In Transparent, Jeffrey Tambor plays a transwoman, Maura Pfefferman, a retired college professor who's been divorced for at least a decade and has three children, who are a group of adults with issues: self-absorbed, often aimless, and feigning happiness. The show is not just about a closeted trans parent who becomes more personally transparent, though. It's about transparency inside of the Pfefferman family as they each seek a life and identity. While the story of Maura is the catalyst for the show, she is not its sole focus. All of the family members become fully developed as characters in time. In fact, you could argue the show is about contemporary family life in Los Angeles and the twists and turns of life as individuals revealed themselves to others. How transparent are any of them?
The first episode is primarily about introducing the individuals in the family living in contemporary Los Angeles, and some of the family dynamics at play.
This show is made with meticulous attention to detail. It seemed everything mattered for the story, including the music. The opening titles ran over snippets of bland Happy Days-style home movies of childhood and family, while a melancholy piano played in the background. Then there was a boy entertaining a family gathering by striking Mae West poses, followed by parts of a documentary called The Queen from 1968 about a drag competition in New York City. The stage was set for the story of a late in life emergence of Maura Pfefferman, and these were the early life clues from the 50s to the 80s. Never mind that the same stereotypical clues had been used to herald the emergence of gay men for decades.
At least for the time of the childhood of Maura Pfefferman, there really were few if any images for the director to pull-up, as transgender people were virtually invisible. Sure, there had been the flare-up of Christine Jorgenson in the late 50s when she was the subject of much speculative curiosity. She had gone to Denmark and returned as the “first American” to have sex change surgery, as it was called. Later, Uncle Milty (Milton Berle) came out in drag to do comedy. By the 70s, there was Geraldine (Flip Wilson), “Honey, the devil made me do it.” And for awhile a few fictional homicidal maniac cross dressers moved creepily across the screen.
For a person such as Maura, there was probably always a feeling something was wrong. Perhaps she was crazy, and she soon learned to play the male role she was erroneously born into. She mostly lived in her cocoon, a more adapt analogy than a closet. She successfully fulfilled all of the expectations of her role in the culture of the period: marriage, children, successful career, and comfortable retirement. Finally, she did not owe anybody anything in terms of being who American culture and family supposed her to be. She was free, if she chose to rip her way out of the cocoon of expectations and spread her wings as the butterfly she had always known she was.
Yeah, I need discipline
The youngest child is Ali Pfefferman, a twenty-something woman. She was disheveled; the apartment was disheveled; her life was disheveled. Ali went for a walk in Griffith Park with another twenty-something, talking about their aimless lives. Ali mused about doing something she entitled “R U My Soulmate?” She cast a quick glance at a personal trainer who was a gorgeous black guy, instant lust appeared in her eye. By the end of the episode, after examining her nude body, Ali went to meet the hot trainer in the park. She explained, I want to change me body. You know the “little waist, big ass” so I can feel rooted like a tree. The trainer asked “What do you eat?”
Ali said, “Uh -food, but there is the whole depravation thing on a diet.”
Trainer: “What you need is discipline.”
Ali:“Yeah, I need discipline.”
Trainer: “Give me ten.”
Later, in the audio track the trainer was heard counting, ten, nine, eight, then on screen. Ali, “that is all I got.“
“Are you sure that is all you got for me? Move that big ass.”
Ali grins. Ali needed money from dad. Earnestly dad said, he was happy to help her out, because they had a true connection. He peered deeply into her eyes and said “you can see me most clearly (dramatic pause) because we share the depressive gene.”
“It is so hard when someone sees something you do not want seen.”
The problem was that no body in this family was transparent.
Making Sweet Love
The middle child was Josh/Joshie Pfefferman a 30ish young man. He laid awake beside a sleeping young blonde. She awoke and, horrors, they both have dreaded morning mouth odor. Blech, we stink. In the living area the increasingly slick 30ish guy was Tweeting pictures of two young girls. They were a band named “Glitterish,” which he was producing. We can recognize them because they were the band with the serious looking triangle player. Ali joined them. Josh said “hide the pot or she’ll smoke it all.” Ali and Josh were the closest of the siblings.
In a later scene, Ali and Josh were on the floor looking at old LPs. The album being looked at was byJim Croce. Josh said, "look at that face, the big nose, they would never let me do an album of someone with a face like that." Ali admitted she was married to Croce when she was four. Spontaneously, they began singing “Operator, help me place this call.” Although Josh was managing both members of “Glitterish” he had a legal sense of what was moral, that was do not sleep with a minor. He was not sleeping with both of the young girls, because one was only 17, but to the other he was making “sweet love.” Ali suggested juice boxes for the kids.
Later, Josh left a family gathering because he had a concert. Concert, what concert? Josh went to the home of an older woman with tender veined thighs for consolation, ok, so maybe she was a hooker. In the end, Josh returned to bed with the “sweet love” member of “Glitterish.”
Giving it a second go-round
Last, but not least is Sarah, the oldest of the Pfefferman children. Her house was in the midst of kid chaos as a frantic Sarah tried to get her two preschoolers off to school. They arrived at school where Sarah did a double take at the most amazing woman she had ever seen. WOW, instant magnetism, it was Tammy! Sarah asked what she was doing there; weren’t her children too old for the school? Tammy, being thoroughly too cool for school, said yes that child was, but that child was when she was with Valerie. This was about Grace, a five year old, and now Tammy was married to Barb. “Giving it a second go-round,” she said dancingly.
