Friday, September 22, 2017

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - Maura Gets Stopped at the Airport as Ali Runs Away From Her Life in 'Groin Anomaly'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 4.02 "Groin Anomaly"

Ali is blindsided when Leslie goes public with the details of their relationship. Sarah is ignited by a new connection with her daughter's former teacher, Lila. Josh unexpectedly encounters an ex. Shelly takes up improv. Ali joins Maura on her trip to Israel and their journey gets off to a bumpy start.

In its third season, Transparent became more of a series of great moments or episodes than a show with a consistent storyline. It was a tad disappointing. But the emotional highs this show can reach are still very effective and can't be touched by many other series out there. In the early going for Season 4, it still feels like it's building to big and emotional moments. It's still primarily in setup mode. And yet, the conclusion of "Groin Anomaly" is absolutely devastating and brilliant to behold. It's not surprising what happens. But the execution is phenomenal. There's been so much talk already about Maura's upcoming trip to Israel. And now, Ali has joined along because she needs to escape her current life. The two of them still haven't arrived in the country. But they are at the airport. And again, it's not particularly surprising that Maura is stopped and frisked by TSA because airport security still doesn't really know how to handle itself when it comes to interacting with trans people. That's been a huge story over the last few years. Maura getting stopped isn't even that bad in the end either. But it's still a disruptive moment that interrupts the flow of this journey Maura and Ali have embarked upon. It makes it clear that even with the personal growth these characters are trying to accomplish, the world can still be a cruel and uninspired place.

At first, it seems like the story is just going to be Maura and Ali going through airport security while high on pot gummies. Ali surprised Maura with them in the car. She's already adjusted to the times with this substance now being legal in California. Maura is much more apprehensive largely because they are traveling internationally. She doesn't want anything to ruin this trip. Of course, she still chooses to eat the gummy. That leads to a very well directed sequence in the airport as it appears the two of them are floating on water. They are just so carefree about the stresses of international travel. They are floating without a care in the world. But it all comes crushing back to reality as soon as Maura steps out of the full body scan. The two of them aren't too high to be rendered incompetent either. The sequence leading up to this point suggests that they are too high at the moment and won't have the proper reaction to needing to be frisked by a TSA agent. But a switch happens that makes that transition possible. As soon as it happens, the two of them are back to being the women that they are. Maura understands why she was stopped with a groin anomaly. Ali is ready to record the encounter in case something goes wrong. But mostly, it's a sequence that highlights how TSA agents aren't prepared for this situation. They have no idea who is suppose to search her body for contraband. They are very cordial. No one says anything insensitive or bigoted. It's just a mystery as to how to deal with this situation. But that's enough to change the natural flow of the proceedings for Maura and Ali. It's enough to make them worried about what could possibly happen next.

Of course, that happens at the end of this episode. The rest of "Groin Anomaly" is just moving the various pieces around. It's not surprising in the slightest that Ali has a sudden desire to go to Israel with Maura. It's all tied into the abrupt end to her relationship with Leslie. It's just so strange that the end of this relationship comes from a poem published in The New Yorker. It's a huge professional accomplishment for Leslie. It's something she's wanted for a long time. But it's strange that this relationship ends in such an impersonal way. Cherry Jones doesn't appear at all in this episode. That's weird. The Ali-Leslie relationship hasn't really been healthy. It's not something built to go the distance. It was always bound to end in some tragic or destructive way. But it was a major part of Ali's story for the past two seasons. To have it all end in such an abrupt way where Leslie doesn't even appear makes it seem like the show is just casually writing it off to tell a new story with Ali. That's not inherently bad. She definitely needed a shake up in her main story. She's been adrift in her life for a long time. This trip to Israel could actually be quite an eye-opening experience for her. It will perhaps allow her to feel like she belongs. Right now, she's incredibly anxious about a lot that's going on. She's feeling a sense of not belonging where she currently is right now. As such, she decides to pack it all up to go on this vacation with Maura. It's convenient that she has this opportunity. Hopefully, she'll be able to find something that she's looking for.

