Welcome back to Transparent, where we breathlessly await finding out whether Arthur Chu’s amazing run will ever cease (no, it won’t). This week we have (mostly) returned to our present-day fictional universe, and a lot of people get righteously told off for what selfish assholes they are, which is satisfying to watch.
You may remember that episode 7, the last one set in the present, ended with Maura standing at her ex-wife’s door, sad and alone, and her ex-wife (whose name is Shelly, somehow this just didn’t really sink in for me until 90% of the way through the season) embracing her. We open with both of them in Shelly’s house, although it’s a few days later, and they’re talking about how We Need to Talk About Ed.
Ed’s health has declined; he’s now bedridden and on oxygen and an IV. Shelly is overwhelmed and exhausted, as someone is when they appear to be a full-time caretaker for a very ill person and are elderly and also not in great health themselves. Maura suggests inpatient hospice care, and Shelly says that Ed doesn’t want to be put somewhere; he wants out. Maura asks if she’s considered assisted suicide; Shelly says she’s “done some googling.” I feel sad at this juncture in the episode. Just putting that right here.
Maura and Shelly seem supremely comfortable and close to each other — you know, almost as if they were married for years — and this is helpfully contrasted and contextualized when we starsweep back to 1994, where Maura and Shelly are sitting at the farthest possible opposite ends of their dinner table while Maura tells her the truth about where she was the weekend of Ali’s bat mitzvah. Shelly is… not pleased. She asks with derision “So, it’s a room full of straight men… in dresses.” Maura adds on “Dancing!” with excitement. It is becoming clear that the issue isn’t a disconnect in communication; it’s not that Shelly doesn’t understand it, it’s that she thinks it’s awful. Maura tells her that wives can go, and seems hopeful that Shelly might attend and be involved in this part of her life; she is less than interested in this.
Back in the future of medical marijuana, Sarah has to dump her weed down the toilet. We find out that the reason Tammy doesn’t drink and (maybe) why Sarah lied to her about being high is that Tammy is a recovered addict, and while coke was her drug of choice she doesn’t wanna be around any drugs which is super fair. Sarah is very whiny about this, and also really Sarah, this was your move? “I’ll just hide this weed in the house and keep it a secret from my recovering addict partner; a flawless plan!” Sarah is like 14. Actually not even 14 because, as referenced in earlier recaps, my brother’s weed-concealment plots were way more advanced than hers when he actually was 14. In the midst of this we also find out that Bianca was kicked out of the house, apparently for smoking weed with Josh and then swimming around with him in the pool? First of all, that was Josh’s fault, not Bianca’s. She is a child. Second of all, maybe I’m working off a flawed standard of comparison but that doesn’t really seem like that big a deal? Thirdly, if smoking weed and hanging out with people she doesn’t like is a dealbreaker for Tammy as far as raising children, then I have some bad news for her about raising children.
So where is Bianca now, you ask? Well she’s at Josh’s of course! Seriously she’s staying in Josh’s apartment. Please imagine an mp3 of the stabbing sound effect from Psycho here. This is an objectively bad idea but also her one trusted adult in her life kicked her out of the house, knowing that she was a runaway from a Scientologist who I think also kicked her out, so I guess all bets are off at this point. Seriously that was a shitty thing to do, Tammy. Bianca tells Josh she’s going to make him some huevos rancheros in the morning. The show isn’t giving us much to work with as far as Bianca’s character, despite her having the most interesting life of maybe anyone on the show, but I’m going to go with believing that she’s been let down by so many adults she relied on that she’s become super savvy about instantly pinpointing what will make them like her and performing it to the letter in hopes that it will keep her safe and stable for a little while longer. This is heartbreaking and very true to life and 500% more interesting than Josh.
Speaking of things more interesting than Josh, Maura and Shelly are snacking at her kitchen table while Ed lays in his bed and breathes. Shelly asks Maura if she’s still interested in women now that she presents as one, and if that makes Maura a lesbian. “So we got gay married before it was fashionable!” she giggles. Her questions don’t seem to come from a demanding or accusatory place, but an affectionate one. This is, of course, only true in the present; past-Shelly was not quite as rad, which is important to remember because Maura really needed someone to be rad to her at that point.
Starsweep to Len’s house, where Sarah is dropping off the kids. She hangs out for a second and waxes tragic about how much she misses their couch and how the couch at her place isn’t comfy because Tammy likes modern things, not squishy things. There’s a sex joke in there somewhere but I’ll let you DIY that one. (Which is also kind of a sex joke.) It’s hard for me to watch this scene because I keep rolling my eyes so hard that I hurt myself. I’m not on Team Len in any sense but if you were that attached to the furniture, maybe you shouldn’t have imploded your marriage? Len was probably also attached to things, like his marriage.
