Transparent season 3 recaps and study guide
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?)
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
Episode 3: “To Sardines and Back”
It’s 1992, and in trudges Shelly’s competition — the family’s new turtle, which (for a brief moment) also earns the name Shelly. Mom-Shelly isn’t having it, but Mort “thinks it’s a great name for a turtle.” Burn. After much bickering, the family agrees on the name Nacho. Over time, Nacho witnesses it all — family discussions over Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, Sarah showing Ali how to smoke weed for the first time, Josh having sex with his babysitter (and future baby-mama), Rita. Eventually, Nacho escapes from his turtle bowl and somehow makes it to the Pfefferman family’s rafters, where we can only assume that he eventually withers away and dies. Right? Wrong.
Cut to Ali in the dentist’s chair (there’s something very jarring about seeing this free-spirit in a clinical, starch-white dentist’s office). She’s anxious about her visit, so an assistant brings her headphones, a blanket, and a side of laughing gas. While under, Ali has a trippy daydream where she’s playing wheel of fortune against Caitlyn Jenner and playwright Ntozake Shange. She walks through a forest completely naked; both she and Caitlyn solve the puzzle — God is a woman.
Meanwhile, Raquel is at synagogue meeting about who will be admitted onto the board. Sarah assumes she’ll clinch the nomination, but she’s unanimously ousted, and not even Buzz can save her (he’s considered too close to the situation to get a vote). They criticize her “dark energy” and claim she “celebrates divorce.” Sarah is rightfully shocked. “You have an enemy at mid-city,” Raquel tells her.
Maura gets a new haircut, complete with clip-on bangs — she looks at least 10 years younger. But she’s not the only one shaving years off her age. Shelly and Buzz arrive at chez Pfefferman to celebrate Maura’s birthday on… wait for it… a motorcycle. And they’re not messing around — they’ve got the leather jackets, the boots, the sunglasses, the…chaps! Yes, this episode is worth watching for many reasons, but particularly to see Buzz in chaps.
Maura arrives to her birthday party with Vicki, and the family is in shock over her new look. “We have the same haircut!” Shelly says. Everyone’s at the party: There are exes (Raquel and Len), grandkids, and Maura’s friends (Davina and Shea, who Josh seems to be particularly taken with). Over birthday cake, Maura announces that one of her wishes is to no longer be called “Moppa.” “I want to move away from flopsy, mopsy, huggable… Maybe you guys want to call me mom?” she asks. The table goes silent. Shelly is pissed and is doing nothing to hide it: “Were you there when Sar-y got her period?… Did you show her how to put a tampon in?” Maura’s second wish: She’d like to start transitioning medically and wants everyone’s support. Buzz, holding onto his claim for nicest human on the planet, tells Maura to “wear it in good health.”
Next on the birthday party agenda is a family game of Sardines. Sarah and Ali hide in a shed and start bickering over Josh. “You f—ing stole him from me the second you were born,” Sarah says. They don’t get very far in their silly argument before they both freak out and realize there’s a live animal in the shed with them. It’s Nacho the turtle, 20 years later! Ali and Sarah bring him to meet the rest of the family, who are all squished in a room together, fully committing to Sardines. Maura stares deep into Nacho’s eyes — just think how much has changed since she last saw him.
Episode 4: “Just the Facts”
Maura is in her doctor’s office, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over her mock-up plastic surgery photos: She’s wrinkle-free! And that neck flab? Gone. But before she can move forward, Maura needs to get a note from her therapist. One problem: She doesn’t have one. Later, while out at night with her friends, Maura shows the group the photos of what she could look like post-surgery. Davina’s boyfriend, Sal, says that in order to get a note from a psychologist, she just needs to follow a script: “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body, and I hate my penis.” Vicki leans in and asks Maura if that’s really true, and Maura says no. Vicki says that she doesn’t hate Maura’s penis, either, and she’s happy to work with whatever she’s got.
After spending the night with Leslie, Ali confesses that she “thinks she cheated” with Aubrey, the TA. “I want you to be jealous,” Ali says, realizing that she might not be able to stay in this relationship if Leslie continues to ignore it in public. They start kissing and ultimately, Ali convinces Leslie to play hooky for the day.
