Friday, September 29, 2017

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - The Family Returns to Los Angeles with Only a Few Changes in 'House Call'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 4.10 "House Call"

Feeling compelled to learn more about herself in Israel, Ali stays back as the rest of the family returns to Los Angeles. Sarah, Len and Lila reevaluate their complicated relationship. Josh confronts his sex and love issues head on. Maura and Davina reclaim the Pfefferman house from an unwanted guest.

At the end of its fourth season, it's abundantly clear that Transparent has run out of steam. It's no longer as strong or cohesive or necessary as it was in the early years. The first two seasons of this show were marvelous to watch because they had a strong focus on the inner journey of this family as they deal with these long-held secrets between them. The show has always been at its best when it's focusing on the Pfeffermans as they are completely taken aback by surprising secrets in their family history. There was certainly some of that this season with the reveal that Moshe was still alive and that Gittel and Gershom were the same person. But this season lost the thread so frequently. The third season was the year of strong episodes if not a cohesive, overarching story. The fourth season was the year of strong moments. Even the best episodes of this season had a lot of sluggish material to get through. I still enjoyed this season of the show. It can still portray these wonderful and beautiful moments of humanity in a way no other show can. But it's feeling more and more likely that the show is running out of story to tell with these characters. They keep seemingly making the same decisions and mistakes over and over again. As such, I'm not entirely sure what the point of this season was. The family had to make peace that there are some parts of their family history that have been kept from them and they have to cope with finding out too late. They went away to realize how things needed to change in Los Angeles. But even that doesn't feel like a strong message that this finale hits in a very bold or provocative way.

This season peaked with "Desert Eagle" and "They is on the Way." Those were the emotional focal points of the season. And now, "House Call" is just dealing with the aftermath of all of that as the Pfeffermans return to Los Angeles. It doesn't really feel like things have changed all that much. Of course, things obviously have with Ali. She's decided to stay behind and continue to explore her identity. She's felt more at home in Israel than anywhere else in the world. She's been able to conceptualize these feelings while she's been here. As such, she's not ready to return with the family in Los Angeles until she has her own identity figured out. The family already wants her to identify as gender non-binary. They are completely fine with that as well. They are also fine with her staying behind. Sure, it's unexpected but they understand why she needs to continue on this journey. It's a personal decision for her in the hopes of leading to this big awakening. But instead, her story embraces a quality from the third season that hasn't been mentioned since then. She returns to the farm as it is completely abandoned. She suddenly has a vision of her dentist who she associates as God. That was such a strange story last season that seemingly had no purpose whatsoever. It still has none. She just appears to give Ali someone to talk to while also being completely alone in this life. It just feels like an odd detail given the growth she has experienced in Israel. This device is a Los Angeles thing that has had no bearing in her personal story this year. So, it ultimately feels cheap while offering no good moment of conclusion to Ali's story. That's just weird after how huge her story has been this season.

Meanwhile, the Pfeffermans' return to Los Angeles is essentially all about reclaiming the family home as their own. That's such a weird story. It's Maura selfishly doing this because it's technically her house and she wants a place to stay and be happy with Davina and Donald. The show is asking the audience to sympathize with the desire to kick out the guy from AirBNB because that guy has been so awful. He isn't awful for a reason though. He's just been this strange, one-note character terrorizing the family home all season long. He was off-putting when he discovered Ali was staying in the room downstairs. He was cruel and intimidating when Davina was trying to live there as well. He came across as a bully and nothing more. So, it's suppose to be a moment of victory when the family succeeds in kicking him out. And yes, it is successful in that regard. But he still has a point as well in paying to rent the house out for seven additional days. It's just a conflict that has no nuance because the show has tried to maintain its presence this season while not allowing it to overshadow or take away from whatever was going on in Israel. It was just a weird story that never really worked or had much purpose. It's just suppose to be a unifying moment in the end for the family. It's a little surprising who ultimately gets him to leave though. That's probably the most exciting moment of this finale.

