Welcome to The A.V. Club’s Transparent binge-watch. From Friday, December 11 through Sunday, December 13, A.V. Club contributor Shelby Fero will be watching and reviewing every episode of Transparent’s second season. Though she’s working straight through the season, she’ll be taking some breaks, too, posting three reviews on Friday, four reviews on Saturday, and three reviews on Sunday. You can weigh in on this episode here, discuss the whole season on our binge-watching hub page, and track her Pfefferman-addled mindset on Twitter (@shelbyfero).
Let’s get this out of the way up top: these lesbians are the worst man. They’re the type of feminists who fight for equality without compassion, less interested in empathy for others than their own self-righteousness. It’s attractive though, this self-serving revolutionary mindset, and usually the most fun. You get to believe that you’re right, no questions asked. Faith is a powerful thing, and getting to think “I am right” can be as alluring as a drug. For someone like Ali—unfulfilled, directionless, unhappy—it’s a potently appealing club to join. It’s the same human need for structure and importance that drives people to either join cults or start building houses for disaster victims. Introducing Ali to these women is fascinating both in terms of the fictional character and the very real world discussion feminists need to be having about intersectionality.
Sarah’s story takes a bit of a backseat here, but her two big scenes—with two vastly different types of life coaches—don’t disappoint. She also stands as a solid sounding board for Ali, as the youngest Pfefferman continues to explore her sexuality. While Ali’s queerness feels the need for justification, Sarah’s seems more unfettered. Neither is a condemnation or “more natural” approach, seeing the two side by side is simply interesting. Two different people approaching the same topic.
It’s this casual, but respectful, take on sex and gender that sets Transparent apart. For instance, Maura’s marveling over Devina’s re-gendered photos, and decision to do it too. Speckling episodes with these little moments, sans fanfare, makes Transparent important: these scenes educate, certainly, but that’s not their only purpose. The transcharacters aren’t forced to be spokespeople or teachers, trotted out to give their lesson then put away. It’s a peek into one aspect of some people’s transition, but not a dissection under the cis-gaze. Soloway’s refusal to sensationalize the trans experience is as radical as it is understated, and marks an important step forward in how trans people are depicted onscreen.
Colton, my prince of the sea, why is this happening to you? When the whole adoptive family rolls up to check in at Josh and Raquel’s, it seems like the roadblocks are cumbersome but apparent: Raquel’s naked ring finer, the Pfefferman’s Jewishness, Maura just in general. So when Josh gets blindsided by Maura’s admission that she and Shelly have always known about Colton, we’re left reeling just as hard. Like water spilled on the sidewalk, the truth isn’t easily contained; once it’s out, there’s no stopping it from spreading, touching everything in its path. In the wake of Maura’s confession, we’re faced with a flurry implications—the church was paid off to take in Colton, Josh refuses to confront Rita’s predation, Raquel doesn’t want Colton. It’s a whirlwind of emotion, but the dust clears to reveal that Josh and Raquel may be less ready for this son than he’s let himself believe.
Confronted with the shattering ramifications of a lie, Maura returns to Shelly’s and desperately—but firmly—ends whatever it is. She won’t lie to herself any longer, not now, not tonight. The truth (and that one security guard) will set you free.
Grade: One million As
Best “Honestly I Can’t Do All The Extra End Stuff Because I Am Still Sitting Alone Whispering ’Colton, Noooooooooooo, Whyyyy??!!’ But Woah HaHa Wait Awesome Where’d He Come From?” Cameo: Jason Mantzoukas