“House Call” is a finale full of send-offs but few goodbyes, proving once again how little anything sticks on Transparent. But this time, it isn’t mere tolerance that’s keeping the Pfeffermans (and their now-extended family) in each other’s lives. A general air of acceptance fills the episode, beginning with Maura forgiving her father (while not promising an ongoing relationship) and ending with Josh giving up Rita’s ghost.
Season four got off to a rocky start and maintained an uneven quality throughout, as it often looked like everyone was repeating mistakes, to diminishing comedic effect. But while it’s not an uproarious half hour, “House Call” is still a sweet and mostly satisfying way to put a pin in this season’s discussion of boundaries and borders, whether it was Len and Sarah figuring out how to be in a poly relationship, or Josh trying to put some distance between himself and Shelly. Elsewhere, Maura and Bryna had to decide what kind of relationship, if any, to have with the father who abandoned them, and has been flourishing in the desert.
But it was Ali’s storyline that most encapsulated the boundaries theme. The youngest Pfefferman kid has never really been one to respect them, and in season four, she’s extended that wall-less approach even further—or maybe, she’s finally truly understanding. As the episode opens, Ali and Moshe are dropping the rest of the family off at the airport, as Ali has decided to stay in Israel to keep figuring stuff out. Shelly misses the point, naturally—she doesn’t understand what Ali has left to do, having visited the Western Wall and all. She doesn’t realize that Ali’s journey couldn’t end with another barrier, even one with such cultural and religious significance.
Ali has gotten the short shrift in previous seasons, often showing the least progression of all the characters (except for Shelly, but she was almost cartoonish early on, so that doesn’t really count). But in season four, Gaby Hoffmann has transcended Ali’s restlessness—she retains that searching quality, but as she settles onto the ground in the final moments of “House Call,” she’s no longer just reacting to what’s going on around her. For once, she seems to be going beyond navel gazing.
It’s a subtly affecting scene—presumably, Jesus Christ Superstar’s “Everything’s Alright” isn’t actually playing at the abandoned camp—and further demonstrates that Transparent has accomplished more this season in its quieter moments than in its showier scenes. Ali’s travelogue in the West Bank episode was ambitious and gorgeously shot, but it didn’t have the same impact as watching her build that shelter, where she’s far away from everything she knows.
The same goes for Shelly’s revelation in the wilderness in “Desert Eagle,” which is accompanied by overly dramatic touches, so that when she finally says the words—she was molested as a child, something she’d alluded to in her one-woman show—the moment feels like another part of the Israel tour. This is a stop we had to make; all the signs had pointed to it. On the one hand, it’s a relief to see Shelly finally tell her family, but the scene is unnecessarily overwrought.
Compare that to Josh letting go of (some of) his shame about his own abuse, which we see in the final moments of “House Call.” He steps away from a happy family dinner, having taken some strength from his mother, who proved to be the only one who could banish the AirBnb renter, but even before that, had managed to raise a not-entirely flawed trio of children. She was able to move on. When he confronts Rita one last time, he doesn’t rail at her apparition. Instead, he says “I was a victim, but I loved you,” acknowledging just how complex the situation remains while also not absolving her of blame.
This comes after he gets a sponsor at his sex addicts meeting, which indicates real growth for Josh and, in addition to Maura’s moving past her abandonment issues and Ali realizing she can’t always chase after answers, keeps the overall season from feeling like a retread of Pfefferman mistakes past. Even Shelly looks poised to move forward, calling her ex “Mrs. Pfefferman” and referring to herself by her family name while having dinner with Maura’s new squeeze. Finally, there are some boundaries, and they aren’t being used as punishment or even defense mechanisms, but as a healthy set of limitations.
As “Everything’s Alright” plays for the second time this season, it feels mostly apt—that is, aside from Len and Sarah’s latest predicament. The couple also tried to break down the barriers of a traditional marriage, inviting Lila into their newly reformed relationship. But they realized in Israel that they’re more conventional than they thought, and switched back to a twosome. Then they showed the characteristic inability of letting go, and now they might be more attached to Lila than ever, if she really is as fertile as she was in Sarah’s dream.
The twist on that sex scene ties with the Bavarian tenant’s “civil disobedience” nonsense as the most absurd in the finale. Aside from the fact that it seems highly unlikely that Len, Sarah, and Lila would have engaged in unprotected sex all this time, the moment feels tacked on, as if writer Ethan Kuperberg worried that the season closer was a little too neat, and hastily tried to restore some messiness. If that’s the case, then (possible) unexpected pregnancy is a boring choice. But with that cliffhanger, “House Call” sums up the mistakes of the overall season—namely, failing to leave well enough alone.
- My apologies for the tardiness of this post—I failed to schedule it properly last weekend.
- Transparent wisely chose to keep Maura and Davina together, even though it looked like they’d end up apart following Davina’s breakup and the emergence of Donald.
- “It’s some kind of cis white male sit-in.” Do you see why we need Davina?
- What happened to Bavarian man’s family? Did he eat them?
- Shelly’s “locate your dignity” was as much advice to herself as the renter, it seems.
- Transparent’s already been renewed for a fifth season, and I can’t decide which potential storyline I’m less excited about: more Kids On Top, or Sarah, Len, and Lila working out a custody agreement. Lila might choose to end the pregnancy, of course, but given that dream Sarah had earlier in the season, it seems more likely that “unconventional family” is the new arc for Sarah and Len.
- Ordinarily, a reviewer would grade the season in addition to the episode, and even though I didn’t handle all the recaps, I’m going to go ahead and give season four a B- for me. As struck as I was by the overarching theme, there were a lot of missteps, episode to episode.