Transparent Season 1, Episode 4 Recap: Punk-Rock Broccoli

Photo: Beth Dubber
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The last episode of Amazon’s Transparent left off with wayward youngest daughter Ali, high on pure MDMA, on the phone with her father Mort, saying that now was a perfect time to come over. Unfortunately, the audience misses Ali’s initial reaction to Mort as Maura because when this episode starts, she’s touching Maura’s face and saying things like, “You finally make sense to me,” and “It’s like I’ve never seen you before.” She then asks, “Daddy, what am I supposed to call you now?” Great question, high Ali! Ten points for Gryffindor.

Cut to: Of course Ali’s childhood friend Syd (Carrie Brownstein) and her brother Josh are hooking up because Josh can’t see something and not put his dick in it. Syd is way fun and chill and super cool. I feel like she’s gonna get her heart broken because Josh is an idiot man-child. He keeps asking her, “You’re not gonna tell Ali, are you?” Syd is exactly the kind of woman who is exactly what Josh needs and whom Josh will totally not appreciate. She’s too good for him, and she knows it, but it doesn’t stop her from fucking him anyway — and maybe even caring too much. Oh man, I am such a Syd, you guys. We are all Syd.

Syd’s been a family friend for a long time, and she has a “cabinet of Pfefferman family secrets.” Just a cabinet? This family could use an entire bank vault probably. Josh’s tryst with Rita the babysitter is brought up and he dubs it “super rad,” while Syd is disgusted. Josh calls the situation, wherein a 25-year-old woman was sleeping with him when he was 15, “a wet dream” but it rings hollow. Syd calls him out, reversing the genders and saying he was taken advantage of. To be fair, maybe “Hey, remember when your babysitter raped you?” wasn’t the best way to go about it. She goes to leave and he asks her to stay. “You really don’t want to be alone, do you?” she jabs. Have I mentioned how she is way, way too good for him?

At the Shangri-La Apartments, Davina does Maura’s hair extensions so she looks more like a “Californian Earth Mama,” then tries to teach her how to sit and walk more femininely. Flashback to 1994. Mort checks into hotel under the alias Steven Baker, which is actually my uncle’s name, so that was weird. He’s there to meet Mark, the other trans woman from the bookstore. Mort is dressed as a glam Bea Arthur and looks very different from the toned down “Earth Mama” Maura we know comes out a decade later.

Mark says, “No one’s ever seen me but me,” and then enters, introducing herself as Marcie. Mort calls her “beautiful” and it’s super cute. Mort introduces herself as Daphne Sparkles, which makes Marcie cringe. Marcie dubs her the elegant Maura. It fits like a silk glove.

In 2014, Sara wants Tammy to break up with Barb (Tig Notaro), but she’s got all kinds of excuses. Tammy soothes her with some heavy petting. It’s interesting to see a relationship between two women, especially older women, portrayed as heavily sexual. Most lesbians in entertainment are horny teen girls or neutered sexless moms. Tammy and Sara are hot for each other for their own sake, not to titillate a perhaps male audience. It’s one of many aspects of this show that is kind of shocking in that you’ve of course seen it in real life but never, ever on TV. (Bless you, Soloway.)

Sara goes to Ali’s, where, now sober, she is freaking out over her father coming out. She switches between pronouns and mocks him for painting his toe skin instead of his toenails, which is a really funny detail. She reveals she dubbed him “Moppa,” a combination of Momma and Poppa, which Sara finds sweet. “It’s not sweet, it’s insanity,” Ali groans. She wants to tell Josh, but Sara says she can’t because outing a trans person is “an act of violence.”

Sara comes clean about her affair with Tammy. Ali says she “called that.” And Sara waxes philosophical about how Tammy made her squirt, which Ali doesn’t believe really happens. Sara describes female ejaculation as very different from pee in that it “smells like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland” and is “brackish and clean.” The writing on this show is just beyond.

Ali asks, “What about Len?” and Sara shrugs. It should be noted here that we haven’t really seen Sara interact with her kids in a good, long time. Last episode had “Uncle Josh” tucking her daughter into bed and playing pretend with her. We have yet to see Sara share any connection with her children. Maura shows up to take the girls to brunch. Ali groans some more.

