Welcome to The A.V. Club’s Transparent binge-watch. From Friday, December 11 through Sunday, December 13, A.V. Club contributor Shelby Fero will be watching and reviewing every episode of Transparent’s second season. Though she’s working straight through the season, she’ll be taking some breaks, too, posting three reviews on Friday, four reviews on Saturday, and three reviews on Sunday. You can weigh in on this episode here, discuss the whole season on our binge-watching hub page, and track her Pfefferman-addled mindset on Twitter (@shelbyfero).
While, at its anatomy, this show is a progressive and groundbreaking addition to the politics surrounding gender identity, at its heart, Transparent is a show about family. And there is no family-er family, family-ing it up than in the four-minute opening shot of the second season. Even though this is Sarah and Tammy’s big day, we watch as the wedding planner desperately tries to corral our family into frame, each person’s voice adding to the chorus of complaints. It’s a work of art, this dynamic wedding portrait, and skillfully reintroduces us to the Pfeffermans—even those not technically “Pfeffermans” at all.
There’s Ali, young and arrested in angsty development, sullenly declaring it’s “just family” when she has to wait even a few seconds longer for Racquel to join the group; Josh, a little too-good-naturedly brushing it off; Maura, worrying about her looks the way every woman feels compelled to, but perhaps a bit too much when it’s technically Sarah’s day; Shelly, ever the mom, constantly inviting others into the photo warmly while shooting barbs; type-A eldest child Sarah, just wanting this fucking over with… but also, like, let’s lose the binder cause, c’mon, that looks bad and let’s do this thing right, you know?
It’s also a reintroduction to creator Jill Soloway’s ability as a director. As a locked shot, no one person’s paid more attention than the others. There are no close ups; no one’s point of view is perceived more important. Whereas season one arguably focused on Maura’s, née Mort’s, announcement and its effects, this season re-establishes that, in this family, no stone drops without a million ripples. It’s not like this thematic imagery hasn’t been done before, but just as Modern Family’s title sequence reflects its own broader, more exaggeratedly comedic tone, Transparent’s reestablishes the look and feel unique to creator-director-also-writer Soloway’s specific brand of comedy.
And it is some damn good comedy. As the photographer tries his version of “cheese,” incorrectly citing Cindy Lou as the one whose heart grew three sizes, he’s asked for something maybe a little more Jewish. He comes back with: “Oh, sure! Everyone say, ‘I want a little more wiiiiine?!’” After calling Maura “sir,” derails the Pfeff photo—and the photog is rightly scolded—it’s the blonder, much larger, non-Pfefferman family which groups around the couple, ably taking a picture in about five seconds.
After a relentless opening scene, the manic sense of chaos only heightens as Sarah endures a sustained, episode-long panic attack over her nuptials. Here, again, Soloway impresses, delivering an acute visual representation of someone losing their shit. It’s a carousel of white-laced nightmares: Faces zoom in and out, voices grow in volume or slip away; Sarah struggles to blow a piece of hair out of her face as Tammy declares undying love. By the end, no one can blame her for not going through with it. She’s not a villain: We’ve seen her Hell, and don’t wish it on her.
Meanwhile, everyone’s got themselves to worry about. Maura contends with her cruel sister, Ali voices aloud her grad school non-plans, Josh tells Ali tells Shelly tells everyone that Raquel is pregnant, and the beginning of a season long-Weimar Republic flashback storyline makes itself known. But these all fall to the wayside, as the siblings gather around in support of Sarah, bent over in a bathroom stall, hyperventilating and crying over what she’s done.
Watching it on my parents’ couch, surrounded by the people I love but can’t always stand, I couldn’t help but wonder if releasing season two in early December—amidst all the holidays that force us to deal with our respective clans—is itself a sly wink from Soloway; reminding us that hate them or love them or “Ehhh..” them, they’re family.
Most “You Guys Are The Worst” Moments: Sarah’s nervous, waffling questioning over her eyebrows before Shelly’s arrival and offhanded “your eyebrows are too dark.” Josh telling his son, “Hey…these people love you,” without actually saying “*I* love you” (which his son does).
Most “You Guys Are The Best” Moments: Ali quickly distracting Sarah’s kids with flower petal duties after they ask where there father is. Shelly mentioning “I was hopped up on diet pills! That’s why the house was so clean.”
Things I’m Nervous About: Using “at its anatomy” in a pithy turn of phrase is callous. The 1920s flashbacks will be corny or unsatisfying. Ali’s character will keep hitting a little too close to home. I’ve misspelled at least five characters names.