Transparent Episode 106 Recap: Act Natural

Welcome back to Transparent, where one family must demonstrate their knowledge of questions about history, geography and mythology and make the final Temple Run in under three minutes and retrieve a valuable artifact from the Shrine of the Silver Monkey. Let’s see how they did this week!

We open upon our most favoritest star in the night sky, Josh, who is visiting Maura.

Who's at the door? Oh.

Who’s at the door? Oh.

He tells her that he was fired, although he does not mention that it is because he is a terrifying asshole and his girlfriend was kind of scared of him! I wonder why. Josh wants to start his own record label, and wants Maura to basically front him the money to do so.

Maura is wearing dude clothes for this exchange, but she knows that Josh knows about her gender, I guess because Ali or Sarah told her? She asks Josh if he has any questions for her, and he opens his mouth and vile, abominable nonsense comes out.

“I gotta say, they kinda made it seem like you were parading around town in a dress… but you look totally normal, except for, like, your ponytail’s longer. I’m cool with it… I get it. Whatever people wanna do behind closed doors, that’s their business, you know?”

Really? Really.

Really? Really.

There’s a beat, and Maura deliberately takes the hair elastic out of her hair and lets it down over her shoulders, which is awesome. In the moment of silence here I somehow managed to excitedly convince myself that Maura was going to tell Josh to leave, and I was THRILLED, but that does not happen.Instead, Josh goes to use the bathroom, and on the way encounters Maura’s wigs and makeup. This must be so difficult for you, Josh. However will you cope. Will you ever manage to recover. Truly, we feel for you, we do.


Still more personality than Josh

Elsewhere, because Josh is like a backed-up human garbage disposal that just spews out old coffee grounds and chunks of debris in the form of thoughts, he is telling his sisters that he thinks “Dad’s losing his mind.” By which he means dementia. But also when he says “dementia” what he actually means is “[he] has to be the center of attention.” This is infuriating because it’s totally bananas and untrue; EVERYTHING in the world of this show is ultimately about Maura’s kids, not her — she has never let anything be about her for one second! Even when talking to Josh just now, she tried to give him the floor! Even when she was ALONE with Davina, without her kids even in the room, she felt like she couldn’t go out and have fun on her own because she hadn’t told Ali yet. Anyways, what Josh is doing here is Top Secret Whiny Man Code: “they want to be the center of attention, and also are crazy” stands in for “someone else is doing something that isn’t about me, or may even mildly inconvenience me. Also, that person is a woman.”


Ali and Sarah think that Josh is being a big dumb dumb and literally laugh at him, which is solid. Ali is going to take a women’s studies class, and this is also cause for much felicity. I guess Ali is a frequent starter of new endeavors that then fizzle out, but also have you met Ali, it’s bonkers that she hasn’t already taken women’s studies classes. I’m very excited for when she discovers the word “problematic.”

No we're not telling you where the clitoris is.

No we’re not telling you where the clitoris is.

Timehop to 1994, where Mom and Maura are watching their kids play in the backyard and day-drinking, which sounds lovely. As they cuddle on the couch, Maura carefully suggests the idea of wearing Judith Light’s underwear in the bedroom, selling it as a sex thing and asking if there’s a pair she can borrow. This sort of helps explain why present-day Judith Light thought Maura’s gender was a kink.

Wait, I thought we lost an hour in spring. How does that even make sense?

Wait, I thought we lost an hour in spring. How does that even make sense?

Back to the future, Ali is over at Maura’s apartment and talking about how excited she is for her gender studies class. Maybe she’ll get to watch “Once More With Feeling” and Alien like I did in that Women & the Media class in college, which I think was basically an excuse for my professor to make us watch her favorite shows. (Not complaining!) The kicker, of course, is that she wants Maura to help pay for it. It breaks my heart because Maura has just delivered a really sweet speech about Ali’s heart and brain and how proud she is and how Ali should write books — and also because Maura is probably thinking about how much she would like to have had the opportunity to take a class like this! — and Ali just asks about the money. For those of you playing along from home, 100% of the interactions Maura has had with her kids so far in this episode have been about them asking her for money. Maura also asks if Ali will come see her at Trans Got Talent, and Ali flippantly agrees.

So you see, even with three months of payments, you're actually saving money because it's basically a $200 retail value.

So you see, even with three months of payments, you’re actually saving money because it’s basically a $200 retail value.