Next in this out-of-control alternate reality version of what divorce looks like, Sarah reveals that she’s just being pouty because Tammy made her flush her weed down the toilet. To be clear, she’s complaining to her ex about a fight with her new person mere weeks after she left him. This is somehow not off-putting to Len, and his response is to offer her more weed. Where is the store that they bought their divorce from, and why didn’t anyone tell my family about it? The obvious next step is for Len and Sarah to get high together in a bedroom, while their kids are outside probably playing with the lawnmower blades and rat poison. Seriously I just cannot take these two or their marriage or their separation seriously because their lives seem SO far removed from reality.
Meanwhile, back at the Dudebro Ranch, Josh has shown up at the temple to see Raquel. Has Josh ever tried just calling, or maybe sending an Edible Arrangement? If someone I was dating did something shitty to me and then came to my home or work where I could not avoid them — as Josh has done twice now — it would not really inspire me to repair the relationship. Josh says he was a “douchebag” and got caught up in some “stupid family stuff,” which is code for “I had a manchild meltdown and made my parent’s stuff all about me instead of supporting them, and also got high with a teenager.” He wants to get food with Raquel to make things up. Possibly a personality transplant would go farther, but no one asked me. Josh says he will just sit at the temple and wait, perhaps endlessly, while Raquel does her job. Guys this is so creepy and manipulative, please don’t ever do this. Just tell them “Ok great call me when you’re done” and go home and watch Broad City or something.
Across town, Ali is telling Syd about her completely bizarre experience wherein she hallucinated some portion of a date, the exact percentage of which I’m starting to despair about ever learning. Syd guides the conversation to the fact that Ali was attempting to understand trans identity via boning the first trans person she met, which is 100% true and gross and deserves to be addressed and also at the same time I feel like no one in the world of Transparent is really realizing how fucking weird it was that Ali made up an entire date and also possibly went into a fugue state and relived her childhood for all of the last episode. Syd also reveals that the record sitting on the table — just left out, lying there, for all to see, even though it’s better to store records standing up than laying down and a diehard vinyl snob would know that — is Josh’s. HMMMM. TO WHAT COULD THIS POSSIBLY LEAD. It is perhaps worth noting that I had actually successfully repressed Syd sleeping with Josh until right now and it’s all rushing back and it feels awful.
Back in the basement with the lava lamps and blacklight posters and the nag champa incense sticks, Sarah and Len are giggling the whole day away! Sarah says there’s things she would have done differently. Yes, Sarah, there’s a lot of things I would have you do differently too; I have compiled a Powerpoint Presentation about it, if you’ll just take a seat we can get started. Len says “I knew we were unhappy, but it didn’t occur to me to do anything about it.” Len is the most self-aware man on the planet. Then it is revealed that Len has a date with his assistant tonight, because again, this is unfolding in a sci-fi universe wherein people who were married for years and raised two children together recover from their messy divorce in a matter of weeks and chitchat about who they’re dating. Sarah is clearly a little upset about this, since it reveals that Len was already attracted to his assistant while they were married, but mostly she wants to compare boob sizes? I can’t tell if this is supposed to be like a jealousy thing or a trope where like the Bisexual Cool (Ex) Girlfriend is down for locker room talk about other women with her male partner, but it is so boring! I wanna watch Maura and Judith Light eat bagels instead.
Raquel and Josh are eating at Josh’s apartment but they’re not eating bagels, which I think is a mistake. Why is Josh’s only idea for dates “hanging out at my apartment?” Oh right, because he is mentally and emotionally still stuck at age 18, where he probably tried to impress girls with the Smashing Pumpkins poster on his wall and negging their taste in music. He and Raquel are chatting about their respective ~callings~ in life and it seems like maybe Raquel is forgiving him when who walks through the apartment but Bianca! Bianca sort of sultrily compliments Josh’s shirt and walks off, because for some reason — what could that reason possibly be! what institutional system of oppression could be responsible! — we’re supposed to think of Bianca as a seductive temptress trying to draw men into her trap even though she is FIFTEEN. Seriously is there one moment of this show where Bianca, one of the only women of color, has gotten to be anything other than a plot device to enable other character’s storylines while being simultaneously tragic and hypersexual?