Meanwhile, Sarah is sweating her ass off in spin class. She’s so into it, she even participates — unironically — in the group chant. “Shine bright! Brighter!” she screams among her fellow Lululemon-clad women. After class, Sarah goes up to the instructor, Una, and introduces herself. Turns out, Una is dating Len, Sarah’s ex-husband. “Can I ask you something? What is the attraction? I mean, I get why he likes you, but… Len? He’s like 43.” Una’s 22. Yeah… Coming off the exercise high and into a presumably pretty low, low, Sarah visits her S&M friend and decides she’ll be the dominant this time. It’s all good — after all, Sarah’s the one paying. She slips on high leather boots and a leather mask and cracks the whip, demanding to be called “Boss.” Sarah screams, curses, and completely spirals, ignoring her partner’s safe word.
Josh and Rita watch a video of their son, Colton, giving a sermon. “I just really miss him,” says Rita, caressing Josh’s shoulders. She pulls out an old boom box and plays a song Josh wrote for her as a boy — he quickly shuts the music off. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and you were young, too. But I did want to say… I forgive you,” Josh tells her. Rita gives Josh the cassette and tells him that she doesn’t need it anymore.
Still reeling from being nixed from the synagogue board, Sarah has an idea and becomes completely invigorated — she’ll convert the asbestos-ridden elementary school gym into her very own religious space. It will have votive candles, beanbag chairs, and even… tacos! (Best synagogue ever.) Raquel is into the plan and admits that she’s wanted to do something very similar for years. They agree to name it “Hineni,” which in Hebrew means “Here I am.”
In our last moments of the episode, Josh is home alone, playing the guitar in his living room, surrounded by Chinese takeout containers and pizza boxes. Is he playing the song he wrote for Rita all those years ago? Cut to a melancholy Rita, who’s going up — way up — a mall escalator. She seems to have just left Josh and is still in the same outfit she was wearing with him. When she gets to the top floor, she stands against the railing, looks down… and jumps.
NEXT: Episodes 5 and 6
Episode 5: “Oh Holy Night”
The action is picking up at the halfway mark of this season. Josh is reeling from Rita’s death. He goes through her apartment and sees what she’s left behind: a pharmacy’s worth of antidepressants and not much else. He curls up in her bed and, honestly, everything to do with Josh and Rita is really sad.
Maura comes over and is shocked by the news. Josh, interestingly, first says that Rita tripped but then allows she may have jumped. (How this is a question and not just wishful thinking I do not know.) Josh finally asks Maura the question I have been wanting him to ask since the first season: “Did you know we were having sex back then?” Maura says no. Then adds, “Until the pregnancy, I guess mom and I thought we were paying her to be your best friend.” Wow, that is incredibly messed up. Josh says that even more strongly. Maura agrees. She apologies for being a bad parent and Josh doesn’t forgive her but nods.
Then Maura shocks the hell out of her son by deciding to tear down one of the terrible “California Kitchen” glass walls. When Josh tells her that Jewish men don’t do “demo,” Maura says: “I am a Jewish woman. Jewish women do whatever the f— they want.” Someone please start needlepointing this immediately.
Elsewhere, at the Hineni Shabbat Sarah extravaganza, the gym has actually cleaned up quite nice. Sarah seems happy even if they couldn’t get the taco lady and have to make do with pupusas instead. (This is a long running and amusing joke in this episode.) Len is there and it’s nice to see him and Sarah in such a nice place. Duvid is there, too, and is really annoying especially when he meaningfully tells Maura, all are welcome here. Ugh.
Raquel blanches when she see that Josh is there, but as all the Pfeffermans circle around Josh and hug him and say the wrong thing to him, it’s clear that it’s Raquel he wants. She takes him to a room off the gym and says all the right thing. They hug and when Josh says he wants to live inside the hug, I believe him. But as usual, he pushes too far and ask her to go with him on a drive to Kansas to bring Rita’s ashes to Colton.
Leslie is not fitting in well. She announces her pro-Palestinian politics to a woman selling coffee with Israeli beans and that sure doesn’t go over well. (Also, no matter what side of the argument you find yourself, these conversations never go well.) The bloom is clearly beginning to fall off the rose for Ali. Later, in fact, Leslie falls in a hole — which is amazing! — and while Ali tends to her, Leslie tells her that she’s in love with her. Ever hear the expression “Be careful what you wish for?” That’s what Ali’s face says.
