It’s time to dig deeper into the lives of the Pfefferman clan with episodes two and three of Amazon’s Transparent.
Let’s bitch it out…
1×02: ‘The Letting Go’
‘The Letting Go’ has the unenvious job of picking up where the pilot left off, reestablishing the characters while still advancing the narrative. In this capacity it serves its purpose, though it does suffer a little in comparison to that amazing introduction.
We pick up immediately where the pilot left off as Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) comes out to his daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker) and her new/old fling, Tammy (Melora Hardin – suddenly sporting short hair that initially made me wonder if they’d recast the actress). Sarah’s reaction is spot on as she alternately laughs/cries in the car afterwards – she’s clearly been thrown for a loop and it affects her for the duration of the episode. Although we touch in with everyone throughout the remainder of ‘The Letting Go’, it is clearly Sarah’s episode, chronicling her spiralling affair with Tammy and her tense marriage with Len (Rob Huebel). Once again it is the little moments that really sell the drama, such as the shot the follows the one at the top of the post, where Sarah stands in front of the trampoline in a daze as the images of happy children play out behind her. My personal favourite (if only because it’s so right and so wrong at the same time) is the abandoned car seats left beside the car while Sarah and Tammy engage in a late night hook-up. There’s a subtle condemnation of her actions in the fact that the correct placement of the seats (the proof of the affair) is what initiates the fight between Sarah and Len that lasts the duration of the episode.
For me the Josh (Jay Duplass) bits are less successful. It’s clear from the moment that his girlfriend Kaya (Alison Sudol) tells him that she’s pregnant that he’ll make an argument for keeping the child. Elsewhere in the episode, Maura describes each of her children in turn and Josh is described as the most successful, but there’s no indication that he’s a just as much a dreamer as his younger sister (Side Note: I acknowledge that one theme of the series is that none of these people actually know each other). Still Josh’s suggestion that he and Kaya move into a cabin and start a family definitely sounds crazy so it’s hardly surprising when Kaya sports a deer in the headlights look after he proposes. While his reaction feels out of the blue, there’s a nice emotional beat when we see how great he is with kids when he shares a quiet moment with his niece staring at the ocean-like ceiling.
Ali (Gaby Hoffman) suffers the most in the episode, but that’s primarily because she’s afforded less screen time than her siblings. She’s definitely the least grounded of the Pfefferman children, aimlessly having sex with her trainer (and now trying to come up with dirty website names for a sex-theme exercise program). The tofu schmear/duck encounter is the kind of over the top comedy that the series doesn’t seem particularly well-suited for, however. In fact it is so broadly telegraphed that I was actually disappointed that it actually occurred. I’m hoping that this forced, zany comedy doesn’t become a recurring bit.
Finally there’s Maura, who actually makes a lot of headway in ‘The Letting Go’. This could be because she’s isolated from the majority of the other characters, which frees her to pursue her own interests. After recapping her encounter with Sarah at her support group, she latches on to Davina (Alexandra Billings), who introduces her to the community at the Shangri-La. There’s a brief moment of narrative convenience when a resident dies, opening up a spot for her to commandeer. Despite the contrivance, it’s encouraging to see Maura comfortably opening up, even if the forecast that Davina paints of a life without family five years in the future is a grim proposition. It’s the fear of that kind of loss and isolation that clearly kept Maura locked away inside Mort for so long, made evident in the 1989 flashbacks when Maura purchased a blouse and then threw it away in order to return to her family. The final image of modern day Maura standing outside her house, watching her former self embrace the lie is haunting. Is it foreshadowing a future where Maura is by herself, standing on the outside of a life with her family?
- Judith Light returns as ex-wife Shelly and it’s as though she was given a note to play up the Jewishness following the pilot. Is it just me or she kinda over the top?
- Len (moving the blanket Sarah and Tammy had sex on): “Why is this soaked? Did a Capri Sun explode back here?”
- Maura (discussing Sarah): “She took it very well. She took it very, very well. I think she might internalize it. Develop shingles.”
- Josh (after Kya says “Ew” to his grandmother’s WWII ring): “Ew to the Holocaust?”
The third episode, for me, is a huge improvement over its predecessor, paying off elements in ‘The Letting Go’ that didn’t entirely work. Maura’s discovery of Shangri-La enables her to vacate the old family home, Sarah’s fixation with Tammy yields surprising developments, Josh unravels when his dream of a family is dashed and Ali…well Ali remains a work in progress.
