Were the heck did this title, “Symbolic Exemplar,” come from? It was so striking when I saw these words together. I knew what the words meant, separately and together, but had they been used like this in the past? As usual the web answered the question. It was in the title of a book, “The Rabbi as Symbolic Exemplar,” about the burn out and discouragement that rabbis can experience from having to be what others expect of a rabbi, as well as a model for others. In this episode we saw Rachel as a rabbi struggling with being a symbolic exemplar. More importantly, we saw Maura as a symbolic exemplar. She had tried to do everything expected of her as a father and parent in the family and she desperately wanted the love and support of that family to be shown at “Trans Got Talent.”
What is high femme?
Ali and Syd were shopping at the Goldmine clothing store. Ali was carrying around a large bag, which led Syd to inquire what it was. Ali replied she did not know what they were going to be doing. Which led to a discussion of the femme presentation problem, what was high femme, which Dale said he liked in the last episode?
Syd volunteered that she was low femme in her shirt and pants. Ali inquired, “What am I?” Syd replied, “You are middle earth femme.” Ali, “like a Hobbit?”
“No, like people who live in the subway, like mole people femme,” answered Syd. Well, to this point in the show, Ali had been, shall we say, overtly casual in her appearance. The mission was to find a dress that would appeal to Dale. For Ali this was a huge effort because in a flashback to 1994, we were shown she hated dresses. As she told her father that the dress for her Bat Mitzvah was “torture in a dress.”
That was followed by a discussion as to whether he believed in God. Which led to Ali’s concluding “no one sees us.” Ali picked out what can only be described as a red, low-cut, corseted cowgirl dress and red high heeled boots. Then she applied lots of a red lipstick that must have had a name such as The Quintessential Red.
What do you want me to do, daddy?
Dale picked up cowgirl Ali in a very used pick-up. That drove to what looked like a new log cabin. “We’re home,” to what was a truly woodsy interior; flannel curtains and all. Ali eyed the interior and we saw a shadow of doubt in her eyes. She started to sit down to which Dale said, “Who said you could sit down?” Seeking to please him, Ali stated, “that she did not know if he was a leg man or a boob man.” Dale responded, “don’t talk.”
Ali now wanted to know what he wanted. She had gone “high femme” for him. Dale told her to say daddy at the end of everything she said. “What do you want me to do, daddy?” she said suggestively. Daddy spoke, “hike up your skirt, show me your panties, pull them down to your knees. What the fuck is all that?”
“Big girls have bush, daddy,” was Ali’s answer. Dale said that was going to be fixed. Dale shaved the bush and then they went shopping in an adult store. Ali quickly picked up the strap to hold a dick and began to look for the dick. “Let the dick chose you,” said a helpful Dale. She found it; it was the Sparkle Unicorn, a large flaming red one. That was it was large to me, for some I was sure it was merely average. Dale offered to pay, but Ali refused as she pulled out a credit card on Maura’s account, “it’s on my daddy, daddy.”
That‘s his job as a father
Josh and Sarah went to a medicinal pot dealer. She was filling out a form and basically marked everything. The dealer appeared and began to read the list, “Anxiety, irritable bowl syndrome, really? Such a pretty lady.” Nervously Sarah struggled to explain before exclaiming that she was the happiest she had ever been, but more importantly, “how soon do I get the pot?” Josh said, “We call it medicine.”
Outside by the car Sarah told Josh about Trans Got Talent and that they had to go. Exasperated, Josh claimed his dad had no talent and “what talent did he acquire now that he is a chick?” Such respect was shown by Josh, that he turned aside Sarah from reminding him of all the Little League games dad had gone to, “that’s his job as a father.”
Sarah threw in that Josh was not ok with all this stuff with dad. Josh explained, “I do not know what I am,” which seemed to be a common problem for the Pfefferman clan.
The rabbi as symbolic exemplar
Josh and Rachel were on their first date at Josh’s house. Following a prolonged discussion about why Rachel was not wearing a yarmulke because it was not sexy. Josh claimed she was sexy either way. Hot and heavy making out followed when Josh suddenly jumped up, “this never happened before.” Rachel worried that she had projected all that “God shit on you.” No, not that, “my father is my mother right now,” explained Josh, “in my head I am afraid I’ll never have a hard on again.”
Why was everything always about Josh? Josh had to go to Trans Got Talent and he did not know “what he was going to see.” Rachel offered to go with him. He refused, so then Rachel offered to stay there and find something to fix for dinner when he got back.
Sarah arrived home with her pot and found Tammy and her workmen, who were finished for the day. Sarah was a bit shocked that so much had been changed in her childhood home. It had really been opened up. Tammy had found Josh’s old Michael Jackson glove that he used when he did shows for the family and a small chest. Tammy announced it was a celebration weekend. Sarah mentioned they had to go to the talent show. Later, Sarah was shown stashing her pot in the small chest that had resurfaced from somewhere and smoking her medicine.
I say trans and you say talent
At the West Hollywood LBGT Center all was being made ready for the show. Maura was busily putting signs on chairs that read “reserved Pfefferman family.” Tammy and Sarah arrived. “Momma Moppa” was Sarah’s somewhat loud, even partly stoned greeting. They wished for the showgirl to break a leg. Sarah asked Tammy to get her a drink.
