It’s the end of the road of Transparent‘s first season as the Pfeffermans come together – and blow up – over a death in the family.
Let’s bitch it out…These final two episodes of Transparent feel especially complimentary as Ed’s (Lawrence Pressman) health issues and ultimate death force a number of uncomfortable family issues to rise to the surface.
If nothing else ‘Looking Up’ and ‘Why Do We Cover The Mirrors?’ make it clear just how fucked up the Pfefferman family truly is. Working my way through the season, I frequently read comments by viewers lamenting how selfish the kids are and how difficult the series is to watch at times. While I understood these comments, they never struck me as particularly relevant until these episodes. Having viewed the entire season, it’s striking just how terrible these people are! And yet I’m going to argue (for nearly two thousand words) that that’s actually one of the series’ greatest strengths: if you’re uncomfortable when you watch this show, then Transparent is doing its job because it skews so closely to real life.
If nothing else, Transparent has made me realize how much of our lives is spent trying to pass, trying not feel disappointed in our failures and the perceived failings of others. Consider it this way: it’s hard not to be self-involved when everything in your life is implicitly about you (because you’re the one living it). At the edges of the Shivah, or around the dining table, or in the doorways – these mundane, everyday places that Transparent traffics in – that’s where real living occurs. It’s messy and horrible, but it’s also frequently surprising and amazing.
Over the course of ten episodes, Transparent has become a show about so much more than Maura’s (Jeffrey Tambor) journey from male to female. And that’s what I think the viewers who talk about hating (or actively disliking) the adult children are missing. This isn’t a series about Maura’s coming out and “finding” herself. It’s also about her children, and how her absent parenting and dissolved marriage affected their development and turned them into mild-sexual psychopaths. The show doesn’t work if it doesn’t have the absent, misguided, selfish, aimless, arrogant, narcissistic children. They influenced who Maura is (and possibly why she couldn’t come out in 1994) in the same way that they wouldn’t be this way if not for her and Shelly (Judith Light). It may not always be a happy viewing experience wherein conflicts are simple and resolved within 22 minutes, but Transparent isn’t interested in being that kind of show. From the start, series creator Jill Soloway and her team were much more interested in exploring something messier and authentic.
With that said, these final two episodes are both incredibly satisfying and simultaneously excruciating to watch. Ed’s decline and eventual death is one of the series’ most traditional narrative tropes, but it does what it needs to by forcing everyone to gather and spend time together in the same space, all but guaranteeing conflict. Even if this is more conventional than most of the storylines we’ve seen on Transparent, that doesn’t make it any less satisfying, especially when we’ve been waiting for some of these outbursts for ten episodes.
For my money, these final two episodes belong principally to Gaby Hoffman. This makes sense given the close relationship that Ali has with both Ed and Maura, as well as the recent flashback episode that revealed the circumstances of her aborted Bar Mitzvah in 1994. Obiously she would be the one most upset by suggestions that Ed be euthanized (she’s arguably the only one who cared when he wandered off earlier), though – as with all of these characters – she’s equally upset by her own personal issues. Here it is Syd’s (Carrie Brownstein) confession that she’s been sleeping with Josh (Jay Duplass). That perceived slight causes Ali to lash out at the Shivah and sabotage Josh’s relationship with Raquel (Kathryn Hahn), though if we’re being fair she’s not exactly lying when she infers that her brother is “love obsessed.”
The powerhouse moment of the finale occurs when Ali first confronts her mother and then Maura about the Bar Mitzvah. Having only recently seen these events for ourselves, it seems fairly clear that everyone involved was culpable in its demise, which only makes the fight that much more painful (and enthralling) to watch. We’ve seen Ali’s semi-duplicitous financial relationship with Maura several times this season – the makeover at the mall bothered me most – and it’s clear that both parties imbue these transactions with a mix of awareness and denial. Maura’s forceful (very masculine) pronouncement that Ali is incapable of doing anything and Ali’s subsequent declaration of independence finally feels like a clearing of the air. It may be harsh, but at least they’re finally being open and honest about their issues.
And then Maura asks if Ali would even like her, or speak to her, if she wasn’t paying the bills. Insert mike drop (and pick up my jaw off the floor).
While I may have suggested that Transparent isn’t Maura’s story, it’s hard not to associate this question – an issue of acceptance – at the core of the series’ emotional center. This is a question that echoes back to Davina’s (Alexandra Billings) statement early in the series that Maura will eventually lose all of her family. It’s not hard to see why Maura wonders – after all hasn’t she already been abandoned at the Trans Got Talent show (something she makes evidently clear in the most passive-aggressive way in ‘Looking Up’)?
