The relationship between Maura and the three children dominated this episode. All three of them were sorting out Maura with different degrees of understanding. But it was clear that Maura was still playing a role in their lives, even if it was largely monetary. As usual, Josh was the one with the least understanding of Maura and still in search of a meaningful relationship for himself. Ali had her horizons expanded as she began to consider her own gender and sexuality. Sarah appeared with her new family, plus Maura and Davina, while Len found himself on the outside of the whirlpool. (I had thought that Len was a Lynn, but in this episode it was revealed he was named Leonard, so Len.) Everyone was moving forward. The least important things for the narrative in the episode were Maura’s flashbacks to 1994, but they did contain her journey to accepting her transgender status.
Shelly and Mort were sitting in their living room on “a sexy Sunday” in 1994. “We make gorgeous children,” remarked Shelly. Mort wanted to try something new.
“Oh no, not the cock ring again,” said an exasperated Shelly.
"No," responded Mort, “there are these guys who wear their wives’ underpants. They suddenly become 18.” This was followed by snickers.
Frankly, I was somewhat regret the inclusion of this scene because it linked gender identity to male sexual arousal from wearing female garments. It portrayed gender identity as beginning in a male fetish, rather than a genuinely feminine identity. While I acknowledge that may be the entry point for some, it can create a misunderstanding in the general public that transwomen are just guys in dresses for kicks and who knows what other “perversions.”
Also in this episode there was a flashback to Marcy/Mark and Maura/Mort in their hotel in 1994. They were walking down the hallway when the asked a guy where the ice machine was. Giddy in their success at passing, they giggled like young girls as they started to move quickly down the hall. We next saw them in the hotel restaurant where they were examining a booklet for Camp Camellia, a cross dressing camp for men and their wives. Marcy remarked, “These are the happiest women in the world.” A tea dance was among the activities. Maura announced she was going and would just lie to Shelly and tell her she was going to a conference. Marcy replied that she could not go, “that accountants do not go to conferences.” Then a server appeared with their orders, “enjoy ladies.” The euphoria soared. When was this heavenly camp to happen? October 23rd. Maura spoke in disappointment, “Shit, that is my daughter’s bat mitzvah.” In an episode, we learned that Maura did indeed skip Ali’s bat mitzvah, much to her distress. So how was Maura’s relationship with the kids going?
Is there anything you want to say to me?
Josh visited Maura at Shangri-La and was greeted by flirtatious lines as he passed the pool. Maura greeted him, “Hi, puppy.” Josh had come with a purpose in mind; to ease his distress at having being fired. There was one problem: “I don’t work there anymore.”
Joshie’s solution was to start his own label and when Maura sold the house she could give him some of the money to fund the new label. Maura agreed to think about it, but “don’t tell your sisters.” This established a pattern of secrecy between Maura and each of the children. Maura asked if the sisters had said anything about her. Then, “Is there anything you want to say to me?” as Maura tried to open Josh up on how he was dealing with Maura. Josh replied that Maura looked normal except her ponytail was longer. Not the answer Maura was looking for. She undid the pony tail and let her hair, extensions and all, fall over her shoulders in an effort to get Josh to face her new life. Josh asked where the bathroom was. As he entered Maura’s bedroom, multiple wigs on stands and a messy makeup table confronted him. He froze.
Later at a play area in a park the three Pfefferman children have gathered with Ali eating an ice cream cone while sitting on the monkey bars. Josh exclaimed, “Dad’s loosing his mind.”
“Was everything before now a sham?” Ali announced she was going back to school and dad was going to pay her tuition. Sarah immediately began to mock Ali about dad was going to have to buy her new school shoes and clothes.