This has been a season of growth for Shelly. She's still fundamentally the same person always butting into her family's business and not really listening when they have complaints about what she is doing. And yet, these last few episodes have put her through the ringer. She confessed to what happened to her as a teenager. She needed to be carried when they were in the Dead Sea. She needed the support of her family to get through the scary times. And now, she is able to return that to them. Israel allowed her to have confidence with herself once more. For too long, she's been subjected to the whims of others. Now, she's putting herself first. She no longer needs the "Mario" persona to do so either. That was another strange story throughout this season. It was important in the beginning as it was a way for her to break from her reality and feel less alone. But then, it just disappeared without much reason. And now, she has the strength to convince this guy he should recollect his dignity and leave the house instead of being thrown out. Again, it's probably too easy of a solution. It's laughable that Maura thinks Josh will have the answer despite seeing how angry and volatile he's been for the last two weeks. It's fortunate that he brings Shelly along for the ride. She's the one who is actually able to do something about it. Plus, it's significant that she is reclaiming her maiden name as a part of her identity. It's such a minor moment but it could be very empowering for her as well.

Of course, this moment is also about Maura needing to come out to Josh regarding his relationship with Donald. It's a relationship that hasn't been seen for the majority of this season. It's just been important that Maura feels comfortable telling select members of her family about him. She's only told Ali and Shelly. They were a little surprised but very accepting very quickly. Meanwhile, Josh is completely taken aback and struggles with it. That's all apparent through his facial reactions alone and trying to drag the tenant out of the house. So basically, this season has confirmed that Josh has done nothing to address the underlying issues within him. He's still attending meetings and has found a sponsor. He seems committed to the program. But he's also openly embracing the ghost of Rita. She's been tormenting him all season long. And now, he's welcoming her into his life instead of pushing her away to finally get closure. That's a complicated idea that doesn't make any sense at all. It's frustrating because it's been a frustrating plot device. The same is also true with what's going on with Sarah and Len regarding Lila. They believe they've made a firm decision only for the narrative to then backslide them into very familiar territory. It's gotten very annoying. But the season still closes with things being perfectly happy and fine for Maura, Shelly, Donald and Davina. They are able to just start a singalong of Jesus Christ Superstar. This has been a very prominent season for that soundtrack. It's been very amusing and fun to watch as well. It's the fitting end for this season as well. But it largely just shows that this family has made peace with some of its complicated details of the past. The older generation is able to be happy and enjoy their lives. It's the younger siblings who are continuing to struggle. But again, that's not anything new for this show or all that compelling to watch.

Some more thoughts:
  • "House Call" was written by Ethan Kuperberg and directed by Rhys Ernst.
  • Sarah and Len want to break up with Lila and Lila wants to break up with Sarah and Len. Everything seems easy once they get their feelings out in the open. And then, the show just doubles down on their sexual addictions and attractions to one another. It's then suppose to be a little ominous because Len happens to finish inside of Lila. So, she may be sticking around for awhile as well.
  • Of course, it seems like the show completely forgot about why Sarah and Len were hanging around Lila in the first place. All of this started because Sarah wanted to write a parenting book. But that hasn't been mentioned in a long time. In fact, it was easy to forget about it entirely. It also doesn't make this big goodbye as lasting as they thought it would be. They would still be hanging out anyway.
  • Earlier this season, Maura had doubts about her relationship with Donald because of where he lived and how he doesn't read. And yet, he may actually be a keeper because he can break into a song from Jesus Christ Superstar as well. As this trip to Israel has proven, that's very much a good thing for any of the Pfeffermans.
  • The show has been renewed already for a fifth season. It's also been announced that Jill Gordon will take over as showrunner. Series creator Jill Soloway will still be heavily involved as a writer, director and executive producer. But it's also clear that she's looking ahead at new creative opportunities. So unless a new purpose with Transparent can be found, it probably would be a good idea to wrap it up soon.
  • Of course, Transparent is still the most prestigious show at Amazon. It's still the show getting the most Emmy nominations. The streaming service cares about that as well. They are going after bigger, bolder and riskier shows. But this one has always done a strong job in breaking through for them. The desire to keep it around longer than it should for awards attention could be damaging though. Plus, it wouldn't be surprising if the show got less nominations next year as well because there wasn't enough highlights in this season.

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.