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Transparent season 2 recaps and study guide

Posted on



TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffmann

Amazon dropped all 10 episodes of Transparent’s second season on Dec. 11. To welcome back the Pfefferman family neurotic Jewish mother Shelly (Judith Light), transgender “moppa” Maura (Jeffrey Tambor), and their three children, Sarah (Amy Landecker), Ali (Gaby Hoffman) and Josh (Jay Duplass) we binged and recapped the whole season. The page numbers correspond to the episode number so you can read along, without spoilers, as you watch.


As I’ve mentioned before, you can tell so much about what’s going to happen this season just by watching that amazing first scene. Sarah and Tammy are getting married, and season 2 opens with them gathering among family and friends to take wedding photos. This unconventional family has only gotten less conventional with time, and everyone’s feeling the strain of pretending to belong to a nice, normal family. Maybe that’s the whole point: It makes the Pfeffermans more relatable. Can any of us really claim that we come from a nice, normal family?

In the photo, neglected children cozy up to their parents: Bianca, the daughter of Tammy’s ex, is forcing a smile to the left of Sarah’s attention-starved kids, who are acting bratty not far from Colton, Josh’s college-aged son. It’s a poignant image, since season 2 explores how parents’ decisions affect their kids, specifically the ways in which Maura’s coming out as a transgender woman has sent her grown children on a never-ending quest to redefine who they are. Remember that Josh just discovered that he was a dad in the season 1 finale. Season 2 finds him coming to terms with this, trying to figure out what role Colton will play in his life now that Rabbi Raquel is carrying his baby.

From the look of that first scene, all the Pfeffermans’ relationships remain uncertain. Josh is holding Raquel tightly from behind while she smiles awkwardly, as if she knows she’s trapped in a situation that’s not quite happily-ever-after. Likewise, Sarah looks miserable at her own wedding, which makes sense, given that the ceremony ends up outlasting the marriage. The only happy-looking couple in the portrait is Maura and Shelly, who are posing like newlyweds themselves, with Maura’s hands resting on Shelly’s shoulders. You might believe, just for a second, that they’re still the same people they were when they first fell in love — until the photographer accidentally calls Maura “sir,” spoiling the fantasy and breaking up the photo session.

They’re a conflicted bunch, these Pfeffermans. But then, that’s also why they understand each other so well. “These are your people,” Josh tells Colton. “They love you no matter what.”

Judging by that gorgeously shot, deeply melancholy final scene, Josh is right — though that devotion sometimes makes them unhappy. Alice Borman’s haunting song “Waiting (PAL Remix)”, which returns at crucial moments throughout the season, plays while the camera pans across the hotel rooms from one conflicted couple to the next. We can see Josh, pleading for Raquel’s forgiveness after betraying her pregnancy to his family. We can see Shelly, pulling Maura into a romantic embrace that’s sweet but also sad, because it looks like she’s forcing romantic feelings that Maura hasn’t shared in a long time. We can see Sarah, officially breaking things off with Tammy. And we can see Ali, stepping out on the balcony to stand beside the ghost of a transgender woman from 1933. (More on that below.) The lyrics sum up each of these twosomes well as they spend the night together, feeling alienated from each other. “Are you coming back?” Boman pleads. “I’m waiting.”

What a beautiful start to another great season. The Pfeffermans might not always earn our sympathy. But they’re our people. We love them no matter what.

Stray observations:

  •  Pay attention to Ali’s hair throughout the season. In the season premiere, she’s rocking some kind of gender-neutral, asymmetrical, deflated pompadour, which seems designed to show the world that she’s not done figuring out her sexuality or gender. Throughout season 2, her hairstyles get even more creative. Like a mood ring perched on her head, they change along with her love interests and her ideals about what a relationship should be like.
  • Halfway through Sarah and Tammy’s wedding, just as the band starts to play “Hava Nagila,” the scene flashes back to Berlin in 1933. We see a room full of dramatically lipsticked cabaret singers, dancers wearing frilly lingerie, and other beautiful people, including the queer actress and writer Mel Shimkovitz, who played a bar mitzvah bartender last season, and the trans actress and model Hari Nef, who plays a major role in season 2. I won’t spoil who Nef’s character is yet, except to say that her story offers an interesting lesson in pre-war transgender history and helps illustrate one of the season’s major themes: That family trauma can be passed down through the generations.
  • Transparent‘s soundtrack has always been fantastic, and this season is no exception. You can listen to many of the songs from both seasons in the playlist I’ve created here.

NEXT: Episode 2