Sunday, April 05, 2009

United States of Tara, "Miracle": There's a T in Trip

Spoilers for the "United States of Tara" season one finale coming up just as soon as I bake some cookies...
"I'm not looking for a miracle... I just, I want to get better. Not knowing has gotta be worse than anything that can happen in that room, right?" -Tara
And so season one of "Tara" comes to an end, more or less as most of us were expecting, but not in an unsatisfying way.

Even if you don't know about the realities of DID, or the practicalities of trying to maintain a high-concept TV show for more than one season, you had to assume that the face-to-face with Trip wasn't going to be a cure, or anything close to it. Tara's problem isn't that simple, no matter how much she or Max might wish otherwise. But I really liked the way the encounter played out -- not just the revelation that Trip and his roommate had actually abused T, and not Tara (which means the DID existed long before the incident), but the fact that Diablo Cody's script deliberately went out of the room when it was time for Trip to spell out the gory details. Even for a show as blunt about sex as this, I think having to listen to Trip describe what happened -- especially since it turned out what happened isn't at all relevant to the root of Tara's condition -- would have been too much, and I appreciated the restraint.

I'm assuming the arc of season two will feature Max and/or Tara back at square one with the investigation, but I'd almost rather they table the search for a while. You have to assume that Tara's never going to be "cured" (assuming that the problem can ever really go away, when the Robin Weigert character last week implied otherwise) until close to the end of the series, and I'd like to see some more of how the alters relate to one another, and to her. As the revelation of T's involvement with Trip jumbled up Tara's psyche and started putting different personalities in charge at a rapid clip, we got to see just how scary the condition can be. With the exception of Gimme, Tara's been portrayed with a relatively comedy-friendly form of the condition: the alters may not always come out when it's convenient, but there's no question of who's in charge and why, and they usually go away before too much damage gets done. But to see them all flitting in and out (with that eerie submarine sound effect each time), and to hear Alice again dismissively treat Tara as a lesser personality, or just another alter, is still extremely creepy. If I had to choose between season two being a rehash of season one's detective story or being about a battle for control among the different personas, I'd definitely pick the latter.

And because I suspected where Tara's story was going to go, if not the exact details, the strongest parts of "Miracle" involved Marshall and Aunt Charmaine. I still don't entirely buy the idea that T seducing Jason was the best thing for Marshall -- if he's going to get his heart broken either way, isn't it better if it's the way that doesn't involve his first boyfriend making out with his mom? -- but Marshall driving 200 miles to mend fences with Tara was a very nice moment, and Charmaine and Marshall's bonding was a lovely payoff to Marshall's concern that she didn't like him back in the episode with her birthday party.

I also really liked Charmaine being torn between the guy who's perfect on paper (Nick), and who also seems like a really good guy (see his conversation with Marshall about the Jason break-up), and the guy who's a joke on paper (Neil), but who has a much deeper connection to her. It's a messy story, and an interesting one, and also one that will hopefully give us lots of Patton Oswalt next season. After being the most extraneous character in the first few episodes, Charmaine's now one of my favorites, and a great role for Rosemarie De Witt.

The Marshall/Charmaine scenes also featured the finale's most heavily-concentrated dose of Diablo Cody-isms, including:

• Marshall explains Charmaine's dilemma as, "To use literary tropes, Neil is a Holy Fool, and Nick -- Nick is like deus ex machina."

• Charmaine responding to an offer of help with, "No, my sister's meeting with her rapist, so we're just hanging out," followed by Marshall dismissing the guy because "He looked like a retarded Mark Harmon."

• Marshall complaining, "I don't want to hear about anyone's vagina. Especially not a coupon-clipping mom vagina."

Oddly, though, I found the most Cody-esque touch of the episode to not be in the dialogue, but in Nick introducing the kids to the joys of the miracle fruit, which, when consumed, temporarily changes your tastebuds so that you taste sour things as sweet. That seemed like a cool metaphor for not only Tara's condition, but for the way the Gregson's deal with it, and how sometimes the sourness of DID provides sweet effects for the family.

When the show comes back next season, I'd like to see a better storyline for Kate. (Nate Corddry was funny at times, but that's the one arc where it always went exactly where you thought it would, and rarely to interesting comic or dramatic effect.) But overall, this turned out to be a very strong first season for a show I needed a few episodes to completely warm to.

What did everybody else think?


CC said...

This show grew on me more and more with each episode. I really liked the season finale and will be happy when the show picks up with the many alters of Tara next year.

