Welcome to the season finale of Transparent, when we find out who will win the auction for the contents of a mystery storage locker! In this episode, everyone feels uncomfortable, except for Ed, because he is dead. Full disclosure, it took me until this episode — again, season finale — to realize I could turn on closed captioning and make this 50 times easier, because I’m a moron.
As previously mentioned, Ed is dead, and that’s how the episode begins: with his body being wrapped in a sheet. At the end of the last episode, we saw him leaving the house in the dark of night as his family discussed his death. Was he realizing that they were going to overdose him and trying to escape? Was he trying to make it easier on them by speeding his death himself? Was he murdered by the ducks at the pond? We’re never going to find out. But now we’re going to go to his funeral, and we get a montage of the family dressing for the occasion. Maura has Davina help her put on perfume, which is a really beautiful tiny intimate moment, and Ali dresses as BBC’s Sherlock for some reason.
At Josh’s cool dude bachelor pad, Bianca and Kaya’s sister (I think it’s her sister? I can’t tell because the two of them are literally indistinguishable to me) are singing a duet. Josh is watching with a weird gleam in his eye. Rein it in, Josh. Raquel has apparently totally forgiven the fact that Bianca exists, because of sex, and asks Josh if they should tone down their sloppy makeouts for the funeral. Josh says no, definitely not, he wants to “tell everybody,” because Josh is a monster. It’s also worth mentioning that Raquel is officiating the funeral. There’s a lot happening already.
Shelly is throwing all of her energy into worrying about the food after the ceremony because that is the kind of mom she is. She gets into the backseat of the car holding a Costco-sized tub of mustard in her lap like a baby and I’ve never loved her more. At the funeral itself, Sarah experiences emotions as she sees her kids hug Len, and also we see that Rita is attending with what appears to be a seventeen-year-old boy, and everyone just sort of shrugs at this presumed new statutory rape victim because… actually I don’t know why because, other than that maybe they’re kinda dead inside. Syd is also in attendance, looking like the goth equestrian Uniqlo model of your dreams.
As the casket is removed from the car, there is a kerfuffle as Len and Tammy fight over who gets to be the last pallbearer. I realize it was indefensibly naive of me to think that these characters might let this funeral be about, you know, the deceased and not them, but here I was, kind of still hoping it might happen. Don’t worry, other family members step aside so that neither Tammy or Len has to have their feelings hurt.
The funeral begins! Shelly continues worrying out loud about the coleslaw as Raquel speaks, and Josh uses the opportunity to make eyes at Raquel the entire time. We’re distracted when a gleaming white car shows up and Davina and Maura get out, because there’s a law that every funeral on TV has to have one attendee show up late and turn heads and these two drew the short straw. There is some mild consternation as everyone processes Maura’s appearance, and then most people’s eyes turn back to Raquel.
Afterwards, as Shelly and Josh place dirt over Ed’s casket, Josh asks “Is everyone staring at Dad right now?” and Shelly asks “Does it matter?” It feels glaring, the way that Shelly and Maura were so close in the privacy of the house but so separate and distant in public. Len and Sarah take their turn at the graveside, and Len asks if he can be buried next to Sarah and Tammy “if you guys end up together.” This is the weirdest question I have ever heard an ex ask of anyone ever, but Sarah handles it fairly gracefully. “Sure, if you want to.” Once Ali and Maura get their turn, Ali notices Maura’s Star of David pendant. “Since when are you into Judaism?” Ali asks. “Oh, for a while now,” says Maura. “Who knew?” responds Ali with a grimace, and stabs the shovel into the ground like she’s trying to murder it. Okay then!
Later, after people have dispersed a bit, Ali sits next to the grave and tries to cut her tie off into it, because she heard that was a thing. Syd appears out of the ether to help her, and they sit and avoid talking about their feelings or the big conversation they had. Instead, they talk about Josh. Ali wants to know if Josh told Syd that he loved her, and Syd says that being with Josh is weird because — I’m just going to transcribe this whole thing here —
You know how a serial killer wants to see it in your eyes? Like, you know you’re going to die. Well, Josh wants to see in your eyes that you love him, that you never met anyone like him before.