Oh jeez

Oh jeez

Starsweep to Philanderer’s Island, where we see SARAH’S CHILDREN. It’s good because I was about to file a missing person’s report. I know it seems like I’m being needlessly nitpicky about this, and maybe I am, but as a kid who grew up through an acrimonious divorce that didn’t have nearly as many intensifying factors as there are in this show, it seems literally unbelievable that the logistics of separation aren’t taking more of a front seat in Sarah’s life. If you’re navigating a new separation, issues of child custody and money and who’s driving who to school and who’s paying the cell phone bill take up your whole life. Trying to figure out a weeknight dinner with the non-custodial parent is like trying to get troops across the Alps and also they’re all riding gazelles and are blindfolded. Especially given the same-sex affair, there’s a real risk that Len could find a judge who wouldn’t want to award Sarah custody of her kids if he chose that route. Sarah would also, I think, be in pretty dire financial straits? She doesn’t seem to work, and there’s no indication that there have been lawyers involved such that Len would need to make alimony payments or anything? Separations when you have kids are really messy and painful! They’re like a full-time job! It would be hard on Sarah to see her kids less than she usually does, she would miss them! What I’m saying is it’s really hard for me to believe that Sarah has time to literally lounge around her childhood playground with her siblings, and also has carefree downtime with her kids on a regular basis because she and Len just happened to agree on how they should share custody, and so on, and so forth. It’s also too bad because (until this episode!) the show has really missed out on a rich source of conflict. Okay now that that’s off my chest we can talk about the show!

Is the tooth fairy real? Where does the money under my pillow come from? What does she do with my teeth?

Is the tooth fairy real? Where does the money under my pillow come from? What does she do with my teeth? Where do babies come from?

Hold on I think I hear the phone, brb

Hold on I think I hear the phone, brb

The point is that Sarah and Tammy are gonna have Maura over while the kids are there, and so Sarah is trying to explain why Maura is gonna look different. As is pretty par for the course for Sarah, she’s trying really hard but still not doing so hot. She’s trying to talk about this using a teddy bear, but things get a little derailed when there are questions about the bear’s genitals. It seems like Sarah might get a break when her daughter asks if it’s because Maura is magic, but Tammy nudges Sarah to say that it’s not magic, it’s just sort of a thing that happens. I think Tammy is probably right here but I am also constantly tempted to explain everything with magic when I talk to small children, because honestly I don’t know how microwaves work either. Anyways, the kids seem to have no problem processing this really at all; if only the adults could learn from them.

Starsweep to a college campus, where Ali and Syd are listening to a women’s studies professor hold forth about menstruation, along with one thousand bored-looking undergraduates.

It feels like we've been waiting for the cue for the flashmob to start forever

It feels like we’ve been waiting for the cue for the flashmob to start forever

For about five seconds I really thought the women’s studies professor might somehow also be the rabbi, because apparently you can take the girl out of Brandeis, but you can’t take the Brandeis out of the girl. The women’s studies professor is not, it turns out, the rabbi. But it does turn out that Syd used to be her May-December live-in girlfriend??? I really wanna read Syd’s blog. The depiction of women’s studies, so far, is a white woman in silly glasses and a muumuu talking about menstruation and disagreeing with Audre Lorde while writing “eggs=rebirth” on the board, and also exclamation points are the same thing as rape, somehow. Honestly I can’t even argue, that’s basically 100% what those classes are like.



Hoo boy

Hoo boy

After class lets out Syd goes over to say hi to her apparent old flame, and Ali makes foghorn-heart-eyes-popping-out-of-her-head face at Dale, a cute trans guy who’s a TA for the class (played by Ian Harvie, an IRL trans male actor). She strikes up conversation by talking about how versatile flannel is because sure, when in Rome. As they saunter across campus together, Ali talks about Maura’s coming out, and Dale talks about coming out to his parents.

Yeah she tried to use an Airheads wrapper as a dental dam! I know right I can't even

Yeah she tried to use an Airheads wrapper as a dental dam! So now I have a yeast infection.

Ali appears shocked that anyone would refer to Dale by his birth name and wants to ask him questions, but doesn’t want to “be offensive.” It would be cool if she were as worried about being respectful when talking to her own parent as she is when talking to a person she wants to rub her naked body all over. She listens to Dale talk about his genitalia and works hard at being very! supportive! and refers to him as “gender-enlightened.” Also she wants to know where he lives and asks if she can “come over and interview you for a week.” This is weird, Ali! You are being weird! He is a person, not an interactive science exhibit! This probably would have been a more useful thing to talk about during gender studies class than how eggs symbolize rebirth.