The episode opens with Maura and Sarah packing up the house, which gives them the first real quality time together since she came out. It seems that Sarah has turned into a supportive collaborator, which is a nice contrast to the less-positive note that the last episode ended on. Together the pair plot how Maura can come out to Josh. Meanwhile Sarah confesses giddily about her attraction to Tammy. It’s kind of a cute bonding moment between them.
If the thrill of the re-connection drove the first two episodes, the rushed reality of the affair comes home to roost in ‘Rollin’ – especially in Sarah’s scenes with Len. It’s good to learn that Len is not a complete asshole because that’s less interesting than the reality that these two simply don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. Even when Sarah comes clean about her history with Tammy, Len deflects and suggests they visit their marriage counsellor. It’s a bold move to force the issue so quickly and, much like Josh’s unrealistic depiction of a wooded family unit with Kaya, Sarah’s abrupt decision to abandon her life for a future with Tammy is made of dreams. Tammy doesn’t even pick up when Sarah calls her and we later see her perfect family unit as Sarah stands in the street outside the window (evoking the final shot of ‘The Letting Go’ as well as one of my favourite melodramas, Stella Dallas). There’s a sad hilarity in Sarah’s reappropriation of the old family house – she’s left behind her husband and children for a mattress on the floor and a lampshade made of a shirt. It’d be sadly pathetic if not for her OCD pre-cleaning.
Josh and Ali don’t fare much better as both take dramatic steps to further fuck up their lives. Josh discovers his impromptu marriage proposal has terrified Kaya and his angry reaction to the news leads to termination. It’s not until he tracks her down at her house that he learns the startling news that she’s already had the abortion and just like that the entire fantasy comes tumbling down. The discovery of the dirty pictures and childhood letters hidden among the cereal boxes pays off the out-of-the-blue family fixation from last episode and much like Sarah’s final scene, we leave Josh alone (exemplified by the open space of his apartment) and haunted by letters from his past.
Ali finally gets more to do, albeit it’s more self-destructive behaviour. She spends the episode planning a threesome with her trainer and his hot roommate, which – as expected – goes spectacularly wrong when her ecstasy-ramblings turn off the guys and get her booted out. The pay-off is a series of hilarious short scenes of her interactions with her very patient cabdriver which are probably the comedic high point (zing!) of the series so far. The direction and editing is spot-on, evoking a euphoric time-lapse that’s giddy and exuberant. Plus the episode ends with a glimmer of anxious dread (in a positive sense): it appears that Ali will very shortly be meeting Maura…while high. Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a train wreck!
- I’m not sure how other people felt, but I was gutted when Maura lost her nerve and changed into her Mort clothes instead of coming out to Josh. Fingers crossed she’ll keep her nerves with Ali.
- I love the sterility of Sarah’s prim and perfect home because it says so much about their marriage. Also: Sarah’s defensive list of exhaustion causing WASP-y housewife activities are hilariously first world problems.
- It may be a bit of a leap, but is it possible that the woman Josh slept with in the pilot is the babysitter from his letters?
- Maura has a bit of a meet-cute in the dirty magazine section with guest star Bradley Whitford in the flashbacks. There’s a hint that she may go on to have an affair, although this week things don’t evolve beyond how to hide the trans porn.
- So now everyone knows what spitroasting is. Will you ever look at salt and pepper shakers the same way again?
- Sarah (refusing the bicentennial encyclopedias): “Nobody in the world wants those.”
- Josh (after he mistakes Maura’s perfume for his dad’s GF): “I can tell by the scent that she’s about thirty years younger than you and a bit of a freak. Am I right?”
- Sarah (when Len says he’s not allowing her to be in love with Tammy): “I can’t not do this.”
- Ali (high while rubbing the rug): “I feel like I’m screwing a bear. This is what cavewomen did.”
- Ali (when Derek says he’s so thirsty): “You should kiss me. I’m 70% water.”
Your turn: did you find the third episode stronger than the second? Are you excited to see more of Maura’s life with the residents of Shangri-La? Will Sarah return to Len now that she’s seen Tammy’s happy life? What will Josh do now that he’s effectively ruined his life? How will Ali respond when she meets Maura? Sound off below, but *Please* do not include spoilers from upcoming episodes.
Transparent is now available in its entirety on Amazon. Come back next Friday for a review of episodes four and five.