Sunday, March 01, 2009

United States of Tara, "Alterations": Oooh, you're my breast friend

Spoilers for tonight's "United States of Tara" coming up just as soon as I rent a few chick flicks...
"That's not my booby buddy." -Charmaine
"Alterations" is the first episode in almost a month to be written by "Tara" creator Diablo Cody, and it's not hard to tell even if you didn't pay attention to the credits. The other writers seem fine at echoing Cody's voice when it comes to the dialogue, but "Alterations" is at times almost non-stop Cody patter:

• Max describes the fourth alter from last week as "a weird poncho goblin."

• The nurse tells Charmaine that "Dr. Pete's updating his video blog."

• Kate tells Marshall, "I think he's a homo, 'cause he has a bad case of gay face."

• Charmaine laments the way that she's only able to attract men "whose names are action verbs."

• Kate sees Kate wearing one of Charmaine's track suits and asks, "Where does she shop? Forever 36?"

And, of course, there was all the talk about booby buddies, breast friends, etc.

But while the patter's always fun, the real strength of "Alterations" comes from the character work, from our first extended glimpse of Charmaine dealing with one of the alters.

They established in the first episode that Charmaine believes Tara is faking the multiple personalities to get attention. If she's as close to Tara (geographically as well as socially) as she seems, how is this possible? It'd be one thing if they saw each other rarely after Tara's disorder first manifested itself, but she's around so much that it didn't seem to speak well of Charmaine that she chose to view the situation through such an unkind lens.

But watching her deal with Buck through this episode -- and, especially, being in the room when Buck transitions back into Tara(*) -- you see her finally softening to the idea. She begins referring to Tara as a separate person as her hair salon slumber party with Buck continues, and the look on her face in the tub as Tara's hacking up the remains of Buck's cigarettes suggests that maybe this is the first time she's been there for the exact moment of change, and that maybe that's what she needed to see a long time ago. (Either that, or the Percocet put her in a more forgiving mood than she usually is.)

(*) Tara's re-emergence, as Charmaine talks about fun times they had as kids, only affirms my Incredible Hulk comparison from last week, as she needed a moment of absolute calm, and/or the reminder of a happy childhood memory, to turn back into Bruce Banner.

Rosemarie DeWitt and the writers have done a nice job of gradually deepening a character who came off like a twit in the first few episodes, and this episode was a nice comic and dramatic showcase for her. Because the alters are so broadly-drawn and so unchanging, Toni Collette's going to give you more or less the same thing as those characters each week, so it's most interesting to watch how the other regulars deal with them. A couple of weeks ago, it was Max with T; tonight, it's Charmaine with Buck.

(It's also interesting how sometimes the DID manifests the exact right alter for the situation, like Alice coming in to deal with Marshall's teacher, while other times it sends the exact wrong one. Alice or T would have been splendid booby buddies from the jump -- assuming T could even have been bothered to show up.)

The other parts of the episode were less compelling for me. Marshall playing it cool and aloof with Jason was amusing to a point (especially with Kate referring to "The Rules" as "an old book" -- which, to her, it is), but at this point I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop on whether Jason is gay or just very friendly.

Similarly, Max's investigations into Tara's secret origin is necessary from a plot and character standpoint, but right now it feels a little obligatory. Still, I liked the final shot of Max putting the laptop, with the results of the investigation so far, under the bed next to the red poncho.

What did everybody else think?


james said...

I dig it. I enjoyed the Therapists lack of understanding about DID. It works well because there appears to be a constant debate about the legitimacy of DID.

I look forward to the pieces of information we learn as Max heads forward his discovery. I also think they're foreshadowing a major conflict between Max and Tara. Tara comments that she's lucky Max doesn't hide much of anything from here yet here he is hiding something huge.

Mark said...

Where did Buck get the six shooter from? It seems Mac and Tara for the safety of their family would get rid of it ASAP.

Rachel said...

I'm really enjoying this show, on every level. I love watching the characters interact, I feel so much for the characters.

I really didn't like Rosemarie DeWitt on Mad Men, but she's incredibly good and the right mix of funny/pathos here.

I have to say, some of the dialogue you point out as seeming incredible Cody-patter is commonplace speech among my age-group (late teens/early twenties). Either my friends and I are the ur-hipsters, or Diablo Cody is just really in tune with what people are saying, rather than being excessively stylized.

So Cal said...

Really excited to see waht happens when Max confronts Tara with the new alter information and how she reacts to him hiding info from her.

I find that I am caring more about the characters as the show goes on, even Charmaine, who i hated at the beginning of the show.

Really growing on me, and thanks for the write-ups Alan!

Anonymous said...

"Charmaine laments the way that she's only able to attract men "whose names are action verbs.""

And what is the name of the high school guy who is potentially at the root of some of Tara's problems?: "Trip".

I'm wondering if there's some connection with Charmaine, here, too.

Anonymous said...

I keep trying to like this show but it's not working. I like the actors but this storyline feels contrived. The alter characters feel over wrought...too cartoonish. I'm disappointed b/c I like Toni Collette and John Corbett. I think the movie Sybil did a much better job of depicting this disorder.

LA said...

Did anyone else notice that when Charmaine and Tara/Buck left the hospital, it was Sacred Heart?