Monday, September 25, 2017

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - Maura and Ali Learn a Shocking Truth About Their Family Heritage in 'Cool Guy'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 4.04 "Cool Guy"

Maura and Ali uncover new truths about their family. Shelly gets bold in her improv class. Sparks fly between Sarah, Lila and Len and they set off to hatch a plan. Josh is haunted by the past.

Transparent has depicted the Pfefferman family across the generations. That's been a hallmark of the series since the very beginning. It utilized flashbacks in order to highlight the tragedy of their lives. It's a story about generational conflicts and divides repeating the same patterns over and over again. Maura has the freedom to live as her true self because of the world she currently lives in. But that only highlights the tragedy of the life not lived. Her family has been very accepting of her identity as Maura. It's been an adjustment for all of them. But they've welcomed her into their lives in a very fulfilling way. As such, there is the anguish from not coming out sooner to them. It's devastating that she can only do so much to live her life as a woman. But it's also been crucial to see the mindset of the people around her earlier in her life and before she was even born. It paints a full picture of the life she has lived. She has always seen herself as a woman. But she was oppressed to the point that she feared ever coming out to the people she loved the most. Now, it's just a core part of her identity. This is how the world sees her. She's confident because of it. But it's important to see the history regarding all of this. Her family has dealt with transgender issues in the past. The truth of what happened when her family escaped Germany in the 1930s was the focus of the second season. But it was also a piece of family history that was forever lost to time because no one was willing to have that conversation with Maura about what happened to her aunt. As such, she grew up all alone.

And now, a new family connection is discovered. Maura's father, Moshe, isn't dead like everyone believed. She has been told that he abandoned the family when she was four years old and later died at some point in the 1980s or 1990s. The specifics have always been vague. But neither Maura nor Bryna have felt the desire to learn the truth about what happened to him. They had all the clarity they thought they needed. That's why it's such a surprising twist for them to learn that what they were told was a lie. Moshe has been in Israel this entire time living his own life and starting a new family. It's this absolute gut punch. Maura can't sleep because of it. At first, Ali believes she was waiting up because she was worried about what happened to her. She has a whole tale of adventures to share as well. But nothing can compare to the bombshell news that Maura has. Ali understands that immediately. Once she learns the truth about what's going on, she knows she needs to help her mother get the closure and answers that she deserves. It doesn't take long at all for Ali to discover where Moshe lives. In fact, Maura is surprised that it's just that easy to find a long-lost relative. She didn't know she was searching for her all of these years. And now, Ali can provide her with an exact address in a couple of seconds. Technology kept her away during Maura's time of need. But now, it provides a simple way to connect these long absent parts of the Pfefferman family.

Of course, it's scary to reunite with a long-lost parent. Maura is absolutely terrified. She is seeing her father for the first time in years. She doesn't know what to expect. This has the potential to change everything about her life. Her life is so good at the moment. She's happy and successful. She's excelling at work and happy in her personal life. She has a family that loves her. Sure, she's done harm to her children. But that's been because of her own uncertainty in life. That uncertainty rears its ugly head again here. Ali has the confidence to push ahead in this journey. She's the one walking confidently to the front door and to the pool in the back. Of course, she's still so protective of Maura as well. She's a nice shield to have in this situation. She's a buffer who will make sure to care for Maura no matter what happens. She doesn't know what to expect from her grandfather either. He's clearly successful. But he could also refuse to see Maura for who she truly is. But this meeting needs to happen at some point. They need to rip the bandaid off. When the moment comes, Moshe isn't transphobic. He doesn't quite understand what it means but he's not hateful for what has happened to his American son. Instead, it's him being reminded of the past he left behind. He's surprised to see Maura as well. Things are tense but they are allowed to have a conversation.