Josh goes to see the infamous statutory rapist Rita to ask her if his parents knew they were sleeping together when he was a teenager. She says everybody knew but no one cared because they were “in love.” Josh folds and goes to bed with her. He is so stunted, he has Stockholm syndrome for his rapist. It says something that everyone is just like, “Yeah, it sucks you were raped. Anyway, you’re a guy, so you’re gonna be fine.” He is clearly not fine.

At the mall, Sara, Ali, and Maura get makeovers at a makeup counter. Maura had no idea what went into “being a woman.” It’s a great scene to make the point of what, exactly, being a woman means. Ali gets foundation put on but won’t let them do her cheeks or eyes, so she looks like she’s wearing an orange mask. Because like, aren’t we all wearing masks, man? Sara takes a bunch of selfies for Tammy like they’re a couple of teenagers, and Ali dubs lesbians “weird.” They’re not weird. It’s just that these two are acting like children.

Clearly overwhelmed, Maura tells the makeup artist, “I should buy a great many of these products.” Ali parrots, “I, too, would like a great many of these products.” I love how formal Maura’s language is (like when she called walking “utterly Parisian”). I don’t know if that’s also how Mort spoke, but I don’t think so. I think this new language is all Maura.

After the makeovers, there’s some hesitation over which bathroom to use. They all go into the women’s room and Sara gets in a fight with a mom who, after hearing her call Maura “Dad,” thinks a man shouldn’t be in a woman’s restroom. Sara loudly defends Maura, and Ali is embarrassed. After she leaves, Ali and Sara go return the makeup Maura bought Ali for cash. “Why did he wait so long?” Ali asks. We see that after leaving the mall, Maura peed in a Porta Potty. Aww, girl. That’s heartbreaking.

When she gets home, there’s a loud party going on at the apartment of the gay boys next door. In her anger, Maura mutters about them being “faggots” and sputters around impotently. I understood the scene to be a reflection of Maura not being taken seriously, not just as a woman, but because she now is a woman. She’s not a gay man, so she doesn’t fit in at their homo soirees, and without her male dominance or privilege, she is not being heard. Maura feels weak. Welcome to womanhood.

At a barber shop, Ali cuts off all her hair. At home, she takes a bath and wipes off the makeup. Sara leaves the mall and heads to Tammy’s house. Tammy comes outside and says, “You’re like a stalker, babe.” LIKE a stalker? Sara is pretty much stalking you, honey. Speaking of the use of language, there’s something falsely saccharine between the two of them that is interesting; they repeatedly call each other “babe” or “honey” in this sort of patronizing way that reads as idealized or romanticized. I wonder if Tammy really loves Sara.

Sara wonders that, too: “You said you wanted to spend the rest of your life with me.” Tammy asks when she said that and Sara says it was when they fucked in the car. Sara is a grown woman. Come on. She has to know people say crazy shit when they’re fucking, right? Tammy says pretty much that and Sara calls her bluff. Tammy says she loves Sara. She’s gonna break it off with Barb. (Sorry, Tig! I love you, Tig!)

Josh goes over to at Ali’s and they dance to “Then You Can Tell Me Good-bye” by the Casinos, although this is a different version, I think. I just saw the new Bill Hader–Kristen Wiig indie dramedy The Skeleton Twins, and one of the best scenes is the sister-brother pair dancing to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” after a rough night. On this past season of the BBC’s Orphan Black, the clone sisters and their brother Felix have a dance party in the loft’s living room when the chips are down and they might all die. This is the third scene I’ve watched recently with beleaguered siblings getting lost in the music. It’s almost becoming a TV and movie cliché: When everything sucks, siblings gotta dance.

Fave lines

  • “Your male privilege is leaking all over the place.” —Davina to Maura before instructing her to close her legs when she sits
  • “Are you sure I can’t do the eyebrows?” —mall makeup artist to Gaby Hoffmann, she of the notoriously thick eyebrow game
  • “You look like a fucking punk-rock broccoli.” —Josh to Ali after he sees her haircut

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