Thursday, December 17, 2015

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - Maura Tries Putting Herself Out There While Josh & Raquel Have Rita Over in 'Cherry Blossoms'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 2.04 "Cherry Blossoms"

Josh bonds with Colton, but it comes with a price. Sarah endures a disastrous school gala, feeling more like an outsider than ever. Ali and Syd are left with some questions after a visit with Grandma Rose. Maura attempts to find more autonomy, but doesn't have the best luck.

So many characters on Transparent right now really aren't comfortable in the lives they are living. And yet, they keep on living them because it is comfortable and known to them. They don't want to create any unnecessary drama. But the further they commit, the more difficult it is to change once the truth does become known. Just look at Maura. She waited until she was in her seventies before coming out as transgender. That was a huge shock to the family. But now, she is forced to decide what she wants the rest of her life to be. To her, it's more difficult to change because she's lived a lifetime doing things in a certain way. She's still so uncomfortable and often reverts back to what she knows even though that is no longer healthy for the woman she has become.

Early in "Cherry Blossoms," Maura has a sit-down with a doctor who asks her a series of questions about her transition that she really doesn't know the answers to. It's all about her physical appearance and attitude towards this change. She's comfortable going all around town looking the way that she does. She's come to accept this as her new reality. It has made her happy. And yet, she's unsure of herself when it comes to these deeply personal questions. Maura wants to be sexually active in a real way - and not just fingering Shelly in the bathtub. But she has no idea how to answer when the doctor asks if she tops or bottoms during sex. Similarly, she knows that she wants two breasts but it takes her a moment to compose herself when the question of gender reassignment surgery comes up. That's a personal question that she needs to give a lot of thought to. Right now, she doesn't know the answer because she's not completely confident with herself yet.

It's heartbreaking to watch as Maura attempts to put herself out there. The opportunity presents itself when Cynthia a lawyer sits down next to Maura at a bar. In that moment, she decides to embrace a side of her personality that she has never really done before. It's unclear if she's looking for it to be a sexual connection or just another platonic friend to talk with. But it's a very effective sequence in that it shows just how awkward this whole experience still is for Maura. She doesn't know what to do with her body. Her actions are genuine but also forceful. She reaches out. She exposes herself in a way for the first time since the transition. The fact that it doesn't go so well is devastating. Cynthia isn't a mean person. She wasn't expecting something like this after the day she's had. She just wanted an opportunity to get a drink and then spread out her work in a safe but relaxed place. Maura takes it harshly which sends her back into the comfort of Shelly. It's easy to understand why those two were once married and why they don't work as couple even now. Maura can't be open with Shelly in a way that is truly expressive of the woman she has become. That largely comes from her still figuring things out herself. But honestly, who can really blame Maura for wanting to embrace this relationship even though it's not the best thing for her? Maura and Shelly have a history that is significant for both of them. It's a way for Maura to be comfortable even though it doesn't make her happy.

Similarly, Raquel has relaxed into her relationship with Josh because it's a dynamic that she really wants to work. And yet, she keeps being asked to accept more and more of Josh's crazy life. He is so happy with the way things are going for him. But he keeps asking a lot of Raquel. That's fine when it includes him anxiously running down the hall to tell Raquel that he walked in on Colton praying - only to remember that she is a Rabbi. That's a fun moment where Raquel can truly express herself while being sensitive to Josh being the odd person out in the family. But that moment can only last so long. Just like Josh and Colton going to the beach later. The true hardship comes when they invite Rita over for dinner. That's a relationship that is important for Colton. Josh and Raquel have to be okay with it. And yet, Rita is simply a woman who took advantage of Josh when he was younger and still has a hold on him that keeps her around in his life. Josh and Raquel go through the niceties of having her over in order to make this family experience more rewarding for Colton. But neither one of them can stand her - especially once she spontaneously bursts into song. It's a precarious dynamic where the two finally agree on something but the situation doesn't present an easy answer to deal with it. As long as Colton is around, Rita will be a part of their lives.

Meanwhile, Sarah's freedom at the moment is only causing more chaos for her with her kids. She's really struggling being a single mom right now. Sure, she and Len have worked out a custody agreement that works - so long as Sarah doesn't sneak into their home on one of Len's days. But that's not enough to keep her from feeling frantic when she actually has her kids. Her life isn't well-composed at the moment. In fact, the breakdown of her life has been a fantastic story arc this season. It all started once she broke up with Tammy on the night of their wedding. Since then, she has been adrift in life not sure what to do. She sees everyone else as having their lives together. Len is doing fine with his new girlfriend. Raquel also seems to be happy whenever Sarah sees her. Those people have difficulties as well - it's easier to see with Raquel and Tammy than Len or the other volunteers at the gala. Sarah tries to help out at the gala for the school parents but she fails miserably. She is victorious during the night's big raffle as she wins a big TV as well as a couple of sessions with a life coach. And yet, the only moment where Sarah is truly happy is when she's just enjoying the freedom of heating up a meal in the microwave and eating it while completely naked. That kind of freedom can never last. She will yearn for more order after awhile. But for right now, it's an incredibly earned moment.

And finally, after talking about it for awhile, Ali goes to visit her grandma Rosa in the nursing home. She brings Syd along for the adventure. They are able to continue their fun and amusing rapport. But things do take a turn for the serious once Ali sees how Rose is doing. It comes as a surprise to her considering it has been a couple of years since her last visit. She is reaching out now in order to mend that bridge. But instead this visit just sends Ali scurrying off to the past to better understand the world that her family came from. She's hoping it will help her stand out in her graduate program. But in that moment, she learns about inherited trauma while the audience learns how this season's flashbacks are connected to the Pfeffermans. They are about Rose's life in 1930s Berlin before coming to America. This episode does explain that connection but it's still very tenuous. It's not all that meaningful just yet which keeps this story with Ali from fully taking off. But it does promise to take things in an interesting direction moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Cherry Blossoms" was written by Arabella Anderson and directed by Jill Soloway.
  • This Tammy falls off the wagon arc is incredibly tragic. And yet, the way she yelled out "Fixed!" once the raffle turned up Sarah's name twice was fantastic.
  • It's somewhat surprising that Shelly hasn't noticed the disconnect between her and Maura yet. She wants to know if Maura is happy with their arrangement and doesn't question it as soon as Maura agrees. However, Maura still lashes out at Shelly in the end when all she was trying to do was make her happy.
  • The school Sarah and Len's kids go to really is kind of pretentious, isn't it? The raffle happens just so the parents could raise enough money to provide fully organic meals. Plus, Sarah's rant about crazy hair day was pretty great.
  • Between the two prizes, the life coaching sessions are what Sarah needed more. Though we'll have to see if they'll do any good.
  • So far, things are still going well between Ali and Syd. However, Ali wants the two to have bunk beds when they are living in a nursing home in their old age.

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.