Transparent ended its stellar third season with Shelly Pfefferman (the family’s matriarch, played by Judith Light) performing Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in my Pocket” as part of her one-woman show. Here, Light tells EW about how important that scene was — to her, her character, and to viewers.
Shelly’s one-woman show — titled To Shell and Back — is a bit of a running gag throughout Transparent’s third season. It seems silly, corny, ridiculous. Then in the eighth episode, it’s revealed that a young Shelly was abused by her music teacher and has stayed away from performing ever since. Suddenly To Shell and Back isn’t a joke anymore: It’s one woman’s challenging, triumphant return to her self.
That return happens in the season finale when Shelly sings Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket” on a cruise ship she’s vacationing on with the rest of her family. But first, she introduces it with some background:
When I was a young girl, something happened to me that made me stop being who I really was. I stopped growing in every sense of the word. I have always been drawn to men who wanted to live in the darkness of a secret. “Who am I?” I didn’t know. I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know. I was in a cocoon.
Then, she gently launches into the ’90s hit. She’s gripping the microphone tightly with both hands; her eyes are glazed with tears at one point. You can tell that something’s happening inside her, that she’s transforming right before all these strangers (plus her daughters and former spouse, also sitting in the audience).
Transparent creator Jill Soloway and her sister Faith, a writer on the show, chose “Hand in my Pocket,” Light says, because they thought the lyrics of the track would resonate with someone like Shelly who “was looking to find her voice.” “This is a person who allowed herself to be suppressed for so many years,” Light continues. “The lyric, ‘Everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine,’ is something they believe Shelly would connect to very powerfully in the process of finding her voice.”
The song also made sense for another big reason: In the first season, Shelly tells her kids that she doesn’t care for music. “You just sort of write it off as one of those things that Shelly says,” Light says, “then you begin later in season 3 to realize why she says that.” But even despite her avoidance of music, she probably couldn’t help but hear her children blasting Morrissette. “There was something in it that she responded to emotionally.”
So, years later, she took it to the stage. “I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say, ‘That was really important for me, because I haven’t been able to find my voice.’ Women, in particular,” Light says of the scene. “People who have been considered ‘the other’ came to me and have written to me and have said, ‘This mattered to me enormously. If Shelly can do it, I can do it.’”
It meant a lot to Light, too: Her manager of 36 years got to see the scene before he died recently, and he and his husband told her “how important this particular scene was.” “They said it would be a kind of pledge of allegiance to people living in a way that is powerful because we’re all afraid of different things, but they felt this would be a real moment to point to and talk about for myself personally and for other people,” she says. “It has indeed turned out to be so.”
See Shelly’s performance in season 3 of Transparent, which is now streaming on Amazon.