Transparent recap: 'Moppa'
The episode opens with Ali loaded under the courtyard lights, petting her father as she coos,”You finally make sense to me!” She’s a mess—and Hoffman has a terrific time playing someone who’s temporarily left the stratosphere—but giving her dad a response that Maura can’t help but bask under its gaze. She asks, “Daddy, oh my God, what should I call you now?” and whether Mom knows. “I don’t know what Mom knows or doesn’t know,” says Maura. At first listen, it triggered feelings of anger and betrayal; You were married to her, and lived a lie that held her at great length. When I rewatched the episode, it just struck me hopelessly sad; She knew, she chose not to know, they were doomed, and he still had just shame and secrecy as partners.
The episode, and the series, I suppose, continues to revolve around the shame of our secrets and the efforts we go to both cover and reveal our true selves. Josh enjoys a secret bang with Ali’s friend, Syd (Carrie Brownstein) whose taunt that “you need to work out more, I can control you” probably reverberates deep inside him. Afterwards he’s desperate that she keep their rendezvous a secret and the friend promises she’s long kept Pfefferman family secrets. Jay Duplass lost his hipster swag when she brought up the secret of his lecherous babysitter—Rita xoxo. His already pallid face lost color, his body thrummed with a jolt of anxiety. “Uh, if by lecherous you mean rad,” he said, in a reflexive stab at glibness. “You mean every 15-year-old boy’s wet dream.”
Maura’s neighbor performs a makeover on her. The caftans stay, but gone is the sad 50s substitute teacher’s wig. Now she has long extensions that make her look like a stand-in for The Mamas and Papas. (How brilliant too of a drugged-up Ali to settle on ridiculous “Moppa” as her new name for her Dad.) Maura, still saddled with Mort’s clomping walk, flashes back to 1994. He checks into a hotel, egged on by a winky employee who assumes he’s there for a cheap lay. Instead he dresses up in a Liza with a Z number and tenderly reveals himself to Bradley Whitford’s character, Marcy. The reveal is a lovely share between two people who’ve never really been seen by the outside world. Marcy wisely talks her out of the name Daphne Sparkles—who sounds like a Bratz doll—and suggests Maura. The way Tambor’s face lightens at the rightness of it was just lovely.
Meanwhile, Sarah is adrift in a haze of endorphins brought on by Tammy. She’s desperate for some proof that that she’s torpedoed her life for a reason beyond backseat orgasms, but Tammy is dodging her. She meant to tell Barb it was over at couples counseling, but their therapist was late and then Barb was whinging over her sister’s lupus. But Sarah is holding on hard to the fantasy, equating great sex with true romance. “This is love, she, like, made me squirt,” Sarah tells Ali. “That is pee, Sarah,” said Ali. In the best line of the night Sarah waxed gross and elegant: “It smells brackish and clean, like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.” Genius.
Kudos to the casting of Rita, a woman who reeks of havoc. She’s a blowsy woman with rough edges and cold eyes. Now that Josh has learned others knew of their affair, he wants answers. Did his parents know about them? Were they cool with it? He’s mourning the fact that nobody was watching out for him. “They never tried to stop it? Did they discuss it with you?” Rita’s for sure an unreliable witness, so intent is she on maintaining the idea that they were in love and had everyone’s tacit approval. Her nagging that her air conditioning still needed fixing seems like a threat. Poor, poor Josh. The scene of him sitting outside the tobacco shop reminds me of his Dad in front of the magazine store. Alone, alone, alone.
Now that he’s out to his daughters, the Pfefferman girls hit the mall. Moppa gets a makeover and wants all in on the promise of products. Ali, determined to be erased by makeup, so drowning is she by the women in her family, gets a lot of makeup that she can then immediately return for cash. Sarah, determined to win Tammy’s loyalty, gets made up like a roadhouse cocktail waitress. Later in the bathroom, an alarming step for Maura to take into the ladies room, a monster of a woman sees through Maura’s foundation and threatens to call security. The scene struck me as one of the series’ few missteps, too broad and carelessly written. I believe that people in the world will be helplessly cruel to Maura. But this woman was a caricature, as was her sneering daughter and friend.
Back at the Shangri-La Maura is unhinged by the encounter. Her nerves are frayed, and now she has to deal with a neighbor’s raucous party.”There are other people in this fucking world, you know?” she says, banging her orthopedic sandal on their shared balcony partition.”You’re not alone!” But it’s an impotent howl into the void. Who is she really yelling at? Her children? The woman who’s so long lived inside of her and now has demanded to come out? It was a tragic scene, played well by Tambor on a balcony surrounded by thriving, well-nurtured plants.
“Jesus, you look like a punk rock broccoli,” Josh says of his sister, in the second best line of the night. Ali, stripped of her makeup, has also chopped off her hair. Gender, and our cultivation of gender identity, is a mysterious, fluid thing. Josh is bummed about life, about the abortion, and the greater fear that he really is so terrified of being alone with himself. Ali, stressed by keeping her Daddy and sister’s secrets, marooned in transient space at the Los Altos Hotel and Apartments. Brother and sister really need a dance party.