Sarah responded that she was also married. (Dramatic pause.) “To a guy,” named Lynn. They agreed to a play date between Grace and Sarah’s children. Later, Sarah returned to kid chaos and husband Lynn. She asked about having Tammy and Grace over for a play-date. And by the way, “Uh, she is the lesbian I went to Madison with.”
Lynn:“I like Lesbians.”
How contemporary Southern California can this guy get?
My beautiful darlings
Dad had invited the three offspring to the house. The three Pfefferman kids arrived home with carry-out. Why had dad called them? Was dad getting engaged to Marci? Then they shifted to: did dad have cancer? Earlier Josh had said, that if dad was really sick, things needed to be set-up now for tax purposes. Dad opened the door with long hair in a ponytail dressed in a man’s shorts and a shirt, and while hugging and kissing the kids said, “my beautiful darlings.” Sarah asked if Marci was coming.
Dad: “No, Marci and I have broken-up and I am fine.”
Seated at the dinner table, all the kids talked at once and discussed a list of contemporary LA diseases and their sloppy eating habits, which Dad explained by saying they were ‘shtetl’ people and thus eat with their hands. Oy vey, Yiddish, I had to Goggle to find out they were small town eastern Europeans.
Dad continued, this was a big chance they needed to talk. Looking down while dad held dad’s head in dad’s hands, dad mumbled, “Oh, my God, I love you kids, I love you kids.” Ali asked, “Are you dying daddy?”
This set off an argument between Sarah and Josh over whether or not dad looked good and how Jill Goldberg looked good and then dropped dead. This group needed an intervention. “Stop it!” yelled dad. “You want me to have cancer?” Dad sighed heavily. “So, I am selling the house,’” dad said in an exasperated voice.
Dad had called them there not to announce a marriage or cancer, it was worse. Dad wanted to sell the home in which the children grew up. Despite dad having said sell, the kids immediately argued over who should get the house. Josh said he wanted the house. “I’ll take it and flip it.” Dad suggested giving it to Sarah and her family. Jealously, Ali stated, “she doesn’t need two sugar daddies.” She was already married to one. Josh added possessively, “dad, it would have been nice if you had talked to me privately.”
Later he said to “sweet love”: “Dad is going to sell my house.”
The girl: “Which house, your house?”
“No, the house I grew up in,” as if he had been an only child.
At the end of the dining scene, Ali asked plaintively, “where are you going to live daddy?”
Left alone, the dad, who had rarely had a life, other than what was expected of him, had done everything he was supposed to do, and was finally freed of those obligations to have a life of her own. She walked slowly back to her bedroom as she talked on the phone. “Oh my God, I couldn’t do it.” For the first time in the show, she let her hair down and reclined on her bed. The cast of Hair sang softly and sweetly in the background. Maura was in her private life.
The clerk said ‘"Oh"
Maura Pfefferman attended a support group meeting at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. A voice said, “I was at Target and the clerk said I’ll need some ID with that credit card.” It was Maura.
When she handed it to her, “she looked at me and then said (dramatic pause) “Oh” and rang up the batteries. That was a big victory, I did not cry.” Maybe it was just store policy to ask for ID with every credit card purchase, or maybe it was because Maura did not match the masculine name on the card. Either way that meant Maura had to produce an ID, which doubtless read Morton L. Pfefferman. It could have been worse, the clerk could have said “sir,” or any of a number of other things. The group leader then thanked Maura for sharing. Maura responded with I promised to come out to the kids last week, but I just couldn’t, but I’ll do it soon. Now dad was Maura in public. A newly out Maura had gone shopping and that was a huge thing.
The Pupusa Lady
Sarah and Tammy were talking in a parking lot. Sarah introduced the topic of her getting the house.
“Remember dad’s house?”
Tammy: "Sure, who can forget that uncomfortable weekend? How is old Mort, anyway?"
"I would like you to come to dad’s house and do your “thang,” said Sarah while making what she thought was a with-it move.
Tammy: “Let’s do it now.” Wow, now.
Tammy slipped on aviator sunglasses, invitation accepted. Sarah and Tammy arrived at a 70s Southern California home. "Dad wanted to give it to Lynn and me."
Tammy: “It has good bones.”
Lynn totally wanted it, and called where they live now the ghetto, that’s “ggh-heet-toe” she repeated making her with-it move again. Sarah would miss the farmer’s market and the “pupusa lady.” Then they discussed pupusa. I never realized pupusa was a sexy word. Say it out loud and feel your lips purse. They said it repeatedly to each other until they were engaged in hugs and pupusa kisses.
At that moment, Maura parked her car outside the house and got out, presented completely as herself. (Who dressed this woman? Sorry, not my taste at all.) Maura walked into the home, “Hi Girls” she said to the surprised pupusa kissers. Tammy grinned and said, “You look awesome.”
Sarah, clearly puzzled: “Dad?”
Jim Croce was singing, “Operator can you help me place this call.”
TRANSPARENT recap: "Pilot" (season 1 episode 1)
TRANSPARENT recap: "The Letting Go" (season 1 episode 2)
TRANSPARENT recap: "Rollin'" (season 1 episode 3)