With members of the Pfeffermans either literally or figuratively wandering the desert like a lost tribe in “Desert Eagle,” “They is on the Way” is the oasis that awaits as the reward after a time of strife. Given the family’s personalities (and demands of a maintaining a dramatic show) it’s hard to imagine the contentment won’t curdle back into dissatisfaction. But for this one episode, at least, a reprieve from all the anger and embarrassment is a welcome interlude.
The bruised and exhausted Pfeffermans endure an unappetizing cafeteria dinner before finally arriving at the Dead Sea. Everyone braves the razor-sharp salt crust floor with the exception of Shelly. Dressed in a full body swimsuit like a suit of armor, she’s afraid of the water, afraid of her family, and afraid of living. Even her bulky, vintage swim cap closely resembles the padded cap a knight would wear underneath their helmet before going into battle. Having experienced such a difficult and unexpected catharsis with her family last episode, Shelly now shrinks into herself, afraid of having anyone touch or even see her. It’s Josh, as it must be, who makes the effort to bring Shelly back into the fold of the family. Without any of his characteristic uncertainty or frustration, he calmly and lovingly eases his mom into the water.
The scenes spent at the Dead Sea strongly recall baptism. Each family member becomes unburdened as they enter the water. Sarah and Len are able to come to an understanding with their relationship. They openly discuss their desires and create boundaries in an open and loving way that has been elusive for the pair this season. Maura is still upset with Moshe, but her anger has given way to acceptance. She and Byrna console themselves knowing that while they may not have been great mothers, they were at least present. But as Shelly finally lets go and relaxes into the water, it’s clear this isn’t a rebirth. None of the Pfefferman are submerged to be born again. This is the Dead Sea, after all. You don’t sink, you float. As Shelly lies back, gently steadied in her son’s arms, she is unburdened from the weight of her pain. But with her, as with everyone else, there’s no guarantee it won’t return. It’s a transitory (no pun intended) sensation reinforced by this episode’s Jesus Christ Superstar selection “The Last Supper,” where wine addled apostles sing “Till this evening is this morning life is fine.”
It’s pleasant watching the family view their problems with a modicum of peace as they gently bob along the surface, feet interlocked. In this reflective moment Maura explains Gittel to the family. But to her credit, she relates the story more to reflect on Ali’s issues with identity than her own (which at his point benefit from a certain level of resolution). She pleads for everyone to be patient with Ali, who may not be trans, but still struggles mightily with her gender and her sex.
Ali is missing out of this family excursion as she waits outside the customs building for Hussen. When he never emerges, Ali takes a taxi to meet up with her family. She arrives too late and everyone has long since left. Ali is growing increasingly distant from her family over the course of this season, choosing to embark on her own over repeating the familiar patterns of dysfunction with the rest of her clan. And despite being alone, she chooses to submerge herself into the water.
- I’ve been confused by Davina’s subplot with the Wacky Upstairs Neighbor all season and only more so now that they’ve introduced a new element of potential violence to his character. His oscillation between fussy, wry, and menacing 1) doesn’t work, and 2) seems like a lot of character for a story line that feels shoehorned in for no other reason than helping pad out the show’s run time.
- Young Shelly can’t abide the name Pfefferman, so Mort graciously offers to become Missus Mort Lipkind.