Wednesday, September 27, 2017

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - Ali Struggles With Her Identity and Needs to Escape From Her Family in 'Babar the Borrible'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 4.07 "Babar the Borrible"

Sarah and Len divert a family outing to visit Lila's mom, leading to a blowup between the siblings. Ali breaks off from the group to visit her friend Lyfe in Ramallah while the other Pfeffermans engage in some questionably authentic tourism of desert life.

Transparent is making a strong allegory between Ali's identity crisis and the identity crisis of the Israeli-Palestinian relationships. No, it's not exactly being subtle with these comparisons. But it's a way in for Ali to explore these issues regarding herself. It's a connection that she has quickly formed this season. She's listened to the stories of the people who are apparently on the wrong side of the border. She got to interact with them as people and not as potential adversaries. She saw their humanity. She saw that they just wanted the opportunity to exist as individuals. They didn't want this one issue to define their entire lives. It's tragic and there is very little for them to do to change it. As such, Ali has been very passionate about viewing the West Bank with compassion instead of vitriol. She has respect for the people who have been a part of this land for generations. She's seen the impact they've had on this world. It's a cause that she can identify with. It's given her something to obsess over this season. It may not be a healthy obsession. But it's also forcing her to have a serious conversation with herself. She feels trapped in a world where no one else understands her. She no longer feels comfortable in her own body. Her family can be really insensitive at times. Yes, they've all handled Maura's transition mostly well over the years. It's been freeing for her. But Ali is still confused over her life.

Of course, seeing Maura come out and be the person she has always identified as was a freeing experience for Ali as well. That moment allowed her to experience new things. It allowed her to see that she was attracted to women as well. The world no longer needed to be so rigid with its beliefs. She could be who she wanted to be. However, her relationships with Syd and Leslie weren't healthy. Having sex with Syd ruined their friendship while Leslie was attracted more to the idea of Ali than wanting to form a genuine connection with her. It allowed Leslie to easily cast Ali aside this season. As such, Ali has been in the midst of a new identity crisis. She only sees the world as restrictive at the moment. All she experiences are the things that people aren't allowed to do. It's sickening to her. She sees all of this hate and fighting as disastrous. It's doing immense harm to the humanity of people all around the world. She wishes the world can be more understanding and accepting. And yet, she can't even get her own family to see things differently. They are still in their American bubble about what's truly going on in this world. Their views haven't been changed. Yes, theit horizons have been opened because of this new family connection. But Moshe believes in Israel and doesn't believe it's safe for a woman to travel alone across the border.

All of this is enough for Ali to want to leave her family behind completely. She can't relate to them. She feels like she is all alone in her confusion regarding her own body. Everyone else is too caught up in their own messy lives to really sympathize with her as well. They don't care enough to take her seriously when she is speaking passionately about this cause. Of course, it's also a familiar pattern for her as well. She always gets wrapped up into something very easily and becomes obsessed with it. No one in the family believes that this is any different. They believe she's just in one of her moods and will work her way out of it very shortly. And yes, this is a path the show has explored before with Ali. And yet, there's a sense of something more genuine as well. She's internalized a lot of these feelings and doesn't know what they mean. It's a similar story to what's going on with Josh. His internal struggle has just been externalized in a very lame way. But with Ali, it's effective because there is no easy solution for her to find. She doesn't feel comfortable being a woman. She doesn't believe that she is trans. That's the angle that Maura sees. That's the world that she understands. But it's not as simple as her lifelong struggle to be who she was. She saw herself as a woman. With Ali, she doesn't know if she believes herself to be a man either.

