In “Moppa” and “Rollin’” Pfeffermans endure setbacks that all essentially stem from their own character flaws as well as how a binarist, kyriarchical society shapes how people act and think about gender roles and gender expressions.
At the end of “The Letting Go,” the three Pfefferman siblings felt the thrill of new potentials in their lives– with Sarah’s rekindled love for Tammy, Ali’s new relationship with Derek (and possibly also with his roommate Mike), and Josh’s happiness over Kaya’s pregnancy.
Maura, too, was happy to be moving into her new apartment at Shangri-La.
By the end of “Moppa,” however, it became clear to Sarah that Tammy was not going to leave Barb, Derek and Mike had kicked Ali out, and Josh’s stalker tendencies lost him his girlfriendwhile his temper tantrum at his boss cost him his job.
Meanwhile, Maura felt lost and alone after failing to come out to Josh, a terrible incident in a salon bathroom, and her annoyance at being ignored by loud party-goers next door to her apartment.
“Rollin’” begins with Maura and Sarah talking about a range of subjects from breaking up the household—Maura is shocked that no one wants encyclopedias from 1976—to questions about Sarah’s relationship with Tammy, to Maura’s anxiety about coming out to Josh.
Maura, even though she called Josh over, ultimately did not come out to her son. It turns out that Maura’s fears about Josh were seemingly justified when, after smelling Maura’s perfume, Josh assumed that Maura was moving in with a new girlfriend and remarked, “If I can tell by the scent, I’d say she’s about thirty years younger and a bit of a freak, am I right?” Maura could only respond weakly, “She’s not a freak.”
Unnerved by Josh’s attitude, Maura decides to shift her attention to telling Ali. Maura tells Divina about her inability to tell Josh, and Divina reassures Maura that “boys are more difficult” to come out to because they have built up an image of their fathers in their minds that’s harder to let go of than it is for girls.
Divina might be right about the differences in son/daughter reactions, but even she is still trapped in a binarist way of thinking.
Maura herself is still beholden to kyriarchy and binarism, not only in the way that she, even as a woman, still takes up space like a male—as Divina points out in “Moppa,” “Your male privilege is leaking,”—but also in how people in public see her as still being male.
The day after Maura came out to a very high Ali, Maura takes her daughters out to brunch, where they get sucked into getting makeovers together as a family. After the makeovers,, they all make a trip to the women’s restroom where a couple of teenage girls and their jerk of a mother make things miserable for Maura by calling her a “pervert” and saying that Maura was “traumatizing” the teenagers.
Admittedly, Sarah was partially to blame for setting off the incident by calling Maura “dad,” but Sarah more than makes up for that lapse by excoriating the mother by saying “this is my father” and that Maura was a woman who had the right to be in the women’s restroom.
Also, much to Sarah’s credit, in addition to correcting Ali’s persistent misgendering of Maura, Sarah also reminds Ali, who is having a hard time processing the fact that her father is a woman, that “Outing a transperson is an act of violence.” The differing attitudes that Sarah and Ali have towards Maura’s revelations can essentially be summed up in an exchange after the restroom incident:
Ali: Why is he doing this now?
Sarah: Why did he wait so long?
I suspect that Sarah used “he” in this instance as a way to parody Ali’s rather ungenerous and selfish statement.
The whole incident in the restroom shakes Maura to her core. She ends up using a construction site port-a-potty on the way home, and returns to a very loud party going on next door. When she tries to call the manager to complain about the noise, she discovers that the manager is at the party too and retreats insider her apartment in despair.
Even as Maura is struggling with her transition, it turns out that Ali seems to be reevaluating her own gender expression. Her whole purpose in hooking up with Derek in the first place was so she could make her own body “harder” and more muscular. Ali engineered the drug-fueled threesome between herself, Derek, and Mike because she wanted her two male friends to be able to express—so Ali presumed—their sexual desires for each other. Both Derek and Mike freaked out at Ali’s suggestion threw her out of the apartment.
Granted, Ali was well under the influence of a highly potent form of ecstasy when she tried to get Derek and Mike together, but she had told her friend Syd (Carrie Brownstein: Portlandia)—who supplied the drugs—of her intentions for a threesome. Ali probably naively assumed that her own fluid sexuality would be accepted by her partners.
While Derek and Mike’s reactions, no doubt, were mostly meant to further Ali’s plot, their reactions were portrayed as the stereotypical of homophobic African-American male. Yet, Ali seemed to have felt liberated by the rejection to some extent and, after returning the makeup she bought at the makeover, gets a highly androgynous haircut and completely washes all of the makeup off of her face.
