Transparent Recap: Independent Women

Gaby Hoffmann as Ali. Photo: Amazon
Episode Title
New World Coming
Editor’s Rating

This week's episode was written by Faith Soloway, creator Jill's sister, who played a cantor in season one. It was directed by Marielle Heller, who previously made The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Sundance's buzzy film about a 15-year-old girl's sexual awakening with her mother's boyfriend. Heller is a natural choice for "New World Coming" — her film is the type of beautiful train-wreck-dramedy that merges perfectly with Transparent's aesthetic.

In this episode, the void between cis and trans women continues to grow. Maura wakes up worlds away, in Davina's cramped but cozy apartment. Removing us from the show's predominant L.A.-modern aesthetic is a really effective way to make this feel like a clear break from Maura's family life. We learn that Davina's cisgender boyfriend, Sal, will get out of jail soon. Shea hooked up with one of the Marines from the night before and delivers a perfect line — "My pussy's a wounded soldier" — which I hope is getting printed on a T-shirt as I type this. Maura asks if Shea has a "pussy-pussy" and she says she paid $15,000 for one. We learn about men who are "tranny-chasers," or, as Shea prefers to call them, "trans-amorous." It's wonderful to watch these three tease and dote on each other.

When Transparent was first announced and it was revealed that cisgender actor Jeffrey Tambor would play Maura, a transgender woman, there was some rightful outrage. Why not cast a trans woman at the center of a show about trans women? A rallying cry emerged: "Nothing about us without us." Soloway filled out the rest of the cast with trans women, which quelled some of the criticism. Though Tambor is excellent, it's in scenes like these that I really wish Maura were played by a trans woman. My first thought watching the three actors in the kitchen was that I wanted a Shea and Davina spinoff series, where they're not just the quirky sidekicks but the actual front-and-center stars. Shea teaches Maura how to say the drag-queen meme "Yas Queen!" and there's a funny run of Tambor trying out different ways to say it while Davina shakes her head, unamused. From Tambor it's cute, but feels a bit appropriative. I love this scene, but it highlights an uncomfortable flaw in Tambor's Maura that could have been avoided with different casting.

On to the rest of the Pfeffermans. One of the running themes this season is boundaries, and the Pfeffermans' lack of them. They also react poorly to those who have them. Sarah wants to get coffee with Tammy's other ex, Barb, who says no. "I'm sorry if my boundary is your trigger," she apologizes in a hilarious bit of dialogue. Later she goes to the house on Len's day, and Barb is there. It's never been more clear that Sarah has pushed away anyone who might love her. "People enjoy each other's company," Barb snipes, but not Sarah's. In the bedroom, Sarah rifles through Len's new young girlfriend's makeup and lacy bras. She closes her eye shadow palette too hard, and the color gets all over the carpet. When she tries to clean it up, it just gets worse, so she runs. This is the best metaphor for Sarah's life the show could have given us. Meanwhile, Colton and Josh are attempting a relationship. They talk about how Josh was "a player" in high school and used to hook up with girls in the stairwell. Josh turns the question on Colton, who admits he's been with four or five different girls and has never told anybody. Colton starts calling Josh "Dad" and enrolls in his old high school. Is Josh his father or his buddy?

At the college where she used to teach, Maura introduces Ali to Leslie Mackinaw, a poet played by the effortlessly sexy Cherry Jones. Ali is starstruck. I believe Leslie is going to be a symbol of strong womanhood in Ali's eyes, and I'm worried she'll end up being a trans-exclusionary feminist radical, considering her sly response to the women's-studies department being renamed gender studies: "Woman is a dirty word around here."

She also has beef with Maura. They went to Berkeley together, and Maura blocked her when she applied for the editorial board of a political publication. Maura only accepted men, and one chick with huge boobs. Now, this is a fascinating aspect of transitioning that I hope doesn't go too far into TERF turf, but it turns out that as a man, Maura was a bit of a sexist. Later, at her trans support group, Maura starts recognizing her past misogyny and is ashamed of how she behaved. She was closeted and scared, and so she benefited from presenting as a man. She doesn't remember slighting Leslie, and Leslie asks, "Well, why would you?" It was just another day as a patriarchal beneficiary, but the wound stung Leslie for decades.

Josh delays proposing to Raquel because he wants to get the diamond from the "diamond moyels" who cut it to perfection. But Raquel just wants to be engaged before she starts showing it to her congregation. She says something about Colton that applies equally to Raquel herself: "Adopted kids are performing all the time because they just want to be kept." As I wrote in my episode-two recap, Raquel is trying too hard to be a Pfefferman, putting up with ludicrous behavior that's beneath her. She is like an adopted kid, and she's performing for Josh and his family so she'll be kept. I hope she realizes how close to home her statement hits and gets out before she's absorbed fully into the Pfeffermans' chaos.

The episode's most beautiful scene is entirely driven by poetry and music. It made me ache, and not just because I've been to Shatto 39 Lanes, where it was filmed, with a group of lesbians. Ali meets up with Syd and the lesbians at a bowling alley for lesbian bowling, and everyone's familiar with Leslie and her poetry. Someone's ex-girlfriend named her cat after Leslie. "She'd be Jack Kerouac if we didn't grow up in the patriarchy," one of them sighs. In a voice-over, Ali reads one of Leslie's poems — a poem actually written by Eileen Myles, whom Jill Soloway recently revealed she is dating — which plays out as she takes in her surroundings:

"I always put my pussy in the middle of trees like a waterfall, like a doorway to God, like a flock of birds. I always put my lover's cunt on the crest of a wave, like a flag that I can pledge my allegiance to. This is my country. Here when we're alone in public. My lover's pussy is a badge, is a nightstick, is a helmet, is a deer's face, is a handful of flowers, is a waterfall, is a river of blood, is a Bible, is a hurricane, is a soothsayer."

It's like she's waking up in another dream. It's heaven. She's the center of attention and the center of desire of all these different women. They are independent, and they have each other. She walks over to Syd, waiting for her like a gay angel. Later, they finally kiss.

At her apartment alone, Sarah fantasizes about an old disciplinarian from grade school who punished kids with a paddle. Mr. Irons brings Young Sarah into his office, and Young Sarah watches Older Sarah get hit on the butt with his paddle — the same way Young Ali watched Older Ali last season on the beach. She climaxes without touching herself. Is this a hint that Sarah was molested like Josh was by their babysitter? Will Sarah get into the BDSM community for lack of any other hobbies or friends?

Back at the house, because she doesn't know him at all, Raquel proposes to Josh, and he freaks out that she doesn't trust him. "I had this. I told you I had this," he yells. He does not have this, because he has not let Raquel in. A similar dynamic plays out with Syd and Ali, who are sharing bedded bliss. She wants to know what Ali likes or wants, but Ali shushes her. "Can we just do this?" she says, "Next time, I'll tell you everything." She doesn't want to let Syd in.