A father comes out to her oldest daughter.

By Karen Valby
September 26, 2014 at 07:42 PM EDT
Beth Dubber/Amazon
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And here Sarah and Tammy thought a Pfefferman family get-together was awkward when the parents announced they were divorcing over Thanksgiving dinner!

In a show built for binging—the action doesn’t cut between credits—we’re right back in the bedroom, where Maura has discovered Sarah and Tammy. Tammy breaks the ice in the kindest possible fashion, saying, “Mort, Mr. Pfefferman, you look awesome.” Meanwhile, Sarah is justifiably flabbergasted. “Dad, what are you wearing?” Jeffrey Tambor’s delivery of his line—”So, there’s something I have to tell you”—made me laugh and want to cry and hide at the same time. Sit for a second and picture living out this moment; imagine the ground-shifting idea, however false, that you might never have known your parent at all. “Are you saying, like, you’re going to start dressing up like a lady all the time?” Not exactly. “All my life I’ve been dressing up as a man,” she says.

It’s so hard to do time shift cutaways; usually, the look is wrong, or the characters feel phony. But Transparent‘s shift to 1989, when Professor Pfefferman retreats to his office and unlocks his drawer, works. He lovingly unwraps a package containing a silk tunic, looking upon it with the fear and tenderness one might reserve for a baby. When someone interrupts his reverie with a loud knock on the door, the spell of what-might-be is broken. “Professor Pfefferman, is it too late?” the girl’s voice wonders. And it is. He ends up trashing the blouse, giving himself as best he can over to the identity of husband, father, man in slacks.

Meanwhile, Josh insists on referring to Glitterish as kids, which is creepy and wonderful; his sense of boundaries seems hopelessly off. Kaya, the one who looks and sounds slightly less like a platinum young Winona Ryder, has to beg off an important meeting with a possible collaborator because she needs to get an abortion. Josh then says what is possibly the single dumbest thing any regrettably pregnant woman has ever heard after delivering the news: “Now I get why you’ve been so fussy lately.” He tries to soothe her, like one would a child grumpy about having to go to a dentist’s appointment—with promises of Coldstone ice cream and some TLC.

Ali has started sleeping with her trainer, of course, though he’s sensibly suggested she practice her squat form while riding him. Forget the Soulmate book; how about a sex video? Just keep workshopping that title, though, because Twerkout.Com isn’t quite there.

Sarah sneaks out of the house (high school!) and whisks Tammy up to some lookout point. The sight of the car seats tossed out on the gravel is great. With the backseats of the wagon splayed, the women bask in afterglow. “I feel like I’m lying in a pool of water,” murmurs Sarah. “Len and I don’t—” “-have sex like that?” Tammy interrupts. “Have sex,” answers Sarah.

Apparently, Tammy and her wife, Barb, are adrift in a dry spell too. One of the best lines of the episode comes later, when a put-out Len and Sarah have to reinstall the car seats. “Why is this soaked?” said Len about a soggy blanket. “Did a CapriSun explode back here?” New favorite euphemism!

At the LGBT center, Maura’s one safe haven in the world, she commiserates with the group over her sloppy coming out. “It was so tragically impromptu, but there you have it. It’s done.” (This about sums up the majority of my life’s most intimate moments.)

NEXT: “Eww to the Holocaust?”

Like in the premiere, the relief of exposure is juxtaposed nicely with a window back into the former Mrs. Pfefferman’s world. Josh and Ali are tasked with bringing their mother her deli order. Ali, pressed by her trainer to exercise more discipline/deprivation, has pinned her gas problems on dairy, so she’s added a tofu schmear to the takeout order. “Mom’s going to freak if you change her standing order,” warned Josh. “I’m not changing it,” said Ali. “I’m adding to it. This is an addition.”

That right there might be the most compassionate possible response to their father’s transitioning. Rare is such a compassionate person in this world, especially from within one’s own family—but that is probably Maura’s greatest wish. These children’s father isn’t gone. There’s just a world more to her than they’ve realized yet. But Ma’s probably had more than enough surprises in her life; she doesn’t need a tofu schmear sprung on her. This is a woman convinced the world is out to do her wrong, given to tender sentiments like, “I could die and be rotting in my casket before anyone notices.” Light is clearly having great fun with this role, without ever letting it drift away from her into caricature.

Buoyed by her daughter’s knowledge, Maura is in a celebratory mood—but everyone in her group is sober and/or off to AA. (LA, people!) Finally, she ends up back at the Shangri-La—a brilliant find by the show’s location scout—with one of its LGBT employees. While sipping wine, Maura examines her new friend’s apartment—the unapologetic femininity of her vanity, the drape and sparkle of clothes hanging in plain sight—as if looking for clues on how a woman lives out loud. Her friend warns Maura that the journey ahead is not for the faint of heart, repeating the words of a friend who warned that within five years of transitioning, not one family member would be speaking to her. “Was your friend right?” Maura asks. “Yep,” she answers. Just then, a siren rings out. “A sweet old queen” has passed, freeing up an apartment at the Shangri-La. And like that, Maura has stumbled into a room of her own.

Back at her mother’s, Sarah is ready to spill to Len. Not about her own business, mind you, but her father’s. After a morning of bickering, Sarah tells Len about finding her father dressed up like a woman. “Well, so the f— what,” says Len, starting off strong. “Your dad’s always been creepy.” Oh Len, you doof.

Ali joins them outside, recklessly ignoring the yelps of a groundsman who warns her of unhinged geese, and tries to tempt them inside with tofu schmears. As a helpless Ed looks on from behind a sliding glass door, the geese attack Ali, who refuses to relinquish her plates of bagels. Would that we had been in the writer’s room when Soloway and team came up with the ridiculous, perfect idea of a family being hilariously set upon by retirement village pond geese. And somehow, the scene of Josh under the fort with his niece, dazzled and reeling from the underwater effect of her dream light, doesn’t feel overplayed. This is a family out to sea, rather like all of ours.

Josh, who inexplicably didn’t pay attention to his mother when she said she turned down their father when he tried to propose to her with a pearl ring, is suddenly drowning in his own need to be a Daddy. He tries to propose to Kaya, painting fantasies of them living off the land in Northern California—a naked baby running free, with his great aunt’s ring, a relic saved at the gas chamber. “I’m pretty sure she died in the Holocaust,” he says, almost bragging. “Eww,” said Kaya. “Eww to what? “The Holocaust?” “Eww to the Holocaust?”

I love everything about this show. And I know it’s suddenly cool to like shows where nobody is likable—but I’m so appreciating that despite these messy people’s many, many flaws, they all mean well deep down.

This half-hour drama by Jill Soloway follows the lives of the Pfefferman family, where nothing is as it seems.
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