Anyhow now Raquel is upset, and Josh is acting like she’s nuts for being upset, and I’m honestly not sure whether it speaks to the depth of Josh’s self-absorption or whether it’s actually a flaw in the writing of his character because it doesn’t make sense for anyone, even Josh, to be this dumb. Seriously, you have a teenager that you’ve met twice living at your apartment and you didn’t even mention this to the person you invited over on a date? I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that it was at least a 10-minute car ride from the temple to his apartment; in all that time you couldn’t find 10 seconds to say “Oh by the way a family friend’s kid is going through a rough time and is crashing at my place but it won’t be a big deal?” I have absolutely zero faith in Josh’s ability to make good decisions or communicate effectively with others, but this just seems like such a no-brainer.
Raquel doesn’t believe Josh when he says that it’s totally normal for Bianca to be here because she’s his sister’s girlfriend’s ex-wife’s stepdaughter, which is fair. An argument ensues in which everything Raquel says is totally on-point and 100% deserved, and she says she’s going to go and I would be SO THRILLED if she actually did that. Instead, Josh says a lot of really gross things because Josh can’t believe that anything on earth might ever be his fault — it would be super easy to say “you’re right I blindsided you with that, I’m sorry,” but instead Josh says this is really about moving too fast and how Raquel is obsessed with having kids, which is cruel and makes no goddamn sense. He points out that Raquel brought up her eggs “on our first date,” conveniently forgetting that their “first date” was him showing up unannounced at Friday services and then expecting her to hang out with him instead of the other congregants.
I can’t relate the rest of the moves made in this argument because it makes me too angry and reminds me too much of similar manipulative and gaslighting arguments I’ve had with men and so instead I’m just going to tell you how the argument ends, which is with Josh tackle-kissing Raquel and now they’re having sex. Someday I’m going to try this as a way to end a heated argument. I’ll let you know how it goes but I’m not optimistic. I feel like I’m being asked to believe that Josh’s dick has magic powers — Syd, Bianca, and Raquel, who are smart and capable and have their shit fairly together, are all supposed to be so into the idea of having sex with him that they’ll overlook his trainwreck of a personality? The important piece of information here is that Raquel allows Josh to ejaculate inside her, which plays neatly into a baby plotline. Really hoping Raquel gets pregnant and gets the baby she wants, and then peaces out and never talks to Josh again. When I was rewatching this scene to recap the video player kept freezing and repeating so I had to spend twice the amount of time in that scene, which I think is punishment from God for something I’ve done.
Elsewhere Ali, the fifth Pretty Little Liar, has put the clues together and figured out that Syd is sleeping with Josh. She is very upset about it. Syd counters Ali’s upsetness with how “you make me feel bad all the time. Like, all the time.” Without even having to think about it, she rattles off a bunch of times that Ali was a shitty friend and put everything in her life ahead of Syd, mostly in the interests of fucking other people. “I feel terrible constantly,” Syd says. I feel for her so much here, and am so aware of having been in this exact place in life — where you know you’ve fucked up and you know the way you’re approaching things is totally wrong, it’s the wrong time and the wrong place, but everything you’ve been holding back has just gotten to be too much and so you’re letting it all out now, in the worst possible scenario, and just hoping that this person you care about will see all that and forgive you and listen to you. Which Ali tries to do, to her credit — she says “I don’t know why you’re acting like a jealous girlfriend!” but she also sinks to the couch and says “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m constantly hurting you?”
And then the tension in the air sort of changes, because now that Ali’s actually listening Syd has to actually explain what’s going on, and I think we all kind of knew what was coming and it’s really hard to listen to. Syd explains that she’s had feelings for Ali since the eighth grade, which is just such a long time to carry a torch for someone it kills me. And there’s so much going on here I don’t think I’ll ever be able to untangle it — there’s the trope I don’t really like about the queer girl having a secret pathetic crush on her best friend, but then there’s also the reality of that happening to queer girls all the time and how it’s part of our lives and it’s really hard; there’s my worry that this revelation might overshadow all the ways in which Ali actually is a bad friend and make her feel like she’s off the hook; there’s a feeling like while Ali really is, again, a bad friend, it’s also not really fair to be mad at someone for not returning your feelings, especially when they didn’t know you had them.
Ali asks “So, if this is how you feel, why are you sleeping with my brother?” Which Syd just doesn’t answer, really! I feel like this sort of leaves a door open for the also-overly-familiar trope of “queer girl has feelings for friend, sleeps with man close to the best friend as some convoluted way to get closer to her/get back at her for not liking her,” perhaps most recently seen in Faking It. Or maybe that’s not what’s going on here at all and I’m just grumpy because I bought the wrong kind of coffee this week and my bathroom sink isn’t draining and Drano isn’t helping. Feel free to inform me about how wrong I am in my reading of this in the comments. Anyhow, this scene ends with a time-lapsed scene of Ali growing increasingly upset while trying to process what’s going on, which is a clear takeoff of that one scene from the Words With Girls pilot. It ends when Ali gets up and walks out.
