As I’ve mentioned in previous recaps, Transparent repeatedly situates the Pfeffermans inside rituals and ceremonies where they’re expected to play specific roles. Some of these performances are quite formal (the wedding, Yom Kippur, and the school gala) while others are more casual (Sarah and Ali’s massage, Josh’s pool party, and the Idyllwild Festival). And crucially, each of these scenes features a public element — even at the Yom Kippur dinner, one of the season’s most intimate family gatherings, outsiders were a crucial part of that meal’s tension.
Episode nine is an irrevocable break from that idea. Whatever you may think about the show’s juxtaposition of Nazism and a specific breed of trans-exclusionary feminism, the underlying theme suggests that strict ideologies can easily transform a crowd into a mob. And in any crowd, the Pfeffermans seem to be perpetual misfits. They’re always the targets, the outcasts, the objects of scorn and disgust. It was true for Gittel, and it’s true now for Maura. (As well as Sarah, Ali, and, in his own way, Josh.)
This tenth episode may be the closest Transparent ever gets to providing a resolution to that problem. (Of course, that problem is fundamentally irresolvable and seems to be built into the Pfeffermans’ DNA.) In “Grey Green Brown & Copper,” each Pfefferman finds happiness in their own nonconformist ways. Or, if they don’t find happiness, they’re left a little bit more at ease.
Maura’s story picks up where the ninth episode left off, with her and Vicki in a hotel after the doomed trip to Idyllwild. They talk, and gradually move closer together until they ease into bed. There are two things about these scenes that really strike me. When Maura and Vicki are in bed together, Maura reaches up and turns out the light. It’s a moment that would typically cut to another scene, a chaste curtain drawn across the specific details of their intimacy — but on Transparent, that would be a disappointment. The series is too invested in the story of Maura’s developing identity to leave what happens to the imagination. Then, the next morning, as they finally begin to have sex, Vicki’s body is presented as a careful match for Maura’s. She forthrightly displays her mastectomy scars, making it clear that they both have female bodies that don’t conform to the standard image. They are imperfect, and they are human.
While Maura and Vicki shack up in the hotel room, Sarah and Ali are busy jumping into a pool at the Pfefferman family house, that unmoving center of the world they cannot seem to escape. (In the first episode of season one, remember how the kids arrived at the house fearing that Mort had sold it?) Josh joins them in the pool, and the scene that follows is simple and gorgeous. All three of them, childlike and nostalgic, swim together and wonder why they ever changed. They circle each other aimlessly, talking about how the water got gross after the pool guy quit, and about Sarah’s first period, and about their search for meaning in life. Ali begins to chant, “Tea party! Tea party!” They take a deep breaths and sink underwater, sitting on the bottom of the pool while pretending to pour drinks out of imaginary teapots and sips from tiny cups. It is lovely, and it’s also an answer to the problem they’ve run up against all season, again and again: Rote ceremony, which requires performed roles and public crowds, does not work well for the Pfeffermans. But this moment, as the three of Pfefferman kids create particular meaning for themselves — this works.
It’s not perfect, of course — the pool is still full of leaves — and they cannot remain underwater forever. Part of the problem has always been that they’re dysfunctional together, magnifying each other’s flaws and picking at each other’s wounds. So, it’s nice to see a montage of scenes where each Pfefferman child gets a small resolution. Sarah happily bends over a bench and is spanked by Pony, the woman she met in the S&M tent at Idyllwild, whom she appreciatively pays for the service. Later, Sarah reconnects with Len, who is no longer with his girlfriend Melanie. It’s not clear whether they’ll get back together, but at least the hostility is gone.
Ali goes to visit Leslie, who tells her that she’d love for Ali to be her TA next semester, but she’d also like to pursue the sexual relationship they started at Idyllwild — so Ali needs to pick which path to follow. It’s not a particularly simple resolution, but hey, nothing ever is for this family.
Josh goes over to Shelly’s condo and ends up trying to heal a wounded duck with Buzz, who, it turns out, actually is a lot like a Jewish Therapy Santa Claus. Buzz astutely deduces that Josh has been falling apart because he’s in shock. Not just because of the lost pregnancy and his breakup with Raquel, but because he’s still grieving for his lost father. He feels he has no outlet to mourn. For a series so invested in Maura’s transition and her acceptance, this is an especially thoughtful inclusion. Buzz helps Josh recognize that although Maura is still with them, he can still feel pain about the loss of Mort.
Through the episode, the conclusion to the flashbacks are intercut with the Pfeffermans’ present. Yetta and Rose travel to the United States to escape the Nazis and reunite with Yetta’s husband, Haim. During the voyage, Yetta hands Rose a chocolate bar, which she breaks apart to reveal a pearl ring hidden inside. It’s the same one Josh gave to Raquel as a stand-in engagement ring, and it’s the same one Ali finds on his bedside table and puts around her necklace. When Yetta and Rose finally arrive in Los Angeles, they discover that Haim is living with another woman and has a young baby. They are livid. When Haim wretchedly offers to make things better by buying Rose a book, they walk out on him, slamming the door in disgust.
On the heels of this scene, we watch Maura and Ali take the train to visit Maura’s mother, Rose, who is now mute and wheelchair-bound. Ali tells Maura that she may study with Leslie in the fall, and in an implicit rebuke to intense ideologies, both past and present, Maura warns Ali, “It’s always wise to steer clear of people who are overly attached to dogma.” They arrive at the nursing home and sit with Rose, who shows few signs that she recognizes either of them. “Hi, Mom,” Maura says. “It’s Mort. They call me Maura now.” Rose doesn’t respond, but instead reaches for the pearl necklace that hangs around Ali’s neck.
The final scenes of “Grey Green Brown & Copper” are an intergenerational triptych. In one panel, on one side, Josh weeps with Buzz, finally given permission to mourn for his lost father. In another, on the opposite side, Rose gives birth to a child that her husband believes to be a girl, the child who, of course, grows up to be Maura. And in the middle, Maura, her sister Bryna, and Ali wheel Rose out onto the beach, where they stand looking at the waves. These moments are small, informal ceremonies. The Pfeffermans are no longer defining pieces of their identities in opposition to someone or something else. They’re learning to do it for themselves.
And that’s it for season two! So where are we, and what should we look forward to next?
- After the rocky transitions of season one, Maura is learning that her next struggles may be more subtle, but they’re no less tricky. She’s been trying to find her own sexual identity, check her many decades of privilege (or at least, recognize that she has them), and heal the rifts within her family.
- The rest of the Pfeffermans have been similarly battling to find themselves, and some of the best moments of the season have been the set-pieces that allow the Pfeffermans to bounce off of an established framework. The wedding, the Yom Kippur sequence, the Idyllwild Festival — all gorgeous and hilarious and fraught moments.
- It’s hard to say where this show could go in the future, but as I wrote in this recap, nearly all of the finale’s resolutions are transient. No one has found a “happily ever after” space. I’m especially looking forward to seeing what happens with Josh, who came into Transparent as an entirely unappealing man-child, and now shows promising glimmers of thoughtfulness.