Friday, September 22, 2017

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - The Family Gathers Once More Before Maura Takes a Major Trip in 'Standing Order'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 4.01 "Standing Order"

An exciting offer draws Maura to Tel Aviv. Hoping for a fresh start, Shelly sells her condo and shacks up with Josh. Grappling with their family's weird intimacy issues, Sarah, Ali and Josh attend a sex and love addicts meeting together. Ali rents out the Pfefferman house.

"Standing Order" is just a nice and easy transition back into the world of Transparent. It's been a year since the show aired new episodes. It seems like it just wanted to return with a premiere that was largely just catching up with the various members of the Pfefferman family. It's not a dramatically different episode that sets the tone for the new season - like all of the previous premieres. Instead, it's largely just highlighting how much these characters have grown even though they are still struggling to figure out their lives. Things have changed. Maura has returned to teaching and is now dating a man. Shelly has sold her condo and moved in with Josh. Things between Ali and Leslie seem to be coming to a close because of an HR investigation. And Sarah and Len are just having casual sex and being a family once more. These are basically the big plot points from this premiere. Yes, a few other things happen as well that indicate this season as being one of huge growth in the personal lives for these characters. But it's mostly just setting up things for the future. Right now, it's just important to be back in this world and seeing what is most vital to these characters' lives. It's still a dysfunctional family that is too close with each other. They are still finding new ways to deal with the inherited trauma they've had over the years. But things seem good amongst the core family.

Obviously, the most notable development to happen in this premiere is Maura announcing that she has been invited to give a keynote speech at a conference in Israel. That's absolutely going to be a big deal for the overall season. These characters have traveled throughout the world in past seasons. But this trip has the potential to be more life-changing. Right now, Maura is the only person set to go. She probably won't be the only one. The show will find some way to get several other characters in Israel as well. But right now, it's just very exciting to think about. Sure, it would have been fascinating to see Maura back as a professor for a little bit. The show really hasn't spent too much time in the world of academia with her. It has with Ali. She's still in the same position of being a graduate student but sleeping with Leslie as well. Meanwhile, things are different for Maura because she's embracing her truth once more. The students seem much more engaged and excited to be in her class as well. It feels like she has her life figured out after all of these years of stress and turmoil. This trip is bound to force her to confront some issues she doesn't even know about though. That's exciting. But right now, it's basically just preparation for going. She's announcing it to her students. She's going to Israel for two weeks. The family knows about it. It's the focus of conversation for a little bit. And then, they move onto the next thing.

Love and intimacy appears to be a big theme for the season as well. The season doesn't open with any of the Pfeffermans. Instead, it opens on a monologue from a woman who has never been seen before. Later on in the episode, it's revealed that this person played by Alia Shawkat is Lila, a former preschool teacher for one of Sarah's kids. The monologue she is delivering is to a sex and love addiction meeting. In it, she's talking about the desire to find someone to be with in order to be less alone. It's a fantastic moment because it lives in the fear of the new reality of 2017. It doesn't come out and say the stresses that have defined life this year. It doesn't have to either. It's all understood. If not, then it's just a moment about a young adult facing the hardships of the world all by herself. That's perfectly fine and acceptable too. But there's new context given the year this story is being told in. It's a surprising and unexpected way to open this season. It's good that the show doesn't wait too long to reveal who she is and the role she will play in this narrative. She's bound to get caught up in Sarah's story somehow because they already have that previous connection. They are able to recognize one another when they bump into each other in a seemingly random location.

And yet, it's so crucial to see Sarah, Ali and Josh in this meeting for sex addicts. Across the series run, these three characters have had some incredibly toxic and selfish relationships. Their views on sex and intimacy aren't always healthy. Sure, it feels like at times they've been able to overcome these issues and be with someone who is actually good for them. And yet, there is still so much trauma in their individual and collective pasts that they haven't truly addressed. As such, it continues to stunt their growth in this regard. All of it is played as a joke in the early going as well. They only have this conversation about possibly being sex addicts because they are simply trying to get away from the family gathering going on downstairs. This family is incredibly close but they can be suffocating as well. They all have good intentions. But their close bonds can be destructive and damaging as well. But the three siblings are possibly able to learn something about themselves with this meeting. Of course, Josh seems like the only one who actually gets something out of it. He speaks up and engages with a story. Sarah and Ali don't do that. So, that probably signals Josh closely examining his past relationships and what he needs to do in order to have the healthy life he has always craved. That's very enticing.

But mostly, this episode succeeds because it's just the Pfefferman family interacting with one another once more. It's fun to see Shelly continuing to be the overbearing mother who always has an opinion to share. It's going to be interesting to see her and Josh living together - especially since he's not always going to come to her whenever she yells out for him. He took pity on her after her breakup with Buzz. But now, she's talking about Sarah spending too much on food and the tree that she bought in Jerusalem. She doesn't believe it's a scam at all despite what Bryna says. It's important to see Bryna and her son incorporated into the family more as well. Sure, he is tormenting Sarah's kids with magic. But it's still nice to have them around. They are becoming a part of the family. That's an important development. Of course, it also comes with the news that Grandma Rose has died. That's tragic news that's played as just a minor plot development. Of course, Ali immediately feels that connection and once again is pulled to the blanket she knitted. That's a major comfort for her. She can just wrap herself up in it and block out the rest of her family. Sarah is talking about making family gatherings like this a weekly thing. She knows how crazy that sounds because of how insane and ridiculous this family can be all the time. But she also wants family to be important for her kids. Meanwhile, it's just comfortable for Ali to wrap herself in this blanket. Sure, it's alienating and people don't know how to react to it. It's then paired with a flashback to her teen years where she has an awkward interaction with Bryna's husband. That's something that deserves further examination. But for right now, the show is just getting back into its own rhythms and introducing everything that's going to be important this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Standing Order" was written by Faith Soloway and directed by Jill Soloway.
  • Ali has started renting out the Pfefferman home. It's a story that doesn't seem to have much purpose. It shows that Ali no longer feels like she belongs in the one place she has called home for a long time. She's reduced down to an unattached room and people who are confused about her still living there. It's a story that purposefully seems to get her to leave.
  • It's also strange to see the Pfefferman house with complete strangers in it. They are people going about their own lives. The children are playing around as if it is their home. Ali doesn't understand it. She thinks people will be respectful of a house that isn't theirs. She's in for a rude awakening though. People move in and immediately make it their own.
  • Does anyone in the family know about the guy whom Maura is dating? She seems really happy with him. It's a completely different relationship for her. It's her continuing to explore her identity and what she's attracting to. It's nice to see her have something like this. But with her leaving for Israel, is it a relationship the audience should bother getting invested in?
  • Sarah and Len definitely appear to be a family again. She's fine with telling people that they are having casual sex once more. There isn't the pressure for it to be any more than that. Of course, they move around as a family again. Len is a member of the larger Pfefferman clan once more. The children are running around doing whatever but Sarah is their mother once more too.
  • The "an erection is not consent" moment is very strange and purposefully enraging. It's a statement that Josh can relate to. He feels that he has been taken advantage of sexually because of that physical stimulation. But it's also not as simple as that. He'll probably want it to be. It's the type of story that this group may have to put up with though.
  • Okay, so the plan is to write episodic reviews for this season of Transparent. That's something I want to do. And yet, I was unable to get through all of the screeners before the season dropped today. And with many of the broadcast premieres next week, I'm not sure how quickly I'll get through this season. My ambitions are high just don't be surprised if I can't stick to a regular schedule.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.