This neck cramp is killing me, I knew I would regret not asking to switch positions

This neck cramp is killing me, I knew I would regret not asking to switch positions

Dale thinks Ali is “a dyke,” and tries to confirm with her, and Ali says “this whole time you thought you were talking to a boring lesbian?” Jesus, Ali, tumblr is not gonna like this. Ali says “politically I’m basically a lesbian” and would like to be a lesbian but is really into dudes. Then she says the word “manly” a lot. Dale likes femmes a lot. I feel weird about virtually everything that was said during this conversation and think Ali could benefit from reading a lot more Autostraddle but in the interests of not overthinking it I’m going to keep it moving. I miss Syd. Come back, Syd.

Back in the past, Maura and Marcy are still on their secret hotel getaway. Maura is worried about “acting natural” and passing and in her nervousness acts kind of unnatural and it’s adorable. Maura and Marcy look through a pamphlet for Camp Camellia, a weekend getaway with beauty pageants and more. Maura really wants them both to go, but Marcy doesn’t think she can get away for a whole weekend. When the waitress arrives and calls them both “ladies,” spirits are boosted and it seems like maybe there’s enough good energy in the universe to make Camp Camellia happen — but then Maura realizes that the camp dates are during her kid’s bat mitzvah. Womp womp.

It's gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, vegan, kosher, halal, locally sourced, and I whispered an e.e. cummings poem to it in the kitchen

It’s gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, vegan, kosher, halal, locally sourced, and I whispered an e.e. cummings poem to it in the kitchen

Josh is alone in the depressing greyscale hellscape that is his apartment, and is being Furtive With A Laptop. Whatever could he be doing? In keeping with the theme of these siblings using any trans people they can find as vehicles for knowledge and self-growth, Josh is logging onto a live-feed video chatroom with a trans cam girl. She’s acting as though this were a sexual encounter, because, you know, that’s what her job is, but Josh just wants to ask a lot of personal questions!

Hello, do you have a minute to talk about Jesus Christ

Aahhhhh actually running late to meet somebody, so sorry, maybe next time

This is like if you went to Starbucks and the barista kept trying to ask about what kind of coffee you wanted, and instead you tried to get them to tell you who their first kiss was with in exchange for a dollar tip. Josh could also benefit from reading Autostraddle or somebody buying him a copy of Whipping Girl or something. Josh does not really learn the answers to the burning questions he needed to know before he could decide whether to treat his parent with respect, I guess? He feels weird or something and shuts his laptop. I hope he paid like $20 a minute.

Across town, Maura and Davina have arrived for shabbos dinner! Everyone looks lovely, Maura brought flowers and Tammy is in a cute little suit situation. The kids are adorbs, Maura meets Bianca, everyone’s happy. Tammy is gonna make drinks for everyone! Yay! Probably this will be a peaceful evening of fun and serenity.


You better not let these die, too. They’re expensive you know.

Elsewhere, Josh is arriving late to Rabbi Fein’s Friday afternoon services. Fein is talking about how the Hebrews had to wander the desert for an entire 40 years because the old generation couldn’t handle the Promised Land; God needed to wait until a whole new generation was born into freedom before he could let them in. I see the parallels here, Rabbi, but honestly the younger generation in this show doesn’t seem like they can handle really anything at all.


Hey! Hi. It’s me, hi

Are you fucking kidding me

Are you fucking kidding me

Back in the Palisades, Sarah is serving dinner and telling people to turn off their cell phones, which she and Tammy learned about from Real Simple magazine. Sarah calls Maura “Moppa,” as Ali coined in previous episodes, and asks if she wants to light the candles because it’s a tradition that the mother of the family does so, so that’s nice. It’s all very cute and nice!

Now is the time. This is the hour. Ours is the magic. Ours is the power.

Now is the time. This is the hour. Ours is the magic. Ours is the power.

Back in the synagogue, Josh and the rabbi are flirting. Rabbi Fein shows him an old mikvah that she’s trying to renovate, and Josh goes ahead and sits in the little hollow in the floor where the water should go. It’s tempting to make an Oscar the Grouch reference here but I will take the high road.

Yup so just go on in, and I'll just be right behind you with the key, locking the door

Yup so just go on in, and I’ll just be right behind you with the key, locking the door

Maura is announcing her appearance at Trans Got Talent to the rest of the family, where she’s going to do a duet with Davina, and she wants them all to come! She wants them to also bring Josh, because he’s “so weird in this area,” and it does my soul good to hear Maura affirm that Josh is the one with the problem, not her.

