Thursday 12 February 2015

Transparent – You treat me like a stranger.

Transparent: 1x07 Symbolic Exemplar.

Ali: So if there is no god, then honestly, everything we do, no one sees it.
Ali, as a teenager, refusing to have her Bat Mitzvah which very much plays into her father’s hands, debates the existence or non-existence of god: and it’s a very central line, considering that the heart of this episode is a performance. Maura lived her life in secret; nobody saw her for who she was, and all the things that Josh takes such issue with – the fact that she doesn’t just wear her dresses and her wig and her make-up indoors, that she carries them outside, that she is visible now rather than hiding – are essential parts of her identity. It’s essential to being able to live an authentic life, not having to hide, not having to pretend. It’s not a performance in the sense of dressing up as somebody else, it’s a performance of herself, finally, after years of dressing up as someone she wasn’t. These two ideas of dressing up: as an expression of identity and as a way of obscuring or hiding identity (or playing with it, if it isn’t immediately precarious), are at the centre of this episode. Ali dresses up as “high femme” because it is what her boyfriend likes, and her boyfriend, in his cabin, performs some version of hypermasculinity (but his other home is cosy and warm, and resembles the house she dreamt herself into as a child). Josh is starting to play house with Rabbi Raquel, and they seem completely comfortable with each other, it seems like the beginning of a grown-up relationship for someone whose past relationships were all tainted by his abuse as a child – except he can’t hold on to it and inevitably falls into old patterns. In a way, both Josh and Ali are attempting to tell a new story about themselves (and both of them are, if differently, influenced by Maura’s story and her will to finally do this, even if it’s late in life), but it is a more complicated process for them, because in spite of their self-involvedness neither of them is particularly introspective or knowledgeable about themselves. 
It’s a bit different with Sarah, who insists that she is completely and utterly happy in her relationship with Tammy, so utterly happy that she doesn’t see how it is connected to her increasing anxiety (for which a doctor, Josh’s friend, prescribes medical marijuana). Additionally, Tammy appears to be more interested and invested in the project of completely changing the Pfefferman’s home (turning it into a shell filled with meaningless objects rather than memories) than the relationship with Sarah. While everyone else in the family is slowly starting to tackle the baggage of their childhood, Tammy rips it out and runs off with the artefacts of it in her truck. The house is a place for everyone else, a home connected to traumatic and beautiful memories; for Tammy, it’s only space to be remodelled into something that sells better. Sarah doesn’t articulate her doubts, but she spends the whole episode inebriated in some way. 
All of these struggles with identity (and this is one of the first episodes where Maura only comes in later, where the kids dominate, it sets up the dynamic of the performance itself) override Maura’s glorious moment on stage, expressing her feelings in song and appearing as she is. They all get high before, too high to be able to at least take Maura’s intent on stage seriously, and then they run out, one by one, incapable of being supportive of their dad even for the duration of one song (and because Transparent is a gorgeous show, the music continues to quote that song throughout the last part of the episode). 
“But felt so lonely in your company”. Maura’s bravery, her fierceness in becoming herself and showing herself to the world, means nothing if her children cannot appreciate her, if they cannot see her, which they literally fail to do in the episode. When she looks up, all the seats are deserted, and nothing means anything. 

Random notes: 

I realize that people like Tammy exist, but I think in some cases this season the show would have profited from making her a more nuanced character. 

Davina: You are spending a lot of time stuck on those pardon my French rude fucking kids.

Tammy starts a fight with Sarah over her being drunk, they both find Josh and Bianca making out in the pool (which is twisted on so many levels), Maura finds a little bit of solace in the arms of her ex-wife (because at least it’s someone who is familiar, if not understanding?). 

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