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The season two premiere episode of Transparent opens with a flurry of activity—Sarah (Amy Landecker) is going to marry Tammy (Melora Hardin) who she left her husband for last season. Knowing the emotional track record of the Pfeffermans, we can all but assume that the flurry of wedding activity (pictures, vows, first dance) isn’t going to end well.
A panic attack in the bathroom it is for Sarah. And her marriage is over before it even began.
As season two opens, all of the Pfeffermans are dealing with their own anxieties, relationship problems and growing pains, as depicted at the end of season two's first episode with a breathtaking pan shot peering into the windows of all the Pfeffermans’ respective hotel rooms after Sarah and Tammy’s doomed wedding. It begins to foreshadow where each Pfefferman will be throughout season two: Sarah leaving Tammy, Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) and Shelly (Judith Light) reuniting, Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) seemingly alone and Josh (Jay Duplass) negotiating his relationship with Rabbi Raquel (Kathryn Hahn). After a fight, where Josh has accidentally betrayed Raquel (his gossipy family certainly had a hand in this), and amidst their talk about her trust of Josh and not tallying his fuck ups, he says something to Raquel that encompasses the Pfeffermans as well. “Or that you’re not loveable. You’re loveable. We both are.”
The Pfeffermans aren’t the easiest bunch to love. They are dramatic, selfish, anxious and completely infuriating. But we love them anyway, which is a testament to Jill Soloway’s exquisite family drama. The crown jewel of Amazon’s original programming premiered last fall with an unshakably phenomenal first season, receiving critical acclaim, a slew of awards—including a Golden Globe for Best Comedy Television Series—and the coveted top spot on our 2014 Best of TV list.
The first season introduced us to the Pfefferman family, an upper middle class Jewish family in Los Angeles centered around patriarch Mort, who reveals to his family that he’s transitioning to become a woman named Maura. The Pfeffermans’ lives are upended by Mort’s admission and family secrets begin to spill out amongst daughters Sarah and Ali, son Josh and ex-wife Shelly. The dynamics become far more complicated as the family deals with Mort’s transition, their own sexualities and lives in general.
Season two opens with Maura fully living as Maura, but also again with Shelly, after she’s kicked out of the apartment she had been in. Maura’s beginning to discover that the choices she made as Mort will follow her as Maura. Elsewhere, Sarah’s really, utterly alone (and very stoned) for the first time after blowing up her marriage to Tammy. She’s finally truly figuring herself out. Josh is fully committed to his relationship with Rabbi Raquel and establishing a relationship with Colton, the son he didn’t know he had. And Ali, after much aimless soul searching in the first season, has finally found her path in academia and exploring a relationship with Syd, somehow finding herself to be the most centered Pfefferman of season two.
After monumentally high expectations for season two, it’s relieving to say that it more than delivers, perhaps even surpassing the greatness of season one. It takes some of the more surreal storytelling aspects of the first season (in particular Ali’s fever dream-esque date with a trans man) and tightens those elements up, this time instead of flashing back to Mort’s personal history, going back to show an even earlier family history set in 1930s Berlin throughout the season. We follow Maura’s mother, Rose, and her brother, who is transgender, a tale Ali seemingly serves as the family historian for, the flashback story connected to her academic journey. Balancing that with the current day stories of the Pfeffermans is ambitious and bold, and Soloway executes it perfectly.
The second season is infused with a tension that everything is going to fall apart, something you couldn’t feel so much in the first. Everyone is either completely unraveled, like Sarah as she discovers an entirely new sense of self (which Amy Landecker crushes), or seemingly finally living the lives they had imagined. Maura’s living openly as herself (a dance scene to Sia’s “Chandelier” is heartbreaking), Josh finally has the family he’s long dreamed of—but that makes it all the more devastating when the other shoe drops.
While the first season established itself as appointment television, season two puts Transparent on an entirely other level—the storytelling feels literary, like you’re reading a great American novel about a fucked up family. It feels like the spiritual successor to HBO’s great family drama Six Feet Under, only with a more nuanced look at sexuality.
While Maura’s journey fully living as a woman continues to be explored well and carefully, Transparent’s further exploration into the fluidity of sexuality feels so revolutionary. As the show depicts a diverse set of relationships, there’s never any belaboring to define them or spell them out as heterosexual, homosexual, or anything else. Sexuality is discussed without shame or judgment.
Much like its characters, Transparent has forged its own unique narrative in the television landscape. It’s an unabashedly queer mecca, full of fucked up, flawed people who rightfully deserve all the attention and love that we give them.