It’s arguably the best episode of Transparent’s second season. When Ali, Sarah and Maura arrive at the 42nd Idyllwild Womyn’s Music Festival, the air is thick with possibility. Women weave through the crowds, some naked, others in combat boots and chokers, swimsuits, hippie dresses and big hats. A whimsical song, “Lesbians in the Forest,” (by Carole Pope, featuring Peaches) serves as the most appropriate introduction to this journey our Pfeffermans are about to take.
After they set up their tent, Ali sparks a joint and takes her top off. Sarah points it out, but Maura is too entranced by the workshop guide—she takes the joint, though. Another band takes to the stage—oh! It’s the Indigo Girls! Now this festival can begin. “Hammer and a Nail” has everyone going wild. Hey, look—it’s creator Jill Soloway in a red shirt bopping and singing along. The scene serves as true, magical documentation of what a festival like this looks and feels like. Throughout this episode, a theme song begins to take hold. “Waiting” by Alice Bowman is a haunting reminder that peaks at different times throughout the 25 minutes.
Maura’s not a fan of the nut loaf. She meets Vicki (Anjelica Huston) in the market area, and Vicki asks Maura if she’s trans. She says, “That is awesome,” perhaps throwing Maura off guard, but she takes the compliment in kind—only Vicki isn’t done with her comment. What she is really saying is, that it’s so cool Maura doesn’t give a shit about the policy. “What policy?” Maura is stunned. Vicki explains the festival policy simply: womyn-born-womyn. Maura excuses herself and a panic attack begins to rise to the surface. She starts to take stock of the people around her, feeling incredibly alone now. Meanwhile, Ali and Sarah are on a walk, as singer Sia makes a cameo, singing and wandering the forest.
Ali stumbles onto Leslie’s poetry reading. Leslie reads from Eileen Myles’ poem, “School of Fish” but it’s represented in this scene as her own, from Leslie’s own book. In the crowd next to Ali, Eileen positioned herself in a prime location to view her poetry being read by Cherry Jones. On Wifey.TV, a channel/brand for women created by Jill Soloway and Rebecca Odes, Eileen writes:
“I could see that Cherry had been listening to recordings of me. It didn’t sound like me but she performed it like me.”
Don’t you just love that? After the reading, Ali makes small talk with Leslie about seeing Bella in the crowd. Well, lookie here. Apparently Leslie and Bella broke things off. Not missing a beat, Leslie asks Ali: “Where’s Syd?” Part of me wants to believe that Leslie already feels and knows that Ali and Syd are history, too. Yes, the planets have aligned, but first Ali must find Moppa. Leslie’s flirt face turns cold. She tells Ali that bringing Maura was not the brightest idea she’s ever had. Say what? Ali’s reaction is understandable: “But everyone’s so stoned and relaxed.” But Leslie’s face says it all: Not even weed will change the minds of the women who want the policy upheld here.
Sarah has an interesting run-in with an old friend from elementary school. It’s so worthy, so timely, so crucial to Sarah’s journey—it’s like Jocelyn was just waiting to prance through the forest to deliver Sarah this wake-up message. She says she and her partner left their husbands for each other, and Sarah rejoices. “I’m not the only outcast?” That word doesn’t sit well with Jocelyn. She tells Sarah that nobody cares about what she does. “Lose the poopy face,” she instructs Sarah, “Forgive yourself—move on, man.”
Sarah looks stunned into recognition. Did she have any idea that her third-grade friend in jean capris would give her a few pointers on how to accept and embrace her sexuality? Hell no. She beelines for the Shaman hut, where she finds two crone women with long grey-white hair standing outside ready to anoint her. She takes one look inside, and then something catches her eye back on the path—no big deal, it’s just Jiz Lee walking around a woman on a leash (Jill Soloway again!), spanking her. “I think I have the wrong tent,” should be Sarah’s new mantra.