We starsweep away from this scene right back into 1994, where Maura is showing Shelly one of the outfits & wigs that she wore at Camp Camellia. Shelly is really cruelly unimpressed. “You wear this in front of other people?” she asks.
Maura: Honey, it’s me. Shel, I love you. It’s me.
Shelly: And how long has it been you? Was it you when we met? Was it you on our wedding night?
Shelly: I can’t. I’m done.
And so that’s that. After all the work Maura has done to be brave and to be honest and to involve her wife in her life and to be who she is and still have a family that loves her, it’s just done. Someone who loves her — loves her enough to marry her — is just incredibly cruel to her, now, just because she told the truth. It also really brings into focus the way her kids are failing her in the present; the way this is just happening for Maura over and over and over again, this extreme betrayal from people she’s supposed to be able to trust.
In the very same house in the future, Tammy has bought some chairs that look like the kind you sit on in the waiting room in a therapist’s office. Read into that association whatever you will. Sarah is lying on her uncomfortable expensive couch, still stoned, asking Tammy if she “ever thinks about Barb and Len… about what we did to them? Do you think that’s okay?” Tammy responds that “they’re on their own path,” which is like when a politician is asked how they’ll create jobs and respond with “I’ll do what’s best for the American people.” It turns out though that Len being on his own path is actually what’s bothering Sarah, as she mentions that she found out he’s now dating his assistant, and spins some stoned conspiracy theory about how the assistant and her disabled son are going to “take him away from us — I mean, the kids.”
“You sound like you might be a little bit jealous, babe!” Tammy is totally right about that but also follows it up with “I know a little bit about being jealous because people have been jealous of me my entire life!” There’s nothing I can say that will top that so we’re just going to skip gaily into the next scene.
In Josh’s Ivory Tower of Testosterone, Raquel is expressing a postcoital desire to order in food and watch bad movies. Raquel, you poetic, noble land mermaid, I would travel to the ends of the earth to bring you the finest of Thai takeout.
As Josh leaves the bedroom to undoubtedly somehow fuck up fulfilling the most basic of human desires for food and bad entertainment, he finds Bianca sitting in the living room listening to a record with headphones on, singing like an angel in heaven’s choir. “I didn’t know you could sing,” he said. “You never asked,” she says. Hopefully this new discovery of musical talent in a very vulnerable young woman doesn’t coincide with Josh’s desire to make a name for himself as a discoverer of new musical talent in a way that ends up being very harmful to everyone! Because that would be awful!
Now the kids are all together at their mom’s house, to combine their powers and summon Captain Planet and also to say goodbye to Ed. Ali is very touchy, because her relationship with her best friend just exploded and also because she’s Ali. Josh and Sarah reveal to us that Ed doesn’t have any family of his own, so this is it, this is all he’s got: Shelly and Maura and these three dumb dumbs. The kids are surprised to see Maura here, but also excited for the delicious Arnold Palmers that Maura made. Is there any situation that an Arnold Palmer cannot improve? I could be trapped in a ditch with a boulder pinning my leg to the ground and I think if I saw a pitcher of Arnold Palmers I’d still think “Nice!”
Ali goes into Ed’s bedroom to hang out with him and say goodbye; it’s becoming clear that Ali is very attached to Ed in a way that her sibling’s aren’t. She asks how he’s doing and he sort of nods in return, despite maybe still being asleep.
When she comes back out into the room with the rest of her family, they’re discussing how it came to be that Maura and Shelly are hanging out like old pals. Maura says:
“I just came over here because I was feeling kind of down; seems my kids abandoned me at a critical moment in my journey. So I felt kinda down, and I thought I would visit your mom, whom I trust. I was up there on stage and I was, I think, trying to do my best… you weren’t there. That row was empty.”
YESSSS MAURA YES. I feel after that piece of dialogue like I feel after the Chimamanda Adichie passage in ***Flawless. Tell them how shitty and ungrateful they are! Tell them their actions have consequences! Tell them they have to be accountable to the people in their lives! Tell them their feelings of discomfort are less important than unconditionally supporting you! Make them uncomfortable! Unfortunately that particular thrust of the conversation ends not with the kids profusely and genuinely apologizing and throwing themselves to the floor to cry out “We’re not worthy!” like it does in my head, but with them telling Maura how good it was and how great she looked, which is good too although a bit of sidestepping the point.
