Transparent, Season 2, Episode 1, “Kina Hora”
Written by Jill Soloway
Directed by Jill Soloway
Released November 30th, 2015 by Amazon
If the first episode of Transparent’s second season is any indication, any critic making a Top 10 list this year needs to wait to do so until watching the full season. The season two premiere instantly quells any concerns of a sophomore slump from creator Jill Soloway and her ensemble, as the Pfefferman clan is as compelling and complicated as ever.
The entire episode takes place at Sarah Pfefferman’s wedding to Tammy, beginning with a four-minute shot of an attempt to take a Pfefferman family photo. It’s a scene with phenomenal repeat value, with something new to discover each time, as the camera never focuses on one character in particular. Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) seems to be given the most to do, as the photographer mistakenly refers to her as sir, but she is off to the side of the shot, more concerned with her hair and the angle of her chin than anything else. Sarah (Amy Landecker) is exasperated, then resigned, a transition that foreshadows her arc for the rest of the episode. Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) correctly observes that none of the photographer’s inane alternatives to just saying “cheese” end in a smile (and come with a dash of slight anti-Semitism, too). Josh (Jay Duplass) dotes on Raquel and his just-discovered nearly-adult son Colton. The biggest laugh comes from Sarah’s son Zack (Zackary Arthur) shouting, “Everyone is being so dramatic!” And Judith Light as Shelly continues her scene-stealing ways from season one.
The opening scene pairs nicely with the closing sequence, a tracking shot of each of the core Pfefferman family viewed from outside their hotel windows. Like in the opening, just a few snippets of dialogue are really heard, but this time as a result of extreme focus instead of a complete lack of focus. The episode ends with a ghostly vision of the still unnamed character played by transgender model and actress Hari Nef seated in the background of a shot of Ali, pensive on the porch. The character had only appeared earlier in the episode in a flashback to a raucous and decadent gathering of queer people in Berlin in 1933. Since Transparent’s best episode, “Best New Girl”, took place almost entirely in flashback, finding out what Soloway has up her sleeve with this new character (or what they symbolize) should be a central—and rewarding—part of the second season.
Soloway both wrote and directed the episode, although it’s worth noting that this season added trans writer Our Lady J as a member of the writers’ room. The script is paced impeccably, lingering on small, impactful moments as only Transparent can do, and the dialogue is as natural as ever, with Raquel and Ali’s description of what a wedding ceremony truly is standing out. Soloway’s direction is top notch, making the episode one of the best in the series, and certainly her best episode aside from “Best New Girl,” for which she won an Emmy. The trippy sequence of Sarah’s death march down the aisle and her reciting her vows is especially impressive, with its inspired cuts to grotesque adoration from the crowd, split-second surreal imagery of Sarah’s internal horror realized externally, and a plane overhead flying the banner “WeBuyUglyHouses.com.”
Tambor, fresh off his Golden Globe and Emmy wins for his portrayal of Maura, does get his moments in the premiere, including a few choice asides at the expense of his bigoted sister. But, like with the entire first season, this episode serves each member of the ensemble equally well. Hoffmann gravitates from seeming acceptance to a return to Ali’s immature ways just like she did so many times in the first season. Kathryn Hahn continues to prove why she’s one of television’s most in-demand supporting actresses with Raquel’s wordless reaction to the pregnancy bombshell dropped by Shelly on the middle of the dance floor. And as Sarah slowly, then suddenly, realizes that she does not want to marry the woman she is literally walking down the aisle toward, Landecker delivers a stunning physical performance, finding different ways to communicate the powerlessness she feels. When Sarah discovers that she is not yet legally married to Tammy, Landecker reverts to childlike relief, repeating, “I’m not married” in a singsong cadence.
The premiere offers a potential roadmap to the season, including that intriguing flashback to Berlin, 1933. There will clearly be fallout from Sarah’s realization that she does not want to marry Tammy. Maura has moved in with Shelly, who has been perhaps the most accepting of the whole family since Maura came out. Raquel is pregnant, so Josh is about to be a father twice over. Maura wants to reconnect with her estranged, wheelchair-bound mother, but will face opposition from her sister. If the second season can live up to its premiere and the season before it, Soloway and her cast and crew will once again have created a necessary, beautiful, and unique piece of television.