Ali is beginning her own transition, and her rather hostile attitude towards her father’s coming out—though Ali does coin the term “Moppa,” in an effort to figure out what to call Maura—more likely as not comes at least in part to her own gender fluidity.
Sarah also finds herself in a liminal state after leaving Len for Tammy. Unfortunately for Sarah, who presumed otherwise, Tammy is not willing to leave her wife and family, so Sarah is left, at least for the moment, without any home except for the empty shell of Maura’s old house. Sarah, like Maura, has shaken the foundations of her old life in an effort to be who she really is and, like Maura, is left in a state of uncertainty because things haven’t gone as planned.
Like his siblings, Josh finds himself bereft of everything stable in his life, but unlike Ali or Sarah, Josh’s situation comes not from a place of growth—or, at least, positive exploration—but from his own kyriarchical attitudes. In addition to his gauche response to Maura’s perfume, Josh’s pursuit of Kaya and his refusal to respect her wishes for privacy illustrates his internalized misogyny.
Josh, in his efforts to find Kaya, interrupts a rehearsal of the band he is supposedly taking care of, prompting Margaux (Clementine Creevy: Jail Bait)—the 17 year old—to call him a “weird, old, sad fellow.” His obsession to find Kaya leads her to have him fired as their manager because she, quite understandably, doesn’t feel safe around him.
Josh, unable to accept his boss Barry’s (Ethan Sandler: The Bourne Supremacy, Crossing Jordan, Meet the Robinsons) offer to manage another band, throws a temper tantrum in the office; whereupon, he is summarily fired.
The final break between Kaya and Josh comes after he comes to her house uninvited, and Kaya tells him that she had him fired and that she had the abortion. Ego bruised, Josh turns to Syd. After they have sex, Syd expresses her disgust at his cavalier attitude towards the relationship that he and Rita (Brett Paesel: The Thin Pink Line, Mr. Show With Bob and David) had when he was 15 and she was 25. Syd points out that Josh’s relationship with Rita was an exploitative one, given that Rita had been the family babysitter, and Syd questions what Josh would think if it the genders of the participants were reversed.
Further demoralized, Josh confronts Rita (after they have sex), asking if his parents knew about them having sex. Rita says that they knew and approved of the relationship. That revelation adds many more layers of hinky to both Rita as a person, and to the nature and quality of the Pfeffermans as parents, especially since they allowed a person with some modicum of power over their children to have an intimate relationship with one of them.
That revelation seems to completely defeat Josh, and he ends up running to Ali, where they dance and find comfort in each other’s company.
Despite all of the disasters—self-inflicted or otherwise—that the Pfeffermans endure during these two episodes, their essential family bonds have not been unduly affected; although, it has been made clear that there are two factions within this family: Sarah/Maura and Josh/Ali.
Where Shelly—as mother and ex-wife—fits into this equation, remains to be seen since she is an unseen presence in these episodes—mostly in the “don’t tell her” way.
“Being Alive is Being Sad:” Stray Observations
- Tigran the Armenian Cabdriver (Jack Topalian: Immigrants, Los, Weeds) functions as Ali’s Magical Person of Color as he takes her home after she is thrown out by Derek. She asks him about his home and family and if he is sad—thus the title of this section.
- Ali apologizes to Tigran about the Armenian Genocide. A sweet sentiment, I suppose, but said in a totally white privilege sort of way.
- In the flashbacks: Maura gets her name in “Moppa,” after she had checked into a hotel to see Mark/Marcy (Bradley Whitford: The West Wing, Cabin in the Woods, Trophy Wife), whom she had met at a bookstore in “Rollin.’” Maura had originally chosen “Daphne Sparkles“, but Marcy felt Maura needed something more elegant, so Marcy chose “Maura” for her.
- Maura’s initial choice of “Daphne Sparkles” for a name and her subsequent acceptance of “Maura” shows her evolution as a person. Marcy’s insight into Maura’s personality allowed Maura to grow and learn more about who she really is.
- Really, another cis male playing a transwoman? I mean Bradley Whitford makes a wonderful Marcy, but surely, they could have found a transwoman to play her? I am disappointed in you, Show. Again.
- The flashback in “Rollin’” shows that Ali and Josh were a team from the beginning as they harass their father from the backseat.
- Again, ace use of music. Of special note, young Sarah in “Rollin’”(Makenna James: Divide & Conquer) listening to “The Ghost In You” by Psychedelic Furs while being ignored by everyone else in the car.