Shelly nudges them to the next point, which is her dying husband. She and Maura tell the kids that they’re planning on helping Ed pass on. Ali is Not Pleased, since she loves Ed a lot and also is having a weird day in other respects, although no one else knows that. Shelly says it’s happening because “she’s done,” which, you may recall, is an echo of what she said when finding out about Maura’s gender in 1994. Shelly explains that she’s been doing the backbreaking work of caring for Ed for years, cleaning up his bodily functions and feeding and dressing him with no help from her kids. “You don’t have any idea what his life is like,” she tells Ali. Maura adds “To get one of you three to notice what’s going on here is almost impossible.” Josh protests that he calls her “all the time,” because as noted earlier, Josh is fundamentally incapable of believing that he might ever be in the wrong about anything. “I don’t want you to call me,” Shelly says, so angry she’s almost growling, “I want you to be here.”
“He’s the only one who comes!” Shelly says, pointing at Maura and misgendering her. Maura corrects her, but Shelly doesn’t really hear because she’s still talking about how shitty her kids are. She says it a second time, and this time Maura interrupts her to say “She. I’m a woman.” Shelly corrects herself, repeating “She takes care of me.” Shelly grabs Ali’s knee and says “I can’t anymore. Look at me! Look at me! It’s either him or me.”
Sarah suggests getting the rabbi, saying “this is a big decision,” mistakenly thinking that she is being invited to participate in the decision rather than just be present. Josh offers to text the rabbi, which leads to everyone wondering why he has the rabbi’s personal number, which reveals of course that they’re dating. Shelly and Sarah take a break from being really sad and angry for a second to be excited about Josh and the rabbi. This scene is a real emotional roller coaster. Or more — what’s the ride where you’re seated and in a thing that spins like an egg beater and sort of whips you from one side of the ride to the other while also spinning you around. It’s like that, whatever that is, but emotions.
Ali’s response to the emotional spinny ride is to leave, because that’s sort of Ali’s thing. Not sure how to feel about my parent being in this LGBT talent show? Leave! Not sure how to deal with my best friend’s feelings? Leave! Sad and angry about a death in the family? Leave! Sometimes that’s the right move to make, but when you do it as often as Ali does, you run the risk of just walking out of your whole life. Sarah and Josh have run after her to try to get her inside; Sarah wants her to just sit in the house and listen, and Ali feels strongly that everyone else wants to murder Ed. Sarah says maybe the only valid thing any of the three siblings have said all episode: “You know what? Everyone can’t bail all the time.” Sarah walks away saying “Ok it’s fine, I’ll just take care of it. You just stay here and relax, Als, as usual.” Ali says “Sure, you just go take care of it, take care of killing Ed.” The emotional spinny ride is making me feel sort of ill and I want to get off.
Josh sits down next to her and when he pushes her, Ali reveals that she knows about him and Syd, and in classic Josh style, he maintains that it’s not a big deal, and Ali’s personal hurt over that situation is taking the spotlight away from his great news, which is that he thinks he’s in love with Raquel. I wish I were exaggerating about Josh’s self-centeredness. Ali responds sarcastically, and then walks away before I even get to tell her about my great plan for a Weird Al cover of “Fell In Love with a Stripper” called “Fell In Love with the Rabbi.”
Inside, the rest of the family minus Ali sits around the table having cookies and discussing Ed’s death and the shiva following it. In the other room, Ed is in his bed, alone with his machines. As his family’s voices float in from the other room — remember, we were told specifically in the pilot that Ed can still hear and understand even if he can’t talk — about how the mourning rituals for him are going to go, he slowly climbs out of bed and staggers towards the front door and out into the world. He heads to the water that surrounds the complex and down the path surrounding it, and to the edge of the water where the ducks hang out. We already know that his favorite thing to do is to go to the water and see the ducks.
The last scene we get is from the past — it’s Shelly introducing younger, healthier Ed to her kids. It’s the first time we’ve ever heard him talk in the series. He tells them a mildly off-color joke about Alzheimer’s and STIs. It’s endearing because it’s such an uncle joke, the kind that only middle-aged men think is funny but they think it’s SO funny, and that totally doesn’t track well with kids but he’s telling it anyways. Josh tries to interrupt, but Ali tells him to shut up; she wants to hear this. When the joke is over, Ed says “I’m just here to make you happy,” and kisses Shelly’s hand. Then he toasts to life, and that’s it; he disappears back into the oblivion of the past.
Join us next time for the season finale of Transparent, in which I am sure terrible decisions will be made that will carry us boldly into Season 2.