The service begins, and Rabbi Raquel asks if anyone wants to add a blessing, so Maura does the Mourner’s Kaddish for Rita. It’s an emotional moment, especially for Raquel who completely breaks down. Is she finally mourning the end of her and Josh? Perhaps, but it’s heartbreaking and Josh gets it and leaves. Interestingly, he leaves to go watch Shea strip… as if his life isn’t nearly complicated enough.
Episode 6: “The Open Road”
I’d like to begin by saying this is maybe one of my favorite episodes from this season. We begin, like this episode’s title, with Josh on the road and… look at that, lovely Shea is in his passenger seat. Josh looks over at his sleeping road trip buddy and looks a little astonished himself. We see that they’ve slept in opposite rooms, so they’re not there yet, but in the car they start to banter and talk, and it seems to be getting increasingly flirty.
Meanwhile, Leslie turns out to be a very needy patient and Ali is not feeling it. She seems kind of desperate to escape, actually. And even though Leslie pleads for her to stay, Ali makes unconvincing excuses to get out of the house, tossing an even more unconvincing “love you” over her shoulder as she practically sprints out the door. She heads first to the mall where she takes the same mall escalators Rita did and seems to come to the right conclusion that Rita didn’t trip.
Shea and Josh stop for the night and end up wandering into an open mic night. They continue to bond and flirt, bond and flirt, and it does appear like they are making a genuine connection. Josh grabs his guitar and sings his Rita song, and he and Shea lock eyes meaningfully. Back on the road, they talk about exes and the difficulties of dating as a transgender person. She schools him about the realities of “bottom surgeries” and how many women end up working as sex workers. But they get off this subject when they spy an abandoned amusement park. They hop the fence and start fa-la-la-la-ing around, having fun.
Josh, who becomes his absolute worst self in this episode, starts things off poorly by telling Shea just how awesome it is she can’t get pregnant. This alone should warn us about how terribly this is all going to go and how little Josh really understands. But they start making out and then later making out more intently. As Josh fumbles with her jeans Shea tells him she needs to tell him something: Her viral load is undetectable, and there is nothing to worry about, but she has to tell him she’s HIV positive. To put it mildly, Josh does not handle this well. He does that dude thing of pretending he wasn’t about to have sex with her, being all “it’s just kissing.” Then he brings up the fact that condoms aren’t always 100 percent. When Shea, rather patiently, explains they could slow things down and he could get a prescription for PrEP, which would also help eliminate the odds, Josh is a straight-up jerk. He basically scoffs at the idea that they could be anything long-term and implies he was just looking for some fun. He also charmingly implies he’s paid for Shea’s company.
Shea, bless her, lets him have it. “I am not your adventure, I’m a person,” she screams. And this is a really tough moment but good for her. She tells him to grow the f— up and stomps off. He gets her a taxi to take her to the airport and says he’s sorry and that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. We know, Josh. She just sort of eye rolls and gets in the car. I wonder if she’ll tell Maura about all this?
In the other weird story line, Ali is hooked on to the visions she sees while she’s at the dentist. I have a hard time believing anyone wants to go to the dentist but there you are. She goes under the gas again and sees her dentist as God, and a Wheel of Fortune puzzle that tells her she needs to rescue Josh. When she comes to, she tells her dentist everything who is all, whatever, but at the close of the episode we see she decides to go under herself.
NEXT: Episodes 7 and 8
Episode 7: “Life Sucks and Then You Die”
Man, is Josh lost or what? That was the biggest takeaway from this shaggy episode, which had a lot going on.
Maura and Vicki pay Maura’s mother a visit and run into Bryna, who invites them back to her house for some leftover Chinese food. At first, it seems as though the tension between Maura and her sister has softened, but the tension rears its ugly head as they butt heads over frivolous topics.
But things really start to get heated when Vicki starts bonding with Bryna. They have a good laugh when Bryna mistakes Vicki for being trans, and Maura doesn’t appreciate their laughter. Nor does she appreciate it when they start telling her she doesn’t need surgery. By the end of the night, Maura and Vicki’s relationship blows up as Maura is personally offended that Vicki would be nice to his sister and Vicki is upset about Maura always making things about her. And that’s not the only relationship that blows up in the episode.