This policy is eating at Maura. She’s standing in line for the restroom when some men show up in trucks to change-out the port-a-potties. Everything is about to change because of this scene. The women begin shouting: “Man on the land!” Maura asks a dyke dressed up as a clown who calls herself Sherlock what’s going on. She says the men only come to take their shit, and so as not to trigger anyone—the shouting lends itself as a warning. Maura walks out of line, the clown frowns—it’s a striking moment. The drum beats faster.
Around a fire, Ali and Leslie have joined a pack of other women who are waxing philosophical. Ali muses over the safe vibes she feels here. Moppa arrives after spending the last few hours in hopeless search of her kids. As we know, Sarah is occupied over at the B.D.S.M. camp with Jiz Lee, and Maura’s last few encounters have driven her to want to leave. Leslie says hello—but she calls Maura, “Mort.” The other women grow restless in their camping chairs. Leslie tells them to cut Ali and Maura some slack—they didn’t know about the policy.
The conversations are multifarious and heavy, each person’s opinions and positions given their platform. In a recent interview with Slate, series and episode writer Ali Liebegott says:
“The question of the episode is what happens when Maura wants that safe space, too…we were trying to show the complexities of the conversations. I hope that came across.”
And it more than did. It reaches its height when the women discuss being raped, and Maura says, “I didn’t rape you.” Ali makes a joke: “It’s true, she stopped raping a long time ago.” So, if the question of the episode asks: What happens to Maura here, the answer steeps to a deafening ring in this circle of women.
What can this scene teach us about the transgender community and its allies? Now, the women in this circle are peeved. “This is where it gets weird, suddenly the conversation is all around you,” says Sandy (Sandy Martin), perching up with her beer. Maura’s defensive, saying she couldn’t experience male privilege because she was in such pain. Leslie offers that Maura’s pain and privilege are separate. Ali explains she was still reaping the benefits a man’s life—receiving a man’s paycheck, and so on. This rattles Maura. Is it because Ali took a turn to talk? How can she possible continue to sit here when she knows the women feel she’s unworthy of this space?
Ali goes after Maura even though Leslie says, “She’s a big girl,” in the hopes Ali will stay behind. Also, Ali’s red-fringed frock is very “Little Red Riding Hood.” Is it just me or does Ali only wear fringe when she’s prepared to get frisky? Moppa charges toward the campsite, then the road with her belongings, shouting: “Man on the land! Man on the land!” A few women look on, perplexed.
At the same time, a flashback emerges. This one’s the heaviest, hardest and saddest pill to swallow yet. The Gestapo break into the Institute for Sexual Research, ransacking the place for its books and ridiculing Gittel (Hari Nef) and the rest of the people inside for their looks and attire. Gittel is in a beautiful peach kimono. Back in the present, as Moppa continues storming through the forest in search of a way to escape Idyllwild, Ali continues after her. Instead, though, Ali stumbles through what appears to be a mystical, jingling threshold where she sees her great grandmother Yetta walk by. She enters a clearing in the woods where she spots the Gestapo playing from instruments, burning the big pile of books. She spots Rose (Emily Robinson) and walks over to hold her hand. Rose is crying as the Gestapo takes Gittel away in shackles. Gittel looks back at the grandmother-granddaughter pair with love and calm in her eyes.
Whereas women are shamed for craving certain experiences, this episode highlights just how Transparent provides the female gaze as a response to the tired, bullshit standard male-gaze. There are proud naked bodies throughout the episode, Sarah hugging a tree while getting slapped on the ass at the B.D.S.M. camp, and we see Ali return to Leslie’s tent to get it on—finally. What’s going to come of their festival romance when they get back to LA, though? Has Leslie been waiting for this moment just as Ali has? Despite how evolved Leslie is, her actions still feel a little game-like, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s going to flat-out break Ali’s heart.
Where Sarah experiences a level of liberation, and Ali motions for movement, our dear Moppa trudges out of the forest to escape. In every way, all are free. In the end, we reflect on Gittel and Rose and Yetta in Berlin, what could have become of all that glorious research that was burned and destroyed, and we continue telling stories, creating new space and listening to each other.
WHOA, next week is the season finale! Let me know what you thought of this epic second season of Transparent @the_hoff. Check back next Friday for our final recap.