Tuesday, December 22, 2015

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - Rose & Gittel Make a Major Decision While Maura Tries to Be a Better Mother in 'Oscillate'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 2.08 "Oscillate"

In a flashback, Rose and Gittel are faced with an ultimatum. Maura learns more about the trans experience, and gets closer to Shea when she volunteers for a suicide hotline. Josh displaces all his energy on his career, taking him down a reckless path. After a revealing dinner with Shelly and her new beau Buzz, Ali and Sarah decide to go on the road to the Idyllwild Music Festival - with Maura.

One of the best episodes from Transparent's first season was "Best New Girl" - which was set almost entirely in flashbacks as Maura was able to first be herself while away at a cross-dressing camp. It was a poignant episode that really showed just how personal this whole experience has defined Maura's entire life. It highlighted just how different this struggle was for her compared to everyone else attending this event. It was a huge turning point in the flashbacks of the first season. "Oscillate" doesn't quite do the same thing to this season's flashback narrative. It provides the audience with its longest look yet at the life of a young Rose and her sibling Gittel in 1930s Berlin. The episode features one meaningful, 8-minute story that plays out before the opening credits begin. It too provides depth to this material that was previously missing.

So much of the value of this episode comes from whether or not one actually enjoys the flashbacks of the second season. They've been so cryptical vague and brief that they don't have the same kind of emotional resonance as the trips into Maura's past did last season. They are more abstract and also more straightforward. The medium isn't at a loss for stories about the Holocaust and the significance it holds to the Jewish descendants of people killed in Germany at that time. Transparent is able to put a new spin on that familiar story through the inclusion of Gittel. For the first time in her life, she has found a community that embraces her for who she truly is. It's in this place of over-the-top dances and campy, amateur theater that she feels at home. Rose is entranced by this world and all the possibilities and passion it brings out of her sibling.

And yet, it's not something destined to last. While Gittel and Rose are enjoy the fun life provided at this safe place, their mother, Yetta, is desperately working to obtain visas so that they can all flee to America before the Nazis take over. When she finally succeeds, she rushes down to the institute to share the news with her children. Seeing Gittel like that is a shock. And yet, Yetta doesn't react with judgment. She instead wants to be very practical about the matter. The family needs to get out of the country in order to survive. Gittel can change his name to whatever once he gets to America. But he has to get to America first. It's difficult to leave this place where Gittel has felt so alive for the first time in her life. She would leave not knowing if she would ever be able to be this happy or free ever again. That's something that Yetta understands perfectly. She doesn't push for Gittel to make this journey. It's just heartbreaking because it creates such a divide for Rose. She has to choice between standing by her mother or her sibling. Her choice to leave creates a pain that is apparent throughout the rest of the family for the generations that follow - even though they don't know about it.

That previous flashback episode showed just how horrible Maura was as a father to her three children. This flashback sequence shows the pain that comes from a lifetime of never being allowed true happiness and human connection. The present-day story is a tad heavy-handed in its need to point out that suicide awareness and prevention is a part of the trans community. But the show very expertly tackles that issue head on with Maura's pursuit to do some good with her new life. She has gotten a big reality check as of late with the growing tension between her and her family as well as her friendship with Davina. She's been humbled a little bit. So now, she needs to do good in order to actually be a better person as Maura and not make the same mistakes as Mort did. Shea helps Maura learn how to be effective at the suicide hotline. She shares this deeply personal and tragic story about how she has always struggled with suicidal thoughts. That allows Maura to open up as the maternal figure she has always wanted to be but hasn't been all that successful at. It's in that moment where Shea is truly appreciative of the love Maura has for her. That's the moment where Maura decides that maybe now is a great time where she should actually try to be a mother to her children.

It's been made painfully clear over these two seasons that Shelly and Mort messed up Sarah, Josh and Ali. Shelly is still not doing the best job at being a mother. She's incredibly blunt about putting her happiness above her children's egos. Sarah and Ali are upset that Shelly has changed her entire apartment because of her new boyfriend and has thrown out all the artwork and clothes they had stored there. But Shelly is also truly happy in a way that she wasn't with Maura. She's not at all sensitive to her children. She's just doing what makes her happy. That leaves Ali and Sarah at a loss and desperately searching for their old stuff at the place where Shelly donated them to. It's an experience that bonds the two sisters. And soon, Maura joins the family unity. They are all able to share the beautiful moment of getting to see Maura's old pictures as they've been regendered. It's a beautiful and simple moment of bonding between parent and child. It unites them as they head out on this journey to the Idyllwild Music Festival. Who knows what awaits them in this incredibly freeing event of feminism. But it's an exciting prospect nevertheless.

While Ali and Sarah are enjoying the love of a maternal figure, Josh is reverting back into his old self as the douchebag bachelor following the destruction of his family unit. He's not coping well at all. He's the one who needs support from the family the most. Maura, Ali and Sarah are all still selfishly working on themselves. They are doing it together but that also alienates Josh in a time where he is dangerously becoming more volatile. He's pushing himself to his limits at the gym. He's being quite the dick to a car salesman. He's making plans to tour the country with the band. He's just focusing all of his energy on his work and trying to push all of his personal pain out of his life. That's incredibly destructive behavior that comes to ahead when he gets a serious case of road rage. He endangers two very important things to his plan - one of the band's singers and the new van - because of this anger. He gets some release and comfort in the end. But it's not going to be enough to truly get him to handle these big emotions in a mature way. He doesn't know what to do. He's slowly unraveling because of it. He needs a family's love.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Oscillate" was written by Bridget Bedard and directed by Andrea Arnold.
  • What does everything think about the show bringing back Michaela Watkins and Bradley Whitford to play new characters in this season's flashbacks? They are great performers. They certainly given a ton of depth to their characters in such a short amount of time. But it is a noticeable gimmick on the show's part as well.
  • It's also less noticeable than Watkins and Whitford's presence but Young Rose is being played by Emily Robinson who played a young Ali in last year's flashbacks.
  • Ali and Syd's relationship always seemed destined to end badly. And now, it's doing just that. No matter what Ali tries to say to justify her actions with Leslie, she still hurt Syd who just wants a loving, committed relationship. That's just not something Ali can provide right now.
  • Sarah had to choose between going to the music festival with Ali or waiting for the cable guy to install her new, bigger TV. It's nice to see that that little detail wasn't forgotten about. 
  • Is Shelly changing too much for her new relationship? She's happy. But that doesn't mean this is good for her.
  • That episode ending performance of Maura, Ali and Sarah singing Indigo Girls' "Closer to Fine" was incredible!

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.