Ali's storyline is about her getting out of this unhealthy relationship in search of a place where she can belong. Meanwhile, Josh and Sarah are still trapped within their own traumatic and awkward love addictions. It was very insightful of the show to feature the three siblings attend that meeting in the premiere. They all have such toxic relationships with love. But now, it's fascinating to see how all of them are reacting to that meeting. Sarah isn't really taking the core message seriously at all. She's instead just falling into a familiar pattern of getting obsessed with someone new she just met. In this case, it's someone she knew previously but is seeing with a new perspective. Lila taught Sarah's daughter in preschool. And now, the two of them are bonding over their meeting at a sex addiction meeting. Both of them are being very shy and tentative to one another. They aren't willing to share just how much they may actually need the support from that meeting. As such, it sets up the expectation that things are about to get very sexual and complicated between them. It's already personal and intimate between them when Sarah visits Lila's apartment. The camera deliberately decides to shoot them in close-ups. Nothing more happens but Sarah is fantasizing about it. She's already becoming obsessed with Lila and transferring those feelings over to her relationship with Len. It's not healthy but it's what Sarah's story is becoming this year.

Josh has a completely different reaction to all of it. He's coming at things with a new sense of reflection and perspective. He's actually listening to the message of the meetings and trying to figure out if it applies to his own life. His relationship with Rita has been a defining story for a long time. It's defined who he is as a sexual person. And now, he's living with the guilt of her seemingly killing herself in a mall. That was one of the more surprising moments of last season. It was so unexpected and there's a lack of clarity in the wake of her death. Josh wants to know if she tripped or jumped. That guilt is hanging over his conscience. He's continuing to wonder if this was a healthy relationship or abuse that was allowed to fester for a really long time. The way the show is choosing to manifest all of this inner turmoil though is potential problematic. He's actually having visions of Rita. They aren't just simple lingering thoughts of her either. They are actually disruptive to his life and his desire to be better. He wants to be a part of this program. But Rita is there pounding on the piano and trying to reassure him that everything was perfectly fine between them. It's his feelings manifesting themselves as a literal obstacle to his progress. It's just a really lame plot device. The show recognizes it as such. It knows how ridiculous it seems. And yet, it's still employing it to tell a very personal story with Josh as he attempts to grow and reckon with his past.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Groin Anomaly" was written by Ali Liebegott and directed by Allison Liddi-Brown.
  • Shelly is apparently going to start taking improv lessons. That's completely surprising. And yet, it's great to see her continue to be an active part of this world. There's nothing sadder than seeing her eat her lunch all alone. It's nice to see her up and moving. She's really inspired by this performance and wants to learn more. But will she be able to excel in this program?
  • Also, it's going to be disappointing that Shelly is on stage performing improv instead of her one-woman show. That was such a triumphant moment last season - especially when she finally got to deliver her big performance. It shouldn't be kept to a one-time thing. She's striving for more out of her life. Something that is inherently her own. Improv could possible be it.
  • This episode opens with scattered flashbacks revolving around Ali's birth. It's clear that Ali is going to be the chief focus for the flashbacks this season. But it's not abundantly clear just what it's going to uncover in this family's past. Right now, it's just charming to see the visuals that go along with this moment as well as the simplicity of Shelly wanting Ali out already while young Josh and Sarah are begging to meet their sister.
  • It's always empowering to see the young version of Maura envision herself as a woman. It shows the desire to live the way she sees herself for a very long time. It's a conceit that has purpose. She can get lost in the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar instead of caring for her pregnant wife. That's still the case too. She just has trouble remembering all the words to the song.
  • This also happens to be a big episode for fantasies. It opens with a young Maura continuing to see herself as female even though that's not how the rest of the world sees her. It then continues with Sarah imagining herself having sex with Lila and Josh walking to the meeting and seeing Rita caring for the lawn. The show has played with these elements before. They just seem more pronounced here.
  • The show is also continuing to ask the audience if we perceive any of the sexual relationships to be healthy. Maura likes her new boyfriend but is annoyed by having to walk up so many stairs to his apartment. Plus, he's not interested in watching the live stream of her speech at all. Meanwhile, Davina is having a fight with her boyfriend but may be having some health problems as well.

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.