Back inside Ed’s memory circle, Maura is thanking the memory circlers for their support of her during her transition, and explaining how she first knew when she was a little girl. Shelly peaces out, possibly to check on the mustard situation.
Over in Josh’s private hell, he’s trying to make friends with Colton. Colton is from Overland Park, an affluent suburb of Kansas City, where I am presuming he was adopted and then later got in touch with Rita in LA? He’s about to be a senior, and he really likes sushi. That’s it; that’s all of Colton. I don’t think he’s going to get what he wanted out of this visit to LA but at the very least they probably do have better sushi than in Kansas. Josh says the timing of this is terrible, “because I’m really fucked up right now.” He then amends it to “I’m fucked up all the time,” which is true. Colton optimistically opines “No matter what happens, I’m always going to like you, you know?” WE’LL SEE ABOUT THAT, YOUNG MAN.
As this uncomfortable conversation is drawing to a close, yet another one is blossoming: Ali has found her mother and is demanding to know why she didn’t have a bat mitzvah. An alternate title for this episode could have been “Is Now Really the Time?” Shelly explains about Maura wanting to go to Camp Camellia, possibly because she’s annoyed at Maura right now for talking about her transition and not Ed. (What happened to Shelly’s emotional declarations that Maura is the only one who was there for her?) Ali is filled with a passionate anger that for some reason she has never felt the need to visit upon any other characters in this show who make truly awful decisions, and goes to confront Maura.
Ali stomps into the circle of women talking about Barbara Kingsolver and says “So, Mom tells me that you canceled my bat mitzvah so that you could go to some dress-up camp in the woods?” Maura explains that she actually just let Ali cancel it, and Ali says she shouldn’t have been allowed to because she was 13. That’s the worst, when your parents decide to not force you to perform an extremely public act that you’ve explicitly told them you don’t want to do! Someone call CPS. I regret not keeping a list from the very beginning of this show of Things These Kids Think They’re Entitled To.
Maura says “Don’t be so self-centered. There’s another world out there,” which should probably be the tagline for the whole show. Ali argues that Maura is actually the one who’s self-centered, and that Maura, personally, has denied Ali the chance to practice Judaism. Kids! You gotta love ’em.
Ali’s other main complaint is that Maura has given her too much money, which is truly incredible. I really wish Bianca was here for this scene so we could get a reaction shot. Maura’s response is pretty good too, though.
Because, my beautiful girl, you cannot do anything! You know, you have so much more to say now than when I was writing your checks. Giving you loans which, by the way, aren’t actually loans. Because you don’t pay back dick. You understand? Not one cent. I’m paying for your life.
Ali takes out her wallet and throws all the cash in it at Maura, which looks like it amounts to about nineteen dollars in ones. I’m sure it feels very defiant to her, but only makes her look that much more pathetic — like a little kid saying “I have to clean up my room? Well fine then, KEEP my allowance!”
Ali says she doesn’t “need or want or give a shit about your money,” which is amazing because as far as we can tell she’s never had a job? I’m very excited to see if she cares about Maura’s money after she gets fired from Starbucks after coming in late to too many shifts. Ali says “you can’t fucking scream at me anymore because I’m an adult” — I’m not sure whether this is meant to make us roll our eyes at Ali or what, because where I’m sitting we’ve never seen Maura do anything that could qualify as “screaming at” her kids. Maura doesn’t have to scream anyway, as she demonstrates:
I have a question; now that you’re not on the payroll anymore, do you like me? If I didn’t give you any money, would you even talk to me?
To be clear, the delivery of this isn’t self-pitying or plaintive; it’s confident and controlled. She’s not asking because she wants to be reassured; she’s asking because she already knows the answer. Ali just turns around and leaves. Josh and Sarah walk after her. To get her back? To comfort her? To yell at her further? Because they’re mad that Maura gave her more money than them? Who cares! Shelly sits next to Maura and leans over her to straighten the neckline of her dress, and it’s married-couple tender. In another frame, Ali wanders the empty streets of LA in the early evening light, looking pensive.
