It’s been way too long since we’ve been immersed in the joyful mess that is the Pfefferman clan, so it’s nice that Transparent begins its second season with everyone together.
The episode opens as the family takes photos for Sarah and Tammy’s wedding, all dressed in white. Sarah looks miserable. Tammy’s older daughter Bianca is there, as is Colton, Josh’s college-aged son, whom we found out about in the season one finale. Shelley dotes on Maura. It seems like she’s changed her tune about her ex-husband’s transition. Josh’s girlfriend Rabbi Raquel is also in the photo, so she stuck around even though their relationship was up in the air toward the end of last season. (This is great because I love Kathryn Hahn, but I still think Rabbi Raquel is too good for Josh.)
It’s natural Jewish family chaos against the beautiful backdrop of Palm Springs. The moment shatters, however, when the wedding photographer calls Maura “sir” while asking her to hold her chin up. Ouch. Photos are over. Maura leaves with Shelley. Tammy takes pictures with her family, including her two ex-wives. (So lesbian, it hurts.) One of her exes is comedian Tig Notaro, which is crazy because who would ever divorce Tig Notaro?
Josh and Ali head out to the desert because they need to talk. He’s mad at her for being mean to Rabbi Raquel. Jay Duplass and Gaby Hoffman look like a beautiful album cover, surrounded by the California desert in their white suits. I would listen to their acoustic indie brother-sister band. Josh tells her that Raquel is pregnant, but says she shouldn’t tell anyone because they literally just peed on the stick. Is Josh’s sperm worth millions of dollars? It is so potent.
Immediately, Ali goes to spill the beans to a schvitzin’ Sarah, who is very unhappy with how dark the make-up artist is making her eyebrows. Ali bemoans Josh’s insta-family. Sarah’s kids storm in, wanting to know where their father is. Sarah says Len wasn’t invited, a stark contrast to how Tammy’s two female exes showed up for the photos. Ali wrangles away the kids and Shelley enters, like a perfect Jewish mother, to tell Sarah her eyebrows are too dark. Shelley is all of our moms forever.
These moments are why Transparent is so heart-breakingly Jewish — from the dialogue to the set dressing to wardrobe to the small dynamics between the characters. I grew up religious and I wonder if non-Jewish people who watch the show have the same mix of painful nostalgia and happy familiarity that Jews undoubtedly experience while watching. That’s what makes the show so wonderfully real: Creator Jill Soloway was born to make it.
We learn that Maura moved into Shelley’s home because, as her friend Davina says, they were all kicked out of the apartment complex. Maura hilariously blames this on “yuppies.” They’re shocked to see that Maura’s sister Bry and her son Simon are there despite past bad blood. Apparently, she and Sarah are Facebook friends and play Bejeweled Blitz together. Ali says they invited her because Sarah has no friends. Sarah kamikazes relationships and pushes people away, so that makes sense.
Josh tells Colton to stop looking so anxious. “These are your people,” he says. “They love you no matter what.” This is all Colton has ever wanted to hear. He is so jazzed as he says, “Love you too” to his biological dad. How will Colton fit into his new family, especially now that Raquel is pregnant? These Jews could not be further from his people, but the thought is lovely. Shelley tells relatives that a DNA test proves Colton is definitely Josh’s son, so that eliminates my theory from last season that Rita was lying.
Maura and Shelley, my new favorite duo of all time, chat about Bry. It results in some of my favorite dialogue.
Maura: “She used to accuse me of wearing her clothes.”
Shelley: “Did you?”
Maura: “Of course I did.”
When Sarah starts to walk down the aisle, she seems to have a psychotic break. She imagines people laughing at her. This is one of this show’s greatest strengths: playing with reality. In one episode last season, Ali watches her younger self have a sexual experience with a boy on a beach. In another, she hallucinates that Ian Harvie’s character lives in a log cabin. These splits from reality came out of nowhere and were very strange, but they elevated Transparent from family dramedy to art piece. I thought Ali would be the only one who experiences this — maybe it was a hint about the state of her psyche — but now it seems to be true for others in season two.
