This post contains ***Spoilers*** for the entire second season of Transparent.
In the dark shadows of our minds there’s an inherent need to be accepted for who we are. Maslow may have ranked it lower than our basic need for food, water and sex, but with sex comes a form of approval; if not love or esteem, that shared act fulfills more than the physical drive. In its second season, Transparent explores that theme through and beyond Maura Pfefferman, deep in the process of discovering her long journey to self-acceptance may have only just begun.
If you thought Transparent was about Maura, in its second season the rest of the Pfefferman clan is out to prove it’s all about them. Though at times they border on caricature, Shelly and the adult Pfefferman children believe they’re well past the acceptance phase, so much so that they barely pay attention to Maura, except as it relates to themselves. From the opening moments of Sarah’s wedding to Tammy, to the revelation of Josh’s impending fatherhood, from Ali’s relationship and sexual explorations and Shelly sliding back into the comfort of pretending her former marital relationship can somehow maintain, the rest of the family have moved on to their own highly indulgent personal paths, while Maura is forced to contemplate the reality of both her past and future selves.
Discovery of self through the reflection of others may sound a bit like kindergarten play, but for an unsteady transgender, a mirror (figurative and literal) may be just what Moira needs most. In temporary residence with friends Davina and Shea, she observes…studies and struggles to understand the true intricacies of who she wants to become, at the same time dealing with internal demons old and new. Is it more painful to face her own old prejudices or, as a woman, to encounter them in a way she never has before? How much history can (should) be erased to create the one that Maura (and her father) knew she was meant to be? If doctoring physicality were as simple as altering childhood photos, would the bodily changes Maura intends to make feel so uncertain, or would they still ebb and flow in bits and pieces? Alongside Maura, through her childlike exploration we come to understand the road to self-understanding and acceptance is still a long and complicated one; not just a decision but a process. Like a kindergartener, finally knowing how to express her own needs doesn’t necessarily equate to empathy or understanding of another’s, and when Maura oversteps her bounds or carelessly speaks with a hint of her privileged background, defensiveness belies her true insecurities both over the person she’s been and who Maura wants to be.
In gorgeously filmed flashbacks woven through the episodes like threads spun of time, Ali and Maura experience sporadic visions uncovering the important past that laid the groundwork for the path they’re each simultaneously traveling. Deciding she’s queer, Ali ravenously attacks her new lifestyle with no limits, and tosses aside friends and lovers like so many stems from grapes she’s devoured. Whether or not this family believes in consequences, there are those who would remind the Pfeffermans they exist and won’t simply — conveniently — disappear. There is Shelly, there is Tammy, there is Len; there are Colton and Raquel and Syd and Leslie…
Unmothered like her own mother (and seemingly incapable of mothering her children) Sarah struggles to figure herself out after leaving both a husband and a wife behind. Not knowing how to pick a side, not realizing she doesn’t have to choose only one, Sarah stumbles through every facet of her life until she finds the fulfillment of a particular itch; whomever’s along the route, be damned. Josh barely knows how to be a grownup, never mind how to be a father figure. With one major life event after another dropping by unannounced and on the precipice of commitment and parenthood, he unsurprisingly falters time and again until finally dealing with the emotional fallout of his first loss — a father.
In the end, a single moment of perfect acceptance comes to each of the Pfeffermans in different ways. Through a beautifully understated cameo by Anjelica Huston, Maura finds a kindred soul she can truly share herself with and in return, gives that stranger the same longed for acceptance; for what do we really need to accept ourselves other than another person who truly does? Secure in that peace and perhaps temporary understanding, Maura and Ali come back together to physically reunite with the past. Sarah, Josh and Ali finally find comfort in each others’ arms, nestled in bed together again as children, free to be narcissistically she and he, and all places in between. Something has changed and yet nothing has, but in these perfect, timeless moments, there is satisfaction in feeling the truth of what real acceptance feels like, a basic need fulfilled.
Whatever faults the Pfeffermans have, whatever Transparent might not get exactly right doesn’t matter so much as these people — these actors, writers, characters — stand before us and travel a mostly uncharted path with their hearts, minds, bodies and souls laid bare. And in this world we occupy, these days we stumble through, that is a rarity we can’t afford to miss. We accept and are grateful for Transparent as it is.
Transparent is created and co-written by Jill Soloway, and starring Jeffrey Tambor, Judith Light, Amy Landecker, Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Duplass, Alexandra Billings, Trace Lysette, Ron Huebel, Melora Hardin, Hari Nef, Emily Robinson, Carrie Brownstein,Kathryn Hahn, Richard Masur and Shannon Welles, and features Cherry Jones as Leslie and Anjelica Huston as Vicki.