Tuesday, September 26, 2017

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - Ali Questions the Divisions She Sees in the Country in 'I Never Promised You a Promised Land'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 4.06 "I Never Promised You a Promised Land"

The family convenes for an unusual vacation and encounters a tribe of long-lost Pfeffermans. Ali pulls away from the rest of the family as her political convictions drive her to challenge the binary.

The entire Pfefferman family is now all together again in Israel. This show doesn't need the entire family to be together at all times. Even when they are in Los Angeles, they can be worlds apart from one another. But this season especially needed more cohesion. There was a narrative split between what was going on in Israel with Maura and Ali and what was going on in Los Angeles with Sarah, Josh and Shelly. The season has just been more interesting and compelling to watch when it focuses on these characters in this new environment where they learn that they already have deep connections. It was such a shocking development to learn that Maura's father, Moshe, was still alive. And now, the family has grown considerably. All of the Pfeffermans have arrived and they've meant Moshe's other two daughters. It's a huge reunion. One that's incredibly emotional and moving. It's exciting to meet the family they didn't even know they had. But it's also terrifying as well. Maura especially feels intimidated and out-of-place in this world. She feels a strong connection to the history of this place. That's comforting to her in these trying times. But it's also interesting to see how she and Bryna are dealing with all of these new revelations. This family upheaval affects them the most. This is mostly just a vacation to Ali, Sarah, Josh and Sarah. They get to be the tourists exploring this new world. But for Maura and Bryna, this reveal uproots the family history they have always known. It could be a very good thing. But they are still dealing with the awkwardness of it all right now.

Moshe and Bryna's first meeting is a very minor plot point in the overall episode though. She is given a special moment with him. She was abandoned by him as well. He never looked back at the life he could have had with her. It's just as traumatizing for her as it has been for Maura. The two sisters want to rely on each other right now. But this moment is also about Moshe meeting the entire family. He meets Shelly, Sarah, Len and Josh. He comments on how Sarah has the same eyes as Rose did - which is a funny observation given that Gaby Hoffman has played the version of Rose who was actually married to Moshe. It's a nice subtle commentary for those who remember the way the show has casted this world and this family. Moreover, this sit-down meal has the feeling of a nice family reunion. People engage in pleasant conversation and attempt to understand one another. Of course, there are still divisions within this family. Moshe's daughters comment on how Josh resembles a cousin of theirs who actually killed himself. They keep that hidden from him but it's apparent for the audience to listen to. Meanwhile, the rest of this scene is largely just playing catchup for everything that has been happening this season. Sarah talks about blogging and writing a book. Sarah and Ali see Shelly doing her "Mario" persona to no one at all. It's nice and relaxing while also still a little tense as well.

It's most important to see the adult siblings interacting for the first time. Moshe is proud to have his complete family together for the first time. He's proud to talk about what his daughters do for a living. One is a high-ranking member in the finance ministry while the other is a microbiologist. Maura is very accomplished as well. Shelly wants to talk about her accomplishments but Maura is very reluctant to do so. It's such a strange and distant reaction. She is still just absorbing all of this. It's a lot to take in. It's a lot for Bryna as well. It's moving to listen to her tell Maura not to leave her again. The two of them need each other right now as they face all of this. And in the end, the siblings are able to come together again. It's to talk about the complicated story that has kept them apart all of these years. Bryna happens to have a picture of Moshe from when she and Maura were growing up. It's a relic of the past. One that highlights the lifetime of change that has happened leading up to this moment. Moshe looked a lot different. So did Maura. Everyone looks at it with an aching for the choices that were done back then. Those choices have rung out through the generations. They were able to find each other again. But it's with the sadness that comes from missing so much as well. That's a very bittersweet moment that is still very effective.

