We open in Maura’s bedroom, right at the moment that ended the pilot: Maura and Sarah staring at each other, each catching the other in a perceived transgression. Tammy breaks the silence, telling Maura that she “look[s] awesome.” Tammy is clearly as shocked as Sarah by Maura’s appearance, but the years she’s spent as an out member of the queer community has equipped her to deal with such surprises with grace.
Sarah has a harder time processing. “Dad, what are you wearing?” she asks. Maura beckons her daughter to sit beside her on the bed, and she stumbles her way through a coming out speech. “When I was a kid,” she begins, “since I was five, I felt that something was not right.” Sarah tries to ask questions, but Maura stops her, pleading, “Let me do this.” Eventually, Sarah’s confusion gets the better of her and she asks, “Are you saying that you’re going to start dressing up like a lady all the time?” to which Maura laughs and replies, “No, honey. All my life…my whole life, I’ve been dressing up like a man. This is me.” It is one of the most subtle and realistic coming out scene I’ve ever witnessed on television. We’ve come a long way from Ellen declaring her lesbianism over an airport terminal PA system.
Maura’s lifelong struggle with gender is illustrated in the next scene, a flashback to 1989, when Professor Mort Pfefferman is teaching political science at a very sterile (read: prestigious) university. He walks into his office, closes the door, sits at his desk, and removes a woman’s blouse from a shopping bag. Moments after he loosens his tie and starts to unbutton his shirt, there’s a knock at the door. He silently waits for the student to leave, but he still doesn’t put on the blouse. It’s too dangerous.
Back in 2014, Tammy and Sarah drive away from Maura’s house in stunned silence. Once again, Tammy breaks the silence. “That was really brave of her,” she says of Maura. Sarah laughs at Tammy’s use of female pronouns to describe her father, but she doesn’t disagree that those are the right pronouns to use. Their celebration of Maura is cut short when Sarah receives a text from Len telling her that Tammy’s daughter Grace and wife Barb are over for that play-date. Busted!
Over at Josh’s, he supplies Glitterish with pizza. Kaya’s in a bad mood, and Josh’s nagging about why she hasn’t rearranged an appointment on her calendar, causing a conflict with their recording schedule, does not help. Reluctantly, she tells Josh that she can’t change her schedule, because she’s having an abortion. Surprise!
Meanwhile, Ali is working out with Derek the trainer. Or is she having sex with him? It’s not totally clear. Oh, wait – that’s because they are simultaneously working out AND having sex! It’s an impressive feat of multitasking. Later, Ali brainstorms names to patent their strategy – Sexicize.com is taken, but Twerkout.com might be available – when roommate Mike comes by. He’s expecting to meet Stephanie, but seems satisfied with Ali, who confidently labels herself as “so much better than Stephanie.” (Let’s take a moment to thank the Lord for Gaby Hoffmann. She is given all of the best lines, and her delivery makes the most of them every single time.)
Tammy and Sarah arrive home, greeted by Len and Barb (a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo from Tig Notaro). Gracie Cashman and Sarah’s kids, Ella and Zack, play on a huge trampoline, because obviously all wealthy Angelenos own trampolines. Len, Barb, and Tammy chat amiably as parents of young children are wont to do, while Sarah stares off into the distance, disappointed that her Len and Tammy universes are colliding.
Kaya confirms that Josh is the father of her fetus. He tells her that he wouldn’t have minded if she’d had sex with other men, since they hadn’t had “the talk,” to which she responds, “Girls don’t need the talk,” a surprisingly gender-essentialist philosophy for a show like Transparent. Josh assures Kaya that he will take care of her with feet-rubbing and Cold Stone ice cream, an offer that successfully convinces the viewer that he is in no way ready to be a parent.
To be honest, Kaya’s pregnancy is the first storyline on Transparent that really doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t feel motivated, and frankly, I find it hard to shake the feeling that the only reason this particular subplot is happening is because it’s become standard for television shows depicting sexually active young women to explore abortion. This isn’t to say that Transparent can’t handle abortion…but this doesn’t feel like the organic moment for it, and I don’t appreciate it being shoehorned in just because. I hope my assessment is proved wrong.
In the middle of the night, Sarah picks up Tammy and they have sex in Sarah’s minivan by an overlook above the twinkling lights of Los Angeles. Tammy challenges them to make the van levitate with their orgasms, and, to their credit, they succeed as much as physics will allow. As they snuggle in the afterglow, Sarah describes the feeling that’s overcome her as if she were “lying in pool of water.” At this point, the jury is out on whether their fuse-blowing sex is the product of an old, intimate bond rekindled, or if it’s simply because Sarah and Tammy are starved for sex in their respective marriages. The truth likely lies in the middle.
Maura returns to the LGBT Center support group, thrilled to report that she finally came out to one of her children. After group, she asks her group-mates one-by-one if they’ll join her in a celebratory drink, but each identifies as sober.
