Thursday, September 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'Transparent' - The Pfeffermans Share a Moment of Beauty and Understanding in the Dead Sea in 'They is on the Way'

Amazon's Transparent - Episode 4.09 "They is on the Way"

Back in Los Angeles, Davina's stay at the Pfefferman house is rudely interrupted. The Pfeffermans float in the Dead Sea and Ali rushes to meet them but is waylaid at an Israeli checkpoint.

"Desert Eagle" was the big, explosive episode where the family confronts one another and long-held secrets are revealed to truly shake up the family dynamic. And now, everyone is lingering in the aftermath of Shelly's brutal reveal. It's so fascinating to see. It allows "They is on the Way" to be more reflective and emotional. It's the quiet episode of beauty. Big secrets within this family are revealed. The Pfeffermans are still dealing with complex issues of identity. But they are still fundamentally themselves. They are there for each other at times. But they can be selfish and possibly ruin their family dynamics as well. They love being the center of attention in any conversation. Sometimes they can be selfless and help others when they need it the most. But this episode reveals that nothing is going to break this family. Sure, things are awkward now. Shelly is still visibly shaken after Josh pointed a gun at her and she confessed about her sexual assault. Maura wasn't able to get more out of her relationship with the father she thought was long dead. Ali is struggling with her new friend being stopped at the border and unable to help her reunite with her family. But there's a certain amount of peace that washes over the Pfeffermans as they float in the Dead Sea. It's such a moving time for all of them. They are figuring out their lives and what they want. Things are going to remain very chaotic once they return to Los Angeles. But it's nice to see them all united again in the Dead Sea. Except for Ali, of course. She's on her own personal journey that is taking her far away from the rest of the family even though she's going through the same motions as they are.

This excursion to the Dead Sea was the last item on the agenda for the Pfeffermans during this vacation. This is the final destination for their trip. It's taken them a few episodes to get there. But now, they have finally arrived. They arrive with their secrets fully out in the open. Maura has told Shelly about dating a man. Shelly has told the family about what happened to her as a child. Josh has outed Sarah and Len for their polyamorous relationship. Leading up to their arrival at the Dead Sea, things are tense with no one really talking with each other. They are each in their separate corners of the bus. They are physically close but worlds apart because of everything that has happened. That continues when they sit down to eat before floating in the sea. Things are a little less tense there. Bryna and Len discuss the impact of needing to wait after eating to go swimming. It's just a myth. But it's a light story to break the mood for the family. Shelly is still off in her own world though. Moshe and his security guard are no where to be seen. No one is really talking with one another. That's still the case when they ultimate walk into the sea as well. It's rougher than they were expecting. As they walk into the water, their feet ache with pain. It's uncomfortable. But it's necessary in order to get to the joy that comes from floating in the Dead Sea. It's an apt comparison to this season of the show as well. The audience has had to put up with a lot but it's all about to be worth it.

Of course, the Pfeffermans are still scattered when they are in the water as well. Sarah and Len are off in their own world. Josh made it a big deal regarding what they've been doing with Lila. It's a story that has been pretty thin and lame for most of the season. It mostly just occurred in order to stir up drama within the family. But it's nice that even with everyone knowing about it, it's still a story about Sarah and Len discussing things as they relate to their marriage. They had their space and got to be sexually adventurous. But they still want the stability that comes from seeing each other exclusively. They need to figure out how to be okay with that. Meanwhile, it's nice that Maura and Bryna are able to float and talk about what this reunion with their father has meant to them. It has truly rocked their worlds. They see everything differently now. But it doesn't fundamentally change anything about their lives in Los Angeles. It's nice to know that Moshe is alive and they got this time to connect. But he's still the parent who left. And thus, that makes them better parents because they stayed - even though their children have lots of problems that could be blamed on them as well. And finally, Josh and Shelly have a genuine moment of bonding that shows they still love and trust each other. She's scared to get into the water and he is there to literally carry her. She's holding on for dear life and needs that support. In that moment, all of his issues go away and he's there to be the support she needs.