Aside from being a really impressive array of poor judgement calls on Ali’s part, this is one of the best scenes of the series, I think. I’m grateful for it because I wish that Maura got more scenes that centered on her actions and choices and those of the other characters, and not just her identity. Obviously her identity as a trans woman is important — crucial — to her lived experience, and to the premise of the show. But Maura seems to me like she’s gotten remarkably little screen time compared to her children, and when she does, the only situations we see her in are ones directly tied to her transition. I don’t doubt that aspects of transition would be overwhelmingly ever-present for her, but it seems unfair that, say, Josh gets to have arcs that are complicated and nuanced and take up a lot of screen time and aren’t directly related to his identity as a straight white cis man and Maura doesn’t, because to many viewers, her identity is her arc, and Josh’s isn’t. Because being a straight white cis person is neutral and can accommodate other arcs alongside it, but the other-ness of being trans eclipses other parts of what Maura’s fictional life could contain.
It troubles me because it feels like this may reinforce ideas that straight and/or cis viewers already have that trans and/or queer people are defined entirely by those identities, and don’t have “normal” lives outside of them. It makes it harder to see trans and/or queer people as people, and easier to see them as concepts, or FCKH8 PSAs. And in media that’s ostensibly about trans and/or queer people, this idea can be very limiting; it means that we don’t get to see those characters, the ones that trans and/or queer viewers most relate to, doing the things that we do in our own lives. We just see them doing the stuff that seems interesting or novel to straight/cis viewers (transitioning! coming out!), which is dehumanizing. I don’t want to see less of the parts of Maura’s life that are directly related to being a trans woman, or to be able to forget that she’s a trans woman; I just want to see her do even more on-screen. (Possibly the inclusion of Our Lady J as a trans woman writer for Season 2 of Transparent will help ensure that this happens!)
All this to say that I’m really excited to see Maura and Ali have an uncomfortable fight about money and Judaism and childhood, and it would delight me to watch them have a million more.
Later that night, Sarah, Shelly and Maura sit around the kitchen table (the same one that ribs were eaten at in the pilot, if I’m not mistaken) and snack on leftovers. Sarah offhandedly announces that she and Tammy are getting married (which; did Tammy agree to that?); Maura tells her it’s wonderful and Shelly is excited about a wedding, but is noticeably less pumped than she was about Josh and Raquel. Josh and Colton show up, Josh does a terrible job introducing Colton and doesn’t explain who he is, and Colton awkwardly asks if the family can say grace because he’s used to doing that before he eats.
Into the middle of this Ali returns, and is accepted with little fanfare and a little good-natured chanting of “Ali McNally.” How fascinating/irritating it must be, to have a name that rhymes easily. Colton encourages her to sit down and join hands to make the prayer more powerful, and Ali compromises by grabbing onto one hair on Sarah’s head. And this is how we close the season: everyone in the family looking around at each other while a white boy from Kansas praises Jesus.
And that’s it! That’s Season 1 of Transparent. We await Season 2 with clear eyes and full hearts. For me, I found this season well written in terms of dialogue and very well acted, often very affecting, although I was occasionally baffled by choices in representation and storytelling. I’m very excited that Our Lady J will join the writing staff, although (as Mey has pointed out) a show centered around a trans woman needs more than one trans woman writer on staff. However, what I think about this show isn’t particularly important! What’s important is what trans women think about this show. I’d like to direct your attention to this passage from Mey’s recent article on Our Lady J’s joining the writing staff, which you should also click through and read all of:
However, there are many who criticize Transparent. First of all, the show stars Jeffrey Tambor as Maura, and although he does a wonderful acting job, the fact remains that casting cis men as trans women not only takes jobs that could go to trans actors, it also helps to reinforce the idea that trans women are men. Additionally, Transparent tells the story of a well-off, older, white trans woman with a family, a story that has been told many times already. Many trans women of color and younger trans people have said that although they think the show is well made, they don’t really see themselves or their experiences reflected very much in it. Some even found Soloway’s announcement that she would be mentoring trans women writers to be a bit condescending. There’s also the fact that having just one trans woman on the writing staff who is supposed to represent All Trans Women is not really the ideal situation. And as you might remember, Mari and I both had very conflicted feelings about the show before it came out.
Okay, now it’s your turn! Opinions on Transparent (particularly from trans women), go!