Raquel and Sarah are working on planning a Seder, but Sarah seems slightly more concerned with making sure Raquel — her brother’s ex whom he clearly still cares very deeply about — sleeps with Duvid. Raquel says no, but later that night she decides to go for it as she imagines Sarah pushing her to do it. Amy Landecker told EW that Sarah turns to Raquel because she wants to be like her, but it seems like Raquel, to some extent, is friends with Sarah because she’s like the little devil on her shoulder who pushes her to embrace the impulses she tries to ignore.
But, it’s bad, Raquel later tells Sarah, who takes Raquel’s trying to open up about the bad hookup as an opportunity to yammer on about her reconnection with Len around “Jewey stuff” and her newfound “spirituality.” Clearly stressed about Josh stuff and this recent hookup, Raquel flips out on Sarah because of her superficial approach to religion. “Can you clarify for me really fast what spirituality is for you, Sarah?” says Raquel. “It’s not changing your mind whenever you feel like it … It’s not following your bliss.” Then, Raquel says she wants nothing to do with the Seder and starts break down. It’s by far one of Kathryn Hahn’s best and most moving performances on this show yet. I want to give her all of the awards.
Meanwhile, Josh finally arrives in Kansas to tell Colton about Rita’s death. He ends up spending time with Colton’s über religious family and even lets them drag him to church to hear him preach in person. There, Colton asks if anyone wants to be saved. Josh raises his hand, walks up to Colton in front of the congregation, and half-heartedly accepts Jesus. It’s a move he makes out of desperation because he’s lost more than ever and looking for something to hold onto, to ground him, and help him figure his s— out.
Transparent understands why the Pfeffermans struggle with religion while at the same time treating how much it means to Raquel in a way that’s respectful, understanding, and serious. The fact that Sarah and Josh are turning to religion in their current states is easy to understand. It’s also easy to understand why Raquel flips out on Sarah, who doesn’t seem to understand why it’s something you don’t dive into lightly, especially around someone who has devoted her life to studying it.
Episode 8: “If I Were a Bell”
Welcome to Transparent season 3’s requisite flashback episode. For the most part this season, we’ve been in the present, but this episode flashes us back to examine Maura and Shelley’s traumatic pasts. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I needed to learn more about Maura’s past — I thought I understood already — but what we were shown was quite affecting. And Shelley’s past was even more so.
In 1958, Younger Maura, Bryna, and their mom, Rose (portrayed by Gabi Hoffman, in an inspired bit of casting that ties back to last season’s themes and flashbacks), are living in California with their grandparents Yetta (Michaela Watkins) and Haim. Maura is having a hard time fitting in because she hates baseball and would rather hang out in their family’s bomb shelter, where she’s free to be herself in her mother’s dresses. Unfortunately, she loses that sanctuary during a drill when her entire family comes down and Haim learns what she’s been doing down there.
“Is Gershon happy?” Haim says to Rose, referring to Tante Gittel. “You make him stop this or you get out of my house.” It’s a thoroughly upsetting scene for obvious reasons. After this incident, Maura takes out her barrettes and later observes her mother leaving the house with a suitcase.
At school the next day, Maura tries to play Red Rover with her sister’s friends, but they won’t let her because she’s a “boy” and Bryna openly mocks her in front of them. “You’re a boy, Maura, no matter how many of mom’s dresses you wear.” Earlier in the episode, Bryna had told Maura she didn’t think she was weird and comforted her, so she feels especially betrayed in this moment. Later that day at school, an upset Maura hides behind a wall and throws a rock at Bryna’s head — all of which explains why their relationship is so complicated in the present day.
Meanwhile in Brentwood in the same year, Shelley’s music teacher asks her to meet him after school. She think it’s to help her improve as a performer, but he has something far more sinister in mind and we’re left to interpret what actually happened behind closed doors. Young Shelley is traumatized and doesn’t speak or eat for days. Her parents take her to a doctor, but that doesn’t help and her parents can’t seem to understand that she went through something awful that she can’t talk about. (This episode also helped me understand why Shelley is just now getting back into performing.)