And then, the conversation pivots to Ali. The family still can't believe she is missing this incredible moment. Maura has a better understanding of what's going on with her than the rest of the family. She's informed by the knowledge of her family's history as well. She finally shares with the family that Gittel and Gershom were the same person. She was trans too. That starts the speculation that maybe this is a genetic trait that runs in this family. Of course, it's amusing for Shelly to then think that she could be trans. She sure has enjoyed her "Mario" persona lately. But she's not biologically related to the rest of the family. Maura only says this in order to speculate about what's going on with Ali. She shares that Ali is no longer feeling comfortable in her own body as a woman. She won't go so far as to say that she is trans. But she heavily implies that she is dealing with the same issues that Maura dealt with for her entire life. Of course, it's a very pointed moment because Ali isn't the one coming out with all of these thoughts to her family. She shared them with Maura. And now, Maura is talking with the rest of the family about it. Immediately, Sarah has the realization that Ali could possibly be gender non-binary. She's giddy with the idea that "she" will be becoming "they." But it's also a moment where the family is getting ahead of themselves. This is still a personal journey for Ali. They are perfectly fine with it and are already making jokes about Ali having always been the different one who would be having these thoughts. But it still comes from a place of love and understanding. They are mostly just intrigued by how this will affect their lives.

But the focus needs to remain on Ali. She's not with the rest of the family in the Dead Sea. She was delayed at the border. She never gets a definitive answer as to what happened to her new friend. She ultimately makes the decision to leave him behind. It's not something she wanted to do. But after awhile, it's something she thought she needed to do. There was nothing she could do for him. He was crucial in helping her get this far. Now, all she needs is a taxi to be reunited with her family. She's trying to do the right thing. But even that gets so complicated after awhile. She wants to help these new friends better their lives and escape this political conflict in their country. She wants them to break free from the oppression. But it's all wrapped up in her own identity crisis as well. This is not something that someone else can decide for her. It may help if she has a phrase to help her accept these feelings that she is having. Putting things into the non-binary words could be life-changing for how she sees the world. Her family knows those words and she does not. She doesn't eventually meet them again either. She does make it to the Dead Sea. She is able to float there as well. But it's a journey she takes all by herself. It's bittersweet. It's beautiful for her to be in this location and doing everything the family wanted to do. But it's tragic that she's isolated still. She's on this path all alone. She's figuring things out. She needs to accept things before she is comfortable talking with the rest of her family about it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "They is on the Way" was written by Bridget Bedard and directed by Jill Soloway.
  • There's a flashback to the days of Shelly and Maura dating. It's very much in the 1970s with the long hair on both of them and Shelly still being obsessed with the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. It all culminates in a young Shelly needing to give a dead bird a proper funeral which confirms to Maura that Shelly will be a great mother.
  • That flashback pairs nicely with what's going on in the present as well. She's the nurturing one in the past. And she's the one who needs to be nurtured in the present. It's a nice parallel story even though the flashbacks have been less necessary this season. It shows a new part of the past but doesn't reveal anything new or shocking.
  • The logistics of what's going on in the Pfefferman house in Los Angeles are very weird. The Pfeffermans haven't been gone for too long. This season has largely taken over a week or two. But in that time the people renting the house on AirBNB have changed from a loving family to a mess with the German wife and children leaving the husband behind.
  • And yet, is the guy from AirBNB living in the main house or is Davina? It's all very confusing. It's hindered by the fact that not a lot of the story is actually set in Los Angeles. Those scenes have felt slightly unnecessary after the family went to Israel. It's still easy to sympathize with Davina - especially as she's dealing with this guy who is incredibly threatening and creepy. But it's all very weird and slightly off as well.
  • We probably could speculate on how Lila is going to take the news that Sarah and Len want to focus on their relationship for a little bit. But it's hard to do so because she hasn't been an important character in awhile. She's mostly just a plot device in order to force this conversation between the two of them so that they can be better in the future.

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.