That, right there, is one of the best parts of Transparent’s writing. The show doesn’t gloss over the fact that substance abuse is a real and serious problem in the queer community, nor does it force A Very Special Episode about alcoholism upon the viewers. Instead, through Maura’s interactions with her trans peers, we’re told that “Some trans people don’t drink, and that’s not just a strange coincidence, and you can do your own research if you’re not sure why that might be the case.”
But Maura is not sober, and luckily, she finds a friend in Davina (Alexandra Billings), who proposes the “utterly Parisian” idea of walking to her house for wine and crackers. This marks the first time on the show when we see a trans actress playing a trans woman in a named, speaking role – not bad for episode two.
Len and Sarah bicker and prep the minivan before they leave Ella and Zack at Grandma Shelly’s house so that they can go on date night. Len notices the “pool of water” that Sarah felt the previous night, holding up a towel and remarking, “Why is this soaked? Did a Capri Sun explode back here?” I humbly propose that we all commit to using artificial fruit juices as euphemisms for female ejaculate from now on.
Lest we forget for a moment that the Pfefferman’s are culturally-Jewisher-than-thou, Ali and Josh pick up Shelly’s standing order from Canter’s Deli. Ali adds tofu schmear to the order, since Derek has persuaded her to give up dairy. While they wait for the deli staff to ring up the order, Josh tells Ali about Kaya’s pregnancy and suggests that this is actually not the first time he has impregnated a woman. For all the sex we’ve seen on this show, it’s unclear if anyone’s bothering to use a condom, which could very well be why Josh is fathering so many embryos.
Josh and Ali bring the deli take-out to Shelly’s, where they find Sarah and Len still fighting. After her siblings take the kids inside, Sarah breaks down and tells Len about seeing Maura “dressed as a woman.” Apparently, her reignited queerness was not enough for her to remember that outing people without their consent is never a particularly good idea.
At Davina’s apartment, Maura shares her life story, elaborating on why each of her children fills her with a mix of joy and pain: Sarah is empathetic but anxious; Josh is successful but materialistic; Ali is bright but flighty. Davina senses Maura’s attachment to her children and warns her that she’s “gotta learn to let go of anything anybody thinks.” Being years further along in her transition than Maura, Davina is able to share that her relatives did not stick around on her journey, and she cautions Maura that this could be her fate as well. Their conversation is cut short by the sounds of sirens outside.
While Shelly and Josh prep the guest room for Ella and Zack’s sleepover, Ali admires a large pearl ring. It belonged to Tante Gittel, Grandma Rose’s sister, who may or may not have died in the Treblinka extermination camp. (“Did we really have someone in Treblinka?” Josh wonders, a wink-wink nudge-nudge moment acknowledging that yes, this is the most Jewish television show you’ve ever watched.) It ended up in Shelly’s possession because Maura had tried to propose to her “with that fakakta thing.”
As the legend of Tante Gittel is shared, Len and Sarah keep bickering by the car. Len’s response to Sarah’s news about Maura – “Your dad’s always been creepy” – isn’t successful in endearing him to her. Ali brings them bagels with tofu schmear, leading to a slapstick confrontation with a gaggle of geese that want to devour those capers. While the humor of Transparent is on-point 99% of the time, slapstick is not what these actors do best, so the whole exchange ends up feeling like a scene from a completely different show.
That night, while Len and Sarah go on their date and Ali smokes weed with Derek and Mike, Josh tucks Ella into bed and turns on her DreamLite. The toy produces a visual effect of luminous ripples on the ceiling, of which Ella observes, “You look like you’re underwater, Uncle Joshy.” Kid, if you only knew.
The sirens at Davina’s apartment complex are revealed to belong to an ambulance, which has arrived to take away her deceased neighbor Murray. After the body is gone, Davina takes Maura to his apartment, assuring her that Murray wouldn’t have minded them snooping around. “The last vacancy here went for two grand,” she tells Maura, effectively answering the question of where Maura will move when Sarah takes her house.
Josh shows up at Kaya’s house and tries to convince her not to have the abortion. “Think about all the possibilities!” he tells her. His “possibilities” mostly involve living together in a cabin where they can make music and raise a baby and where Kaya can “get fat,” ideas that sound completely unappealing to the woman bearing the child in question. So, Josh goes a step further and proposes marriage with, you guessed it, Tante Gittel’s ring. Kaya’s reactions are perfect (first “Eww,” followed by, “I mean, no girl wants to get proposed to with a ring that came from the Holocaust”), but they do not bode well for their hypothetical marriage. Personally, while I would probably not say “Eww” to a Holocaust engagement ring, I can’t blame Kaya for not being turned on by Josh’s advances.
Mort of 1989 is not ready to transition into a life lived openly as a woman. He tosses his blouse in the garbage as a sign of defeat. Maura of 2014 is ready to plunge into womanhood, but is she really ready to give up her house? As the episode ends and we watch her gaze lovingly at the home where she raised her family, we are filled with as much uncertainty as she is.