Then we move forward to 1967 and see the first time Maura and Shelley meet. At the time, Maura was dating Shelley’s best friend, but their attraction was quite instant. Later on, Maura gets engaged to said friend, but one night at her fiancée’s art gallery presentation, she sneaks off to hook up with Shelley in a janitor’s closet. The show doesn’t necessarily explain what drew them to each other, but you get the sense that underneath it all, they both had deep secrets that they wanted to talk about but couldn’t.
NEXT: Episodes 9 and 10
Episode 9: “Off the Grid”
This episode’s all about stalled transformations: Maura’s physical one is cut short when her doctor advises against surgery because of some potential heart problems while Josh’s spontaneous plans to move to Kansas so he can be with Colton more are canceled when, well, Colton decides he doesn’t actually want to hang out with Josh. And Sarah? Her dominatrix ditches town, leaving her client baffled and craving some S&M.
Maura’s, understandably, pretty upset about her doctor’s orders. Just episodes ago, she was showing off mock-ups of her new, post-surgery self to anyone who would take a look, and now, those mock-ups are probably never going to become reality. Her recent breakup with Vicki doesn’t help matters, so she decides on a (temporary) solution: She’s gonna get trashed and go dancing.
Across the country, Josh is dealing with his problems in a very different way. He’s gone all-out Pretend Christian, and by the time Ali arrives to help him get himself together, he’s ready to buy a house in the neighborhood. Kansas Josh is ready to be Colton’s hip, young dad fulltime.
Colton, though, isn’t ready to play son to him. He very maturely sits Josh down and says that they never actually talked about him moving there. “I’m your dad,” Josh says. “You’re not,” Colton responds as warmly as he can. It’s heartbreaking to see Josh hear this, but Colton isn’t necessarily wrong when he later says that neither of them would be happy with Josh there. It’s easy to denounce the devil at one Sunday service; it’s a lot harder for someone who’s used to a very specific, liberal type of life to move to a very different, conservative world. It was never going to work, and it was incredibly ballsy of Colton to admit that at a time when Josh didn’t have the strength to.
Shelly’s also having to drop some truth bombs: She’s starting to notice Buzzy’s knack for mooching off her after Sarah pointed it out, and it comes to a head when she confronts him about it. He responds by telling her a story about a dead wife: They were married for two decades, then she got cancer and died, and he didn’t think he’d ever be able to find anyone until he met Shelly. Shelly sees right through it, and calls him on it. He made the story up, and Shelly’s not about to cohabitate with a liar. With that, Buzzy gets the boot.
That brings us to Sarah, who’s ready to have her fix… until she gets to Pony’s apartment and finds out that Pony moved to Boulder to work at a candle shop with her brother. I mean, if you had a brother with a candle shop in Boulder, you’d probably do the same, right? Sounds pretty nice.
Later, she’s telling Len about her dilemma — it’s not easy to find a female dominatrix willing to take on female clients, she learns — when he decides to try out the role for himself. He pulls Sarah’s hair and slaps her ass, both to a positive response. But when he ties her wrists together with her belt and mutters something about knowing her better than anyone, she freaks out a little and calls it off. She doesn’t want to mess up with her weirdly harmonious situation with Len, and getting close with him this way is a surefire way to do that.
At the dance club, Maura’s flirting with a dude named Donald, who she’s soon making out with in the bathroom. Then Donald brings out the big guns: “Oh, Maura, you’re so beautiful,” he says, “I want to taste that big cl–.” Maura looks a little uneasy at first as Donald moves his head down, but then we see her mouth turn into a little, pleased smile. That’s one way to deal with a bad day.
Episode 10: “Exciting and New”
When all else fails, go on a cruise with your family. Just kidding! That’s a terrible idea! But it’s what the Pfeffermans do anyway now that Shelly has dumped Buzzy and has no one else to go on the ship with.
Josh says it best when he mutters to Ali, “Keep me away from this family frivolity s— because I can’t deal with it right now.” That appears to be the family’s general sentiment: Maura straight-up ignores Shelly’s attempts to connect over their newfound singledom, while Sarah and Ali are too busy with their own vacation agendas to respond to anything their mom says with more than an eye roll. And Shelly’s not happy about it. Luckily, she has one confidante willing to listen on this trip: Trevor, her personal butler.
