Transparent Episode 104 Recap: Cabinet of Family Secrets

Welcome back to Transparent and the episode where we’ll finally find out whether Gordon Ramsay’s new recipe for crab cakes is enough to bring this family business back from the brink. Just kidding, instead this is the episode where you’re going to have 97 different emotions and all of them will carve your insides out like a pumpkin. Let us proceed.


Maura has come out to a still-rolling Ali juuuuust before the camera was turned on, and it’s going GREAT. Ali smushes Maura’s face between her hands and continues speaking in the sort of Dakota Fanning Sugar Fairy tone of voice that cues us she is in an altered state. “You finally make sense to me,” Ali says. “I see you completely, it’s like I’ve never seen you before!”

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Ok so you’re a cool autumn, which means you’re gonna want to avoid orange but you look great in jewel tones and knee socks

It would be cool if Ali were saying this because it was her authentic reaction to finding out Maura’s true gender and also a genuine callback to the pilot when Maura wanted Ali to be the one of her kids who really sees her, but mostly she’s just saying this because she is on drugs. Maura asks if Ali is okay, presumably because she’s acting like a total wacko, and Ali confirms that she’s the BEST SHE’S EVER BEEN. I am not sure if we’re supposed to believe that Maura doesn’t realize Ali is on something — if my mom could figure out that my brother’s weed hiding spot was inside the ceiling tile, then Maura can figure out that her daughter is squishing her lips between her fingers because she’s on ecstasy.

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Oh my god is that my nose ring? Did you disinfect it first at least?

All in all, many parts of this coming out seem sort of ideal? The scene makes an excellent case for this mode of initiating the conversation. Who’s come out to someone on a Schedule I recreational substance? How did it go? Is this what we should all be doing? Please share with the group.

We starsweep to a scene where two humans are engaging in some sort of sexual activity on a bed — the voices make it sound like one of them is Carrie Brownstein, but that can’t be right — AH YES IT IS. SYD IS HAVING SEX WITH JOSH. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Seriously this makes me feel fifty shades of sad and weird but it’s fine, I’ll be fine, I’m not gonna judge you for your sexual choices Syd even if I do think maybe you should go listen to some Sleater-Kinney and rethink this one. Josh asks Syd not to tell Ali “because she’d freak” apparently while he is inside her. Josh needs a life coach.

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Dig me out/dig me out/ seriously get me out of here

In the harsh light of day, Josh is eating cereal while Syd looks through his record collection, and brings up again that they can’t tell Ali. Syd reminds him that she’s been privy to many many Pfefferman family secrets over the years and is an old hand at this, such as how Ali used to sell her mom’s Valium at school, and also RITA.

Oh so you only have the third pressing, not the original colored vinyl with the gate fold? Yeah I don't think we can keep seeing each other.

Oh so you only have the anniversary reissue, not the original colored vinyl with the gate fold? Yeah I don’t think we can keep seeing each other.

Syd describes Rita as “the woman that babysat you that drove you around and took advantage of your sweet little teenage bod.” Josh argues that situation with Rita was “rad;” Syd counters that it was “gross” and “lecherous,” and reminds him that if he heard about a situation with a 15-year-old girl and an older man, it would not seem rad to him. Syd then peaces out as Josh tries to get her to stay, calling behind her “Wow, you really don’t want to be alone, do you?”

I'm not saying I faked every orgasm, I'm just saying that they were authentic in the same way that your pleather cheetah-print jeggings are.

I’m not saying I faked every orgasm, I’m just saying that they were less real than some other things are. Like the Easter Bunny, or American sex education.

Starsweep to Maura’s apartment complex, where Davina is giving her hair extensions so she can stop wearing her wig. For real I’m super into Maura’s hair, sometimes I fantasize about dying my hair gray and I hope that it would look sort of like Maura’s. Davina tries to give Maura some pointers about being in her body — she has her walk around the room and it’s all very ANTM. Maura walks out the door saying “this is stupid” because Maura’s not here to make friends, she’s here to be America’s next top model.

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Soon it will be long enough to braid a rope out of so I can finally leave this tower for good

Milady, your steed awaits; your loyal subjects have been looking forward to your return

Milady, your steed awaits; your loyal subjects have been looking forward to your return

Back in 1994, Maura is checking into a hotel. She’s given a false name for her reservation, and is very nervous that the desk clerk is going to find out who she really is, because she is here for secret reasons.

