Transparent Season 2 Review: Big Baby Steps

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From its pitch-perfect premiere to its sobering final shot that beautifully pulls everything together, Transparent season two is something of a marvel. This may be an LGBT piece, but the themes of personal identity, growth, and heritage makes this season a portrait of a family everyone can get something out of.

The white wedding premiere perfectly sets the stage for the season to come. As Maura (an as-good-as-you-remember Jeffrey Tambor) continues to settle into herself, she only faces more trials of her new, freer life. What’s sex like? Should she get surgery? What will her mother think? Maura’s story isn’t the most liberating and beautiful this season, it’s also just flat out the best, which wasn’t the case in season one.

Last year, Maura’s children ended up stealing the show a lot of the time. That’s still the case in some episodes, but the storytelling falters with them occasionally, in a way it never does for Maura. In the premiere, Sarah (Amy Landecker, also still fantastic) breaks up with Tammy (Melora Hardin), at their wedding no less. This sets her on a course of sexual self-discovery that, while effective on it own, never manages to carry the same impact as the other characters’ identity crises.

Josh’s (Jay Duplass) story fairs a bit better for at least the first half of the season, as he tries too hard to make his life come together with his pregnant sort-of fiance and his long-lost son. It’s no spoiler to say these things inevitably fall apart, the writing is on the wall in the premiere. But the struggle Josh faces in picking himself up afterward is fairly uneven, ending on a note that just feels forced.

Of the kids, Ali’s (the ever-underrated Gabby Hoffman again showing her talents) seasonal arc works best. We left her at a crossroads when season one ended, as she explored her sexuality. This season, she’s integrating herself into the sometimes toxic lesbian community (as many so-called “gold-star” communities can be). Ali’s journey, paired with Maura’s in the season’s best episode, “Man on the Land,” is Transparent at its most effective and most important. Here, we see how the trans community is further marginalized by the very women they stand next to at Pride parades. Looking did something similar this year, but it was more in the background.

Speaking of the background, this season is laced with the Pfefferman family history, stretching back to the early 1930s, when Nazis hunted the “inferior.” Transparent‘s historical portrayal of the LGBT community is endlessly watchable, even though we see them scattered throughout episodes, frequently for less than a minute. But the last two episodes of the season really ramp it up, bringing this beautiful piece of television to a close in the most poignant of ways.

In the end, Transparent season two is about way more than just self-discovery. It’s about heritage, and how it doesn’t have to define you but it can certainly shape you. There are four generations of Pfeffermans in season two, and they all make the same mistakes as each other, despite how the world changes. Their journeys are far from over, but the steps being taken are significant to our species. In a year full of remarkable television, Transparent still touches upon something inherently human in a way no other show has. This season may not have been perfect, but it was at moments. All while being damn important. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

 

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