2×09: “Man on the Land”
Marginalization creates a cycle of pain. It’s not just that the upper-class cisgender white able patriarchy beats everyone into submission. It’s that it creates a culture of self-perpetuating pain, where marginalized people beat themselves up, beat up people more marginalized, beat up those around them. It creates a history where the pain of the past enhances the pain of the present, to the point where it feels like overcoming adversity seems an insurmountable task. Because how are you supposed to undo that pain if it is so permanent, so ingrained in the fabric of your existence? To be marginalized is to have an identity built on pain, on loss, and to exist as a marginalized person is to find some sense of happiness, understanding, and power amidst the pain.
That said, “Man on the Land” is probably my favorite episode of Transparent to date, not just because it funnels the show’s vision into one singular location and storyline, but also because it takes the idea of marginalization, of the pain of the past, and leads to this powerful understanding that what happened ten, fifty, seventy years ago can still be felt today, like an old wound that never heals. At first glance, the festival seems to be open, inviting, a place for women to just be women without the pain of patriarchy dragging them down. But when Maura sees the women yelling “man on the land” to the sewage workers, she starts to understand that the pain can’t be isolated. People carry around pain with them, transport it like a vehicle, and then unleash it even when they don’t know that they’re doing it. When Maura hears about the festival’s trans-exclusionary policy, it’s the ultimate wake-up call, a final reminder that there really are no safe spaces. There’s nowhere outside of the poisonous control of the oppressor.
But that doesn’t mean that the festival isn’t part of the journey to something better. Ali looks for a space to express her femininity, to embrace what it means for her to be a queer woman. Sarah also looks for a place to feel like she belongs, and finds a group that engages in BDSM, making her feel like her desires are valid and okay. The festival, for the Pfefferman family, is about feeling like they belong somewhere, like they have found some space where they feel like they matter. And, to an extent, they all found something. Ali found solace with Leslie, Sarah found solace with the BDSM community, and Maura found solace with Vicki. But what they found is a small place within something that feels isolating. And what they found is also a small measure of solace within something imperfect. Leslie’s relationship with Ali is a little manipulative, and Sarah’s relationship with the BDSM community is a way to self-flagellate, to escape the necessity of self-improvement. It’s only Maura’s relationship that feels closer to perfection, as she is able to escape further marginalization to be with somebody that accepts her.
The episode culminates in two important scenes, one where Maura confronts the women about the trans-exclusionary policy, and another where Ali confronts the pain of the past. Maura’s scene is fantastic in that it exposes the imperfection of both groups, as well as how they’re both in the right. Maura has a habit of forgetting how she’s privileged, as well as how she may affect other people. She may not have raped anybody as a man, but she may bring up other people’s pain by simply being around them. However, these women can’t take their pain out on Maura and need to move to a personal place where they can accept their past and their pain. It goes to show that people let their pasts destroy them, letting the pain control them instead of the other way around. But can you blame them? Can you blame a victim of rape for being afraid of men? No, you can’t. But having someone inflict pain on you doesn’t excuse your inflection of pain on other people.
When Ali sees Gittel, when she holds Rose’s hand, she’s staring right into the abyss. It’s a moment of clarity, and moments of clarity can give way to a new existence, a new way of navigating the world. But it also lead right back to confusion. It’s all part of the journey, the path from confusion to clarity, and that path certainly isn’t linear. It arches, moves back and forth unpredictably, and there’s no tangible way to make traversing such a path any easier.
2×10: “Grey Green Brown & Copper”
It makes sense that the season would end with the ocean, with Maura standing on the beach staring out at the water. While Season 2 of Transparent is largely about the things that hold people back from moving forward in their lives, it’s also about the transformative nature of life, how if we create the catalyst for change, then we inevitably will. Maura’s decision to come out as a trans woman starts her transformation because it has to, because she has to become a new person in order to embrace that identity. History may tear you down, but time moves on and we all do as well.
Ultimately, this episode is about Maura moving forward. She has sex with Vicki, the first time she has enjoyed sex as a trans woman (the only reason I’m not saying “the first time” is because her relations with Shelly could have been construed as sex), and that connection means something real to her. She decides to go see her mother Rose, even though Vicki won’t go with her (which makes sense, as that’s a rather personal thing to do). Maura has to be able to move forward on her own, without the full support of people like Vicki and Davina, because while those networks and support systems are important, Maura has to find strength and emotional stability by herself.
Really, this episode is about turning points, and about the way that people transform and move forward as a result of some sort of understanding about themselves. Sure, Sarah might not have come to a point where she is able to confront the things that she did to her family, but her comfort in the BDSM community gives her a level of contentment that moves her towards that self understanding. The same goes for Ali, who has to choose between being Leslie’s lover and her teaching assistant, ending up pursuing the assistantship. While Leslie can be kind of manipulative, Ali going to graduate school gives her further opportunity for self-reflection. And Josh’s talk with Buzz leaves him with the understanding that he lost his father, his amplified fear of isolation and loss a result of that huge hole in his life. They might be struggling, but there’s some progress to be made in simply struggling, in accepting struggle as a part of life.
But the star of this episode is Maura. She is able to have sex and experience physical pleasure with another person. She is able to see her mother once more. And she’s able to stand up to her bigoted sister. She’s able to be tough. The end of the season juxtaposes a flashback of Maura’s birth with her staring out at the ocean, asserting that Maura has experienced a birth of sorts, a transformation into who she really is. Because there is always time for transformation, always time to become something better and more real than you were before. And even though Maura has a long way to go, it means something that she is on that beach, with her daughter, her sister, and her mother, asserting who she is in the world.
Thanks for watching through Season 2 of Transparent with me! I’m really excited to see Season 3 when that finally airs. Did you have a favorite episode? Let me know in the comments!