R29 Binge Club: Transparent Season 3, Episodes 1-10 Recaps

Image: Courtesy of Amazon.
The Pfeffermans are back! To quickly get up to speed, check out our Binge Club for season 2. Already set? Let's get this started.

Episode 1: "Elizah"
Things kick off with Raquel, who definitely still seems to be in the midst of some major emotional stuff. She's working on what she'll say during Passover services. Her voiceover is the framework for the episode: the idea that when times get tough, sometimes, it is up to you to save yourself.

Maura and Vicki wake up together at Davina's house, where Maura is still living. Maura tells Davina that things are going well — not just with Vicki, but with everything. But she's still really unhappy, and she can't put her finger on why. She tries to fill the hole by volunteering with the LGBTQ crisis hotline. But she's struggling to make that work: When a young trans woman named Eliza calls in during her shift, Maura says all the wrong things. Ultimately, Eliza just hangs up the phone.

Maura is worried that Eliza — who, remember, she has never actually met, having only spoken to her on the hotline for a few minutes — might hurt herself. So Maura goes to south L.A., where Eliza said she was during the call, to track her down. Ultimately, Maura winds up at a big swap meet searching for Eliza, who she knows has green hair and is trans. Along the way, Maura breaks a heel off of her shoe, manages to majorly offend some Latinas, and accidentally steals a bottle of Gatorade when she spots Eliza and goes running out of the store. Police show up, but before Maura can get into that kind of trouble, she faints and gets taken to the hospital. The episode culminates with Raquel's voice, asking whoever is listening to consider: "If you're waiting for a miracle, have you ever considered that you might have to be your own messiah?"
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Episode 2: "When The Battle Is Over"
Maura is at the hospital. Her sister is the person who shows up in the hospital room, because apparently, the only number Maura could remember was their childhood phone number. They have a sweet moment until Maura asks her sister to change the hospital chart so that it says "female" — after that, they're back to being at odds. Maura is also struggling with being in a state hospital instead of a private one: She wants to be moved to Cedars-Sinai, stat.

Josh, Ali, and Sarah go to visit Maura and promise they'll do their best to get her switched to a new hospital. But it's not until Vicki gets there that it seems like anyone has really showed up for Maura. At that moment, Vicki becomes Maura's emergency contact — and out of fear and relief, Maura cries.
The Pfefferman kids disband and head back into their respective lives. Josh doesn't seem to be doing so hot these days. For reasons that are a little unclear, Sarah is desperately trying to get on the temple board. Ali has started her grad program at UCLA and is really enjoying the academic element of it. However, she's not enjoying the fact that Leslie wants to keep their affair a secret, a fact made worse after Ali's fellow grad students tell her that Leslie picks a new teacher's assistant to fuck every semester.

Raquel, the almost-Pfefferman-in-law, doesn't seem to be doing very well, either. But a cute guy she went to seminary school with has come to be the temple's new cantor. He has a little girl, but his wife passed away. Maybe something will wind up brewing there? (The temple seems to be playing a bigger part in this season. Shelly gives a speech there and gets such good feedback that she decides that she should be branding herself as some sort of Jewish lifestyle guru.)

Josh, by the way, is still living at the Palisades house. Ali moved in, too. Sarah is living with Len in a mostly platonic arrangement that seems to be working for them, except that Sarah is still doing BDSM therapy and Len is getting blowjobs from someone across town.

By the end of the episode, Maura is back home at Davina's place. Davina reminds her that she needs to spend more time connecting with her own body, as a woman. This seems to turn on a lightbulb in Maura's head about what needs to change so that she can finally find happiness.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Episode 3: "To Sardines And Back"
This one starts with a flashback: The three Pfefferman kids get a turtle. They name him Nacho. He escapes and gets lost in the house’s ducts, bearing witness to their lives over the years — but don’t worry, this isn’t the last you’re going to see of Nacho.

The Sarah-trying-to-get-on-the-temple-board thing continues. But even with Buzzy and Raquel behind her, when the board sits down to vote, it turns out Sarah has made an enemy: She gets blackballed from joining, which leaves Raquel with the delightful task of telling her what happened. Sarah is super-upset; it seems like she’s losing control over a lot of little things she wants, including the power in her relationship with Len.

While all this is going on, Ali and Josh are prepping to throw Maura a birthday party. She’s turning 70 and the whole family is invited over to the Palisades house for a celebration. To prepare, Maura goes and gets a haircut. One thing, though: It is alarmingly similar to Shelly’s hair — a fact that does not go unnoticed by Shelly. Luckily, Maura’s former wife has other things on her mind: She’s working on becoming a personal brand and she’s on Twitter. Follow @ToShellAndBack for new posts.

