’s not what he wanted. Ray tells him he needs to let go of his rage and move on because he can’t fix the past. In a pivotal move, Oscar tells Ray that he can’t let go of the rage because it’s the only thing that’s kept him alive in Freeridge for so long.
The ironic thing is, in telling his father off, Oscar has let go of his rage. And from that moment on, we see Oscar take steps to distance himself from the Santos. The first move comes when he helps the core four plan to take Cuchillos down by sacrificing himself for them. For the first time, Oscar realizes that the Santos aren’t his family and that they don’t have his back the way he might have thought they had.
By sacrificing himself for Cesar and his friends, it’s the first step Oscar makes against the Santos. Thankfully, his mission pays off and he’s able to make a deal with 19th Street that would allow both gangs to live in peace without fear of being shot over meaningless issues. This scene is Oscar’s final act as a Santo and in turn, it’s the turning point Cesar needs to step into his brother’s role.
When Cesar confronts Oscar about being soft and being played Oscar can’t bring himself to care. He even goes as far as telling Cesar that he wants “adult problems” and that he’s done with this way of life. That he’s done living his life with resentment and missed opportunities. Instead of agreeing with Oscar, Cesar asks him “what if someone takes your power?” To which Oscar responds “let him.” And in that moment, it’s clear that while Oscar is done with the Santos life, Cesar is just beginning.
And so the two-year time jump shows the drastic reality that Cesar has taken over the Santos; while Oscar has finally gotten what he’s always wanted — a wife, a kid, and a normal life.
Now, many have criticized Oscar’s happy ending wondering why he didn’t get Cesar out of Freeridge too. They’ve been vocal about their issues with him leaving his baby brother to run a gang he knows will ruin his life.
But here’s the thing. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. Oscar knows this.
He knows Cesar is still full of rage and resentment, especially towards Oscar. And at the end of the day, Oscar doesn’t want to be in charge of his baby brother anymore. He never wanted to in the first place. And even though we’ve seen Oscar be a good brother over the course of the season, we can’t forget the fact that he literally forced Cesar to sleep on the streets for nearly an entire season.
Oscar finally chose family over the Santos, but unfortunately, Cesar didn’t make that same choice and that’s no one’s fault but Cesar’s.
And that concludes my long rambling essay on why I stand by the writer’s finale decisions. Even though I support them, I know that this is not the end of the core four. And I can’t wait to see what season four has in store for us because I’m certain we’re going to get one.
Even though the season 3 ending might be realistic, it doesn’t match the positive tone On My Block has always given us. Which is why I know this is not the end of the core four’s journey.