Maura’s task this season is to get to know and love her body. It’s a tall order, considering her biologically male body has been a lifelong traitor to her female-gendered mind. Shelley asks Maura, who is now sleeping in her bed, “Do I make you happy?” Maura lies, “You do.” Because even with Shelley, the person who arguably knows her best, she’s been hiding and dismissing her own body. Later, she tries to fix this by going to a doctor for trans women and getting a testosterone blocker. She’s faced with answering some tough questions: She didn’t know the meds would stop her getting an erection, but she does want breasts. The doctor advises Maura to get to know her body, something she’s been actively avoiding since her transition began. Beginning in this episode, this is literally doctor’s orders.
So she tries, and her big moment comes as she’s drinking alone. A blonde lawyer stumbles in, yelling at a judge on the phone and going through case files. She plops down at the bar next to Maura and engages her, looking for sympathy about her phone call. Maura learns her name is Cynthia (played by Sonya Walger, who any Lost fan will recognize as Penny), buys her a drink, and tries flirting with her. Cynthia seems surprised, but not off-put, and then politely rejects Maura. She takes it hard, displaying classic “nice guy” behavior, defined as an aggressive reaction to being rejected.
She’s hurt, and she lashes out. This is the first time Maura has really put herself out there romantically since her transition and she’s learning it won’t be easy. After watching this episode, I heard a KCRW news report about how divorced men quickly find new wives, while divorced women tend to stay single or fall victim to romance scams on online dating sites. It made me think of Maura and her experiences as both an older man looking for romantic partners, and now an older woman looking for sex and love. Maura was a man in her 70s — not really judged for his looks, but more for his money, power, and education. Now, Maura presents as a woman in her 70s and nobody wants to sleep with her. It’s a very interesting dive into the sexual split between genders, as well as losing the privileges of being a man when you transition.
But also, when it comes to Maura and Maura alone, this scene highlights that she can’t rely on someone else to make her love her body. Even if Cynthia had been interested in Maura, it wouldn’t have solved all her problems. It might not even have helped. No, Maura will have to get through this and explore herself on her own.
That means without Shelley, either, who dotes on Maura to a painful degree. If we recall last season’s flashbacks, Maura’s secret wasn’t the only reason they got divorced — they also just weren’t right for each other. In an argument about what to watch on TV in this episode, Maura yells at Shelley, “What do you want? Make a choice. Make yourself happy.” The idea has never occurred to Shelley before.
At the house, Josh walks in on Colton praying, and he’s gleefully douchey about it to Raquel, astoundingly oblivious on his part considering Raquel — who informs Josh that she, too, prays — is a rabbi. Colton and Raquel bond over it. Josh offers that he is spiritual, but isn’t religious. He asks Colton what he prays about and Colton says he prays for Rita, who isn’t doing so well. Josh says he wants to invite Rita to dinner and make her part of their family. Yes, let’s force Raquel to sit opposite the woman who molested her boyfriend and break bread. This is surely going to end well.
Rita does come over, though. Over a pizza dinner, she insists that Josh come take a look at some mold at her house, and it’s clear she’s just lonely. She sings Sly and The Family Stone’s “Family Affair,” almost unendingly, and doesn’t pick up any of the social cues to stop. Josh promises Raquel they won’t deal with Rita anymore, but as Raquel later tells Sarah, she is unhappy. Unlike the Pfeffermans, she knows what she wants out of life and what will make her happy, and is deeply aware she’s not getting it here.
Meanwhile, Sarah goes to a gala for her children’s school, where she runs into Len, Melanie, and Tammy. Len accuses Sarah of stealing Melanie’s $485 eye-shadow palette, and Sarah makes out with Tammy because she only likes her when she’s a risky mess. Then, in a scene that really gets at why Transparent is often considered a comedy, Sarah “wins” the raffle, twice. It’s clearly been set up that way. She gets a big TV and six sessions with a life coach, then throws a tantrum about how she doesn’t want the life coaching sessions. She’s physically annoyed and disturbed by the idea of receiving real help, even when it’s hefted onto her. Under duress, Sarah eventually agrees to take the sessions, but there’s nothing she needs more. Her behavior is like an addict being dragged to rehab during withdrawal. Back in her apartment, a completely naked Sarah warms up food and eats it standing up. It’s a visual manifestation of just how vulnerable, alone, and dead inside she has become.
Ali and Syd take the train to see Grandma Rose, who refers to Ali as “Gershon.” Gershon is Rose’s brother, and I presume, the character played by trans actress and model Hari Nef. My theory that Ali is the reincarnation of Gershon stands. Ali goes to the library with Syd to do research and says she only knows one thing about her family history: They left Berlin in the 1930s.
We flashback once more to Berlin: A young, nervous Rose goes to the Institute of Sex Research (Institut für Sexualwissenschaft), a “safe haven for those of us who are neither male nor female as you understand them,” and a real place that opened in 1919. It’s run by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, the Isaac Newton of sex, who believes transvestites, hermaphrodites, and homosexuality are normal. Hirschfeld researched homosexuality extensively, in one instance polling 10,000 people for his 1914 book, The Homosexuality of Man and Woman. Rose finds Gershon living at the institute and says they need money because their dad left. Their mom (played by the always-brilliant Michaela Watkins, who is a natural fit for this show) wants to go to America to find him, so they need boat tickets and bribes for their visas. Rose is unfazed by Gershon’s appearance as a woman, so it’s safe to say she’s known about her for some time.
Back at the library, Ali reads about “inherited trauma” in DNA or “epigenetics,” the idea that trauma can be passed down genetically. For example, the grandchildren of rabbits that were exposed to electric shock while smelling cherry blossoms would go on to hate cherry blossoms even without knowledge of their relatives’ trauma. This is a common idea in modern Jewish culture, regarding people who had relatives in the Holocaust. As recently as August 2015, the Guardian wrote about a study that showed children of Holocaust survivors have elevated levels of stress and anxiety compared to Jewish families who lived outside of Europe during World War II. “Inherited trauma” is something my father, an alcoholic, has talked about before; his mother survived the Holocaust, not unscathed, and one theory for his alcoholism lies there. It’s a really interesting idea to explore through the Pfeffermans, and also makes this show so deliciously Jewish. Maybe Gershon — now Tante Gittel — and her fate inform Maura’s choices. Maybe that’s why these kids are so messed up.