Once the party gets going, it’s clear there’s going to be some drama. Maura takes the opportunity to announce that she’s planning to have gender-reassignment surgery and she no longer wants to be called Mapa — now she would prefer to be called mom and grandma. (File that under: other things Shelly isn’t stoked about.) The other problem is that Maura didn’t tell Vicki about any of this, so the selfish gene continues on. After dinner, the family starts a big game of sardines, putting them in literal tight spots with one another, which means a lot of uncomfortable conversations in uncomfortable places. Sarah and Len snuggle in a crawlspace. Josh winds up with Maura’s beautiful friend, Shea, and it seems like there might be some sparks there. Then, Ali and Sarah find the turtle. Ultimately, Vicki winds up in a room with Maura and confronts her about not mentioning the surgery.

Back at the temple, Raquel is having sort of a wild night of her own: Her friend from seminary school is looking over a sermon she’s written and she confesses that she doesn’t have any faith these days. She also tells him about the miscarriage and how it majorly wrecked her. She’s super-depressed and finally starting to let someone new into her heart.

Episode 4: "Just The Facts"
Maura goes to the doctor to talk about her plans for surgery and finds out that she has to go to the therapist in order to get a note that signs off on the surgery. Maura is also realizing that maybe there is more that is to this than she bargained for — she might be rushing things. However, she is really excited when her doctor shows her a rendering of what her finished face could look like.
Back at the Palisades house, Leslie and Ali are having a sleepover. Leslie isn’t into having Josh around, though, and she clearly feels like he and Ali may be too close for comfort. Ali winds up telling Leslie about how she accidentally fingered a fellow grad student, mostly as a way to see if Leslie would be jealous — which she’s not — but it opens up a conversation about them being more exclusive. That’s what Ali wanted all along.

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Sarah is sort of on the opposite end of the spectrum: She’s stalked Len’s latest love interest, Una, to an indoor cycling studio. Afterward, she approached Una, who was the instructor, to introduce herself. Una is really into Len and that makes Sarah crazy — even if she’s not sure of where things stand between the two of them.

In fact, there’s definitely something bubbling below Sarah’s surface that needs to be addressed: Normally in her BDSM sessions, she’s the submissive. But she tries the dominant on for size and takes it a little bit too far. Those are some anger issues, girl. Yikes.

Speaking of issues: Maura and Vicki go out with Davina and her boyfriend, the plastic surgeon, who tells Maura that in order to get the note from the therapist, she’s going to have to say she hates her body, hates her penis, and that she doesn’t want to live with it any longer. Vicki asks Maura if that’s how she really feels, if she actually does hate her penis. Turns out, Maura does not. It also seems like the first time she really considers how all of this might impact Vicki, who says that she will work with whatever body Maura has.

Then, there’s Josh, who is still connected to Rita in a weird way and is at her house helping her download a video so they can watch their son, Colton, give a sermon at church. There’s something really weird going on with Rita — she’s started some new meds and she’s a little manic. Josh seems to sense it, but doesn’t want to get too emotional with her. He does tell her that he forgives her for what happened between them when he was a teenager and they were having a relationship. By the end of the episode, it seems like that’s going to be all the closure Josh will ever get: Rita, for reasons we don’t fully understand yet, goes to a shopping mall and takes a series of escalators up. When she gets to the top, she peers over the edge. Then, she jumps.

Episode 5: “Oh Holy Night”
Josh is left dealing with the aftermath of Rita’s suicide. But he can’t seem accept that she intentionally killed herself. He tells Maura what happened and asks her if she knew that Josh and Rita were having sex when he was a teenager. Maura says that Josh and Shelly thought that he and Rita were best friends. Maura also apologizes for being such a shitty parent. All of this ends with Josh and Maura breaking down the literal glass wall that Tammy put up in the living room while she and Sarah were occupying the Palisades house. Cathartic, for sure — but it’s going to take a lot more than that to pull Josh out of this.

Len and Sarah are prepping for Sarah’s off-site temple event. They are being increasingly sweet to each other; it seems like maybe they’re back on the road to maybe just sleeping together, but also maybe something more meaningful. Later that day, when the event actually gets on off the ground, Raquel shows up, obviously nervous about how this is all going to get pulled off. But Sarah has done a beautiful job and people seem to be enjoying themselves. That is, until Josh shows up, and the whole family finds out what happened with Rita.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Raquel approaches the Pfeffermans, who are all gathered Josh. After he tells her that Rita is dead, Raquel suggests they go take a walk. He tells her that he was at the house right before Rita left for the mall and that he’s all torn up, because he was the last person to see her alive. Josh and Raquel hug — it’s clearly something they both kind of needed. But then, Raquel backs off and Josh asks her if she wants to take a road trip with him to take Rita’s ashes to Colton. Raquel is clearly torn about whether or not she wants to get mixed in all this stuff with Josh, especially since there’s the much safer, less painful romantic option on the table with her old friend the cantor, Duvid.

