Monday, November 30, 2015

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - A Wedding Brings Out Chaos and Destruction for the Pfefferman Family in 'Kina Hora'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 2.01 "Kina Hora"

The series returns with Sarah and Tammy's big white wedding. Maura and Ali are visited by ghosts from the past. Josh and Rabbi Raquel can't hide their big news.

Transparent is back for its second season. Amazon has debuted the season premiere more than a week ahead of the series' official return date on December 11. Fans will have to wait a little longer for the whole ten episode season. But the season premiere reminds the audience just how beautiful, heartbreaking and mesmerizing this series can be. The show is more confident than ever before with its type of storytelling. Maura is now officially out as a trans woman. As the first season showed, that news brought out a lot of secrets amongst the core Pfefferman family. Everyone else has experienced something to break out from their lives as well. And yet, those moments force the family into some really ugly situations. This family is deeply connected to one another. They couldn't leave even if they tried - as was showcased by Ali in the first season finale. They are together no matter what. They have to be accepting because they need to be accepted as well.

"Kina Hora" opens on Sarah and Tammy' wedding day. Everyone is in white. It's a big celebration. That's in stark contrast to Ed's funeral that ended last season. And yet, both events show all the complexities of the various family members. They are all complicated individuals who are damaged by the secrets they've kept and the lives they've lived. Just because they are all together celebrating this happy occasion doesn't mean things are suddenly all better in their lives. In fact, this premiere shows just how far away from the truth that actually is. These characters' lives are constantly in flux. They've all gotten over the shock of Maura coming out. But they still have uncertainties regarding the changes they want in their lives. They all want to be noticed as doing the right thing by changing. But that's a lot easier said than done. They are all just hopelessly trying to find their own happiness in this world. That's a whole lot messier than the ideals they want to be living. Maura wants to be accepted. Sarah wants to be in a happy relationship. Josh wants to prove that he is a responsible and good guy. And lastly, Ali wants to be taken more serious with her new direction in life. This episode proves that none of them are anywhere closing to achieving these big goals. They can't be. Change doesn't happen over night.

All of this is beautifully illustrated in the season's opening moments. In that scene, the family is coming together to take their picture to mark the happy occasion. The camera holds still in a wide shot. Various characters come in and out of the picture. It's pure chaos. Everyone is doing their best to get this picture done. And yet, no one is working together in order to make it happen. It shows that these characters are selfish in a very subtle way. The family is expanded to include people who are also close to the Pfeffermans. But even with those additions, it's still chaotic. The photographer has no idea how to handle these people. They are family. They understand each other. But they are also working against each other. It's a really phenomenal sequence that shows just how much this family belongs together. They aren't a traditional family unit. But they are the only one they each have. They enjoy this dynamic. It's in this moment where they are comfortable. It's in this moment where they are united when the photographer refers to Maura as a sir. It's a thoughtless mistake that just slips out but is so devastating to the family. When Tammy's family comes in to replace them, they are able to take the picture in a matter of seconds. Even though Tammy is just as complicated a character as Sarah is, her family is different than the Pfeffermans.

The premiere gets much more personal after that opening sequence. The show does over exaggerate Sarah's fears about getting married to Tammy a little bit. As she is getting ready, walking down the aisle and even during the ceremony, she is freaking out and getting distracted by the tiniest of things. She can't concentrate. She is simply going through the motions because this is something she agreed to even though she no longer wants to commit to it. Everyone in her family is too caught up in their own personal struggles. Maura questions why Sarah invited Maura's anti-gay sister, Bri, to the ceremony. Josh tells Ali that Rabbi Raquel is pregnant and she wonders why he would trust her with such big news in the hopes of being a better person to Raquel. This entire family should know better than to do these things. And yet, they still do them. Sarah needs Bri and her son at the ceremony in order to make it seem like she has friends and a family to Tammy's large clan. Josh needs Ali to be better towards Raquel so that she doesn't think he's a sex addict and have a reason to leave the relationship. Maura needs to confront her sister even though it's very likely that the conversation will only end badly. They need to do these things in the hopes that things won't be as messed up as they have been in the past. But as this episode points out, things are always going to be complicated with this family.

