Emotions were high at the New York premiere of Season 5 of “Transparent,” a 100-minute musical that creator Jill Soloway has dubbed the “Musicale Finale,” as cast and crew gathered to bid adieu to the groundbreaking series. Equal parts heartbreaking, creatively risky, spiritual and wacky, the first TV series to put trans characters front and center took its licks and went out with a swan song — literally.
Following a premiere screening at the third annual Tribeca TV Festival, series creator Jill Soloway, Season 5 co-writer and composer Faith Soloway, and stars Judith Light, Jay Duplass, Alexandra Billings, and Shakina Nayfack gathered to reflect on the grand finish.
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The “Musicale Finale,” which airs on Amazon Prime on September 27, opens with the death of matriarch Maura Pfefferman, the titular trans parent whose late-in-life gender transition anchored the early seasons. Jeffrey Tambor won two Emmys for his work as Maura, although some in the community criticized Soloway for casting a cisgender actor in the otherwise radically progressive series. Maura was written off the show following allegations of sexual misconduct levied at Tambor by two trans women involved with the show, Trace Lysette and Van Barnes. Tambor has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Billings is arguably the show’s most prominent trans performer, with Lysette’s Shea a close second. She is divine as Davina, Maura’s best friend, roommate, and trans mentor. When the allegations first came to light, Billings was not shy about supporting her trans sisters. “They’re absolutely correct. I believe them,” Billings said last year in an interview with WNYC’s Nancy podcast. “Even if I didn’t see absolutely everything, I can tell you without equivocation, they are not lying. Jeffrey Tambor is lying. And I said that very clearly. And I don’t have a problem saying that for the rest of my life.”
With that repeated support firmly on the record, Billings can now offer a more nuanced take on what Tambor gave to “Transparent.”
“Jeffrey and I had a really beautiful relationship when we were doing the thing,” Billings said in the talkback after the premiere screening. “I miss Maura. Very much. And I have been missing her a lot these last couple weeks. Maura was my very good friend. And she was really funny, and very kind, and very compassionate, and a trailblazer of sorts because she represented a group of trans women who don’t get seen a lot, which are the ones who have to live in stealth and lie for a very very long time, until they’re able to actually speak what’s true.”
In her scenes in the “Musicale Finale,” Davina becomes an avatar for Maura, even more so than her literal avatar, the one played by Nayfack in an autobiographical show written by Judith Light’s Shelly. In her scenes with the Pfefferman “kids” (Amy Landecker, Gaby Hoffmann, and Jay Duplass), she is maternal and loving. The tableaus between the four of them are achingly reminiscent of scenes with Maura.
“Maura for me is a philosophy,” said Billings. “The philosophy for Maura has been in me for a very, very long time. And I say this on behalf of her as well, I think she would allow me to speak for her. I speak very clearly right now to all of the young LGBTQIA humans in the audience, that their history matters, and if you do not take time and remember who came before you, you stand on the shoulders of nothing.”
Billings chose her words carefully here, doling out her emphasis and pregnant pauses to imbue the moment with requisite weight. You could have heard a pin drop in the drafty movie theater.
“I believe that Maura stood for that, wholeheartedly. And that would not have happened unless she had been blessed by a truly gifted actor. And that, among all the things that have happened and behavior that has happened, that is worth remembering.”
“Transparent: Musicale Finale” airs on Amazon Prime on September 27.