And then, the episode just goes into pure tourist mode. The show has gotten a lot of great use out of its Israeli locale so far this season. It made sure to visit the places not often seen first. But now, it's telling the more conventional story of traveling to Jerusalem and experiencing all of those sights. It's still very powerful and emotionally resonant with the family. This is them stepping into a part of their history. Sure, they are very irreverent with their commentary about their Jewish faith. They marvel at the beauty of the city. But they also get into debates about the Holocaust and how that created the present-day conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. Meanwhile, Josh is still confused about the story of Jesus Christ's conception and birth. He doesn't feel connected to the uniqueness and beauty of this moment. Maura and Ali are able to touch the wall that Jesus touched and feel connected to it. Meanwhile, the rest of the family is a little disconnected. The same is true about Ali and her changing beliefs about the political state of things in this portion of the world. She's becoming very vocal about things. The rest of the family really don't care at all. It's still just an abstract conversation to them. They have the ignorance of not being affected by it at all. They can talk about the right things to do. But they aren't seeing the world as it truly is. Ali is still just a fresh proponent of the cause. But she's staying up at night thinking about it. That shows how it's deeply affecting her in a profound way.

Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't the only thing on Ali's mind either. She's striving to challenge the distinction between male and female. When the family goes to The Wailing Wall, they are asked to split up because of gender. It's the way that things have always been done. Moshe, Len and Josh go to one side of the wall while Ali, Maura, Sarah, Shelly and Bryna go to another side. The side for the men is significantly larger than the side for the women. Ali notices that right away. Those divisions are all that she sees as well. She can't help but notice the differences between the two sides. For the men, it's quite the party. It's a celebration that Josh and Len are quickly able to get swept up into. For the women, it's more mournful and solemn. The emotion is still very present as Maura and Bryna put their messages into the wall. This is still a significant and moving moment for them. They don't see the divisions. They feel that they belong here and are able to do what they came here to do. But with Ali, she's obsessed with looking over the wall. She even makes the decision to cross over to the men's side. She believes she can get away with that. And it's a little surprising that she does. As soon as she walks over, there is the fear that something bad is about to happen to her. But nothing does. That's a powerful statement. It shows that Ali can belong on both sides. This isn't her crossing because she wants to be seen and accepted as a man. She's not like Maura in that respect. But instead, she doesn't want there to be any divisions or differences amongst the genders. That's something completely new entirely.

Some more thoughts:
  • "I Never Promised You a Promised Land" was written by Bridget Bedard and directed by Jim Frohna.
  • Sarah is very passionate about her new parenting method. Everyone is surprised to hear what she is doing now. It's a bit surprising because they've never seen her as the type of person who would care to write a book about parenting. And yet, it's also important to note that she doesn't quite do a strong job of describing her new method to the rest of the family. She just wants them to read the book.
  • It's still more important that Sarah's story focuses on her relationship with Len and Lila. The three of them are still having sex. But Sarah and Len are together while Lila needs to face time into the act. Even then, it's humorous to watch because the connection keeps going in and out. They are still able to come together in the end. The distance hasn't ripped them apart yet.
  • Of course, Sarah and Len didn't really bother to tell anyone in the family that they are planning on visit Lila's mom during this tourist trip. Everyone is on the bus and Moshe is going over the itinerary. They don't even know what the small village Lila's mom lives in actually is. It's basically an afterthought to Sarah and Len. But since it doesn't happen here, it will probably be more important than they are expecting.
  • Josh is still internalizing a lot of his feelings right now. He's awake at night as well. He and Ali are able to have late night chats like they used to when they were younger. But he's not being honest with her about why he's still awake. Instead, it would seem he actually takes comfort in Rita being there. That's a new development. He's refused to accept that she could possibly be there up to this point.
  • Will Maura and Bryna's new half-sisters continue to appear this season? Or is their relationship with Moshe more important? The half-sisters don't go on the trip to Jerusalem with the rest of the family. It's just the Pfeffermans from Los Angeles and Moshe. He's brought his security expert as well who happens to be a little confrontational with Ali.

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.