The Pfefferman clan in 'Transparent' season 2

In the first season of Jill Soloway’s groundbreaking Transparent, we witnessed the first stages of Maura Pfefferman’s (Jeffrey Tambor) social transition. In shedding her life as Mort at the age of 68, Maura and her family spent those initial 10 episodes feeling their way through uncharted, unexpected challenges, each character ultimately facing an identity crisis of their own. While many lauded the series for its truly pioneering representation of LGBT life, there was skepticism over the role Maura was playing in the grand scheme of story, fearing that she was becoming a supporting character in her own coming-out narrative.

Season 2, however, answers those fears. Where one may have worried that Maura would be tasked with the role of moral center in favor of foregrounding the arcs of her self-centered, conflicted children, she instead is plunged into the thick of self-reflection and self-analysis. In seeing the experiences of her trans sisters Divina (Alexandra Billings) and Shea (Trace Lysette) and a confrontation from a radical feminist former colleague (Cherry Jones), Maura must reconcile the woman she is becoming with the (affluent, privileged, white) man she once was. The Caitlyn Jenner parallels speak for themselves, and it is a narrative treated with honesty and respect, in the hands of Tambor at his very best. Through Maura’s season 2 journey, Soloway proves that she has no interest in sentimentalizing her language of trans and queer representation. There is no such thing as a “very special episode” in the world of Transparent, which in itself is part of what makes the show so radical.

Meanwhile, Sarah Pfefferman (an ever-astounding Amy Landecker) must confront the consequences of the whirlwind decisions made in the first season, discovering, questioning, and forgiving herself along the way. Brother Josh (Jay Duplass) continues to reel from the sudden and life-altering revelation of his son’s existence, while trying to maintain a relationship with Rabbi Raquel (Kathryn Hahn), an arc that delves into some of the show’s darkest and most achingly real emotional territory. And Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) who has proven herself Maura’s most direct descendant (though to what end, we are still learning) carries the banner of the season-long examination of the intersection between radical feminism, lesbianism, and trans women. Amidst these present-day personal journeys, we are shown flashbacks into the queer and trans history of the Pfefferman clan, tracking the experiences of Gittel (thank you, Jill Soloway, for introducing Hari Nef to the world) as a member of Magnus Hirschfield’s radical collective that called his Berlin-based Sexual Institute home until it was ransacked by the Nazis in 1933.

Kathryn Hahn and Jay Duplass in the second season of 'Transparent'

While Season 1 was largely contained to the Pfeffermans themselves, season 2 belongs entirely to its guest stars and supporting cast. From the return of Mikaela Watkins and Bradley Whitford to the stunning work of Cherry Jones, Angelica Houston, and the inimitable Kathryn Hahn, season 2 is on the outside looking in at the Pfefferman family, calling them out and folding them in to new worlds and communities, from Ali’s newfound lesbianism to Sarah’s interest in kink/BDSM. Episode 9, “Man on the Land”, is the pinnacle of this, placing gorgeous writing by Ali Liebegott in the hands of a sterling guest cast to create an utterly unprecedented look at history’s treatment of transgenderism, as portrayed through Maura’s experience at a trans-exclusionary Womyn’s Music Festival juxtaposed with the tragic development of her Aunt Gittel’s story. It should be required viewing for every Gender Studies class from this day forward.

Within these ten episodes, the show reaffirms its perspective as one that is queer, feminine, and utterly non-judgemental. Soloway has delivered on her promise to break boundaries of representation both on and off-screen. With a crew that includes at least one transperson in every department, and a conscious decision to have every episode directed by a woman or transperson, Soloway has done something more than simply give us the queerest, most feminist, most Jewish show possibly of all time – she has created a safe space. Its power of inclusivity and empathy extends from the literal production process to the content and finally out into its audience. I feel better when I watch this show. I feel seen, heard, and understood. Had Ali Pfefferman existed on television when I was fourteen, I imagine mine and many other young queer women’s journeys may have been very different.

That said, there is still more territory to be covered, which, given Soloway’s track record of pre-empting criticism, I am confident we will see in coming seasons. Amidst the show’s staggeringly nuanced look at issues within the queer community, its utter lack of racial diversity, specifically in its depiction of the trans community, cannot go un-addressed much longer. At most, there were two women of color portrayed this season, both relegated to small roles with less than 5 lines. Transparent gets so, so much right. Arguably more than any other show that represents LGBT life. But in looking ahead to season 3 and the boundaries that have yet to be broken in its representation, I am eager to see Transparent follow in its heroine Maura’s footsteps and strive to look beyond its own place of privilege. Given what the show has already accomplished, I would feel foolish to place anything less than my full trust in Jill Soloway and her creative team.







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