What makes Transparent so good isn’t just the progressive way in which it deals with an LGBTQ character. It’s also the way that it shows how gender and sexual orientation are an integral part of what defines us, what makes us the people that we believe that we are. When people align with marginalized identities, being something that isn’t accepted as mainstream or “normal”, there’s a lot more questioning that goes on. Is this what I’m supposed to be? Is there something wrong with me? Should I hate myself or see myself as abnormal, like others do? How do I keep from losing myself in my identity? Being part of a marginalized community is being part of something that is both rich and terrifying, something that helps to form a sense of personal identity but something that can engulf you whole. For example, white people aren’t defined by their whiteness, while a queer-identified person is. How do you figure out who you are when everybody around you continually tells you what you’re supposed to be?
So I took a week to mull over these two episodes and what they mean within the larger context of identity, not just because I believe that binge-watching is detrimental to understanding the depth of storytelling (yes, I’m not a fan of binge-watching), but also because I wanted to take time to let the story soak in, to try to further understand what it means both to me and in larger contexts. Transparent is the kind of show that invites analysis because it’s not about plot; it’s about people. It’s about how people operate and what makes them the human beings that they are. It’s a topic that, especially when talking about marginalized communities, deserves more than a quick review.
With that in mind, I’ll be reviewing two episodes a week, with each review running on Friday. So, let’s get started:
2×01: “Kina Hora”
This is easily one of the best Transparent episodes made, matching “Symbolic Exemplar” and “Best New Girl”, both the highlights of the first season. It’s great because it pulls back from Maura in a way that highlights all of the Pfefferman children, showing how Ali’s directionless ways, Josh’s need to connect and feel, and Sarah’s self-destructive indecision all stem from insecurities and a lack of self-definition. Transparent, more than anything else, is about the way that our insecurities (some bestowed upon us by societal pressure) about our identity lead us to implode, and viewing this through the lens of family expansion (marriage) is a brilliant way to further examine it. “Kina Hora” is about Sarah and Tammy’s wedding, and weddings are rituals symbolizing the merging of families, and by extension, the merging of identities.
What makes “Kina Hora” so great is the way that is portrays the Pfefferman family as this stabilizing element for each of the individual members, but also a place where those members can expend their negative energy at each other, pushing each other away in the process. Ali doesn’t get much to do past grumble at everybody else and try to assert that she has some sort of direction, and it makes sense. Weddings are an integral point in a person’s life, a point on a journey, and Ali is frustrated because she doesn’t see her life going anywhere. Josh sees the wedding as an expression of love, which is a feeling he uses to connect with women in order to feel validated. We know that Josh has trouble expressing authentic love because it’s so heavily infused with his desire to validate himself and mask the discomfort of reality. So, he has to tell Ali (who he knows will tell everybody) about Rabbi Raquel’s pregnancy because he needs to believe that his relationship is worth something as well. But, in doing that, he betrays Raquel’s trust, as she didn’t want to tell anybody yet. Josh, when she’s frustrated at the end of the day, turns the argument against her, saying that she’s waiting for a reason to say that the relationship isn’t right, but that’s what he does. He turns everything against those he’s in relationships with. He doesn’t want to understand what he’s doing wrong, what his faults are. And that kind of tendency is ultimately self-destructive.
Sarah, upon marrying Tammy in one of the best scenes of the series, realizes that she hates Tammy and doesn’t want to marry her. It’s entirely possible that it’s true that she hates Tammy. But it’s kind of an extreme feeling to have right after being married. Sarah is known for being indecisive, unsure what decision is the right one, and the decision of marriage is so absolutely final that it probably terrifies her. She loved Tammy once, enough to leave Len to be with her, but it’s easy to distance yourself from a feeling when you’re terrified. The thing that Sarah doesn’t realize is that life is full of decisions, no matter what happens. She has to choose between being married to Tammy or not being married to Tammy. Not being married and being married both hold a plethora of other decisions that branch off to other decisions and so on and so on. Sarah will constantly self-destruct, just as she does here, if she doesn’t learn to make decisions.