I’m not sure if an airhorn sounded after she said that or if it was just in my head. I’m adding this to my vision board about how Carrie Brownstein should get to be the next brunette replacement on Criminal Minds after Jennifer Love Hewitt inevitably leaves. Anyhow, Ali agrees that this is fucked up, and says she isn’t really upset that Syd slept with him but that she was lied to. She also says Syd doesn’t have to come to the shiva but she does anyway, I’m pretty sure, because this is a season finale and it won’t work unless all of the characters who have caused conflict previously are present.
At the shiva, Maura begins what is presumably the endless process of people who want to call her Mort. There is a brief and horrifying interaction wherein a niece who’s a teacher says “I just want to say I totally get it — there’s actually a little boy in my class who suffers the same condition. So if you ever need to talk —” Maura has to just usher her in.
Inside the family house is chaos — people are being herded all over, Tammy is weirdly excited to show people around, there is a reprise of concern about whether enough mustard is available. Len and Sarah share a moment, a tender moment of jokes about mustard. What would those of us with dysfunctional repressed families do without condiments to build bridges, amirite?
Tammy is trying to get everyone’s attention and is doing a terrible job. Do adults not respect the Quiet Coyote? Also, when was it decided that Tammy is the emcee of this shiva? No offense Tammy but you probably shouldn’t be in charge of much besides leaning on things and composing complex metaphors about Sarah’s boobs. Tammy finally gets everyone to sit down so they can “get this little show on the road here” — really, Tammy? — and almost immediately makes it about her remodeling of the home. I pray that I will never be as self-absorbed and obsessive about an interest as Tammy is, and I also pray that my friends will not call attention to whatever ways I inevitably already do this. I’m sorry everyone.
People sit in a circle and have an opportunity to share stories and memories about Ed. Ruth, an elderly woman whom we have never met before, shares that “Ed made Shelly happy.” You may recall that this is what Ed said he wanted to do, in the one scene where we’ve ever heard him speak. The very next person says “pass.” Death is weird and sad and memorials are sort of awful, y’all. Ali Liebegott, who is in this episode once again as Tiffany the security guard, stands up to read a prepared statement with a Rumi epigraph. Still waters run deep with Tiffany. Sarah and Len are apparently overcome with mirth over this situation, and both escape to hide in the laundry room.
Elsewhere in the house, Ali and Raquel are working together to cover the mirrors in the house, as Jewish mourning rituals require. This is a less than ideal way to get to know your brother’s new girlfriend. The last time I met one of my brother’s girlfriends was when she came to Christmas at my racist Tea Partier dad’s house and had to share a room with her because my dad wouldn’t allow them to sleep near each other even though my brother is 23, and also she broke up with him a week later. That still seems better than meeting your brother’s girlfriend at a funeral for a beloved relative and also she is the religious leader in charge of the funeral. Anyhow, they’re covering the mirrors.
Ali asks why the mirrors get covered — this is also the title of the episode, if you’re keeping track — and Raquel says it’s not in scripture, but it’s about “being free of vanity, being free from that extra layer of being seen. Just letting us be.” It seems weird to conflate all of those things — for instance, for Maura, who has to deal with being seen constantly at this event and for whom being seen is understood as an invitation to a thousand microaggressions, vanity doesn’t really seem to be the issue at stake.
Ali bemoans how little she knows about Judaism, and when Raquel asks if it’s because she had a horrible bat mitzvah, Ali confesses that her parents let her cancel hers. Raquel says that “people make mistakes and then grow,” which explains a lot about why she’s with Josh. I like Raquel a lot but sometimes I worry that her naive optimism is on a level with Leslie Knope, and her character does not live in the sunny world of Parks & Rec. She tells Ali she thinks Josh is amazing. Just the best! Swell! The bee’s knees!