See, Buzzy and Shelly were supposed to share a luxurious suite complete with a view of the pool and a white grand piano. When Shelly arrives to this room, she immediately insists that this is too much, she’s going to request a new, smaller one. But Trevor’s not having it: This is Shelly Time, and Shelly deserves all of these luxuries. As he proposes this idea to her, she sips on champagne garnished with a strawberry. Shelly Time isn’t sounding so bad — especially since her kids show no signs of missing her: The morning after the awkward dinner, Ali and Sarah show up to Shelly’s suite, where she tells them to go away. “You guys treated me horribly,” she says. “You treat me horribly most of the time, so why don’t you just go?” She’s not messing around, but Ali and Sarah seem to think she is because they continue treating her the same way they did at dinner. See? This cruise is going great.
Maura’s also having some me-time, buying a gaudy new outfit in one of the ship’s stores. Ali later finds her decked out leaning over the railing and asks what’s up with the new look. The answer she gets probably isn’t the one she was expecting: Maura tells her about how the surgery probably isn’t going to happen, so she’s ditching her Spanx and Shapewear.
“It’s one thing to wear this stuff if you know you’re going to transform into… a new shape,” Maura says wistfully. “But otherwise, it just feels like a costume. It feels like I’m hiding. It feels wrong.”
It’s sad and it’s hard, and Ali responds to the pain she sees in her moppa’s eyes by suggesting they say a prayer. So together, the two lift their arms up, face the ocean, and say goodbye to “these tight, terrible Spanx.” They yell and they laugh — and then they throw those tight, terrible Spanx in the trash.
Also in the trash: $25,000 of Josh’s money. Ali finds him gambling and he lets her bet all his chips, a decision that… does not turn out well for him. This is also sad and hard, but in a completely different way. And also — dude! This is what you get for letting your sister gamble literally thousands of dollars on a whim.
Once Ali finds out how much money those chips represented, she apologizes profusely to a distraught Josh, who finally blows up after days of seemingly repressing all the anger he has about Rita, Colton, and everything else wrong with his life. He tells Ali he’s tired of her, that he wants his own life, his own family, that she needs to go one way and he needs to go another. Instead of pushing Ali away, though, this just inspires her to try to bring them back together. To do that, she forces everyone to gather together for a makeshift Seder that features a plate including vinegar instead of wine and Saltines replacing matzo. Yum!
Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t go well. Josh leaves early on, and Shelly admits that she isn’t “at home in this family.” What begins as a heartbreaking speech turns into a fairly funny bit though when she admits that she never thought anyone would ever believe in her again… until she met Trevor. Trevor, this season’s surprise MVP.
To be fair, Trevor’s pretty cool: Once he found out about Shelly’s one-woman show, he hooked her up with a spot at the ship’s local theater. There, she starts off by talking about how she’s drawn to men with secrets. The women of her family are in the audience, and Sarah and Ali look at Maura, concerned, during this part. But then a beaming Shelly launches into a touching cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket.” She’s in her element. And she’s absolutely killing it.
Josh isn’t watching this all go down because he’s dumping the remainder of Rita’s ashes into the ocean, something that will hopefully help him move forward — whatever that means to him. But if he was watching, he’d probably be tearing up along with the rest of his family: During the performance’s most poignant moment, the piano fades out a bit as Shelly sings, “What it all comes down to is that everything’s going to be quite all right” with optimistic, beautiful conviction.
Transparent doesn’t always make you feel like everything’s gonna be quite all right. Actually, a lot of the time, it makes you feel like everything is awful — just look at everything that’s happened in this season alone. But this final moment, of Shelly making her dreams come true, belting a hit ‘90s song on a boat (sorry, ship) in the middle of the ocean as her proud clan gives their matriarch a standing ovation, feels hopeful and sweet and heartwarming. It doesn’t cancel out this family’s pain — and, man, is there plenty of that — but it reminds us that there are wonderful moments amid that pain, that even the bad doesn’t have to be so bad. Because, as Shelly (and Alanis) would say, what it all comes down to is that everything’s going to be fine, fine, fine.