I will give you one hundred dollars for a bottle of Excedrin right now

I will give you one hundred dollars for a bottle of Excedrin right now

When she gets into her room, she puts on a sparkly dress and a blond wig. She’s joined by her friend from the adult bookstore, who is also wearing a dress and wig! They are both so excited and pretty and Maura can balance a martini glass on her head and it’s very lovely to see her happy. The friend introduces herself as Marcy, and Maura introduces herself as Daphne Sparkles, which Marcy isn’t into. Marcy dismisses that name as “not right,” and renames her: Maura! I actually feel a little bit let down by this because I would have liked to see Maura name herself on her own, but also Maura is so pleased by this, and so we are pleased as well.

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I saw Beyonce had super short Grimes bangs and I’m trying to figure out if I could make it work what do you think

Back to the future and the family home that Sarah is now living in, Tammy has arrived. They have already started doing the thing where they both begin and end every sentence they say to each other with “babe” — “Babe, did you see where I put my hair straightener, babe?” — so they are actually already in a common-law domestic partnership. Sarah wants to know if Tammy has told her wife about the flame of their eternal love and — this will come as a shock, I know — Tammy hasn’t.

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I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains/I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain/There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line

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The less I seek my source for some definitive/The closer I am to fine

Tammy tries a saving throw by telling Sarah how hot she is (specifically, “you’re like this little tiny hummingbird with big boobs”) and grabbing both her breasts with both her hands like they’re grapefruits at the supermarket that she’s comparing for ripeness. Seriously I CANNOT get over how weird Tammy is about touching boobs. Am I off the mark here? Are lots of people into having sex initiated by someone squeezing their breast like it’s a clown’s nose? The larger point here is that Tammy is being sort of a shady partner, and also doesn’t understand what breasts are. Also Sarah gets a text message letting her know that Maura came out to Ali! Now we’re all in the loop except for Josh.

Maybe this is where I left the car keys. No, okay, let me try the other one

Maybe this is where I left the car keys. No? Okay, let me try the other one

(Sidenote: Where are Sarah’s children at this point? Does she still have children? Are they living with Len and being cared for by Sylvia? Has she told them what’s happening with her marriage? A flaw in the show right now is that I can’t tell whether Sarah as a person is just really not concerned with her kids, or whether the show itself isn’t concerned with her kids and so has essentially dropped them from the plot for right now. If anyone has seen them, please bring them up to the front information desk.)

Sarah heads over to Ali’s apartment where she thinks the story of Maura’s coming out to Ali is HILARIOUS because yeah, it kind of is. Ali is hungover and gross and WAY less cool with Maura’s identity than she was last night, and also hungover.

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I can’t BELIEVE she told me that Tara dies when she knows I’m only on season 4, like I definitely have to break up with her, right?

Sarah corrects her use of pronouns for Maura and tells her that she can’t tell their mom or Josh yet or anyone else, because “outing a trans person is like an act of violence, it’s like stripping someone naked in the cafeteria and making them go eat by themselves. Google it!” This is my favorite thing Sarah has ever said, and shows us that in the midst of her angst and self-centeredness and having her boobs massaged by Tammy, she’s at least taken a few minutes out of her life to figure out how to make her loved one’s life a tiny bit better, or at least not make it worse.

Can't believe she slept with her contacts in AGAIN

ugh slept with contacts in AGAIN

This conversation also leads to Sarah revealing her affair with Tammy to Ali, so that’s fun. Ali asks “What about Len?” and Sarah answers “I don’t know,” which is a significantly different answer than the one she gave to Maura. Interesting! She also shares that Tammy made her squirt, which I’m very happy for her but I still can’t believe the idea that someone would ever discuss this with their siblings. Probably I’m a giant prude. Anyhow it turns out that Ali had made brunch plans with Maura while she was tripping the light fantastic and so now they’re gonna go do that.

Just remembered she didn't take out the butt plug from last night yet

Just remembered she didn’t take out the butt plug from last night

Now Josh is hanging out at Rita’s, and says “I need to ask you some questions, and they might not be very pleasant.” He wants to know if his parents knew what was going on with him and Rita back in the day — it seems like he maybe feels that if his parents knew and were cool with it, then it was a Totally Normal and Healthy thing to do. Rita says of course they did! Everyone knew! Of course they didn’t fire me! When Josh presses her on these things, Rita gets SUPER weird. “You don’t get to talk to me that way! You just can’t come in and ask me questions like this! We were in love.” The interaction ends with Josh comforting Rita even though he was the one who was initially upset, which is a giant red flag among a veritable forest of other red flags. At what point is it not a flag anymore but some other item, like a fire extinguisher or a flare calling for help? This definitely sounds extremely normal and healthy and good, is what I’m saying.

