The Transparent Season 3 Premiere is a Character Driven Success

Written by David Oliver

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Transparent, ‘Elizah’ PLot Summary:

Maura’s (Jeffrey Tambor) attempt to track down anonymous crisis hotline caller Elizah (Alexandra Grey) takes her to another part of town; Rabbi Raquel (Kathryn Hahn) preps for a Passover sermon.

I had been anticipating the return of Transparent for a solid month or so. It’s a show unlike anything else on TV: All at once heartwarming, harrowing and even hedonistic. I scrolled past early reviews of the season on my Twitter feed, avoiding spoilers left and right and attempting to ignore headlines. When I finally got to watch, I wanted a clear head.

And I’m glad I did. This premiere, much like the seasons before it, hardly relies on plot to move the story forward. In fact, it felt very much like a continuation rather than a premiere. There’s no solid explanation for what’s ensued since we last saw the Pfefferman family, and there doesn’t need to be. Maura tells Davina (Alexandra Billings) about all the good things in her life: Her children are doing great (unclear), she has a gig at the LGBT call center and is excited to learn about this world (naive) and Vicki (Anjelica Huston) loves her. And yet, she’s unhappy.

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The premiere offers a similar character-driven narrative as seasons past as we follow Maura deal with Elizah, an anonymous (or supposed to be, anyway) caller in crisis and her journey to track her down in person to make sure she’s all right. But this premiere is different in that it starts to tackle macro social issues in conjunction with character development. We’re not confined to the same white, wealthy world; though filled with LGBT characters, privilege still seeped out of these characters’ pores like an incurable disease. Elizah asking Maura if she’s even been to South Los Angeles says it all. If anything, it’s like the writers are actively answering calls from the LGBT community to tell a more diverse mix of stories. It’s seemingly not an accident the premiere is called “Elizah,” after this black transgender character.

It’s a decidedly more diverse world than we’ve seen on the series. The show is not afraid to point out its character’s flaws in that arena, either. It’s most evident when Maura asks a group of Latinx transgender women if they know Elizah and asks if they’ve seen her on “the streets.” Maura apologizes, but it’s obviously not OK.

Maura’s privilege strikes again when she grabs a Gatorade without paying for it at a mall restaurant, only to realize she left her purse at the clinic while looking for Elizah. As the cashier is trying to work through the situation with Maura — surprisingly calmly saying Maura can leave the drink and she’ll hold it — Maura sees Elizah in the mall and runs after her.

But before Maura can really talk to Elizah, she almost gets herself arrested (she passes out instead, with Elizah nearby). I’m not immediately clear on exactly why she passed out — either from the manicure fumes or the fact she’s an older woman running around unknown territory. Guess that will have to wait until the next episode.

The episode was framed by an interspersed narrative from Rabbi Raquel, who was working through a Passover sermon. We see her practicing in the synagogue as well as walking through the woods, in addition to a voiceover. It’s the last part of the sermon that really lands:

“You’re waiting for a miracle. You’re waiting for the sea to part. Well that’s an old miracle. So what about this. What if the miracle was you? What if you had to be your own Messiah? Then what?”

I see that as foreshadowing a season of reclaiming one’s agency, and of a show that’s bravely going where it arguably should have gone before.

Rating: 10/10