Wednesday, December 16, 2015

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - Maura Faces the Pain of a Past Decision While Ali and Syd Get Closer in 'New World Coming'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 2.03 "New World Coming"

Josh and Raquel attempt domestic bliss in the Pfefferman house by asking Colton to move in. Maura takes Ali to UCLA to discuss graduate school where they meet feminist scholar Leslie Mackinaw. Sarah has a run-in with Len and Barb, and begins a sexual fantasy life with a domineering figure from her past.

"New World Coming" is still a piece moving episode of Transparent's second season. Many of the Pfeffermans have committed to a direction in their lives even though all of those choices are heading towards some destructive consequences. Maura finds herself spending more time with her trans friends in order to distance herself from Shelly and the kind of companionship she wants. Ali would rather have love than intimacy. So she makes these big decisions but it's never abundantly clear if she's willing to personally commit to them. Josh wants to continue to believe in the happiness of his newly created family living in the same house together despite the problems that are bubbling underneath the surface. And lastly, Sarah is committing to this bad girl lifestyle that only brings more chaos to the people who come into contact with her. All of these stories are deeply personal to the characters. And for the first time this season, there isn't some grand event that forces the entire family to come together. That allows all of the Pfeffermans to truly commit to these lifestyle choices despite the damage they will most likely bring in the future.

There is a layer of comfort for Maura when she's surrounded by other trans people who fully understand the experience she is going through. Even though Maura is fully out and no longer the center of the show, she is still learning a lot - both about the life she lived and the life she is living now. The "Yas Queen" part of that opening scene the morning after Maura, Davina and Shea went out isn't that great. It's a phrase that has become associated with the community. But it felt like the show was trying too hard to incorporate it into the story. It didn't feel natural. It was largely as aggravating as it was to Davina who didn't have enough caffeine in her to deal with such loud noises in the morning. And yet, the scene also provides some valuable context and insight into the way Maura looks at femininity now. She's unsure of herself when she asks if Shea has a real pussy. She does after a fifteen grand surgery. That's a part of this journey that Maura hasn't gone on yet. She's so unsure of herself and what she wants for the future. This is a very personal and intimate experience she is going on. She's expressing herself to the rest of the world in a real way. But now that many people have come to accept who she is, she doesn't quite know what the next step is on her journey.

Maura is there for Ali when she is able to use her old teaching connections to get Ali a sit down with a couple important people at UCLA for the possibility of grad school. That's a nice gesture on her part because she's trying to help Ali move onto the next stage in her own life. And yet, this experience only showcases just how cruel Maura was in her past when she had so much power at the university. This sit-down also includes professor Leslie Mackinaw, who would teach Ali. Decades prior, Leslie has a part of a strongly feminist group on campus that Maura and the rest of her former boys' club stopped from advancing in the program. It's not an experience that Maura actively remembers. She changed this woman's life without even thinking about it. And now, she is filled with regret because of how much pain she has put out into the world over the years. She can't do anything to show Leslie just how sorry she is. All she can reasonably do is share this experience with the rest of her support group as she figures out what she wants to do moving forward.

Meeting Leslie also has a huge effect on Ali as well. She went into that meeting not knowing if she wanted to commit to UCLA for grad school. She knew of Leslie but she couldn't remember how or why she is so important. That made for a somewhat awkward introduction. But looking Leslie up later inspires Ali into action. It's in reading one of Leslie's poems that changes Ali's entire world. She is able to look at things differently afterwards. She has the confidence to lean into her relationship with Syd in a romantic way. But when Syd wants Ali to tell her what feels good and what turns her on, Ali would rather just live in the moment. She doesn't know how to articulate such things because that would mean opening herself up to intimacy. She just wants to enjoy the pleasures happening in this moment. They feel good. But it also complicates this relationship moving forward. Ali fought to get Syd back into her life. And now, this step may create a divide between them that isn't so easy to overcome if Ali wants to completely shut out intimacy.

Meanwhile, Sarah just doesn't know how to connect to the world around her anymore. She is purposely creating drama simply by showing up in places where she shouldn't be. She is slightly embarrassed by what happened between her and Tammy. But instead of facing a crowd of parents who may or may not know the truth, she instead goes to Barb - the woman Tammy left in order to be with Sarah. She starts up a conversation only for Barb to rightfully not want anything to do with her. Sarah hurt Barb. Time doesn't make that okay. The same can also be said of Len. Sarah just walks into her former home with her family unannounced which quickly makes everyone annoyed. Len and Barb seem to be getting along fine. But that moment is more about Sarah who is lashing out at the world simply because she can. The mess she makes with the makeup probably isn't going to go away anytime soon. But that mess is entirely of her own creation. She can try to cover it up but it's still there just waiting to be found. The last development in this story further showcases just how disconnected from reality Sarah has become in that she has a sexual fantasy/possible memory with a disciplinary teacher from her past. His presence was foreshadowed by the Josh story. But in this moment, it shows how Sarah is connecting with the world in her on weird way that is probably only going to get more problematic in the future.

And lastly, Josh has committed so enthusiastically to this new family life. He's so happy that Colton is now living with him and will be going to the same school that the Pfefferman siblings went to. And then, he just lets Colton come along when Josh is at the recording studio with the rest of his band. He has seamlessly brought Colton into both his personal and professional life. But it's still largely an experience that Josh is just putting on Colton. He's the one talking and Colton is the one listening or offering comments that will keep this dynamic happy. Raquel is able to notice that things aren't all right. She's the one rightfully looking up how adoptive kids adjust and deal with the world. She's the one worrying about everything. She tells Josh that she would prefer to have a ring to go along with the baby. It's something else that Josh gets excited about. He is right to be frustrated that she decides to do the proposal herself. That moment showcases her lack of faith of him. He no longer wants to be seen as the guy who screws everything up because he enjoys the chaos too much. He has moved past that - even though he still doesn't see things as clearly as he should. But it's a devastating moment for Raquel. She just wants to control this one thing and he ruins it for her. It's a moment interrupted by personal feelings and not the ones that are to be expected of such a sequence. That's what makes it so compelling while signaling that things aren't going as well as either one of them wants them to be right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "New World Coming" was written by Faith Soloway and directed by Marielle Heller.
  • Tig Notaro continues to be great even though Barb is such a small role. Her presence is great even though she never steals too much attention.
  • That sit-down with Leslie is such a wonderfully framed scene. It's a powerful introduction of Cherry Jones in the role as it spends a lot of time in close-ups of her face as she's talking about this experience that Maura was a part of in their shared past. 
  • Davina has someone really close to her named Sal who is getting released from prison in a couple of weeks. That sounds like a fantastic way to flesh out her character (and her friendship with Maura) this season.
  • Shelly's presence was missed in this episode though I'm not quite sure how she would have fit into everything going on. Her absence was important though because it signaled the change that Maura needed.

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.