Haha what statutory rape what are you talking about

Haha what statutory rape what are you talking about

The scene ends with Josh and Rita postcoital in bed. I think the way this is shot is perhaps meant to emphasize that Josh is much more affectionate and loving than his sex scene with Syd, but mostly it makes me feel very uncomfortable. Rita says “that guy you said would fix the air conditioning never came,” and Josh tells her he’ll call the guy again in the EXACT tone you use to talk to your mom when she can’t figure out how to get a video off her phone. I still feel like Rita is kinda a mom to him, or at least a very maternal aunt. Then Josh sits alone in his car and sings along to “Night” by Bill Callahan, if anyone is playing along with the soundtrack from home.

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Only place he can listen to Taylor Swift in private

Maura, Sarah and Ali are cutting through a department store because apparently they’re going to brunch in or around a mall. Maybe it’s at the Rainforest Cafe, I used to love that place and their waffle fries. Waffle fries are a good brunch. Sarah says she’s gonna “send Sylvia over” to do Maura’s laundry for her and I have a lot of questions about this, like a) can you just have hired domestic workers do the chores of everyone you know? That just seems like crossing a line somehow and b) I got the sense that Len was the reason they could afford to hire Sylvia, not Sarah, and I kind of feel like Sarah might have lost her Sylvia privileges when she left Len so she could boink her ex?

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Don’t look now but I think that mannequin just blinked

The women are waylaid by some very committed makeup and skincare salespeople who offer them mall makeovers. The daughters both grouch but Maura goes for it, because when you’ve never had one the offer of a free makeover is amazing. Maura learns where her T-zone is, Sarah gets made up to look like a Real Housewife, and Ali refuses all makeup except for foundation and powder. It’s not made clear whether this is because she doesn’t like makeup, because she’s having some gender feelings, because she’s too hungover, or all or none of these reasons. It’s sort of unfortunate though because as a person who is frequently hungover, nothing makes you look even more hungover than trying to cover up your hangover with caked-on facial makeup, especially since your skin and body are dehydrated. You have to just sort of go with a light tinted moisturizer and maybe some blush and face the world with a Gatorade in hand.

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Sarah takes a selfie to show Tammy how dewy her cheekbones are. Maura looks great and is successfully pressured into buying several skincare products. Don’t do it Maura, drugstore products will do basically the same for cheaper! Ali also has Maura buy many makeup and skincare products for her. I WONDER FOR WHAT PURPOSE. Maybe we’ll find out!

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internrachel

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. Boob squeezer here. I’m like a 13-year-old boy. BOOBS! I don’t know why. I have them and yet I find them fascinating. (There, I said it. I live it.)

    Ali scamming money off of Maura was definitely not cool. You are being totally rational! Especially because the show has made it clear that she gives all her kids plenty of money when they ask for it, and Ali is, what, 30 at least? And is being supported by her parent(s?). So the fact that she’d probably get the money if she asked makes it extra sketchy for me. She’s definitely an interesting character.

    I could not love Alexandra Billings more.

    The Port-a-Potty about killed me, so humiliating.

  2. I think Maura is actually a very bizarre name for her character. It’s an Irish name, derived from Maureen and Mary, not something a Jewish woman of her age would have ever been named. Religious Jew or not, I can’t help thinking Maura would experience some sort of dissonance how none of the women in her family or that she grew up with ever had a name like that.

    Also, believe it or not, not all of us go through ‘second adolescence’ (being a teen has as much to do with incomplete brain development and limited life experience and not just social awkwardness or hormonal boosts) coming up with fantasy names and wearing whacky girly outfits.

    • As usual, I find myself agreeing with you. The “second adolescence” excuse for immature behavior has always bothered me a great deal (although it bothers me more when it’s used as an excuse for treating people badly). Yes, I went through a kind of second puberty when I transitioned, and yes, I had a lot to learn about certain aspects of presentation, especially putting on makeup, but I was still in my 40’s, and the last thing I wanted to do was draw untoward attention to myself.

      As far as the name goes, I agree that Maura is an unusual name for a 70-year old Jewish woman, but at least it doesn’t stick out as much as when middle-aged trans women name themselves Jennifer or Michelle or the like. “Donna” isn’t a very Jewish name either, but it’s certainly appropriate for someone born in the 1950’s, and that’s one of the main reasons I chose it.

    • i always imagined that maybe it was different for sisters than it was for like sisters/brothers, like i have a brother i can’t imagine talking like that to and also rachel has a brother but maybe everybody out there who has sisters could tell me ‘no riese that’s not how it works’, i might be projecting because i could talk to my imaginary sister about whatever i wanted

  3. I was really upset that when Ali sobered up she was reacting so badly to Maura’s coming out, but her caked-on, completely-different-color face after the makeovers was absolutely amazing.