While all this is going down, Leslie, who is also at the event with Ali, refuses a cup of coffee because it was made with Israeli beans. Suddenly, she’s in the midst of a major political discussion and winds up being accused of being anti-Semitic. But payback’s a bitch: At the end of the night, on her way out, she falls into a big hole in the sidewalk. Ali helps her out and takes her home. Then, she confesses that she’s falling in love with him.

Ultimately, Raquel heads back out into the makeshift temple to speak to the group during the ceremony. It’s beautiful: People offer up honest blessings and confessions. Len even comes forward and says some sweet stuff. But Maura closes it out, offering up a prayer for Rita on Josh’s behalf. Raquel and Josh lock eyes, but the cantor is the one who goes to Raquel to comfort her as she starts to cry. Josh leaves the prayer circle. Raquel doesn’t go after him. He winds up at a strip club to watch Shea dance.
Episode 6: “On The Road”
Josh heads out on his road trip. Shea ended up coming with him, but they’re sleeping in separate hotel rooms. On the open road, however, they’re having a really good get-to-know-you car session. When they stop for food, they find themselves at an open mic night. Josh gets up onstage with his guitar to play a song. It’s an oldie — the one he wrote for Rita.

As the road trip continues, we get to know more about Shea. She opens up about her trans journey and how she’s still sort of figuring out what she really wants in her own life. She and Josh wind up breaking into a water park that’s closed for the summer. They’re in a magical adventure mode and reality seems completely suspended. However, that all ends when Josh tells Shea that one of the positives to her being trans is that she could never get pregnant during sex. She tells him how callous he is and that sort of tips they relationship into new territory: They start making out in an empty lazy river. As things start to progress, Shea makes a confession: She tells Josh that she’s HIV-positive. Josh says it’s cool, but he’s clearly shaken up by this news. He’s not sure he wants to take the chance — or if he wants to explore this relationship in a the long-term. She gets really angry, deservedly so, and calls Josh out for making her into his adventure for the weekend. This is when Shea leaves the road trip and gets in a car to head back to Los Angeles.

Ali is struggling with this new phase in the relationship: Leslie wants her to stick around at home, but something is clearly troubling Ali. She leaves the house and heads to the mall where Rita died, taking the escalators to the top, right to the spot where Rita went over the edge. It’s almost like she’s trying to imagine what it would take to want to jump and actually do it. Then, she heads to the dentist — mostly to go under with the laughing gas. She thinks she just saw God. She tells the dentist that God is a Black woman and that everything is going to be okay. The dentist is dismissive. Ali looks crestfallen. At the end of the day, the dentist slips on the gas mask to see if she can find what Ali found.

Shelly is working on her one-woman show, To Shell and Back. Not sure why Buzz is so down with this little self-branding adventure, but he did buy a really expensive camera. Shelly is worried about the money and maybe starting to feel a little like maybe Buzz is taking advantage of her credit line a little. He tells her he’s just trying to rack up credit card points so that they can take the whole family on a cruise. He plans on returning the camera and the rest of the stuff. She believes him, but this seems sketchy. Sarah agrees — she wants to know if her mom is supporting Buzzy financially. Shelly is really defensive about it, because she’s happy. Sarah, just let her be happy, okay?

Episode 7: “Life Sucks And Then You Die”

Josh gets to Colton’s house. He has no idea what happened with Rita, so Josh comes right out with it and tells him that Rita, his birth mother, is dead. Colton is freaked out — if it was a suicide, it would mean that Rita can’t get into heaven. Later that night, Josh goes to sleep in the same room at Colton on an air mattress. Colton is really broken up about Rita’s death. Josh tells him how sorry he is that all this happened and that he loves him. The next morning, Colton gives the church sermon and asks God to bless Rita. But then, things get weird when Colton asks the churchgoers if anyone wants to come up to the altar and accept Jesus into their hearts...and Josh gets up.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Maura goes to visit her mother in the nursing home, where she seems to be unresponsive. She and Vicki wind up at Maura’s sister’s house. Maura wants to know about their mom’s wishes. They are not on the same page about this. It’s also a little weird, because Vicki and Maura’s sister can relate to one another about breast cancer scares and Maura feels excluded. But Vicki also says that she didn’t have reconstructive surgery after her double mastectomy because she didn’t want to go under anesthesia again — not a direct comment on Maura’s decision to undergo surgery, but close to it. That erupts into a big fight between Maura and her sister, including a whole lot of yelling where her sister says that Maura will not be a beautiful woman and that nothing can be done to make her beautiful. It devolves into a fight between Maura and Vicki, too. They finally air out some of the things that have been boiling beneath the surface.

