[For Transparent “Oscillate” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
Amazon.com Summary: Rose and Gittel face an ultimatum; Maura keeps learning; Josh is reckless; and Ali and Sarah get ready for Idylwild.
In this recapper’s opinion “Oscillate” wins the award for best Transparent episode because it’s so hilarious, poignant, and powerful. The Pfefferman story shines through to reach us on a level beyond what’s come before. Part of this arises out of the oscillation theme. In physics to oscillate is to “vary in magnitude or position in a regular manner around a central point,” and that’s what happens in this episode. It begins with a trio of female Pfeffermans, one of them trans, in Berlin 1933 as they prepare for a journey that will forever change them. The episode then concludes with a trio of female Pfeffermans, one of them trans, in modern day LA as they head out on a similarly significant trip. The hilarity of this episode doesn’t take anything away from its emotional weight and impact, an incredible feat for a half hour comedy and done with masterful beauty and grace. Also, we learn a new word with this episode, the sublime concept “Limerence” which envelopes the infatuation stage of puppy love. It’s the feeling you’ll likely have for the Pfeffermans by the end of “Oscillate,” even if you already adored them.
The episode opens on 1933 Berlin when Gittel and Rose bring money to their mother for visas to bring them all to the United States and find the father that abandoned their family. Their mother personifies embittered as she hunches grumpily over her lonely bowl of stew. She can’t quite understand what’s going on with Gittel, so her now-daughter former-son explains that she’s a transvestite and what that means. At one point later in the convo, Gittel tells her she should give Berlin a chance, she might learn to like it. To this their mother replies, “I think it’s a fantastic city …if it wasn’t for all the Germans living in it,” and then she talks about how she’s afraid of the turnstiles at the train. She heard, “they’re breaking women’s pelvises. Did they hear about Sheila? She had to give birth through her face,” and then at a party later Gittel gives Rose the huge pearl ring which will eventually be passed down to the LA Pfeffermans.
Then the story shifts to modern day LA where Josh is pump-pump-pumpin’ it up at crossfit. He gets a baller van for his band Fussy Puss with the intention of driving them “as far away from LA as possible,” but trouble is he can’t handle the driving once he gets out on the highway. Josh has to pull over for a mini breakdown and drenches the lead singer’s baby doll dress with his road rage tears. His character is symbolic herein because back in 1933 Berlin yet another Pfefferman won’t get on the road. Gittel is unwilling to join her mother and Rose for the trip to America because she can’t leave the institute for sexual research. It all just means too much to her. She cares so deeply the institute and is caught up in living out her dream identity as Gittel, the woman, rather than Gershon – the name on her US Visa. Josh cant move on to the next step in his life either but in his case it’s because he’s caught up in grieving the past and can’t even imagine who he’ll be moving forward.
Meanwhile Ali is still BSing our beloved sweetpea, Carrie Brownstein about “it not being about other people,” but not wanting to be tied down. Yeah, OK, Ali. Now it’s over between you, dumbass. You don’t know how great you had it with adorable Syd. We think you’re a moron. She’s funny and kind and cuter than a baby bunny! Then Ali visits Leslie to drop off her graduate school application and finds out Leslie only likes twenty one year olds, at least according to a neighbor who seems to sort of live at Leslie’s.
Next we see Maura at the LA LGBT center signing up for volunteer work on the trauma helpline talking with suicidal teens. Then she tries to make peace with Davina who’s there doing yoga. Afterward she practices a hotline call with Shea at Sal’s kitchen table and seems like she has a lot to learn about comforting the suicidal. But then Shea shares how she often gets those feelings and has since high school. At this revelation Maura rises to the challenge and offers true comfort with warm, encouraging words that really help Shea and make her feel loved. So, Maura grows and connects with her trans sisters more and more as she starts to come into herself as a woman. Maura evolves in beautiful and moving ways when she connects with others. Shea tells Maura, “You’re such a good Mom,” and puts her head on Maura’s shoulder.
Then we see Ali and Sarah visit Shelly at her condo to find that it’s been completely transformed from a bitter ol’ hag’s den into a Malibu pleasure palace. Thanks to Buzz’s influence the condo now has a fancy Japanese toilet, plants, and a streamlined ease because Shelly tossed away everything that “didn’t bring her joy”. But it’s not just the condo that’s changed. Ali and Sarah don’t even recognize this sexually invigorated, enthusiastic, and plant-watering Shelly. She even cleaned the bathroom! This is when Sarah explains that Shelly is “in Limerence,” the first bloom of puppy love. It makes you clean grout, empty out your garage, and make margaritas all while beaming like a glorious blossom basking in the summer sun. The whole experience brings Ali and Sarah closer, much like how the meeting with their mother in the first scene bonds Gittel and Rose. Sarah and Ali decide to go to the Idylwild womyns music festival together now that Syd isn’t gonna go with Ali. So, they’re off to buy camping equipment and prep for their road trip into the forest. But first Maura comes for a visit and shows them how she got her re-gendered baby photos and the trio all sit together for a peek into childhood Maura. Maura says how she wishes she’d grown up a woman because then she’d be with her daughters at Idylwild… so they decide to bring her along.
The last scene captures Ali, Sarah, and Maura in the car on their way to the womyn’s festival. We hear the Indigo Girls on the car stereo singing “Closer to Fine” while Ali and Sarah belt out the lyrics banging their heads and having an amazing time. In the backseat Maura does her best to sing along and though she may not know all the words she’s certainly along for the ride and her interjections of lyrics are as truly hilarious as her giant bare feet propped in between Ali and Sarah. So, the female family trios of the past and today “Oscillate” around each life-altering journey as they attempt to understand each other while bringing us laughter and each other so much love that it can be felt through Pfefferman generations.