“I am not at home in this family. You ridicule me. You bond with each other behind my back. You roll your eyes at me.” Shelly Pfefferman isn’t wrong. Throughout Transparent, her kids and her former spouse have mostly treated her with some combination of pity-filled love and disdain, and she’s swallowed her pride and acted out on occasion, though never with a ton of force. Maybe it’s because she’s one of the show’s only characters who seems occasionally at peace with herself. Maybe it’s because she’s oblivious. Her optimism is treated as something to ridicule, and she’s generally overwhelmed by the opposite, by her family full of cynics.
It’s a delicate trick, writing and portraying a character that’s worthy of both ridicule and love, and it’s a trick that Transparent doesn’t always get credit for—and doesn’t always pull off. In fact, the whole setup for Shelly’s one-woman show felt almost exclusively like comic relief in a season that otherwise skewed darker and more emotionally troubled than the first two. (Maura’s whole arc was particularly unrelenting.)
But Shelly strikes back in “Exciting And New,” by turning “To Shel And Back” into something her family probably expected to cringe through into a triumphant character moment. It was the perfect way to end the season, by giving new life to an occasionally underserved character and by allowing her a moment both to free herself and to provide some uplift to everyone else. It’s notable that Maura stands up to clap first, and that she couldn’t be prouder of her ex-wife. Neither could Ali or Sarah, who are both near tears. It’s a nice bit of redemption for Shelly, and a nice way to help Maura bounce back from her crushing news.
How Shelly ended up in the world-famous Spinnaker Lounge—it’s a real place!—was pretty fabulous as well: The romantic suite that Buzz booked for them, before empowered Shelly kicked him to the curb, was stocked with a piano and a Trevor, a.k.a. “the gay who comes with the room.” The whole thing was a bit over the top and easy for Transparent, but given the brutal flashbacks and disappointments of the season, it was worth the extra suspension of disbelief. Let’s let Shelly have her moment, and let’s let it feel good for everyone.
Well, almost everyone: Josh was dealt blow after blow this season, which culminated in a scene that turned from sweet to brutal in the space of a minute. He and Ali share a moment of excitement, riding on the high of Josh’s roulette winnings. But it’s just as quickly all gone—25 grand—right along with Josh’s brief flash of happiness. He’s lost his fiancée; he fucked up another potential relationship in one of the season’s best episodes; his former lover/statutory rapist/baby mama killed herself; and his family is still a mess. He lashes out at Ali in the worst way, saying, “I’m not your fucking boyfriend, you’re my sister. I wanna be normal.” Not in this family, Joshy. I was worried for a minute when he was pouring Rita’s ashes overboard that Josh would just fling himself right along with her.
At least Ali got to share a redemptive moment with Maura, who confides in her daughter that she can’t get the surgeries that she so desperately wants. Maura’s pragmatic side, in one of the episode’s sweetest, cleverest scenes, decides that if she’s not going to end up with the body she desires, she might as well change her look: Maura shopping for “at leisure wear” was both heartbreaking and delightful, as were her incredible blue sneakers. Maura and Ali saying a prayer and getting rid of the Spanx and butt padding was a little bit too neat an ending for Maura’s character this season, but it was a lovely moment just the same.
I’m left to wonder where the show goes from here: “Exciting And New” actually would have made a pretty fantastic series finale, with some characters seeming to find a measure of peace and others left adrift. But I’m glad there’s apparently more story to tell with the f-ed up Pfeffermans.
- Will Maura and Shelly reunite in season four? Maura went from disdain to admiration pretty convincingly in this episode.
- Don’t misgender the ship!
- Did you oldies get the reference the episode title was making? (It’s The Love Boat.)
- “Boca Raton matriarch or hip-hop rapper thingy?”
- The whole Passover seder scene was incredibly well acted, from Jeffrey Tambor’s distant look of shame to Gaby Hoffman’s owning of her outfit and enthusiasm.
- I’ve never been an Alanis fan, but “Hand In My Pocket” sure got me. See you next season.