Also of note: Raquel finally gets busy with the cute cantor, Duvid. The next morning, when she goes to the gym/temple to prep for the seder, Sarah is already there. Raquel tells her that she slept with the cantor. Sarah gets all giggly about it and brings up that all this spirituality stuff is sort of sexy. It might even be fixing her issues with Len. That’s when Raquel finally gets angry: She doesn’t think Sarah is questing for spirituality at all. She has a total meltdown and says she’s not going to host the seder. But both Sarah and Duvid realize that something bigger is happening here. Raquel curls up in a ball on the floor and they kneel down to take care of her.

Episode 8: “If I Were A Bell”

And here we are: The flashback episode. For clarity purposes, this recap will refer to Maura by her former name, Mort, using gender pronouns aligning to her identity pre-transition. This episode does something really beautiful with the casting of Mort a young child: He is played by a young female actor, an homage to the fact that even as a child, Mort knew he was Maura.

As a child, Mort wants to dress up in girl’s clothes. He wants to twirl around in the bomb shelter instead of playing baseball. In this episode, Gaby Hoffmann plays Rose, Mort’s mom. She is never around, leaving the two children to be raised mostly by their grandmother and grandfather — yep, the one who left their family and started a new one without them back in the ‘40s. Rose sees Gittel, the sibling she lost, in Mort, and while she’s not full-on supportive of his desire to dress in women’s clothing, she also has a unique understanding because of what she went through with her own brother, who became her sister. Both Rose and her own mother are aware that Mort often plays in the nuclear shelter, dressed up in his mother’s clothes and jewelry. One day, when there the test sirens go off, Mort’s grandfather enters the bunker to find Mort wearing a nightgown. He is furious, at his daughter and his wife, blaming them for not only Mort’s queerness, but also for the fact that his son, a.k.a. Gittel, died in the Holocaust because she would not live as a male. Mort is devastated. It’s the last time he will be able to be himself for a long time. Rose moves out of the house, leaving the two kids with her parents.

As Mort gets older, he wants to fit in with the girls in his class, but they reject him. His sister also cruelly betrays him in front of the other kids, humiliating him by telling their classmates that he wears their mother’s dresses. He runs away, but he also takes revenge by throwing a rock at his sister’s head. She doesn’t see who did it and he gets away with it.

We also get a peek at Shelly’s childhood: Her anxiety starts early, when she is sexually assaulted by her music teacher at school. She never tells her parents, but she stops eating and speaking for a while. We also find out that Mort and Shelly meet through a mutual friend, who Mort happens to be dating. From the moment they meet, something kind of clicks between the two of them. Months later, Mort and this girl have progressed in their relationship — but he finally acts on his feelings for Shelly. At his girlfriend’s art opening, Mort tells Shelly to meet him in a back room. They wind up making out and Mort tells Shelly that he will extract himself from his current relationship so they can be together. He asks her if she can keep a secret for the time being. “Can you?” she says in response. We know the answer to that one.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Episode 9: “Off The Grid”
Maura finds out from the plastic surgeon that something is going on with her heart. That complicates things and it doesn’t make her a candidate for the surgery. She’s really upset about it, but the doctor reminds her that just because she can’t have the surgery doesn’t mean that she can’t live the life she wants. We’ll find out. She goes home to Davina and tells her that she wants to go out, get wasted, and dance — so they head to the bar together for a girls night. Maura ends up meeting a man there and dancing with him, cheek to cheek. Apparently, things with Vicki are totally, officially, over.

Buzzy and Shelly have their own breakup in this episode, too. Shelly realizes that Buzzy has been lying to her about the reason he’s broke. When he tells her one last lie, she tells him he has to move out. She can’t spend another day of her life with someone she doesn’t trust. Donezo, those two.

Josh is still in Kansas and still pretending that he has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. When Ali gets wind of this, she hops on a plane to see what is going on with her brother. It’s obvious that he’s running away from his problems — but then again, so is she. Leslie calls Ali out on it just before she goes. Ali and Leslie are set to have their couple coming-out debut when Leslie accepts a big award, but it seems like Ali isn’t ready or emotionally capable of that.

