Tuesday, December 22, 2015

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - The Past and Present Collide While Maura, Ali & Sarah Try to Be Free in 'Man on the Land'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 2.09 "Man on the Land"

Sisterhood - and the lake thereof - blazes like campfire at the Idyllwild Music Festival. Maura makes a new friend - and has a rude awakening - while Sarah experiences liberation from an unlikely source. Meanwhile, Ali finds herself on an unexpected journey to the past.

It can be easy for the abused to become the abuser. That's a concept on firm display throughout the terrific "Man on the Land." The Idyllwild Music Festival is a celebration of womanhood and freedom. This is the one place where women don't have to constantly live in fear of abuse or discrimination. So much persecution still happens towards woman in today's world - especially women of color. And yet, when a new form of discrimination appears in transgendered identities, it can be difficult to embrace their struggle and worldview when the other way is still as messed up as it has always been. Even people who are extreme feminists have fear of what the trans movement means for their issues. It's in that fear where so much of the events of this episode take place. It shows the hostility that is ever present in this experience as it's still in its young days of becoming a part of the popular culture. That's so heartbreaking and tragic to someone like Maura who is still trying to make sense of all of it herself.

Maura, Ali and Sarah go to the music festival in order to be free. They enjoy that happiness and peace when they first arrive - where their biggest concern is getting the tents set up and finding food that isn't completely disgusting. They are able to bond as a family as they dance to the music. That's a mesmerizing sequence because it shows just how strong this family is capable of being when they are there for each other. They all have pain and difficulties. But in that moment, they are happy. It's because they are together willing to embrace all of this freedom as a family. As soon as they separate to embrace their own individuality things fall apart in tragic fashion. It opens the gates for Maura to be persecuted in this environment to the point where she's running off in tears. Not even her own family seems to have her back.

All of this happens because Maura and Ali slowly learn that there is a rule banning trans-women from this festival. It's set in place by the extremist founders of the event who believe that people have to be born with a vagina and a uterus in order to truly accept the meaning of this celebration. That's a lame justification for some really disgusting and mean-spirited behavior. Maura learns of the rule from a woman named Vicki, who thinks Maura is so brave for both the transition and being at the festival. Meanwhile, Ali learns of the rule from Leslie who immediately warns her of how dangerous this place could be for her moppa. Both Maura and Ali are worried about what this means for Maura. And yet, Ali is easily able to forget about it because she has her own selfish interest in Leslie. She is willing to listen to her in regards to this issue and ultimately brings the pain to Maura. Elsewhere, Maura views this festival differently than she did before. She thinks everyone is now looking at her with judgment. She sees what these women do when they learn that men are on the campground. That could inspire hatred should anyone realize that Maura is trans.

And yet, nothing bad happens to Maura until she meets up with Ali again. It's because of Ali's interest in Leslie that places Maura in this incredibly dangerous and hateful conversation. She was fine out there by herself with the rest of the festival. Sure, she was worried over what might happen. But she was still relatively fine and surrounded by people who didn't really take the rule all that seriously. Leslie's friends on the other hand are the hardcore, extreme feminists who stood up for themselves back when the festival first started and don't want to see anything changing their core principles anytime soon - even if that means they become just as abusive as men are to them. Leslie's friends don't want anything to trump their own struggle. They understand feminist issues because they can easily relate to them. It's hard to wrap their heads around Maura's own pain and struggle. They want to believe that she had a good life and she's only had pain over the last year when she came out. That's incredibly hurtful to Maura because this massive identity crisis has informed every major decision she has made for her entire life.

The most damaging thing about this discrimination to Maura is the fact that her daughters aren't there to be supportive her in the face of all of this hateful speech. Ali is literally sitting next to her. But she wants to see the issue from both sides. She wants to criticize Leslie's friends for their beliefs and rules but she makes Maura just as uncomfortable by pointing out the successful life she had while she was Mort. That's the most troubling thing about this for Maura. Not even Ali or Sarah can support her. Sarah is off enjoying her own fetish and avoiding the real emotional work she needs to do with her life. She's simply avoiding taking any responsibility and just searching for her own pleasure - no matter how brief it may be.

Ali at least notices that she has done something wrong and runs after Maura. That leads to the truly mesmerizing sequence where the past and present finally collide. Ali's search for Maura is played opposite Yetta's own search for Gittel. The Nazis have finally raided the institution and have forcefully humiliated everyone who found freedom of expression there. It's the tragic ending that the audience always knew was coming for this story. It's just so heartbreaking to see the two stories echo one another. Not a whole lot has changed in the years since Gittel was taken away from Rose and Yetta. The trans community is more visible and accepted but it's still so easily discriminated against by people who just don't know better and belief they know what's right in this world. It's a tragic experience for Rose and Yetta as they lose their beloved family member. Ali is there to see the pain of that moment. And yet, she doesn't leave to be with Maura. She doesn't hold her moppa close in this time of great uncertainty. Instead she goes running back to Leslie and is welcomed with open arms as they finally have sex.

That leaves Maura once again all alone in a place that isn't as accepting as she wanted it to be. It's a fantastic parallel to last season's trip to the cross-dressing camp. This one is so much worse because she is finally living as the woman she is suppose to be and is still being treated unfairly - even by her own family. The only comfort she gets in the end is from Vicki. That's not a surprise given that Anjelica Huston is playing the role. But it does signal the potential of new friendship for Maura. Someone who truly understands and is willing to accept Maura for who she really is in a time where she's more alone and uncertain than ever before.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Man on the Land" was written by Ali Liebegott and directed by Jill Soloway.
  • It's such a smart decision to keep the episode's focus on the trip to the music festival. Josh's life is in crisis back in the city. But it would have been weird to cut away to his story while so much is happening with Maura, Ali and Sarah.
  • What will happen to Ali and Leslie now that they've finally had sex? Will it create a meaningful relationship? Or will Ali be tossed aside just as easily as the rest of Leslie's girlfriends?
  • Sarah runs into another mom from her children's school. That mom was great in telling Sarah that she can just pout around about all of her problems. No one really cares. In order to move on with her life, she just needs to move on. As the later spanking scene suggests though, Sarah's not really doing that.
  • It's so tragic watching Maura reach out to a family that just isn't there. She takes that frustration out on one of the tents while declaring there's "a man on the land." She shouldn't have to see herself that way but Leslie's friends force her to.
  • Sia also puts in a cameo appearance as one of the singers at the festival. That was a pretty amusing and surprising moment.

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.