[For Transparent “Man on the Land” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
Man on the Land Maura has a rude awakening; Sarah experiences liberation; Ali finds herself on a journey to the past.
The next-to-last Transparent episode “Man on the Land” revolves around the notions of danger and rescue. It’s not always the case that “we’re in danger because we knowingly pursued it” is the basic idea, but we can be rescued either way. The main example of danger at the Idylwild Festival for Womyn turns out to be Maura, who represents a reluctant rebel, though Ali and Sarah have their own individual experiences with danger as well. The Pfefferman three also have a sort of rescue and liberation event that changes each of them in a meaningful way.
In the first scene Maura, Ali, and Sarah enter the Idylwild Womyns Music Festival where Ali and Sarah feel immediately at home among the naked ladies, hippies, and womynkind of all sorts. They dance to the Indigo Girls singing Hammer and Nail and then settle down to some less-than-appetizing nutloaf for lunch. Next Ali and Sarah pursue each of their respective goals; Ali to hear Leslie read her poetry and Sarah to explore her intentions in a tent with “Chief Crying Bear”. Maura then investigates the Idylwild market and meets Vicki (the intriguing Anjelica Huston) while shopping for owl feather earrings. Vicki’s a cheese monger from Larchmont who assumes Maura’s a rebel because she’s at the festival where the policy is “women born women only”. Little does Vicki know that Maura’s pretty much the opposite of a rebel and the minute she finds this out her heart starts a-thumping and terror zips through Maura’s mouse-in-a-cathouse veins.
Meanwhile Ali meets up with Leslie and they each announce they’re now single before Leslie finds out Ali took Maura to the festival and notifies her of the festival policy about “women born women only”. Ali registers immediately that she should track down Maura and Leslie asks if she can come along to help. Cue the sensual intrigue background grooves, baby. They put a note on a festival billboard telling Maura to meet them at the Sojourner Camp because Leslie says “There are lots of contraband hotdogs over there”. On the other side of the festival Sarah enters Crying Bear’s tent for the funniest part of this episode – Chief Crying Bear explains what the intentions tent is all about with a thick long island accent. “Some of you are here to mourn your murdered femininity. Some of you I know from my Drumming Away Racism group. We’re gonna go on a journey now where you’ll experience deep emotions; laughter and uncontrollable weeping is not uncommon…” Sarah excuses herself at that point muttering that she has the wrong tent. Then she sees a woman leading another on a leash and spanking her with a paddle. This mesmerizes Sarah and she follows them as if on a rein made of her deepest desires.
Waiting in line at the port-o-potty Maura gets a firsthand glimpse of the “women born women only” policy when the cleanup crew comes to take away the sewage from the potties and women around her start chanting, “Man on the Land,” in a strident manner that unnerves Maura. She asks someone about it and they explain that “it’s a penis alert so nobody gets triggered,” which sends Maura away from the potties in a panic. She finds Ali’s billboard note about Camp Sojourner and starts asking peeps where it is but nobody seems to know. Then the scene shifts to intercuts between an increasingly panicked searching Maura and an intrigued, glowing Sarah in pursuit of the woman with the paddle. Sarah eventually meets this mystery woman, Pony, and asks her about the whole leash dynamic. Pony explains that it’s a “play scene of consensual power exchange” and that was her “naughty doggy,” to which Sarah replies, “Woof”. Then she gets down and dirty with the spankings …nowhere near Camp Sojourner.
The sun goes down on Idylwild and Maura finally finds Ali at Camp Sojourner where she’s sits with Leslie and a group of the extremists who hold the “women born women only” policy particularly dear to their hearts. Some of them are even founders of the festival who chopped the trees and plowed the fields to clear the space for Idylwild. Maura says she wants to go but Leslie and Ali have her sit with them at the campfire to chill a bit first. Unfortunately this peaceful beginning quickly turns to discord when they discuss the policy and how penises are triggering because “we’ve all been raped” and they’re angry about Maura’s privilege. Yes, she suffered when a man but her pain and privilege are separate entities, they explain. So, Maura gets upset and leaves in a huff.
Ali picks up a lantern and heads out to find her Moppa while Maura investigates tents looking for the one Ali and Sarah took to sleep in while at Idylwild. But she gets more and more irritated by the entire affair as she fails tent after tent. Finally Maura gets loopy with the frustration at all of it and starts dancing around, tearing down tents, and singing the words “Man on the Land” until finally Vicki, whom she met at the owl earring booth, drives over to her and picks up Maura to take her away from Idylwild. She’s rescued. But really, it seems like Maura is saved from herself more than any real danger. Meanwhile Ali has a stoned experience that shifts her into the past. As she searches for her Moppa in the woods her feet are suddenly in the “Jew shoes” she talked about in her grad school application. During wartime female Jews were made to wear these ugly red and white shoes with bells on them so they could be heard coming from far away. Then Ali sees Rose and Gittel’s mother walking near her in the forest. Next we’re transported back to the 1933 Sex Institute where Nazis break down the doors, burn the research books, and hurt many of the members. Ali also sees this and stands by the bonfire of the Institute’s books where she holds Rose’s hand and together they watch as Nazis drag Gittel away. They cry. Afterward Ali seeks solace smooching with Leslie in the tent.
The danger represented in this episode isn’t real in the present day, though it certainly is for Gittel in 1933, something that, though it happened long ago, still touches this family today. Perhaps it’s this touchstone that puts the terror into Maura and brings her so much anxiety about not being welcome at Idylwild. Though it does seem likely that as a former member of the privileged group (men) this new feeling of being in the unwelcome category could have triggered her anxiety gene from the Epigenetics we learned about in the Cherry Blossom episode. No matter, though, Vicki rescues Maura in the end and she’s freed from danger, real or imagined. We know Sarah’s not in any real danger and that for her the danger titillates rather than terrifies. Her rescue comes when Sarah finally finds a way to explore this particular thrill in a consensual way where she feels understand. Ali learns about the danger her family endured during the war when she sees Gittel taken away by the Nazis and holds hands with the terrified Rose, her own grandmother. This experience coupled with alienating and upsetting her Moppa represent an emotional danger zone for Ali who then finds rescue in Leslie’s arms. So, all three Pfefferman women experience an individual form of danger, largely in their heads, but then find a tangible and real life rescue in a connection with another person. Could it be a coincidence that each rescuer/hero in “Man on the Land” is a woman”? We think not.