    Also that bathroom scene was HARD TO WATCH.

  4. When are they going to stop calling Maura ‘Dad’? Sarah could not have been more tactless in the bathroom scene; you just want to tell her to be cool! Also, I think Moppa is kind of cute/similar to Muppet?

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about this… should they just stop calling her “dad”? I’d like to know Maura’s point of view on this, in my head it makes sense for their kids to call her “dad” but probably causes pain to Maura?

      • Just to throw in a trans parent’s input… I’ve heard trans people who are parents (I used to facilitate a support group for them) be all over the place on this subject. Some people truly don’t mind if their kids call them their pre-transition parental titles, while others come up with some new creative way of saying it (I think Jennifer Boylan’s kids used “maddy”). Others are upset if their kids (young or adult) call them other than the typical parental honorific for their current gender.

        I transitioned when my daughter was around 6. I was originally papa, then when starting transition I was “poppy” for a couple of years. But after that, I just wasn’t comfortable with the name (which is also Spanish for papa as well as the flower) so I’m mostly called by my first name. When she’s referring to me to other people she calls me ‘mom,’ but still tend to be ‘Gina’ in private (I’m also a single parent). I have mixed feelings about it but we’re meeting each other half way. I give her a certain degree of flexibility in that I wouldn’t grant to other people. And I find so often, how these things play out has a LOT to do with the attitude of the other parent (in this case, Judith Light’s character) and how she feels about it and reacts to name, parenting title and pronoun changes

        • Just a p.s. to the comment I posted a few minutes ago, regarding your last sentence: my former spouse — my son’s mother — made it very clear to my son when I transitioned 9 years ago (when he was 15) that she would not under any circumstances ever accept the notion that I could also be called “Mom,” and would view it as a usurpation on my part, and an act of extreme disloyalty on his part. I’m not sure that a different attitude on her part would have changed my son’s already-expressed viewpoint that he still wanted to call me Dad in private, but who knows? In the end, I don’t care that much, for the reasons expressed in my other comment. It’s far more important to me that I know that he completely accepts me as a woman — and that three years after I transitioned, he turned to me and said, apropos of nothing in particular, that looking at me, it was hard for him to believe that I was ever anything other than a woman.

      • In my experience, a great many trans women who have children — especially when the transition takes place when the children are older, or even adults — leave the choice of whether their children see them as fathers or mothers entirely up to their children. In fact, I feel strongly that it should be left to the children; it’s generally more important to them than to the parent. To assume that the character in “Transparent” is automatically becoming a mother, instead of a father who’s a woman — and, therefore, should no longer be addressed as “Dad,” at least in private — would be quite unrealistic.

        The very first thing my son asked me when I told him of my plans to transition, when he was 14, was “will it be OK if I still call you Dad?,” and my immediate response was that of course it was OK, as long as he didn’t do it in public! What would be the point of trying to impose something upon him that he didn’t want? Allowing him to have that continuity was the least I could do to help my transition be as easy as possible for him. And what difference does it make? I don’t need to have the label of “mother” to make me feel secure in my identity. I have no cognitive dissonance, and see no contradiction, in being a female father. And neither does my son. As far as we’re concerned, “Dad” is really just a three-letter word that means to him that there’s been no break, no symbolic “death” of his father; that I’m still his and he’s still mine, just as we’ve always been, and that he loves me. If he felt differently it would be different, but it is, and should be, his choice.

        In the 10 years since then, I’d say he calls me Donna more and Dad less, but it still doesn’t bother me when he uses the latter. And I still sign every card and email “Love, Dad,” and I am happy to do so.

        In public, of course, he often refers to me as his Mom to third persons. Because I don’t want to be outed to strangers, and he respects that!

        And when I introduce myself to people he knows (assuming they don’t already know about me), I don’t say “I’m J’s dad,” or “I’m J’s mom”; instead, I avoid the problem by saying “Hi, I’m Donna; J is my son.”

    • I have a friend with a parent who’s a trans woman, and he refers to her as his dad, at least to other people. For example, he’d say, “my dad is a woman.” I haven’t met the parent in question so I’m not sure how she feels about this, but he seems otherwise completely supportive of her.

  5. Rachel, this recap is awesome! I was really critical at first but it seems like you’ve really gotten into the swing of the show and I keep sitting here cackling at work while reading which is more than a little awkward. *Thumbs up emoji for you!

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