Ali makes an incredible series of facial expressions during this speech about Josh that hopefully qualify Gaby Hoffman for an Emmy. Raquel realizes that she’s skidding off the road somehow. “I feel like there’s maybe something that you’re not telling me… please tell me,” she says.
I 100% thought this was going to be when Ali tells her about Syd, or Rita, or both, which I felt all kinds of ways about because Josh is the worst and I am all for Raquel realizing that Josh is the worst but also it’s not cool for Ali to reveal personal relationship information that the people involved haven’t decided to share! My fears were baseless, however, because Ali just tells Raquel about Josh as a person.
“Okay, well I think Josh has kind of a fucked-up relationship with women. And there’s been a lot of women. I mean, I’m not saying he’s like a sex addict or love addict or… maybe he’s a love addict.”
“I should hang this,” says Raquel, and grabs the bedsheet to put it over the mirror. Ali helps her and apologizes, but Raquel just grabs her wrist and holds onto it for a moment before walking away. This scene makes me want to somehow warn every other woman alive about the flaws and dangers of men I’ve dated and/or my own brother, perhaps via a billboard in Times Square or a skywriter. While I love a scene that passes the Bechdel test, I’ll also take “warning other women about men and putting them first” any day.
Back in the laundry room with Sarah and Len, which sounds like it could be the name of a terrible webseries, things are proceeding about as you suspected/feared they would. Laughing about how weird grief is has turned into reminiscing and emotional check-ins and flirting. Sarah appears to have totally recovered from being weirded out by Len having the hots for his assistant.
Len: It’s kind of weird being… replaced.
Sarah: You’re not replaced.
This moves almost immediately into dirty talk characterized by Len’s insistence that there’s no way that penetrative sex toys could be better than his dick, despite Sarah explaining pretty cogently that that’s not the case. Seriously, is this all straight cis dudes think about? Like 60% whether strap-ons are better than their dicks, 20% whether a gay dude might be looking at their butt, and 20% whether they should buy a few more cans of Axe body spray to stockpile in case they ever stop manufacturing it. If your dick being more satisfying than a toy is your main relationship skill, dudes, you are in trouble but not because of the dildos.
Len wants Sarah to go down on him, but then changes his mind almost immediately, because he “doesn’t want to be a fucking secret,” and also “just because you’re from this family doesn’t mean you have to be like this family.” The family doesn’t even have that many secrets! Have you seen Mr. and Mrs. Smith?
This scene is a lot of things, but primarily I am struck by how incredibly similar it is to Piper/Larry on OINTB. I don’t totally understand how TV is made — part of me still feels like maaaaaybe there are tiny humans trapped inside my laptop screen — but I am guessing the writers did not see OITNB S2 and think about Piper when writing Sarah; probably the writing of this had to occur before OINTB S2 aired. But the parallels! White upper middle-class women who are kind of boring and annoying, in long-term relationships with dudes that seem stable if not particularly fulfilling or passionate, are by happenstance swept up into an affair with the sexy female ex who’s returned from their ~sordid past~. They leave the stable dude for this female ex, but still feel torn and when chips are down emotionally, turn to the dude, although he decides not to take them back. They even both reconnect with the dude at a family funeral, and hide with them in a small room where sex is initiated, but is shut down by the dude because he feels weird about it.
Again, I don’t think these two characters were intentionally (or even subconsciously) made similar to each other. That’s almost crazier, though — that two separate writing staffs working with two very different shows and fictional universes came up with essentially the same plotline for their bisexual female character. I’m very happy to have bisexual representation in two of the most talked-about shows of our moment, but I believe we can do better! We put a man on the moon! We made I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter taste even more like butter! We invented those gloves where you can use a touchscreen without taking them off! I think we can have a bisexual woman character who isn’t white, cis, upper middle class and mildly insufferable and whose arc is defined by a dude/lady love triangle. Similarly, we can have storylines centered around trans women that aren’t all about white middle-class older trans women undergoing transition! Clap your hands if you believe!