All of this makes an impact on the viewer because we have the context of this family's history. This story wouldn't have worked earlier in the run of the show. We needed to have the context of Maura's family background. It was first in her struggles to be seen as transgender and not a simple cross-dresser. Then, it was in learning the truth about her family from Germany. Then, it was in seeing the abuse she suffered as a young child by a grandfather who was stubborn and very demanding in this family. All of this is reconfirmed in this story about Maura and Moshe meeting for the first time in years. As such, it's easy for the audience to accept why Moshe left his family. He never felt like the man of the house. He wasn't allowed to be the head of the family because Rose's father was always in charge. It was so destructive. But Moshe was able to escape from it. He was given the opportunity to leave and he did. He journeyed to Israel and became successful as a businessman. He went on to have a new family that provided him with much happiness for many years. This interaction proves that there are so many more relatives of the Pfefferman family across the globe. They have these family members they didn't even know about. It's such an eye-opening experience. Moshe never looked back at the life he left behind. Maura didn't question the story that she had been told either. But now, there is the pain of realizing the context of what this lack of a relationship has done.

And finally, Moshe is able to share the truth about Gittel to Maura. Maura has spent her entire life not knowing about Gittel. All she knew is that she had an uncle who chose to stay behind in Germany and died as a result. But the truth about Gershom actually being Gittel is so surprising. It hits Maura even harder than learning that her father is actually alive. It's the secret that she believes could have completely re-conceptualized her entire life. Her family knew that she preferred wearing dresses and playing with dolls growing up. But no one thought to tell her the truth about Gittel. As such, Maura went her entire life believing she was all alone in these feelings. She had no one else to relate to. Her family wasn't a comfort. It was just a burden she needed to put up with. If she knew the truth, she quite possibly could have had the confidence to live as Maura much sooner in her life. The show made peace with the fact that this truth was lost to time. Rose knew about it but was incapable of connecting to Maura in that way once Maura finally came out to her. Rose was already in a nursing home and couldn't really communicate with the rest of the family. She could point at the necklace that has been in the family for generations. The audience understood the power of that gesture while the characters didn't. Everyone had to make peace with that being as good as it could possibly be with this situation. And now, everything has been ripped wide open once more. Maura is forced to question her entire life and the secrets that have been kept from her. She's left spinning. Ali is there for her. But there's also no resolution that can come from all of this. Rose has died. That just makes everything more tragic. Maura knows the truth but has no outlet to actually deal with those feelings. Instead, she'll need the support of her family. But they continue to be obsessed with their own lives and struggles as well as the secrets that have been kept from them.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Cool Guy" was written by Gabe Liedman and directed by Sarah Gavron.
  • Shelly can often be a tragic character because no one wants to relate to her while also being an apprehensive character because she has no filter or sense of boundaries. And yet, it's absolutely thrilling to see her in charge of her own life here. It's hilarious to see her embrace the persona of "Mario" both onstage and off. In fact, it's triumphant to see her eating that enormous hoagie by herself.
  • It's very rewarding to see Josh continue to go to the sex and love addiction meeting. He's the only person in the family who actually takes that seriously. He is reflecting on his own past and how his relationship with Rita at a young age stunted his growth in so many ways. His monologue is very fitting for that self-reflection as well without really being conceited in a dangerous way.
  • However, it's still incredibly problematic that Josh continues to be haunted by the ghost of Rita. It's a fantasy element that doesn't really belong in this very grounded reality. Sure, the show has played with these elements in the past. But it's just so absolutely blatant here without having much purpose whatsoever. It's Josh's guilty conscience speaking to him in a blunt way to hinder his emotional progress.
  • Sarah has already starting blogging about her parenting tips to "let the kids be on top." She's moving very fast on this idea. It appears to still be working for her and Len as well. Of course, the blog and the potential book really aren't the primary focus of this story. It's instead more important to see them delve further into their dynamic with Lila.
  • Speaking of which, that sex scene between Sarah, Len and Lila is equal parts sensual and uncomfortable. That's the way the show wants the audience to feel. Sarah and Lila met at a sex addicts meeting. That sets up the expectation that this could be a disastrous decision. But it's also tied with Lila coming out as a bisexual who loves polyamory relationships. So, everything is lining up with their desires in this situation.

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.