“You think I was so terrible? I didn’t beat youuu.”
It’s too bad that recaps can’t account for voice inflection, because Shelly’s response to Joshie’s accusations in the opening of “Bulnerable,” is… flawless. She literally tells him, at first, that she forgot he had a kid. Then she defends her decision to keep Colton a secret with the quintessential mom defense: “I didn’t beat youuuu,” et al. We know the Pfefferman kids grew up in a world of privilege, and Shelly’s speech serves as a reminder of how such privilege is often maintained: “I put Colton out of my mind. I put him out of our world.” You can’t be a teen father and a privileged child. Colton did not fit in the narrative Shelly and Maura (then Mort) were creating for their kids, so Colton had to go.
The Colton situation is fascinating, and there’s no one, simple interpretation. In a later scene, Raquel reminds Josh that they wouldn’t be together if he’d been given the chance to raise his son. Josh believes that his life would have been better—that his parents did something egregious and took an important experience away from him. Of course, neither of them are exactly right. Colton isn’t the “answer” to Josh’s problems, nor did Colton’s absence completely “save” him, as his parents hoped it would. And “Bulnerable” finds Raquel and Josh facing another big question of loss.
Or, at least Raquel seems ready to face it, while Josh takes the tragedy of their miscarriage as a good excuse to put a halt on everything. And, again, they’re both sort of right. Raquel is ready for a child; she’s ready to grieve the one she lost and then try again. Josh is not ready, and he almost seems to suggest that there’s some secret blessing here: “We could just take this moment to just breathe for a second.” He acknowledges that there’s been way too much going on in their lives, but he does it at a helluva time.
And speaking of bad timing, how ‘bout that time when Ali showed up at Leslie’s and she was all surrounded by women orgasming on screen AKA doing research? Leslie remains a difficult character to pin down. From the sexy sex stuff, to the jacuzzi invite, it seems like she’s clearly sending those signals to Ali, but Ali ends up sleeping on the couch solo (not unlike Raquel, who’s spending the night in, while Josh goes to an industry thing—obviously the right thing to do during a time like this).
But the episode belonged to Judith Light. She ruins Sarah’s hook-up when she calls her crying, because Sarah’s daughter is apparently a “bully.” Hearing her admit that she only babysits because all of her friends do it for their grandkids is just so awesome. But watching as she put her head in Sarah’s lap, lamenting that the father of her children left her again, was pretty heartbreaking. Transparent delivers so many emotions beautifully, but “Bulnerable,” seems especially concerned with loneliness. The loneliness of watching your kid’s kids, so they can have a life—while yours feels like it’s at a standstill. The loneliness of suffering a tragedy, even when the person who’s supposed to be going through it with you is, physically, right there. And the loneliness of desire—when you’re in the presence of someone you desperately want, or, like Maura, in the presence of two people who want each other (Davina and her boo Sal, who just came home from prison), and could seemingly do without you.
And just because “The Book of Life” reunites much of the Pfefferman clan via Yom Kippur, it doesn’t necessarily veer away from the theme of loneliness. Sarah takes that moment with her mother and decides she’s had an epiphany that she must share with her ex. She goes to ask Tammy for forgiveness, but like a good Pfefferman, begins by making it all about her. See, it wasn’t her fault she mislead Tammy and broke her heart. It was Shelly’s fault. Sarah feels that, because she wasn’t mothered properly, she doesn’t know how to take care of significant others. That’s all very interesting, if you’re not Tammy, so I have to admit—it felt good watching her refuse that apology. The scene also functions as a critique on religious notions of sin and absolution. Just because you feel like you deserve forgiveness, it doesn’t mean that you do. And asking for it (three times or more), isn’t always enough.
Another broken relationship that gets some awkward screen time in “The Book of Life,” is that of Ali and Syd’s. Ugh. Ali, as Syd puts it so perfectly, has “been queer for like 30 seconds,” and she thinks it gives her complete and total freedom to do as she pleases. She legitimately can’t understand why her girlfriend takes issue with her spending the night at Leslie’s. Ali, just. No. This is not how you topple the patriarchy.
In a show like Transparent it’s impossible to pick the “best” scene or the most compelling scene. Josh and Raquel’s official breakup conversation: the best scene of the episode. Josh having a panic attack/existential crisis/moment with his God during the Yom Kippur service: best scene. Shelly and her new boo in the elevator with Maura: the best scene (definitely a personal favorite). And then there was the dinner, wherein Judith Light wins Transparent again. It’s the best scene! Shelly’s insistence that Raquel’s miscarriage was her fault is simultaneously devastating, hilarious and infuriating to witness. These are the scenes that have everyone and their mama calling Jill Soloway a genius, because they encompass everything. Every emotion on the human spectrum, from grief, to anger, to relief, to hunger seemingly permeates this one scene and it’s… well… perfect.
Critic Shane Ryan also made a great point about those shots of the remaining food and dinner plates, which precede Josh’s ravenous meltdown in the grocery store: “does the camera linger on a table full of wasted food to make a point about consumption and our blindness to global problems while we wrestle with demons of our making?” The Pfeffermans consume so much, and leave so much behind. So often it seems they take what they want (which sometimes means taking credit for what they want to), and discard the rest. In so many ways they represent the highs, lows and very privileged world that signifies the American Dream.
Gut Yontif y’all. This show is everything.
No Berlin scenes in this episode; looking forward to returning to those guys.
“Christ, I never wanna see another pussy as long as I live.”
“No, I don’t have herpes. I have a fantasy.” Sarah’s hot mess of a date night, OMG!
Is there a worse band name than Fussypuss? Or, is there a greater band name than Fussypuss? I’m conflicted.
“Oh, you’re talking about that orphanage you were raised in, in the Palisades. Yeah, that was tough.” Loved watching Tammy burn Sarah. #SorryNotSorry she deserved it.
“There’s just this giant chasm of some kind of grief.” I did appreciate the conversation Ali and Leslie had in the jacuzzi. God, there was also a lot going on in that scene.
“Listen to yourself, you’ve been queer for like 30 seconds.” Team Syd.
I vote Davina’s boyfriend for worst ever, but his scenes with Maura are especially smart for highlighting how “normal” he really is. That said, Davina’s speech to Maura (in response to her critique of Sal) is one of the few times when the very real money/privilege issue of the Pfeffermans comes up.
Best Quote of the Episode: “We don’t all have your family. We don’t all have your money. I’m a 53 year-old, ex-prostitute HIV-positive woman with a dick. And I know what I want and I know what I need.”
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor & a film critic at Paste, and a writer for Salon and Heart&Soul. This New York-based freelancer probably has more babies than you, but that’s okay; you can still be friends. She welcomes almost all follows on Twitter.