Ali and Dale arrived. Ali looked around at the gathering crowd while Dale explained, “these are my peeps.” Josh arrived looking like he was in the middle of a freak show and asked Sarah if she had brought his “I am not gay pin.”
Next Sarah and Josh were shown in a separate room with a view of the larger gathering smoking pot. Ali joined them and explained what was for her odd attire as being dressed for a date with that bearded guy over there. And he is trans. Josh jumping to conclusions, “that dude wants to become a woman?” Ali said he had already been a woman. “No way” was Josh’s response.
“Four out of five Pfeffermans prefer pussy,” he laughed, “mom is the only one who likes cock.” Sarah replied, “Are you sure?”
Now and then I think when we were together
Davina and Maura were the first act and as they started their duet of the Gotey song, “now and then….” Dressed in black and white with Maura wearing a white wig; she briefly looked amazingly like Gene Hackman in The Birdcage.
The Pfefferman family section had Tammy and Dale enjoying the show and looking a bit uncomfortable with two Pfefferman kids snickering, while Josh sat stone faced until all three of them were loosing it when that saw Maura perform. All three of Maura’s children would leave. Ali and Dale left as Dale wanted to know what was going on. They decided to excuse themselves to the restroom and out came the Sparkle Unicorn.
After the standard struggle by Dale to get it out of its package, who invented those plastic packages? A sadist? They began to use the Unicorn when Ali asked that it be lubed. As could be predicted the lubed Unicorn flew out of Dale’s hand. The offer to wash it off did not stop Ali from concluding that she just wanted to leave. Josh left and headed to the parking lot with Sarah close behind pleading from him to stay. “I can’t be in there. I’ll text him later,” said Josh. Sarah again tried to get him to stay by saying that Maura was going to be crushed. Sarah then said she was waiting for Tammy, “who was totally acting like an asshole” because Sarah spilled a drink on her that had led to an argument at the show. The clouds continued to grow over Sarah and Tammy’s paradise.
Why did Sarah suddenly need pot? Josh noticed Tammy’s truck and all the stuff in the bed that had been torn out of the house. As usual Josh became irate that it had been done and that Sarah had no right to let Tammy do it.
Now we can watch a fire on TV
Josh went straight to the house where Bianca was sorting through the pot stash in Sarah’s chest. Josh in his best ironic voice complained there was a TV instead of a fireplace “because only a caveman would light a fire in an actual fireplace. Now we can watch a fire on TV.” Bianca got him to chill, so he sat down and found the small chest. It had been his since he was 11. Bianca questioned if he had kept pot in the chest at 11. No, it had been for dirty pictures. Josh and Bianca then went for a swim in the pool. Where they would be discovered by Tammy and Sarah, when they got home. That led to Tammy yelling at Bianca to get out of the pool and she wanted to know what was going on. Sarah was clearly at her wits end with Josh.
What’s a chaser?
Ali and Dale left in the truck and we joined them in mid-conversation about what was a chaser. Presumably, Dale had asked or accused Ali of being a chaser. Dale explained a chaser was “someone who liked people just because they’re trans.” Ali now over the cowgirl corset dress loosed it and relaxed as she returned to her usual self. She was ready to get her stuff and leave until she saw a glowing stucco house and asked, “Is that your house?”
They went inside and it was totally not woodsy like the cabin. It was very nice, even had candles in the fireplace. Dale offered, “You want some tea?” How domestic he suddenly was. Seems they both had returned to being themselves instead of what each thought the other one wanted them to be—high femme and hyper-manly macho. Perhaps even symbolic exemplars.
You spent a lot of time on those fucking kids
Maura had seen the empty seats where her kids had been sitting with their reserved Pfefferman family signs attached. Gloom had begun to descend immediately. After the show Davina and Shea tried to get Maura to join them for a couple of drinks. Maura in a flat voice said she “just didn’t want to.” Davina replied that she hated to say it but she had told Maura about family and how none would be there for her. “Let’s just go drink. You spent a lot of time on those fucking kids,” was Davina’s last effort.
Here Maura was the symbolic exemplar who had been crushed for being what was expected of her as a father. Who would she turn to now? In a 1994 flashback that was earlier in the show she had suggested to Shelly that they cancel the Bat Mitzvah after Ali’s complaints. Shelly had been told, “it is not your Bat Mitzvah. To which Shelly replied, “it most certainly is.” Shelly observed that they would lose all the deposits and that $3,000 had already been spent on invitations and postage. Plaintively Mort/Maura wanted to know what Shelly wanted done. She answered, “be a man and safe the day.”
Yet another dagger to the heart of a person trying to be a symbolic exemplar of a father and a husband, while feeling totally incongruent with her physical self and the expectations others had of her because of that appearance. Just “be a man!” as her wife and society said.
A soft embrace
Maura was driving in a state of clear depression and defeat by how her children had treated her after all her efforts for them over the years. She arrived at Shelly’s door a totally dejected, burnt out, and discouraged wreck with the most pitiful expression on her face that you can imagine. Both now in their late sixties, Shelly spoke not a word and tottered forward to softly embrace and comfort Maura.
There was not a dry eye in the house.
TRANSPARENT recap: "Wilderness" (season 1 episode 6)
TRANSPARENT recap: "Symbolic Exemplar" (season 1 episode 7)
TRANSPARENT recap: "Best New Girl" (season 1 episode 8)