Amazon dropped all 10 episodes of the third season of Transparent on Sept. 23. To welcome the Pfefferman family back (and hopefully help series creator Jill Soloway topple the patriarchy), we’re bingeing and recapping every single episode from the new season. There are two recaps per page, and we’ll be adding as we watch, so feel free to dive in and check back each day.
Episode 1: “Elizah”
If you thought Transparent’s second season — which saw Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) and Vicki (Anjelica Huston) begin a deeply emotional sexual relationship, among other head-spinning developments — delivered the unexpected, then you’ll suffer from some whiplash with the season 3 opener, which sees Maura in bed with Vicki. It’s obvious that Maura’s life is as messy as ever, especially when juxtaposed with scenes featuring Rabbi Raquel (Kathryn Hahn), rehearsing a sermon whose themes lean heavily on personal freedom. “Behind you is your past, everything you came from,” Raquel says, as she hikes through the woods. “What is that? Is that nothing? No. It is stillness.”
The wooded quiet is an interesting contrast to the awkward silence at the kitchen table at Davina’s (Alexandra Billings) house, where Maura has a confession to make. “I’ve got everything I need,” she says, fingering her pashmina. “So why am I so unhappy?”
But there’s no time for additional reflection, as Maura heads to the LGBT suicide hotline call center. It’s all small talk and good intentions at the center until Maura gets her first real call — a desperate plea from a trans teen. During their chat, Maura’s inexperience at dispensing counsel becomes glaringly obvious, and Elizah, feeling frustrated with Maura’s lack of know-how, hangs up. Maura could have — and should have — done more, and hops into her car to the unfamiliar streets of South Central LA to find Elizah. It’s an area of the city previously unexplored by either Maura or the show, and once Maura steps into the clinic, her displacement among the largely black clientele is immediately clear. But she pushes it aside, to pursue her mission. Where is Elizah? A goth bystander directs her to the Slauson Swap Meet — an LA institution Maura’s never heard of — and off she goes, clad in her sweet pastels and sensible sandals, every step among the stalls hawking discounted goods making her discomfort increasingly more pronounced.
Finally, she spots a group of three trans women inside a wig and weave shop. “Estas familia? (Are you family?)” Maura tentatively asks in Spanish. Then, Maura makes a severe misstep when she asks whether they’ve seen someone like Elizah on the streets. The streets? The Latinas are offended — and rightly so. Could it be that Maura — as progressive as she purports to be — is unconsciously holding onto certain biases in keeping with her privileged background? And it gets worse: One of Maura’s shoes breaks (leading to an interaction with guest stars Lena Waith and J.B. Smoove), and she eventually finds herself in a small BBQ joint, where she grabs a Gatorade without having the money to pay for it. For all intents and purposes, Maura is a shoplifter, though the black cashier takes pity on her given her disheveled state.
Would Maura have done the same in her position? We’ll never know, because Maura — who seems increasingly disoriented and incoherent, even when she finally finds Elizah — passes out in the market, and moments later, is rushed away by EMTs. “What’s wrong with me?” Maura asks as she’s wheeled past shelves of baseball caps and cheap wigs. She’s being taken to the local county hospital where someone like her — white, Jewish, and wealthy — would never otherwise dream of being admitted. At any other moment, would Maura recognize herself? A shoplifter, with dirty bare feet, en route to county? At this point, could she be, as Raquel ponders during her hike, “her own Messiah?” It doesn’t seem likely…
Episode 2: “When the Battle Is Over”
Some of Transparent’s best moments to date have been when the secret habits and personal preferences of its characters are revealed, and juxtaposed with the identities they present to their significant others, friends, and relatives. “When the Battle Is Over” is chock-full of such scenes, kicking off with a sequence at the county hospital, where Sarah and Josh’s discomfort with their surroundings is on full display. “It’s like Beirut,” comments Sarah. Ali is the exception, taking it all in like an academic might — which is in keeping with her current status as a TA, though it’s worth noting her position is rather tenuous given that she’s sleeping with Leslie, whose material she’s teaching. Is their relationship something of substance, or an extension of Ali’s introspective exploration? We’re left to feel a bit sorry for her — or are we? — when we learn from the other TAs (oh, hey, Nicole Byer!) that Leslie cherry-picks her “flavors of the month.” Sigh. (Though for the record, did anyone really expect Ali to find her happily ever after so easily?)
Not that her siblings seem to be faring any better. Josh is floundering at work, and Sarah — despite her new interest in becoming involved with the synagogue community — seems to be deep diving into a double life where she’s playing footsie with her live-in ex but getting her S&M kinks elsewhere. Not that anything seems particularly unusual about it in Sarah’s mind, judging by the way she dives into a TMI conversation about sex, millennials, and Jurassic Park to a synagogue board member as matter-of-factly as if she were talking about what kinds of bagels to order for the next get-together.
Judaism was a predominant theme this episode, especially with one scene that saw Shelly find added meaning in her situation with Maura when she gives a talk titled “To Shell and Back” at the temple. Judging by the positive responses she’s received, Shelly is convinced she has a hit on her hands — and maybe even a future gig by way of a one-woman show. “Maybe it isn’t a one-time temple talk,” she tells boyfriend Buzzy. And there’s more: What if the show had a musical component? Buzzy could produce the whole thing, he assures her, and with that, Shelly dives deeper into a comforting delusion from which there might not be a return.
One person who’s living her truth? (Or at least more so than anyone else seems to be on the show?) That’d be Raquel, who no longer seems to have any illusions of what Josh could have been, or was, to her. “I was with somebody, we got close,” she tells the hunky new widowed cantor Duvid. Given the fact that these two have a history — though what exactly it is is hasn’t been divulged yet — is there any chance of a hookup? Sarah’s certainly rooting for it.
It’s hard to tell what the best thing for Maura, Raquel, Sarah, Josh, or Ali to do is — all their situations are so uniquely complicated. In the end though, knowing oneself seems to be key to moving forward. That’s the takeaway for Maura, who acts on Divina’s advice to listen to her body. The last scene sees her taking baby steps to do so, lightly running her manicured hands across her body as she embarks on the difficult process of evolving into the woman she always wanted to be.
NEXT: Episodes 3 and 4