Wednesday, September 27, 2017

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - Josh's Self-Destructive Behavior Forces Shelly to Reveal a Secret in 'Desert Eagle'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 4.08 "Desert Eagle"

Maura yearns to forge a new relationship but finds the connection strained. Ali is drawn to rejoin the family. Out in the vast desert, Josh tries his hand at shooting a gun, leaving Shelly rattled.

At the core of Transparent, there is a desire to understand one's self. This family didn't begin to unlock the mysteries of their lives until Maura came out as transgender. Since then, they have realized the impact of that reality. This has been Maura's truth since the day she was born. And yet, the world she grew up in and the expectations of being a man, husband and father kept her from living her truth for a very long time. She believes she has figured out a lot about her identity over the past few years. She's confidently exploring her body. She's finally comfortable in her own skin. But she's still experimenting and figuring out what she actually likes. So even the people who know her the best are still surprised by the latest developments in her life. She's in a constant pursuit to figure out herself. But the actions or lack thereof of one individual can have a ripple effect that can impact many people. Every member of the Pfefferman family is suffering through internal turmoil. They are trying to cope and figure what will make them happy in their lives. Maura believes she found that peace. But there is still so much trauma to explore amongst this family. They are so involved in each other's lives. But they are incredibly selfish as well. They don't care to actually dig deep in the real conversations unless they are forced to. This can be a very confrontational family. All of these feelings towards each other just build up within themselves until they can't take it anymore. Each of their actions has affected each other. They are still trying to make sense of it four seasons in.

The least effective story in "Desert Eagle" probably belongs to Ali. She's been a major focus of this season so far as she's realizing just how uncomfortable she is in her own body. Her birth is a very crucial development in Maura's backstory. It's the moment where she decided to stop trying to be a woman and just live in the reality of her life with a perfectly happy and healthy family. That's the bargain she made with God. She's only now coming to regret that decision. Meanwhile, Ali has escaped her family during this vacation because she didn't feel comfortable around them. They were annoying her by not taking her needs and opinions seriously. They didn't care to see just how distraught and frustrated she was. Even in her most private moments, she's trying to figure things out. But now, she wakes up realizing that it wasn't a good idea to run away from her family like that. She believes they'll be worried about her. Of course, they aren't really. They figure that she'll continue to do whatever she wants. But Ali feels the pull to at least be a good part of this family. She's cooled down and sees things a little differently. And then, her story becomes chaotic because she gets pulled into a crowded border crossing where she gets separated from her new friend who appears to be getting stopped at the border for unknown reasons. So even when Ali wants to be reunited with her family, it's an ongoing struggle that the world doesn't want her to succeed in. It's all just a little perfunctory and separate from what the episode is truly about.

This has been a significant and meaningful time between Maura and Moshe. She rediscovered this connection that she thought was lost forever. They've been able to connect. Moshe has revealed things about the past that Maura didn't even know about. That has forced her to confront everything that has happened in her life previously. She's once again filled with regrets for silencing the voice in her head telling her that she was a woman when Ali was born. But underneath all of this is a desire to be understood. Maura wants to have an honest and open conversation about her transition with her father. It's a core part of her identity. She has had this conversation with every significant member of her family. They knew her as a man and needed to accept what was going on within her the entire time. That's the conversation Maura wants to have but doesn't have the courage or strength to put it into words. No one from Moshe's family has seemed to have a problem with it. This family reunion has gone well so far. This is still something Maura believes she should do. Moshe left two children behind - a son and a daughter. And now, he has reunited with two daughters. He attributes that to Maura not having a positive male role model in her life. He's fine and understanding of the woman Maura has become. But he fails to understand the true nature of it as well. He believes it's a result of her upbringing and not something that happens biologically within her from the moment she was born.

