Jeffrey Tambor as Maura.
One of the first sentences in this episode is “no more chaos.” As any viewer of Transparent can attest, that isn’t going to happen any time soon. Post-wedding collapse, Sarah works out a bird-nesting custody situation with her first ex, Len; Ali sits in a lecture where a professor talks about the multitude of paths; Raquel and Josh look at their new baby on an ultrasound machine; Shelley wants Maura to stay with her. Chaos is coming. It is always coming.
It’s hinted at most plainly in a moment between Shelley and Maura. I wracked my brain trying to think of any other piece of media with an explicit sex scene between two older people, one of whom is a trans woman, and I came up blank. To put a scene like this in the second episode of a season is bold: It dares the audience not to look away. As Maura begins to pleasure Shelley, watching her carefully, you can tell she’s not sold on being back with her ex-wife. Maura fingers her as she’s in the bath, and Maura is sitting outside of it, dry, clothed in her bathing suit. I love this show’s commitment to the ugly-real-hot-ness of sex. It’s gross and sexy at the same time, as most sex scenes are in this show. Last season, I wrote about how Transparent’s explicit sex scenes don’t just show bad sex, but also show when women enjoy it. All kinds of women — women you might not find attractive, women you might not relate to, older women, trans women, women with less than perfect bodies. Guess what? They’re allowed to have hot sex, even if it doesn’t look beautiful to you.
Shelley climaxes and wants to do something for Maura, but she’s reluctant. She tells Shelley to close her eyes then quietly walks away. It’s early in the season, but Maura already seems so disconnected from her body, which would be a great and relevant running theme for the show to explore. She’s not in touch with her physical self, her genitals, or her desires in a way that’s to be expected from someone making as many changes as she’s made. Maura may have purposefully disassociated from her male form in an attempt to finally embrace herself as a woman, but it leaves her sexually cold, and wary of attention toward her body. Like all of us, she deserves to be wanted, but she’s afraid.
Meanwhile, Josh is at Rita’s picking up Colton. They’re having a pool party at the old house to debut Josh’s new band. Colton wants to stay in L.A. for his senior year of high school, and everyone is cool with him moving to L.A. to be with his biological parents who he just met. (Is anyone on this show a good parent?) Raquel is less than enthused, but no one notices. Chaos stews.
Two characters who previously didn’t seem to understand one another, Sarah and Ali, are growing closer. They show up to the pool party together; Sarah hates the decor because it’s very Tammy, and Ali says she had her “foggy fuck-goggles on too tight.” Ali indulges the worst in Sarah, but now that both of Sarah’s idyllic family lives have gone to pieces and she’s given up on trying, she and Ali can enable each other to be terrible together, the way only sisters can.
Raquel, who is too pure and good for this world, says the email Sarah sent about it being over between her and Tammy was beautiful. She’s trying way too hard to be good to these people. They don’t really deserve her. When Ali enables Sarah, it’s a mirror of her own selfishness, but when Raquel gets in on it, it’s the kind of trying you do with someone else’s family. It’s condescendingly polite. She’s a not-quite sister-in-law, but glaringly, she’s not a Pfefferman woman.
Josh suspects their parents are back together, and when Maura and Shelley arrive, Ali announces, “So I hear you two are lesbians now.” Maura’s annoyed, thinking Shelley spilled the beans about their sexual reconnection. If Shelley were to ever notice anything, she’d notice this and be hurt. She seems loopy, and for the first time, old. It’s an interesting choice to show signs of her aging right after a sex scene.
Ali dives into the pool then suddenly, we’re back in 1933 Berlin. She sees Hari Nef’s mysterious character, and, finally, the talented young actress Emily Robinson, who played young Ali last season. She gets a ring on a necklace as a gift from Hari and hides it in cement, which seems significant, though it’s unclear why. Ali sees herself walking with a lantern and notices Nazi SS symbols on a passerby’s sleeve. She breaks through the water and someone announces, “THIS IS LIKE A MOTHERFUCKING DREAM UP IN HERE.” It’s a reference to the party, but it doubles for what Ali just saw. My theory is that Ali is the reincarnation of the Hari Nef character, who is a relative of the Pfeffermans killed during the Holocaust. The credits list Nef as “Introducing Hari Nef,” so we’re not yet sure who she is, but Robinson is credited as “Young Rose” — she must be Maura’s mother.
Josh’s new band Fussy Puss performs and the lead singer, Margeaux, smiles at Josh and I hope to God he’s not sleeping with her or going to — but knowing Josh, he probably will. The performance is interrupted by drunk Tammy, who’d previously been sober for 12 years. She tries to fight Josh, takes the microphone, and confronts Sarah. Here comes chaos, stumbling through in human form. “You are all monsters!” she screams. “You think there’s no consequence? I am a fucking consequence. I am your pain.”
This is perfect. The Pfeffermans are so deep in their own self-preservation, which was brilliantly showcased at Sarah and Tammy’s wedding when the family refused to unlink hands and let anyone else into their dance circle. They never face or acknowledge any consequences of their behavior; Ali and Sarah joked about Tammy being horrible an hour before they arrived at the party. They act as if nothing they do could possibly have negative effects on other people. Except it does, and Tammy, for all her waxy smiles and positive outlook, is living proof. Tammy is their pain, outsourced and existing elsewhere, because they sure don’t seem to deal with it any other way.
This episode was exquisitely directed by the show’s creator, Jill Soloway. In the final scene, several camera shots are taken in fractured mirrors. Maura goes to a drag bar with Davina and Shea, and they dance with some hunky Marines to Sia’s “Chandelier.” It’s the best use of music on the series thus far. Maura turns away from the boys and looks in the mirror, holding her hands up and swaying as Sia sings, “I’m just holding on for tonight.” The pieces of herself in the different fragments flash under Soloway’s direction. Maura is dancing with herself. The chaos of the bar surrounds her. She closes her eyes.