Sarah floats in and out of it. She sees a plane carrying a “We Buy Ugly Houses” advertisement overhead, which is juxtaposed with Tammy’s ecstatic face. She imagines more laughing, and herself falling down. When she kisses Tammy, everything is normal again.
Cut to: the party! Their cake has succulents on it because it’s a desert dessert. While Sarah is still in her daze, she tells Shelley that Raquel is pregnant. Tammy’s dad dances with her for the father-daughter dance. Maura notably does not.
Ali gabs Aunt Bry’s ear off about graduating with a bachelor’s degree and maybe going to grad school. More amazing dialogue occurs:
Ali: “I think my dad thinks you hate us all.”
Bry: “No. Not all.”
Then comes the most beautiful scene of the episode: Very dramatically, everyone has to gather on the dance floor for Hava Nagila. They move like zombies, as the singer Ayana Haviv drawls a slow introduction to the song. Haviv’s face is magnificent; she has a pouted, downturned red mouth like a sad clown.
Cousin Simon dances like a hopped-up David Blaine in the center of the dance floor and suddenly, the show flashes back to Berlin in 1933. Instead of a wedding, it’s a drag/gay/kink celebration. (Through friends, I learned what I think was a show secret: Certain actors will be returning in different roles in season two. Mel Shimkovitz, who played Jude the bar-mitzvah bartender from 1994, appears dancing in 1933.) The focus shifts to the trans actress and model Hari Nef, a smiling vision of glamorous fashion and cocktails. Who is she playing on this show? It remains a mystery, but it’s so intriguing and Nef is so beautiful, her presence elevates the show back to its dreamy magical realism. I can’t wait to see more.
Back in 2015, Josh and Ali find Sarah, who chides Ali over and over, “Why did you let me marry her?” Sarah may be overtaking Josh as my least favorite character, though I know she (and Josh) are both good examples of well-written narcissists. She can’t take responsibility for anything, and it’s always someone else’s fault. She calls her whole relationship with Tammy “a moment,” says she hates her, and claims she never wanted to leave Len.
No one can find Sarah, so Shelley announces that Raquel is pregnant just as Josh leaves to get Raquel. In the hall, Raquel asks who knows they’re pregnant and Josh says no one. Raquel thinks his mom knows. Josh lies and says she doesn’t. Classic Josh.
Josh brings out Raquel to help Sarah. Raquel says Sarah and Tammy are technically not married yet because Raquel hasn’t sent in the forms to get a stamp from the city. There’s paperwork that hasn’t been mailed. Sarah is relieved, then asks why they even had the ceremony.
Raquel says, “It’s a ritual, a pageant.” Ali adds, like Sarah is a child: “It’s a play. We’re just in costume and you’re not married.” Immature as always, Sarah is ecstatic and they all go out to dance to Hava Negila. Tellingly, Tammy tries to break through to hold Sarah’s hand, but the core Pfeffermans keep the circle tight. Tammy gets it.
When the wedding ends, Maura tells her sister she wants to see their mother, Grandma Rose, who doesn’t know Maura transitioned. Bry coldly asks Maura to let “that woman get off this planet without knowing about this.” She asks, “Can you do something for somebody else?” Bry is wrong. Transitioning isn’t about being selfish or hurting other people. But the show knows that.
Josh admits to Raquel that he told Ali about the baby so Ali would be nice to her. Raquel is annoyed. “Don’t do that to me,” she says. “Betray me and then tell me it’s a gift.” (This is a GREAT LINE and another reason why Raquel should ditch Josh.) Josh is predictably the worst, and says Raquel is collecting wrongs so she can say their relationship is a mistake. He claims she believes that she’s not lovable. “You’re lovable,” he says. “We both are.” Raquel never said she felt unlovable! She’s not making up things that he’s doing wrong. He is doing wrong things! She just wants him to not lie to her! She is being reasonable and he is being manipulative.
Then, we pan to Sarah’s and Tammy’s room. Sarah says, “I’m sorry. I can’t.” Tammy sighs. We pan again to Shelley kissing Maura in their hotel room. Shelley says, “I hope you feel beautiful because you are so beautiful.” They kiss again. I am so here for this reunion.
In her room, Ali stands alone on the balcony. Hari Nef appears in her 1933 clothing, sitting and watching her. This season is going to be magic.