I Am Cait's second season opens with Caitlyn Jenner set to embark on a journey with a group of trans women who've been a support system. You're rooting for her — joyous even, as she looks legitimately happy and free enough to live in the truth.
What's great about the opening, and the season overall it seems (only one episode was shared with critics), is that it dives right into Jenner's controversies, which include her infamous "man in a dress" comment that infuriated trans advocates. Thrust into a notoriety she didn't predict, Jenner appears doubly brave for making a second transition into someone who's actually knowledgable about the community in which she's been appointed a de facto leadership position. As she said in January at the Television Critics Association winter TV previews, she hasn't been a woman very long. She has a lot to learn, and acknowledging that goes a long way to build compassion. Setting the protagonist on an actual journey is just smart storytelling.
Jenner's daughters Kylie and Kendall make an appearance before the group takes off, and their cool levelheadedness is endearing. "I think she got pretty lucky," Kendall says to Jenner's group of friends, which includes Candis Cayne, Chandi Moore and Jennifer Finney Boylan. "We're all open, accepting, non-judgmental people." The daughters call Jenner "Mad" — a combination of Mom and Dad. It's sweet.
Unfortunately, the sweetness and empathy begin to decelerate the moment the ladies leave California and get on their well-appointed bus to trek across the country. Rightfully, producers have Jenner address big, uncomfortable questions, including which gender she wants to date (men, probably), which can't be easy to just spit out. You're proud of her, until Jenner gleefully suggests that these types of conversations would never happen anywhere else, and it's right here you first hear the bus going off the proverbial rails.
This hard, confusing and sometimes alienating conversation, in fact, is had by LGBTQ people all the time and underscores the need for LGBTQ centers where young people who don't have Jenner's emotional stability or accepting loved ones can figure this stuff out before harming themselves. You want to believe Jenner knows that. "This is just an offhand comment," you think to yourself. "Let's give her the benefit of the doubt. Not a big deal."
Nope. Having Boylan, a writer-activist, confront Jenner is brilliant reality TV, but it becomes apparent fast that if she weren't there, Jenner might just consume herself with lipstick, boys, clothes and, to be fair, just figuring herself out. Which is fine. But it's her refusal to acknowledge that Republicans haven't traditionally supported trans issues, while Democrats have, that just gets frustrating. Irritating, actually.
Boylan tries to explain, with evidence, why Republicans haven't done much to help trans people but Jenner isn't hearing it — you see her shut down, dismiss, deflect. She's extremely reluctant to acknowledge that Democrats have made strides for LGBT people, which, no matter one's personal politics, is a simple fact based on events we've all witnessed with our own eyes. Worst, Jenner tries to shift the emphasis to the economy, asserting that Republicans do care about trans issues, but "they just don't talk about it," prioritizing the the economy, which will provide everyone — including trans people — with opportunities.
You can smell the smoke coming from her friends' ears as they try to wrap their heads around her reasoning; as a viewer, you start to just feel sad for her. Of course, she's completely entitled to her reasoning for being a conservative. But in the context of the specific conversations her friends are trying to have with her on the bus, she just sounds like a rich white lady who has a lot of money and wants to protect it — someone whose fortress of privilege and abundance is so thick it cannot be penetrated, not even by facts and reason. She starts to look delusional, which, yes, makes the show compelling, but for the wrong reasons. You start feeling like you just want to get off the ride.
I Am Cait premieres Sunday at 9/8c on E!