Transparent is a show that shies away from easy story structure, that edges closer to arthouse cinema than traditional television, and it makes for a television experience that sets it apart from the rest. It’s that bizarre structure that enables it to do things like flashbacks that incorporate connections to Ali, creating connections that it would otherwise be unable to do. Connection and separation are two ideas of focus throughout Transparent, and as Season 2 progresses into its back half, it’s apparent these aren’t two separate ideas, but rather are attached to one another. Connection with one person might mean separation from another. Connection with yourself might mean separation from somebody else. It’s one reason that building relationships can be so difficult.
Everybody sees divisions in their lives, but the most heartbreaking of these divisions are between what we want our lives to be and what our lives actually are. We’re taught at a young age that we can do anything, that we can pull ourselves up and out of difficult conditions if we just use our imagination and push hard enough. But the reality is that some things are said and done. Some things cannot be changed because they’ve been set in stone already, fate decided years or decades ago. And that reality can be so unpleasant that we’ll do anything to push away from it.
This episode has all of the characters trying to figure out how to break through the divisions in their lives, with none of them really able to do so. They want their lives to be better, like Josh wants his family with Raquel, his baby, and Colton, but that vision they want for their lives has been scrapped long ago. Maura is persuaded to try this service that takes old photographs and regenders them to how Maura wished she could have looked, and while it’s a sweet idea, it’s more complicated than that. It’s okay to want something different from the past, to consider how life could have been, but it’s also important to remember how the past actually was, the pain that it inflicted, and to learn from that. Maura wants something more from her past, something that will bring her comfort, but there isn’t a whole lot there. She pushes away Shelly, blowing up their newfound relationship, because it’s just revisiting the past. It’s making it hard to envision what the future might hold.
Like Maura, Josh was unable to choose his future as well. It turns out, after Colton’s family interrogates Josh about abandoning Colton as a child, that Maura and Shelly knew about Colton all along, that they helped Rita with money and kept her away from Josh. Josh is furious about this, and it leads him to let Colton go with his family for good, but what would have happened if Josh was allowed to raise his child (which was a product of statutory rape)? He would have been attached to a woman to took advantage of him, unable to pursue some of the career options that he has now. But is it a decision that he should be able to make? Maura thought that she was doing what was best for him, but our best intentions are always clouded with what we want for ourselves and for others. Josh sees how the past has led to this moment, watching Colton drive away with his family, and a part of his idealism dies along with it.
Ali, on the other hand, is trying to forge connections, only to see divisions spring up as a result. Ali wants to break through barriers in her life, pushing herself into Syd’s space in a way that makes her uncomfortable in the process. Ali has a difficult time seeing past herself when she’s making decisions about her life, which is why she feels so drawn to Leslie, somebody who holds ways for Ali to better understand her feminism and her queerness. Sure, Leslie is a highly-established second-wave feminist, but she’s also a little predatory, and she’s uncaring about any other relationships Ali might have. Ali’s developing relationship with Leslie goes to show that she’s more concerned about her personal development than her relationship with Syd, a woman who clearly loves her deeply. Sarah’s story differs a little from Ali’s simply because there aren’t any personal relationships at stake anymore. Sarah is very alone, and despite her “life coach” sessions, there isn’t really a way for her to reconnect with those she’s damaged. All she can do is trudge through life hoping that she discovers something within herself that helps her connect with new people.
What keeps people together? It’s obviously connection, some sort of cohesive element between two people, but what kind of connection? Is it all-encompassing love, or is it just a selfish need for comfort? Is it because you care about the other person, or is it just because you’re siphoning something off of them for yourself? The reason for being together is always different for each person in a relationship, and that inequality can create a rift, pulling and pulling until something comes apart.
In Transparent, these rifts are often the focal point. “Bulnerable” starts off the back half of the season, and it features Josh and Raquel finally breaking up after she miscarries the baby. Raquel has made it known the entire series that she wants a child, and now that she’s not having one, she realizes that the only reason she was with Josh was because they were going to have a child together. On the other hand, the only reason that Josh was with Raquel was to prove that he’s a good guy capable of loving and being loved. And with that, the rift widens to the point that Raquel is ready to call it quits. She sees the difference between the two of them as so much that they’re unable to reconcile it.
Ali is also experiencing this rift effect when she goes over to Leslie’s place to get advice on her UCLA application. She wants a mentor, somebody who will help to enlighten her as she learns more about feminism and queerness, but Leslie’s relationships are often very sexually oriented and with younger girls. She’s certainly an intelligent woman, but she looks at girls in a predatory nature, as we see when Ali and Leslie are in the hot tub together. They’re both nude, and while Ali is curled inward, Leslie is floating, her naked body on display. They both want to be attached to each other in some way, but there’s a difference in how both want that attachment to happen. And that difference is bound to hurt them (mostly Ali) in the future. Sarah is trying to find any sort of connection that she can, but she’s also trying to connect with herself so that she can understand who she is for new relationships. She meets up with Dr. Steve, the physician selling her and Josh weed, so that she can explore her sexuality with somebody new. But when she tries to connect with him, she’s unable to explain what she wants, and their connection suffers as a result.
Maura has started to form connections with Shea and Davina, two trans women that have shared enough of their lives with her to feel close and connected with her. Shea’s dialogue with Maura about depression and wanting to commit suicide was brilliant in that it exposed Shea’s brutal vulnerability as well as Maura’s need to be involved. Maura cares a great deal for Shea, but she also needs to be inject herself into Shea’s life somehow, if only to be a fixed presence. When Davina’s partner, Sal, shows up, it threatens the connections that Maura has formed up to now. Maura’s anxiety is understandable, as the small safe space she’s created for herself is being threatened and those spaces are very hard to come by. Connection is exponentially more difficult when you’re a marginalized person; spaces that are typically “safe” are infused with danger and prejudice. And Maura’s going to have to keep on trying and hoping to find the right place for her, as her spaces are going to constantly be invaded, those connections threatened and broken.
So what do you think of these two episodes? Isn’t “Mee-Maw” one of the best episodes of the season? Let me know in the comments!