So, season one of Transparent ended with a distinct “all the damn vampires” moment.
All of the twists, turns, and drama have lead up to a single exclamation from Maura that is a quintessential summary of the season.
Fittingly, “Why Do We Cover the Mirrors?” ends with the Pfefferman family—plus one new addition—gathered together around the kitchen table following Ed’s funeral/abbreviated Shiva.
Through the season, the major secondary characters have either left the Pfefferman’s lives in some way (Ed, Rita, Raquel, and perhaps Syd), or are permanent fixtures who have been temporarily set aside (Tammy and Ned) as the Pfeffermans, despite themselves, unite once again.
As important as the secondary characters are as people in and of themselves, they also function as mirrors and symbols. For instance, Ed, whom we never hear speak in the narrative present of the show, is representative of the splintering of the Pfefferman family.
After Shelly left Maura and married Ed, he was totally disregarded by the children, save for Ali because she was the youngest and was still harboring a great deal of bitterness at being neglected by her parents, and Ed, with his inappropriate jokes—who says in flashback, “I’m just here to make you happy” —at least seemed willing to engage Ali on some level.
As Ed is dying, Shelly and Maura discuss how to end his life with some dignity—and also because Shelly is mentally and emotionally exhausted from taking care of him.
While the Pfeffermans are talking about what to do about him, Ed recovers from the catatonic state he has been in and, in his last conscious moments, decides to take one last stroll before drowning himself.
Ed, in choosing to remove himself the way he does, retains his agency while at the same time preventing any guilt the family might feel after having euthanized him.
As a result of Ed’s passing, the funeral and the Shiva become the physical and the emotional places where the Pfeffermans can begin to move to the next stages of their lives both as individuals and as a family—especially since the funeral provides Maura the opportunity to present herself—in high style complete with white limo—to the entire family and allows Ali to further explore her growing interest in Judaism as she performs a version of Keriah—the rending of garments—by cutting her tie.
The Shiva, even in its abbreviated form, is another place for Ali to learn about Judaism because she asks Raquel why all of the mirrors in the house should be covered. The subsequent conversation takes place in front of an uncovered mirror as Raquel explains that the ritual is designed to keep people’s minds “free from vanity” and focused on the relationship between G*d and humanity.
However, the conversation quickly turns away from religion when Ali warns Raquel—who is now in a serious relationship with Josh—that Josh is a “love addict” and seeks only emotional dominance and dependence.
Ali quickly turns from student to “teacher” when she warns Raquel about Josh, thus literalizing the mirrored images of the two as they talk.
While the question about the mirrors came from a place of genuine curiosity, Ali’s warning to Raquel—however accurate and seemingly well-intentioned—was likely motivated by her anger at Josh for sleeping with Syd.
Raquel, understandably shaken, breaks things off with Josh after he angrily confronts her about why she was leaving. Raquel did not believe Josh’s pleas that he really loved her and, presumably, ended all personal ties with the Pfeffermans.
Syd, too, was essentially cast out of the family by Ali. After revealing her heartbreak over being taken for granted by Ali, Syd also confesses to having potentially romantic feelings for her. Ali responded first by simply walking out, then, Ali later came to tell Syd that she didn’t have to come to Shiva, which meant that Ali no longer considers Syd to be family.
For a brief time, in fact, Ali exiled herself from her own family after confronting Maura about her cancelled Bat Mitzvah, money, and all of the secrecy in the family—she states that “secrecy is the family religion”.
Maura, who is taken by surprise by Ali’s anger, reveals her own bitterness towards Ali, asking “If I didn’t give you any money, would you even talk to me?”, to which Ali then throws money at Maura and walks out of the house.
Prior to the row between Maura and Ali, Josh not only loses Raquel but finds out that the teenage boy Rita brought to the funeral is his son, whom Josh fathered when he was seventeen.
The boy, Colton, (Alex MacNicoll: Modern Family, The Fosters) wants to know Josh, despite Josh’s warning that “you won’t like me very much”.
It is, in fact, Colton’s Christian prayer at the dinner table which precipitates Maura’s comment of “Oy Gevalt”.
The comfort and familiarity of family ritual also allows Sarah to feel confident in proposing marriage to Tammy, especially after a particularly awkward scene with her ex-husband in the laundry room.
Sarah, while fooling around with Len, realizes her mistake in doing so, whereupon Len yells at her, “Just because you’re from this family, it doesn’t mean, like, you have to act like it”. Len’s bitterness only seemed to reaffirm Sarah’s true feelings for Tammy, and the whole family is conveniently at hand to hear the announcement she makes as they gather at the table.
Even Ali comes back from her brief self-imposed exile, realizing—for better and worse—that she will always be a Pfefferman.
The Pfeffermans, having been reunited, now have a new set of questions to deal with going forward into the next season:
- Will the newly re-established rapport between Maura and Shelly work in the long term? If so, how?
- How will Josh deal with being a father, or will he?
- Will Tammy and Sarah’s marriage work?
- Will Ali reconnect with Syd?
- Can Ali and Maura, whose relationship has really become the fulcrum point of the show, repair the damage done during their blow up?
I wanted you to be a happy lady:
- Syd tells Ali that she is a “vaginal learner” when it comes to exploring her sexuality and gender expression.
- Shelly quips that she and Maura “got gay married before it was fashionable”.
- Tammy forces Sarah to dump the pot that she was smoking for anxiety. As an addict, Tammy can’t have any drugs in the house.
- Tammy is terribly obnoxious throughout these two episodes; at one point, she literally shoved her way into being one of the pallbearers.
- The show continues with its excellent use of music, featuring Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” at the end of “Looking Up”.
- The show also displays a beautiful sense of symmetry as the first episode features Kaya and Margaux singing Jim Croce’s “Operator” for Josh, and the last episode features Bianca and Margaux singing Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” for him.
- Shelly and Maura’s new rapport is strengthened by their mutual anger at their children’s perceived selfishness.
- Shelly’s “See ya, Ed.” seems cold and dismissive, but from what little we saw of his character, he probably would have appreciated the unsentimental nature and dark humor of her last words to him.