Monday, December 21, 2015

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - The Pfeffermans Celebrate Yom Kippur by Trying to Atone For Their Past Mistakes in 'The Book of Life'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 2.07 "The Book of Life"

It's Yom Kippur, and the Pfeffermans have plenty to atone for - Sarah tries to make amends with Tammy, Maura struggles to communicate with Davina, and Josh tries to make peace with Raquel. All of the atonement culminates at a break-the-fast party hosted by Ali and Syd, who are deep in a spiritual crisis of their own.

Transparent celebrates its first Yom Kippur in "The Book of Life." It's the holiest day of the year for the Pfefferman family. The time where they need to truly analysis the year they've just lived and embrace all the pain and hardships their decisions have caused to other people. This is a day about asking for forgiveness. It's an incredibly vulnerable action that one has to do. Saying sorry to another person is very humbling because it's admitting that one made a mistake that hurt someone else. During Ali's big speech at the break-the-fast gathering, she says that this atonement happens so that people can be entered into the Book of Life for the upcoming year. It's a much more personal experience than that but the majority of the Pfeffermans just take the opportunity to crave forgiveness without truly understanding what they have done to other people over the last year. It's a truly incredible episode because it's frustrating to watch the main characters yearn for forgiveness without proper understanding of their world. It's a complex issue where things continually boil up until they explode at Ali and Syd's party.

All of the Pfeffermans have something they need to atone for. And yet, almost no one walks away from this day actually being forgiven. The process truly begins when Sarah shows up at Tammy's workplace hoping to have an honest and open conversation with her. Tammy is much better than she has previously been this season. She actually seems life she has her life together. That's the point. Sarah is the mess who is trying to pass off this big epiphany to her as some truly insightful understanding of how she ruined Tammy's life. Asking for forgiveness is scary because there's no certainty how the wronged person will react. Sarah hurt Tammy in an incredibly personal way that sent her spiraling down this very dark path. In this moment though, Tammy has the moral superiority to Sarah. Sarah just wants to blame her actions on her constant need to find something that can fill the emotional void of where maternal love should be. She was there for Shelly in the previous episode but it wasn't because she wanted to be. Her mother threw all of her problems onto Sarah and she just had to accept them. It's a selfish dynamic that has forced this emptiness in Sarah. But that's not a good answer for why Sarah did what she did. She can't still be blaming all of her problems on how her mother screwed her up. It's a good thing that Tammy basically rejects this apology. Sure, it sets Sarah off on her own downward spiral to get physical gratification in the most abusive way possible. But it's an arc that has meaning in her life right now as she's trying desperately to figure things out.

Similarly, Ali is pushing Syd away just like she did last season. She is committed to this relationship. And yet, Ali really hurt Syd by choosing to stay the night at Leslie's house. That was an uncomfortable and awkward experience for Ali. She wasn't entirely sure what to do. However, she chose to stay and not tell Syd what was happening. That made it seem as if Ali was more committed to that journey than to her relationship with Syd. Syd is someone who can become emotionally stressful very easily. That was seen last season in the fallout of her hookup with Josh. Ali wants to apologize by setting the template for how this relationship is going to deal with moments of disagreement like this. And yet, the two aren't able to truly deal with this issue because family members start to arrive at their apartment. Ali's big speech is a long-winded way of saying she is sorry to Ali for her recent actions. But it's again the need to embrace the concept of forgiveness without doing the soul-searching that needs to come with it.

Meanwhile, Maura continues to alienate herself from the people in her life who she really cares about. Tension builds between Maura and Davina largely because Maura just doesn't like Sal's presence around the house. He is very blunt and forceful in talking to Maura about all the changes she should do to her body to become more feminine. Maura sees herself as a woman but is still getting more comfortable with her body. It's a sensitive subject to her that isn't given the respect it deserves from Sal. That's something that bugs Maura and she needs to voice her concerns to Davina. The two of them have been friends as Maura has gone through this tremendous journey. However, they both have greatly different opportunities afforded to them. Maura had a lifetime to build a successful life. She was able to have a family and be financially successful. She has high expectations when it comes to love. Sure, she reverts back to the familiar very easily. But she also holds herself and the people around her to a high standard. She hasn't really worried yet whether or not someone will ever truly love her again. Davina has been a woman for many years now. It's been a much rougher journey for her. She is now her true, authentic self who has found love. This is the happiest outcome she could have hoped for. That's incredibly disappointing to Maura. But it's also Davina's reality for this stage of her life. Maura has to respect that. But she clearly doesn't which pushes her to once again be alone in this world unable to truly connect with anyone on an emotional and understandable level.

And lastly, Josh is still reeling from the loss of his entire family. He is alone and in despair in a way that he didn't imagine going into this celebration. He's unsure of how to act. He accompanies Shelly to temple where she quickly one-ups him in being able to form a connection with someone else. That's an amusing story throughout this episode as Shelly becomes overly dependent on this new man in her life, Buzz. But it also shows just how disconnected this whole family is. Josh feels the weight of the world on his chest as he celebrates this holy day with his mother. It forces him to confront the reality of his situation in a way that he just doesn't know how. He wants to be sensitive to Raquel by letting her know that he's in the crowd. But he still hasn't accepted that she is truly done with their relationship. It's over. She wants to move on. That's devastating to Josh. All of that pressure is slowly rising within him. It's overwhelming during the ceremony and then he imperfectly explodes at Ali's party. But it's not even allowed to be his moment. Shelly steals that from him by turning his pain into her own suffering. The Pfeffermans really don't know how to react to this news in a way that is sensitive and nurturing to Josh. Even Maura's genuine attempt to tell her son that it's okay to be sad are met with criticism due to the pain of past revelations. This is simply Josh's life right now. He's adrift not knowing what to do. That makes it so much more appealing to him once he's in the grocery store and decides to start eating everything that looks good to him. He's being reckless but it's an incredibly freeing experience that truly allows him to release all of this pain and sadness.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Book of Life" was written by Ethan Kuperberg and directed by Jim Frohna.
  • Sarah's self-destructive arc this season is getting more and more tragic as she ruins her sex relationship with Dr. Steve just becomes she wants him to "rape her but still make it pleasurable." She's attaching onto this need for punishment as a way to cope with her current existence but it's really not getting to the root of her problems. It's simply something she has latched onto for the brief amount of pleasure she can get from it.
  • It's great that Shelly immediately jumps to conclusion when she hears Buzz and NASA in the same sentence. He wasn't an astronaut but he did work a patent case for NASA as a lawyer.
  • As strange as Buzz's presence is at Ali's party, he truly was the only person who was able to get Shelly to calm down. It's also very appealing to Shelly that her new man is capable of driving in the dark.
  • So now, where is Maura going to go? She has the money to stay at a hotel for a little bit probably. But Sarah and Ali are incapable of taking her in due to their already filled apartments while she is on very bad terms with Shelly, Josh and Davina at the moment. I wonder what Shea's up to?

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.