The Shangri-La is lit up pink by the afternoon LA sun, and Josh is on his way to visit Maura, for the first time. He’s prepared for the occasion with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. Maura’s happy to answer any questions Josh may have brewing in his head. This boy just oozes of untapped emotion—I want him to let it go, this stubbornness and inability to break out of his “newest hat/newest band/hippest restaurant” thing that even Maura sees through. Josh gives a weak supportive gesture, telling Maura that anything she does behind closed doors is perfectly fine with Josh. Maura only shows a brief moment of disappointment in her son—doesn’t he get what this is all about? Maura is breaking down the doors, once and for all. Might as well relax behind closed doors though while we’re at it. Maura lets her hair down from its ponytail and sighs. Josh quickly excuses himself to the bathroom. In the passageway through Maura’s room, there’s a charming dresser with a trio of wigs adorned atop it, and a vanity filled with perfumes and blushes, lipsticks and accessories. Josh looks stunned, horrified.
Apparently these Pfefferman kids were raised with a mini playground in their backyard—like ’70s metal playground style. Josh is telling the girls about how he did some “research” online about Maura’s symptoms. He’s convinced its dementia. The girls scoff at him. They bring up the time “Dad” showed up at a birthday wearing a beekeeper costume. Ali and Sarah have a good chuckle, but Josh calls the act “inappropriate.” They try to tell him, rather, drill it into his head: This is for real. And now we all have to start over. Ali announces she’s thinking about going back to school and Sarah and Josh begin to lay into her (yes, now it’s her turn for the picking) about a new school backpack and school shoes, all thanks to “Daddy,” taunting her in little voices. There’s something ironic about this moment, the playground, their childish antics and the dynamic between the three.
Flashback, flashback! This time, once more to 1994—Maura still sporting a little curl in her hair, and Shelly (Judith Light) is there, “Mort’s wife,” just two lovebirds having a cocktail in the afternoon while the kids play outside (taunting one another, I’m sure.) Maura tells Shelly that they should “change it up”—Shelly immediately objects to the cock ring—not again. But Maura has something else in mind, how about wearing Shelly’s underwear for sexy pleasure? Shelly seems taken by this idea, her reaction is upbeat and she laughs along with it. It all makes sense, sort of. I get why when Ed went missing, and Josh thought he was dropping a bombshell about Maura, Shelly reacted the way she did.
Ali gets Maura’s permission to start school at Santa Monica College, so long as she doesn’t tell Josh and Sarah—it isn’t fair (they’ll just bitch and moan.) In one of her Gender Studies classes, Ali and Syd (Carrie Brownstein) are sitting in the back row talking “follow-up.” Syd once had a relationship with the professor, it just so happens to be Jill Soloway, making a rad, fitting, oozing with goodness guest appearance. (The red eyeglasses—a supremely perfect touch!) I consider myself a feminist, but I have to laugh at the dry-erase board. There are so many things happening, namely circles. Sarah and Syd continue to comment on all the name-dropping going down—Syd’s like, “My ex so did not hang with Audre Lorde.”
Lessons we’ve learned today: It’s feminist to audit; it’s not unfeminist to audit. Ali spots a guy in the corner, maybe the department TA—calling him “Paul Bunyan” (his name is Dale) (played by Ian Harvie, transgender comedian and Margaret Cho’s former opening act) and doesn’t get what he’s doing in a Women’s Studies class. Syd whispers that he’s trans. Ali decides to go introduce herself and the result is a very awkward conversation about the versatility of flannel—queer coats of armor, really. Outside, they chat some more. He’s like, “Wait, aren’t you a dyke?” THANK YOU, Dale. Don’t we wish? That new haircut is something special, and it does give Ali a queer vibe, but I love that it doesn’t have to mean shit about her sexuality.
Ali and Dale’s conversation is a great eye opener for those who aren’t as informed about gender and sexuality. It’s obvious that Ali is trying to set a boundary here, without consciously realizing it: She stresses, “dude” because she doesn’t want this dude to think that she’s necessarily into him. Then again, it’s obvious she’s still intrigued, open and not putting her foot in her mouth, which he picks up on in kind. He mentions he goes for femme girls, with lipstick and heels—high femme. Ali’s like, “So, not just femme—but high femme!” We then see her make a mental note, recognizing the spectrum of how we identify and what we are attracted to have no bounds, no binary, and no recommended/understood definitions. I love her face—it says, “I’m learning.”