In the larger context, the question has its own relevancy.These people have all been abandoning each other for years and Ali rightfully (and angrily) declares that keeping secrets is a family currency only moments before her living room-emptying outburst. I would take it one step further: secrets may be a family trademark, but silence and isolation are close seconds. It’s as though each of the Pfeffermans (including Shelly) have developed coping mechanisms that prevent them from vocalizing their feelings or issues, in addition to deliberately sabotaging good things in their lives. It’s a very honest, very ugly, very human way to live and Transparent excels at presenting the Pfeffermans in their warts-and-all glory.
At this point, ten episodes in, it’s clear that this is where the series lives. I, for one, am firmly along for the ride, more frustrated that we won’t get to see what happens next for another year than with any of the selfish, unbecoming behaviour these characters exhibit. While I can appreciate why some people resent, or dislike, some or all, of these characters, I can’t help but respect the show’s emotional honesty. It ain’t always pretty, but it sure is damn fine television. See you next year, Transparent.
- It’s hard not to read Ed’s death as anything other than a dementia-influenced suicide. The flashback to his introduction to the kids includes the line “I’m just here to make you happy” and it’s clear from Shelly’s pained explosion that he no longer plays that role. Immediately thereafter we see Ed rise and, in tentative point of view, wander down to the ducks he was known for visiting to drown himself.
- How terrible is it that no one has anything even remotely memorable to say about Ed during the wake? Perhaps everyone is still adjusting to Maura, who causes a stir with her bling-tastic star of David and black ensemble.
- We’re inching closer to a reconciliation between Sarah (Amy Landecker) and Len (Rob Huebel). The novelty of Tammy (Melora Hardin) appears to be wearing off as the inane house decorations continue. Landecker has excelled at showing how Sarah’s polished-surface presentation is simply a better mask than her siblings’. While Josh and Ali are clearly floundering in their relationships, Sarah can’t decide what she wants. Her inability to choose is going to cost her.
- Side Note: Good on Len for not taking the easy way out and going through with the BJ quickie at the wake. It suggests that he’s actually more interested in the long-term, not simply the quick and gratifying pleasures of the present.
- I was torn by Raquel’s responses to Josh. Her incredulous reaction to the news that Bianca (Kiersey Clemons) is staying with him is perfectly reasonable (even applause-worthy), but this quickly – and disappointingly – turns into a passionate bout of sex. After being warned off by Ali in the finale, Raquel learns she’s one of several recent conquests and takes off. In some ways this confirms that, generally speaking, most people are flawed and are as likely to make bad decisions as good ones. I do wonder if we’ll see Raquel again.
- Rita (Brett Paesel) crashes the funeral with what initially appears to be a new boytoy and is, in fact, actually Josh’s son, Colton (Alex MacNicoll). This is a nice turn-around because it happens moments after he declares his interest in starting a family with Raquel. It also means that Josh really needs to start using condoms (this is pregnancy number 2 and he just had unprotected sex with Raquel, which suddenly makes me very nervous).
- I liked the circularity of the family dinners in the first episode and the last. After all of the ups and downs, the disagreements and fights, the new haircuts and relationships, the family is still together. The structure of the finale suggests that moving forward Shelly and Colton will now play larger roles whereas Ali’s refusal to sit at the table may indicate that she will be on its outskirts.
- Some interesting tidbits from these final episodes: Syd is in love with Ali? Tammy is sober/a recovering addict? Maura is the only one who supported Shelly (or is that more of a reference to Shelly’s claim that the kids weren’t “present”)?
- Shelly (asking if Maura still likes to date women): “So you’re a lesbian? So we got gay married before it was fashionable?”
- Syd (suggesting Ali is a “vaginal learner”): “You need to stick stuff in there if you want to learn.”
- Sarah (cupping her breasts): “Tammy loves these mammer-jammers” Sarah needs to stop smoking pot.
- Raquel (peacing out after learning Bianca is living with Josh): “Well you can take a moment to get your story straight”
- Tammy (revealing her unattractive side): “I know something about being jealous because people have been jealous of me my whole life.”
- Shelly (when Josh reveals he has the rabbi’s number): “Oh my god are you fucking the rabbi?”
‘Why Do We Cover The Mirrors?’
- Shelly (when Ali accuses her of letting her cancel her Bar Mitzvah): “That and you were a spoiled brat.”
- Maura (after Ali declares herself financially emancipated): ”If I didn’t give you money, would you even talk to me?” Yikes.
Your turn: how are you feeling about Transparent having seen the whole season? Which Pfefferman child has come the furthest? Were you dazzled by Hoffman’s performance and the climactic fight scene with Maura? Were you frustrated Josh didn’t reveal Colton’s presence? Sound off below.
Transparent is available in its entirety on Amazon. A second season has been ordered and will likely debut next fall.