This episode peaks around the halfway point though. That sit down with Ali and Maura is very genuine and compelling to watch. It's a kind of conversation that hasn't really been seen on television before. It's exploring their bodies in a way that's scary and mysterious. Ali doesn't know what she wants. She just knows that she needs to surround herself with people whom she can connect with right now. That isn't her family. As such, it's moving that Maura allows her to leave. It's the right thing to do. It causes tension with the rest of the family. Sarah and Len are the reasons why they crossed the border in the first place. They didn't want to share the reason why they were making this special trip to deliver a gift to Lila's mom. They still wanted a sense of privacy. They wanted to keep this a secret. But it's never really a moment where they are allowed to be happy. They just want to bask in the glow of this new relationship. But instead, it is twisted and made complicated by the rest of the family. The Pfeffermans are very self-obsessed people. They love making their opinions known and butting into each other's business. They want an explanation for why Sarah and Len have brought them here. They want to know what's so important. When the truth finally comes out, it's this explosive moment. It's this big outburst that shakes up the family and leaves them all a little rattled for the remainder of the episode.

The second half of this episode is less enticing and engaging than the first half. It serves almost as a comparison of the adventures that the family is having in this country. Ali has escaped to her friends in Ramallah. It's a simple community but one that has already welcomed her in. She is allowed to relax and just enjoy the simplicity of life. She has formed friendships with these people. She understands the world as they experience it. But even this story eventually takes a turn that embraces Ali's uncomfortableness with her own body. She wants to have sex with Lyfe. She feels that spark of romance between them. It was apparent from the first moment that they interacted. This moment seemed inevitable in the grand scheme of the season. And yet, it's special and unique as well. Lyfe allows Ali to see things differently. At first, it was on the global scale. And now, it's very intimate. Ali never once thought about keeping her bra on during sex. She always believed that her breasts needed to be a part of it. It has always been the expectation from her regular life in Los Angeles. So, she's only more confused and questioning what she truly wants from life. This is an awkward moment in time for her. But she's surrounded by people who are willing to allow her to figure this out. Meanwhile, the rest of the family is off having a somewhat miserable time because of the big confrontation they had. They need to insert themselves into each other's lives. And now, it has created an awkward dynamic in this vacation. They still see the sites throughout the country. But they aren't as happy and fun as they were before. In fact, they are all nervous about what to do next. Maura and Bryna have no problem signing "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar while riding a camel. But everything else feels like a disconnect where no one truly knows how to return to being that fun-loving family on vacation once more.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Babar the Borrible" was written by Ali Liebegott and directed by Gaby Hoffmann.
  • This is Gaby Hoffmann's directorial debut for the show. It's also an episode that is quite pivotal for Ali's personal character arc. She handles those scenes well both as an actress and a director. The story is grand and chaotic when the family is confronting each other. But it's also nice and intimate once Ali and Maura do have the conversation about identity.
  • Speaking of which, I have a sense of what's going on with Ali. But I'm not going to speculate openly until the show puts it into words. As of right now, it's perfectly fine for the show to be cryptic because it plays off of Ali's own insecurities and not knowing how to be comfortable in her own body. It's presenting things differently than other stories of identity from the show.
  • The romance scene between Ali and Lyfe is quite significant and amusing to watch as well. The connection is there. They are acting on it. But it's also empowering to know that Lyfe doesn't want to remove her shirt. That's her preference. She knows exactly what she wants. Of course, it also sets up the expectation that there is possibly something on her body that she's covering up as well.
  • Sarah and Len were never going to be able to pop in on Lila's mom and leave five minutes later. It's what they want to do because the whole family is waiting in the bus below. But it's such an important detour that's quite crucial to the main story as well. To them, it's not a big deal. But it's also humorous to see Shelly and Bryna barge in demanding to be a part of it as well.
  • This has proven to be a season where Josh continues to lash out at other people in order to avoid dealing with his own feelings. He's bottled up a lot of repressed anger. It's intensified more because he's actually seeing Rita in his daily life. But he's focusing on what's going on in his siblings' lives instead of trying to figure out what's going on in his own. That's why he needs to expose what's going on between Sarah, Len and Lila.
  • This is turning out to be a huge season for the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar. Everyone in the Pfefferman family is obsessed with. This is the most Jewish season of the show to date. But it's also amusing that they get all of their information about Jesus Christ from this musical. Of course, they don't remember all of the important details about it either. That's why they need to sing it again.

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.