The traumas of our ancestors–their hardships, their psychological issues–live within us in a way that is perhaps too intense and uncanny for us to fully process, least of all for the Pfeffermans, Jill Soloway’s dysfunctional family creation. As the first episode of Transparent‘s second season, “Kina Hora,” commences, eldest Pfefferman daughter Sarah (Amy Landecker) is about to marry her former college girlfriend, Tammy (Melora Hardin), though she suddenly realizes how unappealing that sounds–particularly when she catches a glimpse of a plane touting “webuyuglyhouses.com” passing through her Palm Springs ceremony. Veering on a panic attack as she smashes the glass, Sarah internally questions everything, including why she felt compelled to leave her husband, Len (Rob Huebel), and their children to be with a goy she was really only sleeping with to cope with a momentary crisis that has now begat an entirely new one.
Rabbi Raquel (Kathryn Hahn, Soloway’s muse), however, is soothing enough to point out that while the ceremonial aspect of the wedding has occurred, she still has yet to mail in the signed marriage license, which means Sarah has the option to escape–which she readily does, in spite of the spiral it sends Tammy on not just during the wedding, but for the remainder of the season. Luckily, in terms of deflection, Josh’s (Jay Duplass) mistake in telling Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) about Raquel’s pregnancy spreads to their mother, Shelly (Judith Light), who spreads the news right back to Raquel.
The chaos of Sarah’s wedding sets the tone for the cerebrally fraught calm of the rest of the season, starting with Ali’s non-“heteronormative” relationship with Syd (Carrie Brownstein), a dalliance that ends up hurting the latter when Ali’s attraction to an older professor, Leslie Mackinaw (Cherry Jones)–based on Eileen Myles–at UCLA mars her attachment. As part of her grad school application process, Ali can’t help but subliminally want to impress Leslie with something that stands out. As she begins to think about how to go about writing something personal, thoughts of her family’s past–and the great rift between her father and her aunt, resulting in Maura’s (Jeffrey Tambor) refusal to see Grandma Rose–leads her to stumble upon the term “inherited trauma” while researching at the library with Syd. Most prevalent in Jewish families, this psychological phenomenon begins to explain Soloway’s use of flashbacks to Berlin in 1933 to Ali’s transgender ascendant, Gittel, who butts heads with her and Grandma Rose’s mother, Yetta, about the openness of her identity, which flourishes during the Weimar era; she even attends Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science to find effortless ease in his “transition.”
As Ali intuits the trauma of her bygone generation’s Berlin struggles, Maura grapples with the realization that she can’t settle for Shelly again, even if she does give her the “flicky-flicky thump-thump” in a bathtub scene that’s hot if you’re into corpse sexuality. In fact, it seems as though all the Pfeffermans are working on coming to terms with the extent of their selfishness, possibly inherited from Gittel, a woman who wasn’t going to sacrifice her happiness just to be a man. At every turn, a Pfefferman family member willingly and seemingly easily hurts another in order to ensure his or her own momentary well-being in surrendering to whatever person or pursuit he or she is going after. In Ali’s case, it’s Leslie and grad school (though the desire for Leslie might end up negating grad school), for Maura, it’s unearthing a new woman to love, and possibly getting Davina (Alexandra Billings) to throw over her longtime tranny-chasing boyfriend, for Sarah, it’s finding someone to fulfill a certain sexual fantasy and for Josh, it’s being able to sustain denial in a fashion that dulls the pain of his loss of Mort for the appearance of Maura. Whatever the Pfeffermans need to do to ignore trauma rather than tackle it head on, that’s what they’ll do–they’re still learning that when it’s transgenerational, it’s unavoidable. Especially when you descend from a people that may have had to wear Jew shoes. But maybe they’ll learn by season three that to evade addressing disturbing experiences of the past is to beckon them right to your front door like a FedEx package.