Saturday, December 12, 2015

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - Josh Throws a Pool Party Which Forces Sarah to Confront Her Past in 'Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 2.02 "Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump"

Josh hosts a pool party for his new band, Fussy Puss. The Pfefferman siblings are caught off-guard when Maura and Shelly arrive at the party together. Ali reconnects with her old friend, Syd. Sarah's past catches up with her.

After the wonderful second season premiere, Transparent does ease back on its characters and stories a little bit in "Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump." It's still a great episode of the show. But it's also much more thematic teasing of the stakes and the story the characters will be dealing with this season. The questions of "Who am I?," "What have I done?" and "Where am I going?" have always been very central to the show and the Pfefferman family. That's even more abundant in the second season. Everyone in the family right now is still searching for themselves. They are trying to make decisions that send them in the most meaningful direction for their lives. And yet, that largely just leads to more anguish as everyone becomes aware of just how much they have ruined the past and how committed they still are to things that they aren't completely comfortable with.

Maura and Shelly have known each other for a long time. Shelly was more than happy to let Maura come live with her after her apartment complex turned into condos. They cherish that companionship. However, they also push the other into doing things that they used to do in the past. Shelly loves Maura. She is willing to fight for her when she's largely living out of a storage container - something her neighbors aren't too happy about. Shelly wants Maura to stay. And yet, she also uses the opportunity to be touched in a way that she never thought she would be again. She had a happy life with Ed that turned tragic over the final few years. And now, she's alone again. Maura is helping fill that void and Shelly is expecting her to do the same things that they used to do together. She doesn't expect sex in the traditional sense. But she still wants Maura to stimulate her with her fingers because she's incredibly good at it. In that moment, Shelly takes great pleasure from the work that Maura does. However, it's something that Maura doesn't want to do. She's not comfortable being this intimate with another person yet. And yet, she's doing it in order to keep Shelly happy. This moment is all about Shelly. But it needs to be about Maura as well.

Maura really is struggling to find a place where she can just be. She and the rest of her friends were kicked out of their apartments. Shelly will help Maura pick up her outfits and comment on how her breasts look. But that's still an environment where Shelly wants to lean on the emotions of the past. Maura loves that support from her family. But it's not the best definer of the life she wants to be living right now. Even when she shows up at Josh's pool party, she isn't able to just have fun like everyone else. She doesn't know how to fit into this crowd. Everyone else in the family can do it. They do so by largely drinking. That's how Shelly and Sarah get through the day. Josh is working on his professional relationships while Ali is still able to escape to the pool. It's incredibly subtle work. The only time Maura is really enjoying herself is when she is having a cigarette. Even that moment is ruined by Tammy crashing the party. Hanging out with her friends provides her an environment without expectations. She doesn't have to fit into a certain mold within the family. But it's still clear that she doesn't really belong when they all go out to a club and dance. Despite all of this though, Maura is given a boost of confidence in the end. All it really takes is her watching herself in the mirror as she dances. It's a powerful moment and one that could signal change. But most importantly, that moment features Maura defining herself without feeling the pressure from the world around her. In that moment, she is dancing and proud of the woman she has become.

The person who actually has the most confidence throughout this episode is Josh. He is throwing this pool party to promote his new band who he knows is truly special. It is more of an industry party. He is working his way back in following his big outburst with the chair throwing last season. He's walking around with a level head. He knows what he's doing. However, he's also making some pretty big decisions in his personal life as well. He is so happy that Raquel is pregnant and that Colton has decided to stay in Los Angeles for his senior year. And yet, he doesn't quite see the caution in Raquel's eyes. She is so uncomfortable with his family and how crazier it seems to be getting. Things have gotten a lot more complicated than when they first got together. Josh wants to create this picture perfect family with all four of them living in the same house together. He makes that decision largely by himself. But she notices just how isolated Colton was during this party. This is an environment that is still so completely new to him. Josh sees the fact that he has a son as nothing but a good thing. And yet, he approaches all of it with so much upbeat enthusiasm. That often leads to him not being able to see things as clearly as some other people which will stop being healthy after awhile.

Ali also sees herself as being the odd person out at his party. She goes in order to be supportive of her brother. But this is his party with his type of people. Maura can't understand why Ali always brings herself down when she talks about the differences between her and Josh. All of this is a little too foreign to her. That moment in the pool is where she feels the most comfortable. However, it's a little bit too abstract to be taken more seriously than just a thematic expression. She is deeply connected to this season's flashback structure. But that mystery is still being teased. So, it doesn't have a whole ton of value right now. It is meaningful that she goes to mend fences with Syd. She's the one person in this world who actually gets her. That's a really playful scene where Syd enjoys making fun of Ali's new hairstyle - which is quite incredible to look at. But will their relationship be any different than it was before? It was so one-side and that's what led to the rift between them. Syd is there to provide her with an environment Ali is comfortable in after the pool party. But it's still unclear if this relationship is going to be any more rewarding for the characters than it was the last time they hung out.

And lastly, Sarah really isn't doing so well at all after her breakup with Tammy during the wedding reception. She looks horrible and defeated. She has essentially stepped into the role of the cheating ex-husband in her custody arrangement with Len. She's the one searching for a one bedroom apartment to live in. So much animosity is now directed towards her. And yet, she's still relatively put together. She is able to pull herself together and go to Josh's pool party to support him. She even gets to enjoy a couple glasses of alcohol without completely losing it. But her pain and struggle right now is nothing compared to her jilted ex-lover, Tammy. Sarah is able to see some things now much more clearly than she did before. She sees how awful her childhood home now looks. But Tammy is the one still in the dark and unsure where things went wrong. She was so happy and in love with Sarah. She doesn't understand why Sarah ended things so suddenly - and on their wedding night. She's angry which forces her to drink and lash out at the rest of the world. Despite everyone's best intentions of keeping her from making a scene or hurting herself, she still brings so much pain and chaos to this big event that was suppose to be a happy occasion. It ultimately wasn't all that happy except for Josh and Shelly. But even they have some big and emotionally devastating realizations coming for them. Sarah may not be doing well personally but she is still there for her family because of their love.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Flicky-Flicky Thump-Thump" was written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster and directed by Jill Soloway.
  • Oh Colton, fun videos meant to go viral on YouTube probably isn't the best way to learn about the trans experience and the issues they go through.
  • How many classes is Ali actually taking? The big moment as her professor talks about seeing the universe for what it was in the past is thematically significant given the flashbacks this season. But it's also teasing just how severely all these characters are defined by the pain and mistakes of their past.
  • Josh, Sarah and Ali all have the suspicion that their parents have gotten back together. It's up to Ali to bluntly ask them if they are two lesbians again. That immediately makes Maura nervous which brings a change to the conversation without a definitive answer.
  • Ali also mentions to Maura that she's planning on visiting her grandma Rose sometime soon. That forces Maura to bring up the fact that she has been banned from seeing her. Something that should make Ali's upcoming visit much more interesting.
  • Will Sarah take up Raquel's offer to join her spiritual support group? She clearly needs the help because she offered to get a pregnant woman an alcoholic drink.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.