Ali had met with Maura to ask for the money, to which she agreed, but Ali was not to tell Sarah and Josh. Well, we know how that turned out. Why did she want to go? Gender Studies and Women’s Studies lured her and she needed some structure, a familiar theme for her by now. Maura bragged how proud she was of Ali; “you have books in you.” That was high academic praise; Ali had academic works to write. Ali was excited by “gender stuff.” Which prompted Maura to muse that she saw herself in Ali when Ali was young and “experimenting with your gender confusion.” Ali fervently denied that, as Maura reminded her that she was such a tomboy. Maura concluded, “some say it runs in the blood,” as she tried to explain a biological origin for being trans. Maura reminded Ali about attending Trans Got Talent and the exchange was complete: tuition money = attending dad’s show.
Why is Paul Bunyan taking women’s studies?
Ali and Syd sat in the back of a lecture hall as a professor was holding forth, “because women were bleeding without dying, men invented the hero’s journey to escape… that’s theory talk….”
Syd whispered to Ali that the professor claimed to have been to Paris and Fire Island with famous feminists and it was just bullshit. Ali in a barely audible voice said, “I cannot believe that you fucked her.”
"Yea, for six months" replied Syd. At the end of the class, the professor and Syd renewed their contact, while Ali spied a bearded man.
“Why is Paul Bunyan taking women’s studies?” Syd answered he was trans, and in real life he is. Ali met Dale and was obviously interested. As they walked from the building, Dale said “68, that’s a bold father.”
Followed by: "I had to come out to my parents twice."
“Pop still calls me Megan.” The adjustment for parents to a transgender child are often incomplete, if it happens at all. The norm probably is, the older the parent, the less likely the total acceptance. Ali and Dale were seated on a bench getting to know each other better.
He explained, “I’m a man with a vag.” Ali replied enthusiastically, how awesome it was and to have lived as both genders.
“Can I interview you for like a week?” Dale sought to clarify Ali’s interest. "You’re a dyke, right?”
Ali in dismay: “No,” well politically she was a lesbian, but she was into “dudely dudes.” Dale explained that his taste was not just femme, but “high femme,” heels and lipstick. Ali was continuing to explore her need for structure and self-understanding.
The Promised Land
Josh continued his search for an explanation for dad and finding a meaningful relationship with a woman. While seated at home eating cereal he began an online search for “transvestite.” A list of porn sites appeared and he clicked on “Live Lotus.” He had to enter a credit card, could he be that unaware—yes.
A sultry transwoman appeared and began her routine of seduction. Josh explained that he just wanted to ask some questions. “When did you know you were trans?” The sex worker answered, “Oh honey, you’re kinky…I am all woman with a cock to prove it. Do you like to dress up in women’s clothes?…Do you want me to fuck you?” Josh closed the laptop.
So much for explanations, now on to the meaningful relationship. He went to the temple where Rachel was the rabbi. It was Shovuos (as must frequently pronounced during the episode) or Shavuot, one of the three pilgrimage festivals; this one was for God giving Moses the Torah at Mount Sinai. As Rachel spoke, Moses was in the wilderness for 40 years. “God needed that time to turn slaves into free people.” The previous generation had to die. “Only those born free would get to see the promised land.”
After the service, Josh confessed to Rachel that this was his first real Shavuot service. She was showing him around the temple, which included a stop to look in to a space badly in need to renovation, the Mikva used for ritual bathing. Rachel explained that it used to be used during transforming life events. Josh wanted to sit in it. Rachel joined him and Josh found out she had never been married. She stated she had “got close,” but felt that she “had wasted the last good years on the wrong person.” Josh reassured her she had lots of time. Rachel continued, I am a woman…my eggs were just “crunchy, crispy old lady eggs.” Josh assured her that he was sure her eggs were “super moist.” What an interesting double entendre for a come on line.
Meanwhile, Sarah and Tammy were preparing the meal for Shovous and the gathering of their new family. Sarah told the kids, Zack and Ella, that “grandpa” was coming over and he now dressed as a woman. Zach puzzled, “but, he is still really a boy.” An instructional moment had appeared. Sarah replied about their teddy bear, “how do we know if this bear is a boy or a girl?”
