By Evan Lambert
Season three of the Emmy-winning Amazon series Transparent ended with the show’s main characters all grappling with trauma of some kind. Josh (Jay Duplass) scattered the ashes of his former lover and Shelly (Judith Light) brought her family to tears with her music, just as Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) learned that she couldn’t receive gender reassignment surgery because of her age-related health issues. Considering all of this devastation, it’s no wonder that season four of the show, originally created by Jill Soloway, is sending the Pfeffermans on a journey of spiritual recovery and growth.
After Maura receives a call to travel to Israel and discuss “gender, Judaism and the Cold War” at an academic conference, her family follows her to the country and quickly embarks on a long path to self-realization. As Transparent‘s current showrunner and executive producer Bridget Bedard says in a statement, the season will explore “the idea that there is no either/or, only both/and” and how “complexity and contradiction = God.” In other words, each of the Pfeffermans will be communing with their own version of God in this season.
That motif of spirituality will also carry over into the season’s cinematography. Show producer Zackary Drucker says that the “cinematic language that [cinematographer Jim Frohna] employs is this kind of Shekinah-cam,” in reference to “Shekinah,” the Hebrew word for the feminine sacred spirit. “Shekinah-cam” is when you’re looking through the eyes of God, unbound by space and time.”
Frohna has apparently accomplished this by creating an open space on set and letting the actors move around freely without any hindrance from hanging lights and stray gear. Additionally, Frohna believes in using natural light whenever possible. Frohna adds: “The whole point of it is to let them keep this thing alive, so they don’t have to be in a certain spot at a certain moment. [That] means that the camera operator doesn’t always know what’s going to happen — and that’s the thrill and creative challenge.”
The new season’s focus on spirituality also extends to its music choices. According to Transparent‘s music supervisor, Bruce Gilbert, Jill Soloway — who identifies as gender non-binary and prefers “they” and “them” pronouns — approached him and asked if he could weave the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar into the fabric of the upcoming season. For those uninitiated, Superstar is an updated take on the story of Jesus. Originally performed in the early ’70s, it’s rife with anachronism yet ultimately about the human spirit. It makes sense that it would make an appearance in a season focused on not just Jesus’s birthplace but also general spirituality.
Ultimately, however, Transparent is a show bent on toppling power structures: class hierarchy, the patriarchy, and the gender binary. Says producer Rhys Ernst: “The human rights view of the show is to break that idea of one group being on top and instead, to privilege the group that’s been on the bottom — or deconstruct that idea altogether and uncover all the complexity in between.”
The show does not plan to leave that mission in the rear-view mirror anytime soon, and as Amy Landecker, who plays Sarah Pfefferman says, “the season is a soaring, celebratory, ecstatic exploration of self.”
Season four of Transparent will be available for streaming on Amazon Prime starting September 22.