This episode starts right where the premiere’s very LGBT cliffhanger left off: with Maura interrupting her daughter Sarah in the act of kissing her ex-girlfriend Tammy, despite both parties being married to other people. Also, Sarah has never seen her father as Maura before, and their shocked faces mirror each other.
Tammy, an out lesbian, is the first to break the awkward silence: “You look awesome.” She says that because she is educated and cool. I’m gonna like this home-wrecking quasi-butch, aren’t I? (Yes. I have a type.)
Tammy and Maura make small talk about Tammy’s parents, until Sarah can’t take it anymore and asks, “Dad, what are you wearing?” Uh, a dress and pearls, dummy. Being bisexual doesn’t make you blind.
Tammy tries to leave so the parent-child talk that Maura, as Mort, was too afraid to have last episode can finally happen. Sarah asks Tammy to please stay.
Jeffrey Tambor sighs. You can actually see Maura rehearsing her coming-out speech in her head — the one she knew she’d always have to give; the one she’d probably said many, many times to many, many other trans people or mouthed alone to get it just right. But now? To say it out loud? Coming out can be the most terrifying thing in the world. “Let me do this,” she says through clenched teeth when Sarah tries to interrupt. “God, please, let me do this.”
Maura explains that she has felt this way since she was 5 years old but never said anything because it was a different time, when people led secret, lonely lives. Sarah can’t take it anymore: “Help me out here,” she says. “Are you saying you’re gonna start dressing up like a lady all the time?” Maura gives a sad laugh and then says the most beautiful summary of transgender people I’ve ever heard: “No, my whole life I’ve been dressing up … like a man.” Bringing Sarah’s hand to her heart, she says, “This is me.”
It should be noted here that many trans activists take issue when trans roles in film and TV are give to cis actors (meaning non-trans actors). This makes sense if you think of cis people playing trans as a form of blackface and that such casting choices will eventually be seen as being an embarrassment on the level of Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Orange Is the New Black famously cast Laverne Cox, a trans woman, to play hairdresser Sophia, but trans actors rarely play trans characters in Hollywood. Cis actress Felicity Huffman earned an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of a trans woman in 2005’s TransAmerica. This year, cis man Jared Leto won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for “bravely” playing a trans woman named Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club. Those roles and others, including a performance this year by Tatiana Maslany on Orphan Black, have helped create awareness, but now that there are finally starring roles in TV shows and movies about the trans experience, wouldn’t it make sense to cast trans actors in those roles?
In an article about an Arcade Fire music video in which cis actor Andrew Garfield plays a trans woman, trans writer Kat Hache wrote, “There is a prevalent idea that viable transgender actors and actresses simply do not exist. Naturally, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when they never gain exposure.” This paradox applies to Transparent, of course: Even though an increasing number of talented trans actors are ready for visible roles, none of them has the name-recognition or résumé of Jeffrey Tambor. I’ve been a fan of Tambor’s since I was a kid (that’s a story for another time) and think his performance in the role has been impeccable so far, but even I’ve had trouble justifying his casting. Is there really not a trans actor who could have done the part justice? On the other hand, would the show have been picked up to series if it hadn’t starred Jeffrey Tambor? My feelings are mixed.
Trans activist Parker Molloy wrote in The Advocate that Transparent may work because Maura is just starting her transition. “The insistence on having cis men play trans women reinforces ‘man in a dress’ stereotypes, and feels as though Hollywood is saying, ‘Trans women are more man than they are woman,’” Molloy wrote. “The only possible exception to this recommendation would be in the case of a character who is just coming out, or who isn’t socially and medically transitioning.”
That’s the other thing: Trans people aren’t “crossdressers” or “in drag.” Maura may never choose to medically transition, but she would still be trans. She is not dressed as a woman; she is a woman, and she has been her entire life. For example: After the credits in this episode, we flash back to 1989, when Mort was working as a political-science professor. Alone in his office, he takes out a woman’s blouse, excited to put it on, but is interrupted when a student knocks on his door. Mort pauses, staring at the student’s retreating silhouette, defeated.