Back in the empty mikvah, Rabbi Fein is ignoring the whole rest of her congregation to hang out with Josh and rehash her relationship history for him. She says she’s never been married, and that:

“I did get close… I ended up wasting maybe my last good years on just… the wrong person.”

She’s concerned that her eggs have all died and they’re just “crunchy, crispy old lady eggs,” and I think we’re supposed to connect this to Josh’s newfound desire for kids, but I’m focused on the fact that Rabbi Fein has avoided using any gendered pronouns to refer to anyone she’s dated. Vote for Bisexual Rabbi Fein 2014!! I’m printing campaign buttons.

So do you come here often

So do you come here often

Back at Shabbos dinner, Len has suddenly arrived, because the rule for this house is that everyone just waltzes in whenever. He and Sarah have disagreed about what time he was supposed to come pick the kids up, and I think this is the first time Len has seen Maura presenting as a woman, and also of course Tammy is there, and Len assumes that however Sarah and Tammy talked to the kids about Maura was wrong, and everything goes off the rails in a heartbeat and suddenly Len is speaking in a falsetto and threatening to cut his penis off while waving a knife around! So that happened. Obviously Len is being gross and transmisogynistic and horrifying, like basically my worst nightmare is having an argument with a man in my life who’s angry with me and then having him pick up a knife off the table, so this is all awful. Thankfully, Maura steps in and saves the day:

This is my family, Leonard. I am so sorry, this is my fault, I should have called you. Honey, I should have taken you out to lunch and we should have talked. But I didn’t do that, and I’m sorry about the Mort and the Maura and the he and the she; I’m just a person, and you’re just a person, and here we are. And baby, you need to get in this whirlpool or you need to get out of it.

Len says “I’m sorry about the knife. Good shabbos.” Family, everyone!

Ok, but not all men!

Ok, but not all men!

You know what? I actually counted, and it is all men?

You know what? I actually counted, and it is all men?


After Len and the kids have left, Maura and Sarah have cigarettes outside and dip their feet in the pool.

Sarah: I hope I’m not ruining the kids with all of this crazy stuff.
Maura: Remember our crazy stuff?
Sarah: Yeah, but it’s all blended in with the good stuff.
Maura: I’m glad you remember the good stuff.

Maura says she wants Sarah to have the house, even though she sort of implied to Josh earlier in the episode that she’d let him have some of the money from selling it. Sarah likes Maura’s toenail polish, and they sit in the dark and it’s quiet.

So it’s not really about ethics in gaming journalism?



Join us next time for more Transparent, which is hopefully set at A-Camp and Josh and Len have to stay home.

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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.


  1. Rachel your recaps really make my Fridays better.

    I wish my Amazon Prime free trial hadn’t run out so I could go look more closely at what it says on the Women’s Studies whiteboard. I loved that scene. I also want more Syd always.

  2. I loved how Maura handled the Len thing- she did it with such class and such… humanness? Is that a word? I don’t know how anyone can be so kind when someone is being that threatening.

    Being Jew(ish) I felt super touched by the lighting of the candles. It reminded me of Janani’s poem ‘trans/national’ when he talks about his grandmother in India sending him a drum and “ways of being a man that don’t involve being a white man”. This just felt like one of those tiny cultural things that can mean so much.

  3. I’ve only read the recaps, haven’t actually watched the show, but I have ALLTHEFEELINGS about that Ali/Dale exchange.

    As a masculine-leaning genderqueer person who mostly likes masculine presenting people, including trans men, I would love to see that portrayed in the media (as it seems like Ali is/will be genderqueer and that’s a big part of her awkwardness about talking about this). I identify hard with that fear of the people I’m attracted to wanting someone more femme, even though I know that’s not always true. I just wanna skip the stereotypes and bullshit and get to the kind of representation I need.

  4. Another great recap!

    Ugh, Len was so horrible in this episode! One thing this show does really well is show just how awful transphobes really are.

  5. I’ve really enjoyed all the Transparent recaps, thanks Rachel! And this is a genius analogy:
    “Trying to figure out a weeknight dinner with the non-custodial parent is like trying to get troops across the Alps and also they’re all riding gazelles and are blindfolded.”

  6. I belly laughed so hard at the not all men sequence of photos and captions, and I am in the process of making it my new computer background. THANK YOU THANK YOU

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