Ella suggested, “Does it have a vagina?”
Sarah: “Do you see one?”
Zach carefully examined the bear and after concluding there was no penis, he announced that he didn’t see anything. Ella proudly concluded, “it’s magic!” Tammy who was quietly sitting until now, whispered, “You need to steer the ship.”
Sarah replied to Ella, “it’s not really magic.”
Ella wanted to know if “grandpa will have pretty hair.” And after Maura arrived, Ella would tell her “that mom said your magic.” You just have to love little children. They have the coolest explanations for life’s puzzles.
The mother of the family lights the candles
Maura and Davina arrived at Sarah and Tammy’s. Maura had a look that said, why did you do that to my house? My god, there was a huge television. And Tammy had kept some of the books, but as a “design element.” Maura went from surprise to dismay. Davina was charmed by the house. Maura replied, you wouldn’t want to live in the Palisades, “they would run our kind out.”
With everyone seated at the dinner table, Maura was distressed that the meal was not what she was expecting. Tammy was into “mindful living” and had found the recipes in “Real Simple.” Then in a touching moment, Sarah asked Maura to light the candles for the feast because “the mother of the family lights the candles.” Had it been me, I would have dissolved in tears on the spot. Maura began to struggle to light the candles, while doing the wrong chant at first.
I can cut my dick off
The redefining of the family accelerated as Len arrived to pick up Zach and Ella for their time with him. The Shovuos continued, as Len said “Hi, Mort.” Maura corrected Len and invited him to have a seat. Rather than sitting Len followed up on Zack’s statement that he had a cold. Len in an accusatory voice wanted to know who had given Zack a cold. He zeroed in on Tammy, “did you give him the cold?” Then he addressed Sarah and said that they had said they were going to discuss “Mort” with the kids before they saw her. Sarah replied that she and Tammy had done it.
A exasperated Len, doubtless feeling displaced by Tammy, went into a voice that Sarah always responded to with “there’s that tone.” Len then went on an extended monologue. If “the register of my vocal chords is the problem. I can change my tone.” He immediately went into a falsetto. He could “talk like a lady,” if that made them happy. Maybe they would have liked to live on “an all female planet.” Tammy whispered, “Sounds good to me.”
Len then picked up a carving knife from the table and announced, “I can cut my dick off.” Would that make it easier? “I can be a woman too,” as he confused genitalia with gender. To cut his dick off, would merely make him a man without a dick.
Maura stood and interrupted at this point: “This is all my fault.” I should have called you and taken you to lunch. “I’m sorry about the Mort and the Maura, and the he and the she; but, I am just a person and you are just a person. Baby, you need to get in this whirlpool or get out of it.” The mother of the family had just risen in defense of her new family of Sarah, Tammy, Bianca, Davina, Zack, and Ella. Len apologized for the knife and wished them a “good Shovous.”
Cherries on fire
As the episode closed, Maura and Sarah sat on the edge of the pool with their feet in the water while they smoked. Sarah wondered if the kids were being harmed by all “the crazy stuff.” Maura reminded her of the crazy stuff in her childhood, but also the good stuff. Sarah said she remembered the good stuff. Maura replied, “I want you and Tammy to have this house…I want you to be here and be safe…but, don’t tell Josh and Ali.” That closed the circle, Maura had offered assistance to all of her children, but always with the caveat that they should not tell their siblings. Sarah noticed Maura’s toe nail polish. Maura stated it was “cherries on fire.” Clearly the relationship between Maura and Sarah and her family was burning brightly, while Ali and Josh struggled to come to terms with not only Maura, but also their own being.
TRANSPARENT recap: "Wedge" (season 1 episode 5)
TRANSPARENT recap: "Wilderness" (season 1 episode 6)
TRANSPARENT recap: "Symbolic Exemplar" (season 1 episode 7)