Transparent season 2 premiere recap: 5 burning questions
Including: What was going on with that 1933 flashback?
Welcome home, Pfefferman family! Amazon has just made Transparent’s season 2 premiere available for streaming. Our review of the full season appears in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now, and it will soon be available online. We’ll post our official recaps for the full season once the rest of the series is available for streaming on Dec. 11. In the meantime, here are some talking points to discuss while you’re silk screening your Team Maura T-shirt.
1. Can you predict everything that’s going to happen this season just by watching that very first scene? In a way, yes. Sarah and Tammy are getting married, and season 2 opens with them gathering among family and friends to take wedding photos. Judging by who’s included in the picture, it’s clear that 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?
Anyway, 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 her marriage ceremony ends up outlasting the marriage itself. She’s someone who uses romance as an escape from her old life, instead of a way of building a new one, and we’ll see her making that mistake over and over again this season. 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. Soon, we’ll see Maura trying (and sometimes failing) to navigate the new terms of her relationship with Shelly. They’re a conflicted bunch, these Pfeffermans. But then, that’s also why they’re so close. “These are your people,” Josh tells Colton. “Love you no matter what.”
2. What’s going on with that 1933 flashback? 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, except to say that her story line 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.
NEXT: What’s that on top of Ali’s head?
3. What’s happening with Ali’s hair? 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. Ali’s style has always been a point of contention with her family. (“You look like a f—ing punk-rock broccoli!” Josh once told her after an unfortunate haircut.) But 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. They also make for some hilarious insults. “That’s an interesting braid,” Ali’s friend Syd tells her in a different episode. “Did you join a new-wave polygamist cult?”
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4. What was that amazing song that played at the end of the episode? “Waiting (PAL Remix)” by Alice Boman. What a perfect song for that beautiful, melancholy closing scene, where the camera pans across the hotel rooms from one unhappy 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 feels like a reenactment of feelings they haven’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. The lyrics sum up each of these twosomes well as they spend the night together, each feeling totally alone. “Are you coming back?” Boman pleads. “I’m waiting.”
5. Will the Pfeffermans get any less selfish than they were last season? Well, judging by their fights in this episode — each of them accuses the other of making everything “all about you” — we’re guessing the answer is no. But that only makes them more compulsively watchable. They’re our people. Love them no matter what.