Colton also has Josh’s number. One night when Josh comes home, Colton approaches him because he wants to have a conversation. He says that Josh isn’t his dad and that he doesn’t think Josh will be happy in Kansas. He adds that he doesn’t think he’ll be happy if Josh is there. Ali hears all of this happening, which is actually a good thing, because it breaks Josh up really badly — and also makes it easier for him to decide it’s time to go home. Josh finally gives Colton Rita’s ashes. Then, Josh and Ali get in the car to go home.

Sarah is struggling, too: The turtle escaped from the kiddie pool in the backyard and when she heads to the BDSM dungeon to work out some of her anger, she discovers that Pony has quit, leaving Sarah high and dry. Sarah tells Len that Pony is gone while he’s rubbing her back in bed. He tells her that maybe he can help her work out some of this stuff and they almost start to get into it. But then, Sarah stops him and tells him that she doesn’t want to fuck up the good stuff they have going on. He is understanding, but it would also be totally expected that his patience is wearing thin.

At the end of the night, Maura finds herself in the bathroom with the guy she’s been on the dance floor with. After he tells her how beautiful she is, he starts going down on her. For a moment, it seems possible that Maura might be able to be happy without having surgery. She just needs to be happy and satisfied in her own skin.

Episode 10: “Exciting And New”
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
In the end, Shelly decides that she still wants to take the cruise with Maura and the kids. They all get on the boat — Shelly and Maura both single, Josh and Ali as close as ever, and Sarah a little bit in her own la-la land. Shelly seems hopeful. Maybe the fact that both she and Maura are both single and together on the ship is a sign that things are meant to be. Shelly winds up in a very fancy suite and the butler (yep, there’s a butler) convinces her that it’s okay for her to enjoy it instead of feeling awkward about being somewhere so nice all on her own.

But the whole cruise thing isn’t working out exactly the way Shelly planned. She wants to have family time, but the family doesn’t seem to want to hang out with her. Maura isn’t attuned to Shelly’s disappointment, either. In the end, Shelly retreats to her room by herself to engage in “self-care.” She misses Buzzy. She’s mad at the kids. But more than anything, she just feels deeply lonely. When she tells the butler that, and also mentions that she has been working on a one-woman show, he tells her that he can totally get her on onstage to perform. So that’s happening.

Maura finally tells Ali that she can’t the surgery, that there’s something going on with her heart, and that she has to go off hormones. She’s about to chuck all her shapewear into the ocean, since she can’t transition any further than she already has. Ali says a prayer, but like, a great prayer, about how now Maura is set free from Spanx. In the end, they don’t throw anything overboard because they don’t want to hurt the environment. But it’s a great moment between the two of them and it seems to give Maura some permission to accept herself as she is.

After that, Ali is out looking for Josh and finds him at the blackjack tables. They bet everything on her number, 36, which she’s been obsessed with the whole season because of its myriad personal meanings. They end up losing it all, which is rough. For a second, it seemed like they really believed: It was $25,000 dollars. Then, Josh wants to go be by himself and Ali tells him that she came on the cruise to be with him — but he calls her out for avoiding Leslie and for avoiding dealing with issues in her own life by telling herself that she needs to be there for him. But he’s also blaming her for not being normal, like she’s somehow at fault for screwing up his own ability to be normal. But in reality, that’s not the case at all.

Then, Ali has an idea: She wants to have a seder, on the boat, to honor the last night of Passover. They manage to pull it all together and the whole Pfefferman family sits on the floor to say a prayer. Sarah comes up with the idea that they should all share something they want to be freed from. Josh leaves immediately. Maura goes first and says she wants to be freed from feeling afraid and ashamed. When it’s Shelly’s turn, she finally says what’s been on her mind: she feels alienated from the family, like they are always leaving her out of making fun of her behind her back. She tells them that if they want to know her story, then they need to show up at her show that evening in the lounge.

And that’s where the season 3 finale culminates: Shelly steps onstage and tells the world for the first time that something happened to her when she was a little girl that arrested her development and made her seek relationships with men who wanted to live with secrets. Then, she breaks into a powerful version of Alanis Morissette’s “One Hand In My Pocket.” Out in the audience, Sarah, Ali, and Maura watch her perform, seeing parts of her for the first time.

It’s a beautiful moment and it’s one that belongs to Shelly, who so often is sidelined. She looks proud and free. While this is all happening, Josh is pouring Rita’s ashes into the ocean. The moral of the story is that maybe, just maybe, the Pfeffermans are moving on and moving forward.


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