And yet, Josh and Ali are there for Sarah when she is in the bathroom freaking out about making a big mistake with this wedding. That was abundantly clear the moment that she proposed to Tammy last season. This relationship was all about Sarah escaping the reality of her marriage to Len. He wasn't invited to the wedding. But all Sarah does in that bathroom stall is wonder why she broke up something that was actually good. Sure, her previous marriage had its fair share of problems. But it was also a life she built with him. However, it also showcases that Sarah may not be one for marriage or commitment. She is only attracted to Len and Tammy when trying to rebel against the other. Her sexuality is fluid but that only presents itself in order to avoid doing some true soul searching. She's actually the horrible person for letting Tammy believe that this is a happy occasion and that they'll spend the rest of their lives together. She has to break that news to Tammy in private during their honeymoon. It's because of Sarah's family that she has enough courage to actually be honest with Tammy. Sure, not everyone picks up on the signals that something is wrong. But she follows through nevertheless.

Every main character's relationship is complicated by the end of the premiere. That angst is wonderfully captured in another truly fantastic shot. This time the camera is actually moving. It is panning left as it captures these brief moments happening amongst the characters in their separate hotel rooms. Josh is dealing with the fallout of letting it slip that Raquel is pregnant. Ali couldn't keep that secret. He should have known better. But it's out. He made a mistake. Even though Raquel continues to be there for his family, she is unsure if Josh is a good enough guy for her. He has problems that he doesn't even deal with in this premiere. His actual son is just off somewhere at the wedding with Josh doing very minimum parenting. Raquel doesn't want to be in this position but she is nevertheless. And then, the action moves to Sarah who is breaking Tammy's heart by saying it's over. She was so happy to learn that the two aren't technically married in the legal sense yet. This whole party may have been a waste of time that Sarah figured things out too late. But she still came to her senses even though it is devastating for Tammy. Next up, Shelly is comforting Maura after her tense conversation with Bri. The two appear closer than they have ever been before. Shelly is telling Maura that she is absolutely beautiful no matter what her bigoted sister and elderly mother (who doesn't know yet) think. The shot then concludes on Ali. She spent this day reacting to everyone else's stuff. She carried this secret poorly for Josh and was there comforting Sarah in the bathroom. She only had one conversation that was about her future plans. They didn't sound all that ambitious and certain either. She is still the family member most adrift in life. And yet, she is able to spend the night at the hotel alone. She is connected to this experience with the rest of her family. But she's also just out looking at the night's sky with no one else to have a big emotional moment with. That's the beauty of the moment. These characters' lives are complicated. They are still just barely learning how to make the right decisions. And that's what makes it so great to have the show back for every complicated and messy beat.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Kina Hora" was written by Jill Soloway and directed by Jill Soloway.
  • The premiere once again features a flashback but this time it takes things way back to an erotic celebration in 1933 Berlin. How it's connected to the rest of the narrative is uncertain. And yet, it is very infectious. It's a lot of fun. Plus, it showcases how this family's issues are connected to much more of the universe than their little part in it. It connects them to the rest of the world and to a different generation.
  • It's great that the show is expanding the family this season. None of the new additions are given a ton of screen time in this first episode. But they do set up intriguing things for the future. Grandma Rose is in a wheelchair and no one in the family sees her very often. I'm intrigued to know why. Also, how is Josh's son going to impact his life? What is he like when he's not just awkwardly around the rest of the Pfeffermans?
  • Where does Sarah go after this breakup? Her story this season is perhaps the most intriguing because she doesn't have an immediate direction to go in right now. That's exciting.
  • So, Maura and Shelly were kissing on the lips, right? Plus, he has moved in with her now. Just how close are they getting?
  • Remember, the rest of the season drops on December 11.