Outside the laundry room — which is, coincidentally, also the name of my one-woman show — Josh is listening to a cousin talk about Ed’s golf game when he notices Raquel making a run for it. He follows her out, and Raquel tries to make an excuse about having another funeral to go to, which is so unimaginative it’s kind of adorable. She high-heel-trots away sniffling. Josh runs after her yelling “Why are you lying?” because while some unimaginative plebeians like myself would have thought this was a situation in which you might notice that the person you care about is upset about something and want to know how you can make it better, Josh sees right through that facade and can pinpoint that he is being WRONGED.
Josh then launches into a speech about how he loves Raquel and wants to marry her and make babies with her, which a) really doesn’t do anything to dispel Raquel’s fears about his love addiction and b) just isn’t a good game plan, generally. I hate it when people do this. You’re upset? I did something wrong? I love you! It comes off like you’re assuming that the only thing that could reasonably cause someone distress is doubt about your love for them, and if that’s resolved, then everything must be ok! It’s sweet but you just sort of seem like a megalomaniac, is all; like you can’t imagine that there’s anything more important that could be weighing on this person than you. Are you all really grateful that you get to watch me work out all my issues via how much I hate Josh? You’re welcome.
Josh’s next tack is to try to guess who told her something that upset her, and of course digs himself in much deeper.
Josh: Somebody told you something? Was it Syd? Did she say something to you?
Raquel: Why would Syd say anything to me?
Josh: Rita. Rita said something to you.
Raquel: Wow, Josh. How many are there?
Then Raquel finally successfully leaves without being hindered by Josh grabbing her arm and dragging her back, and it’s very beautiful. Be free, Raquel!
Josh goes back inside and one of the first people he sees is Rita, who’s leaning up against the wall checking her phone. He accuses her of telling Raquel something even though she clearly doesn’t really know who Raquel is or that she’s dating Josh. Josh starts to talk about how Raquel is “like the best person he’s ever met,” but Rita doesn’t really care because she has a different agenda. The tall teenage boy who looks like an extra from Friday Night Lights appears from around a corner; his name is Colton. Josh is clearly trying to get out of this introduction as soon as possible so that he can continue mourning the Greek tragedy that is his love life, but then Colton starts to explain: Rita isn’t his statutory rapist date, she’s his mom. Which makes Josh his dad, probably.
Josh has been so into this idea of having babies and so convinced that this will somehow mean he has his shit together and is a functional adult, and suddenly he finds out he’s been a dad this whole time! And didn’t get to indulge his weird fantasy of taking his hot pregnant wife to live alone in some log cabin with no heat outside of Portland where they both live on berries and raw organic milk! This also means that Rita has waited 17 years to tell Josh about this kid and the moment she chooses is a family funeral? I mean obviously Rita isn’t someone we were looking to as a moral touchstone anyways, but what the fuck, Rita? This also means, for those of you playing along from home, that Josh has a son who’s older/about the same age as Bianca, whom Josh has been lowkey flirting with.
Elsewhere in this rollicking circus of poor decisions, Sarah has finally emerged from the laundry room because Tammy is calling for her. She tells Tammy she was in there because she spilled some wine and had to get it off. Some constructive criticism, Sarah? Mustard would have been the funnier choice here. This is kind of a flimsy lie but it doesn’t matter because all Tammy cares about is whether people like the house! Jesus God, Tammy. I thought all your previous marriages failed because you’re a lying philanderer but maybe it was just because you wouldn’t shut up about interior design. Tammy asks one more time if Sarah is okay, because she has a funny look on her face; Sarah takes this opportunity to tell Tammy they should get married. I give up. You’re on your own, Sarah.
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!