In lesbian news, Tammy drives a shell-shocked Sarah home, and suddenly, they’re both laughing. “It was brave of her,” Tammy says. “That’s hard.” This lesbian gets it, guys. I heart Tammy. Sarah throws her hands up and exclaims, “Her!” But they agree: Mort is “her.” Sarah gets a text from Len that he’s got the kids and that Tammy’s wife and her kids are over there for a play date. Sarah cannot believe the day she’s having. (I should note here that I’d love for Sarah to identify as “bisexual” and not just be a secret lesbian. Just putting that out into the visibility world!)
At Glitterish headquarters, Josh’s girlfriend reveals she going to get an abortion. Convenient-pregnancy-story-line alert! Josh says they never had an exclusivity talk, and she replies, pointedly, “Girls don’t need the talk. Only guys need the talk.” Josh doesn’t tell her not to get the abortion, but he offers to drive her and rub her feet after.
Ali is working out hardcore now — on her trainer’s penis. She and her trainer are legit having sex while he counts and she does pull-ups. It’s kind of glorious. “Okay, we gotta come up with a new name because Sexorcise.com is taken,” Ali says. Oh, good, more half-baked ideas — this will turn out well. Her new dude’s roommate thinks she is a girl named Stephanie, but Ali takes it in stride. She’s a chill chick, etc., etc., etc. — swallow your feelings and never text him after midnight.
Back at Sarah and Len’s place, Barb is … Tig Notaro! Everyone is getting along, and Sarah might kill herself. That night, Sarah gets out of bed and meets Tammy for sex at a lookout point in her car. In the heat of the moment she says, “I fucking love you.” There’s a great shot of both the car seats outside the car as Tammy and Sarah moan and gasp. In typical straight-girl-to-a-lesbian fashion, Sarah attributes their attraction to voodoo pussy magic. “What did you do to me?” she says. Tammy simply replies, “I made you come.” Tammy officially has favorite status. Viva la Tammy!
Maura is back at her support group. Feeling celebratory about coming out to Sarah, she invites her trans friends out for drink, but they’re all sober, which is a great, funny detail. Davina, another woman in the group, takes her up on her offer of a festive cocktail and asks Maura what her name is. Maura seems delighted to introduce herself as “Maura” to someone for real.
Sarah tells Len about Maura in the middle of a fight outside their mother’s house. It seems like a good way for her to deflect that she cheated on him the night before. Len calls Mort “creepy,” which is about right, given his level of thought. Later, Ali brings food out to the couple, and a herd of geese attack her, and it’s really weird and a totally abrupt change in tone. I want to pretend that scene didn’t happen.
Maura tells Davina that she married whoever was closest, “did the Jewish thing,” and had three kids. While she sits at Davina’s vanity, the other woman tells her she has to stop caring what anyone else thinks of her journey. Davina’s family left her, and now her family is the LGBT community around her. At Davina’s Shangri-La apartment complex, one of her neighbors, whom she describes as a “sweet old queen,” has passed away. The LGBT community at the Shangri-La watches her body being carted away with sadness. Davina brings Maura into the dead man’s apartment, and Maura makes plans to move in … maybe.
At her mother’s, Ali asks about a family heirloom, a ring from an aunt who was in a concentration camp. Her mother brags that the aunt was in Treblinka, one of the more well-known camps. Boasting about which camp your relatives were in is the Jewiest, realest thing, as though surviving one of the worst ones somehow means you’re made of stronger genetic material. Josh has the best reaction to the boast when he says, “Did we really have somebody in Treblinka?” as if Treblinka were an exclusive nightclub downtown. Then Josh tucks in Sarah’s daughter and uses her dream light to create a glow around her. “You look like you’re underwater, Uncle Joshy,” she says. Out of the mouths of babes.
Sarah and Len have a tense date night. Ali smokes a bong at her fuck-buddy trainer’s place. Josh, on a different high from spending time with a wise, well-behaved child, asks his lady to consider keeping their baby and then proposes to her with the ring from Treblinka. He tells her he wants her to think about it; they can move to a cabin and have the baby and record music there.
In 1989, Mort throws away his blouse and heads home from work. Back in 2014, Maura stands in the same spot. She sees her past. But all that’s over now.
“Did a Capri Sun explode back here?” — Len, after finding the blanket Tammy and Sarah had sex on.
“How utterly Parisian.” — Maura, after Davina suggests they walk in Los Angeles.
“No girl wants to get proposed to with a ring from the Holocaust.” — Josh’s obviously goyisha girlfriend