All of this fosters a conversation about how much the Pfeffermans actually know each other. Maura and Shelly have been divorced for many years. But they are still incredibly close. They believe that they know each other better than they've known anyone else. And yet, this episode proves that that's not exactly true. Maura is able to be comforted by Shelly after Moshe doesn't give her the response she was looking for. She doesn't really know what she was expecting either. This moment just confirmed Moshe's own limited understanding of the situation. That was personally devastating for her in a way that she continues to internalize. It's also apparent that she is struggling more and more to actually express what's actually going on in her life. She was able to tell Ali that she was dating a man with relative ease earlier this season. That was before things got so complicated with the discovery of these long-lost relatives. And now, she struggles to tell Shelly this news. It could perhaps be because the two of them know each other so well. This is something that she has never explored before. She's happy with the man she is dating. It just has the potential to send Shelly spinning. It does exactly that too. It takes her by surprise. It reveals that she may be even more alone in her understanding of the world and her family than she previously thought. That's devastating in its own way.

But this episode is all building to that climatic moment in the desert where Josh fires a gun. It's something that slowly starts to intrigue him over the course of this episode. He forms a connection with Moshe's security guard. It's a kind of male energy that he doesn't have a lot of in his life. The desire is there for him to fire a gun. The opportunity just needs to create itself. It's something that feels very personal and intimate in the moment. Josh is going out there in the desert to fire a gun without telling the rest of the family what's going on. But that gun gives him power. It's a play on toxic masculinity and the complicated dynamics within this own family. He hesitates to drop the weapon as soon as he sees that Shelly is nearby. He points it straight at her. That beat feels like a betrayal to Shelly. It makes her believe that her own children actually want to kill her. It's understandable where Josh is coming from because he does blame his parents just as much as he blames Rita for what happened to him as a teenager. It's not healthy. This moment proves that. His actions almost have deadly consequences. Instead, it forces a violent and loud outburst where Shelly needs to express her true self to her family because they are never going to be genuinely interested in the life she has lived. She tried to get them to see her with her one-woman show last season. That was a triumphant moment. But her family still kept their distance. They didn't want to know the backstory for the pain she was talking about in the show. None of them asked her about her big secret. No one cared to know that she was sexually assaulted when she was 10 years old. No one wants to know how that action has traumatized her throughout her life. She's internalized that pain and loneliness just like the rest of the family has. She's now releasing it. The family cares because they are forced to care. She makes them listen. There's the hope that it'll bring them closer together. But if the past is any indication, it probably won't because they are still very self-involved human beings.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Desert Eagle" was written by Ethan Kuperberg and directed by Andrea Arnold.
  • This episode opens with a very weird dream sequence that shows Sarah living out one of her biggest fears. She has become exactly like her mother. But now, she's also incredibly jealous of Len and Lila's relationship because she seems to please him better than she can. It's all very weird, sudden and jarring. It's also forced in a way that makes it seem like the show has lost the point of it all.
  • Of course, Len's big moment where he declares that Sarah is the most unsatisfied person in the world still rings true. She has put him through so much. The two of them still obviously care about each other. But she's always in pursuit of something more in their relationship. First, it was Tammy. And now, it's Lila. He's fine being with her and just watching TV. She's the one with a problem and refuses to admit it.
  • I've complained this season about the plot device that involves Josh seeing Rita. It's lame and unimaginative. However, I don't have the same problem with Maura talking to the younger and female version of herself. That person has always been a part of her mind. It's how she saw herself for years. She had to give her up in order to have this family. Only now is she realizing what a mistake that was.
  • Did the show need to remind the audience of the trauma Shelly endured in her youth? It's a story that we have been privy to for much longer than the other characters. We knew what she was talking about during her big performance last season. We remember that part of her backstory. It packs a punch to hear her talk about it. But are the visual reminders necessary? I don't know.
  • And again, the power of that final moment comes from the emotion that comes from such a reveal. The family will look at Shelly differently moving forward. They may have more compassion for her. And yet, Ali is absent from it. So, will something be lost in translation when she finally reunites with them and learns what has been happening?

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.