Sunday, December 20, 2015

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - The Pfeffermans Want to Be Understood But Still End Up All Alone in 'Bulnerable'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 2.06 "Bulnerable"

Ali seeks advice from Leslie on her UCLA application, but finds herself getting a little too close. Josh unravels after he confronts Shelly about the past, while Sarah explores some of her sexual fantasies on a hard-won date night. Maura helps Davina get ready for Sal's return from prison and is faced with a harsh reality.

In "Bulnerable," Transparent features the trope of parents criticizing their children for not being more appreciative of the choices and sacrifices they made for them while the children want to blame their parents for how severely they messed them up no matter how old they get. Everyone in the Pfefferman family is searching for connection and is horrible at being alone. This episode highlights that well. As everyone pursues this search, they really only end up with more pain that then leads them back to the family that made them this way in the first place. It's a truly compelling and complex look at a very familiar topic. The actions of Shelly and Maura inform Sarah, Josh and Ali as grown ups. However, the three siblings also struggle in expressing themselves in a way that creates lasting happiness. They are all fully grown but none of them really understand what it's like to be a functioning adult who is capable of developing meaningful connections.

The closest this episode comes to letting one of the Pfeffermans enjoy happiness is Maura as she stays at Davina's house. She only interacts with her friends in this episode. She has taken herself out of the lives of the rest of her family. She's still relying on a crutch as she attempts to figure out her life moving forward. She's much more comfortable around Davina and Shea because they are able to understand her experience better. They don't approach this friendship with any kind of history that clouds their feelings and judgment. Maura can just be with these women. Even with all of that being said though, Maura still finds herself being out of place in this environment. She is doing her best to be grateful for Davina and her boyfriend, Sal, who has just been released from prison. She puts on a good front to make herself seem well-intentioned. But this is simply a house where Maura is somewhat intruding on Davina and Sal's romance. They are so giddy to be reunited. That does spark a change in Davina a little bit. She's no longer as assertive and confident as she usually is. Instead, she largely just does what Sal wants. It's subtle but it's crucial in saying that this is no longer the home that Maura first stayed in.

The same can also be said of Shelly in this episode. She had enjoyed the happiness and companionship of her life with Maura. She was devastated when Maura decided to leave again. It was so unexpected and surprising to her. She tries dealing with it by focusing on her campaign for the condo board. It's a nice distraction that keeps her from dealing with the big emotions happening in her life right now. But she can't escape those feelings. Josh forces them to come up when he confronts her about knowing about Colton. They are even inevitable when it comes to a simple task like babysitting Sarah's kids while she's out on a sex date. Shelly can't do it because she doesn't think anyone appreciates her or takes her needs seriously. She is broken after Maura leaves her. She does find some comfort when she is able to tell Sarah the truth. But that moment only comes after Shelly completely ruins Sarah's night. In that moment, Shelly just needs to not be alone but gets in the way of her daughter's happiness. Sarah is there for her. She lets Shelly rest her head on her lap. But again, it's only something Sarah lets happen because she doesn't want to hurt her mother more.

Elsewhere, Ali has committed to her graduate school plans but worries over how to fill out the application to make her seem very desirable to the program. She wants to learn from Leslie. She has committed to this path because it actually intrigues her. Leslie is a mystery that Ali enjoys gravitating towards. Leslie is truly unique in how she is so open about everything with her life. She welcome Ali in and is willing to give her advice over her application. And yet, it's also a very sensual night between the two as they spend the majority of the time getting high while naked in a hot tub together. They have their moments where they truly connect with their views of the world. But it's also clear that this night is heading into a sexual direction. The two have some great chemistry and Leslie is really forward about it. But then, things take a turn once Leslie learns that Ali has only been a lesbian for a month. That signals to her just how adrift and uncommitted Ali has been through her adulthood. Ali is still welcomed to spend the night. But there is still so much hesitation on Ali's part over what she should do. She makes no effort to get off the couch once she learns that Leslie is going to bed. She's in an environment where she doesn't quite know what to do but stays because it continues to intrigue her.

Meanwhile, Josh had these big plans of being happy and living in his childhood home with his own beautiful family. And now, he has the entire place to himself after Raquel loses the baby and Josh's attempts at being honest push her away. In the cover of darkness, he doesn't see just how lonely he has actually become. He went out for the night for a professional party. It's there where he was making his firm plans for the future instead of figuring things out with Raquel at home. It seems he is much more passionate about starting his own music label with his friend than attempting to rebuild this family with Raquel. Josh has always been the most professionally successful of the Pfefferman siblings. And yet, that success wasn't enough to fully satisfy him last season. So the need to focus on it now to cope with this tragedy is a safety mechanism. He feels more comfortable in this world than the reality going on back at home. It's no surprise that Raquel leaves him. He truly doesn't know how to process these big emotions. So right now, it seems like he is destined to be alone. He may have new success with this new business proposition. But he won't have the happiness he was searching for all season long.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Bulnerable" was written by Bridget Bedard and directed by Silas Howard.
  • Sarah's bad choices with her life continue with her trying to have sex with Dr. Steve, the guy who gave her weed in the previous episode. She tries getting him to act out her fantasy with Mr. Irons but it doesn't go well because of Shelly. Will Sarah try to get back to the moment sometime soon? It seems likely.
  • It's devastating to watch as Josh and Raquel lose their baby. It's a fantastic sequence that doesn't need to say what has happened with words. The way that it is shot with the looks of worry on their faces both in the doctor's office and in bed tell the audience everything that they need to know.
  • Ali is going in a more personal direction with her grad school application. That could open some old and deep wounds within the family that maybe they don't want open. It should be interesting though given what's been teased about the flashbacks this season.
  • Even Shelly's not the most mature person, she only babysits because all of her friends do it for their grandchildren.

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.