But, of course, this series is about Maura, who is outed to her sister, as she was invited to the wedding without Maura being told. Season 2 has done a great job of portraying Maura as a woman who needs a queer space to help her assert her identity, but doesn’t know how to find a queer space that works for her. Her sister is homophobic and spews hateful rhetoric towards her, telling her not to visit her ailing mother before she dies, completely unconcerned with Maura’s journey of self-discovery. Sure, that journey is going to hurt other people. It’s an isolating journey, pushing away children and exes and siblings for the sake of self, but that’s part of coming out. Coming out is really beginning the journey of self-discovery, giving yourself the space to find out who you really are.
Because sometimes it’s okay to be selfish, especially when you’re searching for who you’re supposed to be.
2×02: “Flicky Flicky Thump Thump”
The title of this episode refers to a sexual act between Maura and Shelly, a way for connection to occur, but the connection is incongruent, one-sided. Because isn’t that how all connection occurs? Isn’t there one person who is more invested in the connection than the other? It’s an awkward dynamic, especially if the two people aren’t willing to communicate that incongruence, letting it fester like a sore. In the scene between Maura and Shelly (which is a great, great scene), Shelly is enjoying the act, as it quickly brings her to orgasm, but Maura looks pained, uncomfortable, the angle looking as if she’s almost trying to drown Shelly. There’s a miscommunication, a misunderstanding, as Shelly doesn’t understand how Maura experiences dysphoria as a result of committing that sexual act with her. She may be accepting of Maura’s identity, but doesn’t understand her. And isn’t that what we all desire? To be understood?
“Flicky Flicky Thump Thump” is an episode that focuses intently on miscommunication, about the desire to find connection and the desire to push away dealing with miscommunication. Ali and Syd are uncomfortable at first, as Syd confessed her feelings for Ali last season, but their awkward attempts to connect are a way to move forward, to rectify miscommunication even though it feels awkward and strange. Josh, on the other hand, continues to double down on his relationship with Raquel, asserting that they (along with Colton, who is living in LA for the time being) should live in the old house. Josh, when faced with discomfort, always doubles down on romantic feelings with his partners, and his desire to move in with Raquel is a way to avoid the real issues that come with dealing with both his pregnant girlfriend and his 17-year-old son. Josh is going through a great deal but just doesn’t want to acknowledge it, instead choosing not to communicate his thoughts and feelings to Raquel. It’s something that keeps the peace, to be sure, but continues to create tension.
The centerpiece for this episode is the big industry pool party that Josh holds at the Pfefferman house, where it all goes well until Tammy (after splitting from Sarah) shows up off the wagon and wreaks havoc. The greatness of this scene comes from the way that Tammy is humanized, how sad she looks when she’s screaming at the Pfeffermans. The awful party guests filming her with their phones was also a great way to humanize her, showing how her pain is so easily ignored by those around her. And Tammy’s pain is ignored, as Sarah would rather put out her old wedding cake as food for the party than simply throw it out. Putting out the wedding cake is Sarah’s way of distancing her from the pain and discomfort of the decision that she made, but distance often disregards pain and suffering of the other person. Sarah deserved to be yelled at because she didn’t care about anybody’s feelings but her own, just as Josh deserves to be yelled at for pushing his insecurity on Raquel. Sometimes yelling is the only way to get somebody to actually listen.
But it all goes back to selfishness and its necessity. Sarah might be mistaken in electing to be so uncaring towards Tammy, but Maura’s selfishness is a little different. While Sarah just doesn’t want to deal with the consequences of her actions, Maura is scared of being abandoned, scared of her identity as a trans woman distancing her from everybody in her life. Maura doesn’t fit in with her family. Maura doesn’t even fit in with her younger trans friends. She looks at herself in the mirror and wonders: Who am I supposed to be? And there’s no real answer to that. All she can do is keep looking, keep trying.
I’m sure that I missed a couple things in these episodes (I didn’t mention the flashback, which I will absolutely absolutely talk about in the next review), but let me know what you all thought of the first couple episodes! I personally loved them. Let me know what you’re thinking in the comments!