Thursday 26 March 2015

Transparent - I’m constantly hurting you?

Transparent: 1x09 Looking Up. 

Relationships are often a mystery from the outside. Transparent explores them, explores what people do to each other and how they are transformed by how they connect and relate to each other, and most of the time, it captures the complexity of how its characters feel about each other. In 2014, Maura, distraught by the fact that her children did not care enough to support her in her brave performance, seeks out the only person that she thinks will comfort her: Shelley. Because as rude Shelley often is, as reluctant and mindless to use the correct pronouns, they’ve shared most of their life, they’ve mostly raised these kids together, and Shelley, even when she wasn’t supportive, was at least involved in Maura’s path. This is what the look back at 1994 shows: a Maura desperate to take Shelley with her on her path, desperate to include her in becoming her real self, and a Shelley who is so caught up in worrying about what everyone will think (her main sticking point is the fact that Maura leaves the house, “dressed like that”) that she can’t manage to salvage the relationship. Maura attempts to share, Shelley is incapable of sharing, but twenty years later she still knows Maura (and their children) well enough to be a shoulder to cry on. At the same time, she is struggling with her responsibility as her husband’s primary caretaker, she is clearly overwhelmed by that task, a task that nobody shares. Ali is horrified when she realizes that Maura and Shelley are planning to euthanize Ed, who Shelley claims is fading quickly, and would rather not have to suffer, but none of the kids were ever there to be supportive, they never saw the whole picture of what it takes to be completely and solely responsible for another person who will not grow up, or get better. The show doesn’t really make it clear if Ed is in fact deteriorating, in the end he is still mobile enough to escape – a gesture that could be interpreted as both an exasperation with how self-involved everyone else is (Ali is the only one giving him the benefit of the doubt of still being able to express himself), or his own choice of how he wants to go (he did love those ducks). Either way, the frustrated and angry outburst that Shelley has in front of her children shows that they do not comprehend her situation at all, or ever gave it anymore thought. Ali was satisfied by the demonstration of happiness that Ed occasionally gave, with his limited ability. Josh and Sarah thought that coming by occasionally, to talk, was sufficient. None of them understands the desperation and loneliness, in part because Shelley isn’t the kind of person that one would presume either desperate or lonely. 
A show about people changing in relationships, but also about the terrible things they do to each other without truly intending to, just because they misinterpret, miss things, don’t pay close enough attention: like Ali with Syd, sometimes all it takes is not wanting to know something, being so attached and comfortable in the status quo that another person’s suffering doesn’t register. Ali finds out that Syd has been sleeping with her brother, and in the course of their fight about it, Syd reveals that there is more to the story: 
Ali: I don’t know why you’re acting like a fucking jealous girlfriend.
Syd: I feel terrible constantly. Constantly. I just don’t even exist in this. Like you’re not listening to me. I don’t understand, stop yelling at me and stop making me feel bad about this.
Ali: What do you mean, you feel terrible constantly? I’m constantly hurting you?
Syd: It’s just hard… I feel like since… like since 8th grade I’ve just… I’ve had. Feelings for you like... That are confusing, that aren’t just like friends feelings, that are more than friends feelings, and I don’t know, it just seems weird that you haven’t noticed those before.
Ali: I’m just confused. If this is how you feel… then why are you sleeping with my brother?
Syd: If you’re feeling possessive, does that mean you might feel the same way towards me?
Ali never noticed because it was convenient not to notice, it gave her permission to share all those stories that Syd, naturally, was constantly hurt by. “I’m buying you drugs, and you’re like, thanks for the drugs, now I’m gonna do them with somebody else.” They were stories about being left out of the life of the person she cared for the most. At the same time, it’s the most terrible moment to share her feelings, since she does it out of defensiveness, as a justification for her own transgression (since sleeping with Josh behind Ali’s back is a betrayal between friends, she kept it a secret because she knew it would upset Ali). 
In a way, this storyline ties in with Maura’s reveal to Shelley: because Shelley’s concern is what it says about their past together, if this means that everything has been a lie. “
And how long has it been you? Was it you when we met? Was it you on our wedding night?” They both thought they knew and finding out something new is impossible to integrate, because it changes the past, while both for Maura and Syd, this truth has always existed (or at least existed since 8th grade, which is basically forever). 
Sarah: We’re helping by listening.
Ali: No, you’re helping by helping.
I love the final scene, Ed’s introduction to the children, the exact opposite of Maura. A man who tells a joke to make them laugh, because that’s what he wants to do: “I’m just here to make you happy”. It was a promise to them and a promise to Shelley, and then his body betrayed him, but the dignity is in trying. 

Random notes: 

Carrie Brownstein kills it this episode and it’s even more of a pleasure to watch her after seeing her killing it on a different stage, on tour with S-K. 

It’s hard not to root for Len a little bit, considering that Tammy is the worstest. “I know a little about being jealous, because people have been jealous of me my entire life.” 
The episode also shows, for the first time, the connection that Sarah and Len might have had in the past, the intimacy that comes just from being together for so long and having children, much like Maura and Shelley. 

The kids’ reaction to finding Maura at Shelley’s is hilarious: obviously two spheres of their lives that haven’t mixed in ages. 

Josh’s messy life: allowing Bianca to move in after she’s kicked out as a live-in babysitter, then inviting Rabbi Raquel over, and realizing he’s in love (the same way that he did before, the same way he always has his realizations), expecting it to change everything in everyone else’s life because somehow, things are never quite real to Josh unless everybody else acknowledges it as well. 

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