2×07: “The Book of Life”
There’s something about holiday themed episodes that make it easy to focus on one particular topic. I mean, obviously the idea of a holiday is a focus in and of itself, but the concepts behind holidays make it easier to create a deeper level of focus and cohesion. Each holiday carries with it different meanings and connotations, each usually revolving around some sort of connection, often a connection with family. Here, with an episode about a holiday like Yom Kippur, a holiday that focuses on notions of forgiveness, Transparent is able to look intently at how sorry the Pfefferman’s are. It’s also able to focus on how their forgiveness is often a mixture of altruism and selfishness.
Josh is the most affected Pfefferman of the clan, as he’s the one who lost his fiancée and his child. He asks for forgiveness, goes to the temple to pray, even tries to talk to Raquel, but he’s lost and doesn’t really understand what he did wrong. He can search for forgiveness, but he won’t find any level of closure until he understands what he did to cause the pain that he caused. The issue isn’t necessarily that he is stupid, or that he isn’t trying, but that he doesn’t really have a support structure to help him through his loss. At dinner, when his mother loses it over the news of losing his fiancée and child, it just goes to show that the people closest to Josh are so self-consumed that it’s impossible for him to move forward. And the one person that does support Josh, that does try to comfort him, is pushed away. Josh doesn’t know how to deal with Maura, so he ends up isolating himself even further.
Maura does a fine job isolating herself during this episode, as she confronts Davina after Sal talks to her very frankly about her body. Maura has every right to feel uncomfortable; Sal certainly was rude in not considering Maura’s comfort zone and what she may or may not want to talk about. But Maura’s reaction is less about Sal’s comment than it is about her fear of committing further to her trans identity. In learning more about herself, she’s scared about what comes next, about the life that is ahead of her. Sure, there’s a great deal of joy in becoming who you always were, but there’s also a great deal of fear that comes from changing completely. When Maura confronts Davina, telling her that she can do better than Sal, Davina responds in the only way she can: by telling Maura to mind her own business. Maura doesn’t understand that Davina doesn’t have money. She doesn’t have options. She doesn’t even have her health, as she’s HIV positive (something that I’m glad the show is touching on). Maura, in being fearful, is hurting another person and isolating herself in the process.
Ali and Sarah also end up isolating themselves by trying to talk their way through the problems that they encounter. Ali, after spending a night at Leslie’s, admits to Syd that she was vaguely attracted to her, much to Syd’s dismay. While Ali may be trying to be honest, the issue is that Syd requires something in a relationship that Ali doesn’t seem to want to provide. Ali is more consumed by her need to “evolve” and be “enlightened” that she doesn’t understand that the conversation she’s having with Syd is horrendously selfish. And the same goes for Sarah’s attempt to apologize to Tammy. Sarah thinks that simply apologizing will absolve her in some way, and maybe she’s right, but the issue is that apologizing means that she has to be near Tammy, something that Tammy might just not want. Apologies are supposed to be a service, something to give to another person to grant them some notion of peace, but Sarah is using them for her own needs. And all that does is piss off Tammy, to nobody’s surprise.
If there’s one scene that encapsulates how the Pfeffermans just can’t seem to connect with one another, it’s the dinner scene. Ali avoids Syd. Sarah engulfs her food in a self-focused craze. Shelly weeps and screams when she hears that Josh lost his child. And Josh, when Maura offers connection, pushes it away. Families may love each other unconditionally, but there’s nobody that is harder to connect with than family.
Transparent is all about transitions. It seems like an obvious thing to say, but when we think about transitions, we can’t just think of it as one particular event. They’re not linear. They curve, they bend, they move forward and then retract. And it’s not just Maura going through a transition. Everybody is transitioning, one day at a time, and while they’re moving towards something better on the other side, there’s a lot of pain and suffering in the middle of it. Relationships are broken. People are hurt. It’s inevitable, but it doesn’t make the transition any easier.
“Oscillate” has a lot of relationships bending and breaking, but it also has many relationships being formed. Relationships are catalysts for change, so emphasizing relationships gives “Oscillate” the focal point it needs. Josh is trying to figure out what he is now that he isn’t a fiancée and he isn’t really a parent. He’s alone again, which kills him, because he loves to have other people help define him instead of learning how to define himself. It’s not just that he loves it; he really doesn’t know any other way. Josh breaks down while driving the van because he feels boxed in and doesn’t know how to become anything else. He’s back in this bizarre transitional state where he doesn’t know what or where he’s going to end up next.
Maura is also learning more about what it means to be in the LGBTQ community, and she’s coming to embrace the people within it. She decides to volunteer for crisis intervention for suicidal LGBTQ people, and when she practices it with Shea she has no idea what do say. However, when it comes to actually listening to Shea, she does a great job. Maura’s way of integrating with the LGBTQ community comes from directly interacting with people within it, understanding how her humanity and their humanity operates in similar fashions. When Maura hears the shame that Shea felt, she begins to understand how she fits in. But at the end of the episode, when Ali and Sarah take her to the Womyn’s Music Festival (which, being from Michigan, I clearly knew where this storyline was going), it’s certain that Maura is going to run into opposition within the LGBTQ community. Because this community isn’t a united one. There are many different subsections, and some of these subsections are at odds with one another, especially since some of them are more marginalized than others (for example, trans women of color are WAY more marginalized than white cis gay men).
Ali’s journey, on the other hand, comes from enhancing her understanding of her past, as well as understanding how that past connects to her now. The flashback at the beginning of the episode helps to clarify exactly what Rose’s relationship with Gittel was like, how Gittel just wanted to be happy and to be herself, but just didn’t live in a world that gave her that. Ali certainly knows that the world now doesn’t accept people who don’t abide by the power structures that be, and her journey of self-discovery is dedicated to finding out how to break down the barriers of those power structures. But this journey is certainly somewhat selfish, as her self-discovery journey pushes her away from Syd, who ends up leaving her during the episode. She simply doesn’t pay attention to what Syd needs, which causes the huge rift between them. But it’s that blissful ignorance that hurts everybody, because as we see Maura, Ali, and Sarah driving towards the music festival, we know what they don’t care to figure out: that there’s pain right around the corner, and no amount of singing and happiness is going to drown out that reality. There are people out there who won’t accept Maura, just as there are people out there who never accepted Gittel. And she has to be emotionally prepared for the reality of being a trans person.
What do you think of the flashbacks? And are you as nervous about the music festival as I am? Let me know in the comments!