"What’s Transparent without a trans parent?" Willa Paskin says of Jill Soloway's attempt to end Amazon's Transparent as a musical without Jeffrey Tambor's Maura Pfefferman. "The answer floated by the finale is: a mess. And, very much relatedly, a musical. Soloway’s sister, Faith, staged a one-night showcase in 2017 titled Faith Soloway and Friends: Should Transparent Become a Musical? with Broadway-trained actors taking the roles of several Pfeffermans. Using a number of those songs, and some written specifically for the finale, the Soloways have put together a musical episode about Maura’s death, sort of. Given that the episode is also, inevitably, about Tambor’s exit, the show can’t bring itself to be quite as distressed about Maura’s death as its characters would be. So the episode is crammed with songs about other things, performed by noncentral performers, leaving the Pfefferman children, the series’ extant protagonists, with nothing much to do but warble gamely, though not well. The musical is a gung-ho effort to end on a high note that is at odds with both the subject at hand (death) and the series’ chatty, actorly, emotionally incisive strengths—at odds, in other words, with the reasons Transparent was good enough to transform the culture in the first place."
Transparent Musicale Finale is a game-changing risk-taking series-ender: "Some will feel it’s too outrageously close to the bone, but this is what it means to take risks all the way to the final curtain," says Chitra Ramaswamy. "There are actual jokes about the Holocaust. When Sarah’s children confuse Maura’s cremation with the death camps, their mother is forced to explain the inexplicable: that 'cremation is a completely different oven.' Ultimately, Transparent goes out with what Shelly calls 'an equal and opposite reaction to the Holocaust.' It ends as it began: with a recalcitrant communion of Jewishness, difference and families made, lost and found. Perhaps most subversive of all for this relentlessly boundary-pushing show, what we get is what we might least expect to emerge from so much trauma and loss. A happy ending."
Transparent Musicale Finale's existence is the ultimate expression of everything Transparent has been about: "Beyond its cultural specifics, this is a series about people trying to be happy," says Matt Zoller Seitz. "Unfortunately, decisions made in the name of happiness tend to make others unhappy, especially when they upend the status quo and force people to question whatever they thought they knew. It doesn’t matter whether unhappy reactions seem logical or irrational from afar. People’s feelings are real even when they’re caused by misunderstandings, social conditioning, and fear. Being an adult means accepting that life is messy, unfair, and closure-proof, and that eventually everyone gets to spend time in the abyss. Transparent gets it."
Transparent Musicale Finale isn't Transparent at its best, but its is definitely Transparent at its most: "The finale is a moving goodbye," says James Poniewozik. "But it doesn’t become more than a collection of moments, some transporting, some throwaway. A slapstick song-and-dance about real estate (the disposal of the family house looms over the finale as it did the show’s beginning) leads directly into the soulful and melancholy 'Father’s House.' The musical framing — bold colors and blunt lyrics — hammers flat what had been elegantly shaded characters, even when the individual songs work."
Transparent Musicale Finale is clearly a mess: "Clumsy though its origins may be, such a tight focus is ironically a significant improvement on the scattered, aimless fourth season," says Alison Herman. "Transparent began with a second birth of sorts for Maura as she introduced her children, and the rest of the world, to her true self. Her death, whatever its motivations, reads like a fitting end to the show, definitively tying off the personal journey that’s always been the show’s core. Tambor’s absence may be conspicuous, but the finale successfully centers the character, complex and flawed in her own right, without involving the actor. A more obvious misstep, though one that’s necessary to spend some time on, is the stylistic choice to make Transparent’s last act a musical."
The finale is an act of musical trolling: "Any other show faced with a scandal so existentially troubling—suspicion that its overtly political essence masked hypocrisy—might have just called it quits then," says Spencer Kornhaber. "But Transparent has always been about surviving cataclysms and leaning into change. Musicale Finale makes a bighearted attempt along those lines, if not an entirely successful one. Songs written by Soloway’s sister Faith pleasantly sing-rather-than-show a series of final transformations for the characters. The lyrics get so hyperbolic as to seem trolling, but there’s just not much drama. Fine actors who once expressed complex emotions in charmingly messy cross talk now spend too much time shouting out slogans as if they were Elsa of Arendelle."
A musical finale makes perfect sense for Transparent: "Presenting the Transparent season finale as a musical was a big risk, because fans of any cult-favorite show are extremely sensitive and critical of how that series ends (see Game of Thrones), but in this case, it ironically makes sense," says Starr Rhett Rocque. "Transparent has always had the elements of the perfect musical: a dysfunctional family still trying to love each other amid chaos and emotional peaks and valleys. It’s too poetic not to set to music. It isn’t the stereotypical toe-tapping, jazz hands-waving fare one might think of when you hear it’s a musical, but it works."
This is an hour-and-forty-minute-long cringe with very little payoff: "It is too long for its own good, yet too short to wrap up the preceding series in any satisfying capacity," says Rich Juzwiak. "In an attempt to get this thing over with, series creator Jill Soloway (who directed Musicale Finale, and co-wrote it with their sister, Faith) and company have failed to stick the landing. They had one job."
The Soloways have just lovingly crammed too much in here: "A self-indulgent experiment egregious even for the most self-indulgent characters on television, Musicale Finale feels hastily composed, a tacked-on coda from a visionary who has already moved onto brighter horizons, such as the underrated I Love Dick," says Robyn Bahr. "Truthfully, few of the actors seem prepared for their big numbers."
Transparent's greatest trans legacy is how quickly it grew irrelevant: "Transparent taught many cisgender people what transgender meant, and taught some closeted trans viewers, too," says Stephanie Burt. "It taught them there’s such a thing as trans culture, that trans people need one another and a wider queer community, like the one Maura seeks at an LGBTQ community center in season one. It taught them that there’s no one way to be trans, and that cis people can date, and sleep with, trans women without making us into interchangeable fetishes. (Maura has what seems like delightful sexual play with a cis woman, and then with a cis man.) And yet the trans lives in Transparent — most of all Maura’s — do not feel modern any more: Like maples that create the shade in which oak trees grow, the show has helped to make itself seem obsolete in this regard. In some ways, things have changed so much since 2014 that trans stories set even five years ago now read like historical fiction, or else like cringe comedy, a la Arrested Development."