The third season of Amazon’s Transparent was made available to stream this past Friday and the Internet has been ablaze with commentary and questions ever since. And for good reason.
The latest season of Transparent is its most interesting and disjointed yet, with each of the Pfeffermans—including bonus Pfefferman Rabbi Raquel—veering off into strange, new territories. A family with few personal boundaries, the Pfefferman clan is in search of their individual meaning and serenity. And they spend the entirety of season three seeking purpose, rebirth, and renewal in all the wrong places.
As the show charts their journeys, it also explores the deeper curiosities of humanity that so many of us find hard to understand. And in so doing, Transparent asks us to question who we are, what the bigger picture is, and whether the life we’re given is truly worth living.
These are the questions the Pfeffermans are constantly asking themselves. Let’s see how each character fared this season:
The season starts off with Maura calling her own happiness into question. While she’s found love with Vicki and recognizes that each of her loved ones accepts who she is, she just can’t find it in herself to be content with what she’s got.
To help fill the void, she volunteers at an LGBT call center where she receives a call from Elizah, a young trans woman in crisis. Desperate to help her, Maura springs into action to find her. What she finds instead is that she, at nearly 70 years old, isn’t where she needs to be health-wise. In her search for Elizah, she collapses and is diagnosed with a bit of heart trouble. It’s this small hitch in her life plan that sets her on a course toward true self-discovery.
Now with an understanding that life is passing her by, Maura has the stark realization that she hasn’t anymore time to waste on being someone she’s not. So, she decides to take the next step in her transition and announces her intention to have gender confirmation surgery.
Through this new journey toward full transition, Maura rids herself of anything that simply doesn’t serve her or her goals. That includes the shame and pain of her childhood as well as her new love Vicki. And in the end, she also sheds the confines of what it means to transition. When she learns later in the season that her heart condition will prevent her from having gender confirmation surgery, she ultimately chooses to love herself for who she is today rather than who she might be post-op.
“I’ve already transitioned. I’m trans,” she says to Ali in the final episode of the season. If there’s a moment that sums up Maura’s season three journey, it would be this one.
In season three, we find Shelly stepping into her own spotlight and truly shining for the first time. She starts off with her own temple talk which evolves into a one-woman show (To Shell and Back) that she and boyfriend Buzz diligently work on throughout the season. For Shelly, the driving force behind this creative effort is to relay her story to other women who might be able to relate to her. As viewers, we’re kept in the dark about what her story is and what about it she needs to express. But in a flashback episode, we learn that Shelly was once a promising young singer who lost her passion to entertain after being abused by a music teacher.
“When I was a young girl, something happened to me that made me stop being who I really was. I stopped growing in every sense of the word,” she explains.
By the end of the season, Shelly rediscovers her strength and her voice–she dumps freeloading Buzz and performs her one-woman show aboard a cruise ship for an enthusiastic audience that includes her family.
Two major events happen for Josh this season. The first is that his ex-lover and mother of his child, Rita, commits suicide. The second is that his son Colton flat out rejects him.
Distraught over Rita’s death (as well as his still-fresh break-up with Raquel), Josh embarks on a road trip to give Colton some of Rita’s ashes. He brings Maura’s friend Shea along and the two develop an attraction that quickly goes awry when Josh discards Shea for not being helping him mask his pain.
By the time he reaches Colton’s neck of the woods, Josh is an emotional mess who is looking for a tiny bit of comfort. Colton, who is just beginning his journey as a preacher, welcomes Josh with open arms. After observing Colton preach at a church service, Josh hastily decides to convert to Christianity as well as buy a home nearby. But both Josh and Colton realize these decisions have been made for all the wrong reasons, and Colton essentially banishes Josh back to California.
These events force Josh to confront his own feeling of belonging. Who is he without Rita and Colton? Who is he without Raquel? There’s a sense throughout the season that Josh doesn’t feel quite at home with the other Pfeffermans. By the last episode of the season, he’s made himself an outcast as he tries to deal with his own emotions.
As always, Ali’s journey this season is anything but linear. Although she’s now a teaching assistant and occupied with her work as well as with her relationship with Leslie, she’s not sure where she’s going. We see her questioning her life choices, especially where Leslie is concerned, and working to rein in members of her family–Josh in particular.
Ali is a character that, despite her own personal uncertainties, is sure of only one thing: that family is perhaps what’s most important. This season, she acts as a support system for most of her clan and displays a strength that belies her upbringing. Oftentimes she’s the Pfefferman with the most clarity. She never accepts things as they are—she is always questioning the world around her. And in searching for meaning in even the smallest of events, she blossoms into one of the more open and vulnerable characters on the show.
Sarah is lost this season and spends each episode looking for the validation and sense of belonging she feels she lacks. She hangs with Rabbi Raquel whom she hopes can help her score a place on the temple board. When that doesn’t pan out, she seeks other spiritual options–including a non-traditional Seder that seems to go well.
But in other parts of her life, she’s still feeling inadequate. Her wife Tammy is conspicuously missing from her life and ex-husband Len takes Tammy’s place (sort of). While Sarah and Len have a friendly agreement to keep it together for the kids, Sarah finds herself jealous over Len’s young new girlfriend and that only feeds her insecurity even more.
No matter where she turns, Sarah just can’t seem to find her footing. She’s merely floating through time and space, waiting for a sense of purpose to come to her. Luckily for her, she’s able to regroup with her family to understand where she truly belongs.
Still grieving the loss of her baby and her breakup with Josh, Raquel masks her pain by exploring nature and other people to understand the greater picture. She questions her calling and observes how others connect with their spirituality to understand if she’s on the right path. At one point she asks aloud whether she should be able to feel the presence of the Divine all the time, suggesting that her faith is wavering. When Raquel is confronted with Sarah’s scattered view of faith and spirituality, she’s enraged because those are things she feels define her. And yet, she can’t seem to find her way back to the core of who she is.
In many ways, Raquel is just as lost as Sarah and seeing them navigate the world together makes all the more sense when you compare their journeys. Each is seeking their place in a world that seems to hold nothing for them. The difference here, though, is that Raquel is hanging on to her faith, even if by a thread.
Tara Martinez is a New York-based writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.