I enjoyed the classic Diablo Codyesque lines that Alan mentioned. In addition, one of my biggest LOL moments was Katie complaining that she might have to get a job at the Chocolate Starfish. Ha!

qrter said...

I enjoyed the series, more than I thought I would.

I always got the nagging feeling the Alice-alter knows more than she's letting on, more than that she knew of the existence of Gimme.

I agree with you, Alan, concerning Marshall - simply because I feel it would've been better to get his heart broken, to experience that himself. It's part of life. Like you say, now he just got his heart broken by Tara.

james said...

I'm glad how they ended the first season. They're maintaining whatever realism they can which I appreciate.

The final shot was delightful, shows how Tara has to accept this is who she is and how it has made her life.

I also agree with you about Season 2. I'd rather see a minor back story of searching with the larger focus on a battle of ego control. Hell, I'd rather have no detective searching bu Max for revelation from within Tara.

I hope they avoid any form of relationship between Max and Charmaine.

While I enjoyed Kate's story, this Gene guy needs to officially get somewhere.

I'm glad the show is short.

mrsb said...

I loved how Gimme was under T's seat at the bowling alley! I had to point that one out to my husband.

This was a good ending to the season. Some conclusions on issues, a new mystery to solve, budding romance, fences mended. All shows should end their season like this.

So Cal said...

Favorite new cable show for me in awhile.

Thanks for the recaps throughout the season without the huge number of comments from the readers..those of us who watch the show really appreciate it!

I like that they wrapped up some stories and left some open to explore next season. my only problem is that we have to wait until 2010 to see the show again!

Anonymous said...

Was it fully clear that Trip actually had done something abusive or rape-ish? When we all thought Tara just couldn't remember what had happened, that was one thing.

Now we find out that it was T who was there for the encounter. We certainly have gotten the impression that T is a girl who has a certain... "zest for living" might be a delicate way of putting it.

Did T actually say "Tara wasn't there, Trip, it was me you raped" or was it more like "When Tara is away, T will play?" I guess I'm just wondering if the abuse we had presumed or assumed, actually took place.

Kristin said...

I'm a little upset that the show is coming back in 2010 and not, say, September or something. Our showtime/starz/etc changes so often here in St. Louis it's hard to tell if I'll even still get the channels in my Movie channel section. I loved the last episode. My favorite part was the last shot with Max, Katie, Marshall and Tara at the bowling alley and all the alters there too. They couldn't have left the season off any better.

Edd said...

This thread has been dead for some time already, so it's unlikely anyone will read this post, but I've just caught up with "Tara" -- and enjoyed it -- and can't resist posting some thoughts.

I certainly enjoyed the show, in no small part, because of John Corbett and Toni Colletti and the other fine actors.

I've also been curious about this series because, about 15 years ago, I had a friend who had been diagnosed with MPD (as it was still called back then). Knowing him motivated me to find a introductory textbook describing symptoms and treatment of MPD. Anything I learned from that text is some 15 years out of date now, but I couldn't help watch "Tara" with that text and my experiences with my friend in mind.

Discounting the obvious fact that "Tara" is designed for entertainment, I found it surprisingly consistent with what I remember. Alters coming out, some sharing memories, others not, the sharing of consciousness as a measure of integration. The possibility that an integration may fall apart late. All those things seemed real to me.

My friend was put on a constantly changing and ever increasing number of anti-psychotic medications, however, at least back then, there weren't any medications which specifically suppressed alters. They just reduced anxiety and schizophrenic tendencies. Perhaps that's changed since then.

Perhaps the most frightening thing in the text was its description of the causes of MPD/DID. Extreme physical or sexual trauma to a very young child. Something very brutal or other comparable horrifying event. The text gave an example of a 5-year old, who, after a bomb blast, was found by rescue workers attempting to reassemble the pieces of her parents. What happened to Dexter Morgan of “Dexter” would certainly qualify as such an event. When the show seemed to be saying her traumatic event happened at age 16, I feared the show was losing accuracy. However, by the end of the final episode, I was relieved that that had only been a red herring. However, that leaves me dreading finding out her trauma. It won't be lighthearted or funny.

If Diablo Cody is consistent with the text I read, then Tara’s trauma should ultimately be revealed to have happened when she was quite young. Potentially, that could point a finger at her parents, who have already been shown to be dysfunctional. Perhaps there's something much darker going on in that family? I think the series has already hinted there's something strangely dysfunctional about the sister. I know I'm disturbed at how openly she discusses her sexual behavior with her 13-year old nephew.

I also was impressed with the way the series handled the husband's reaction to therapy at the hospital. Generally, the sort of person who chooses to live in such a chaotic situation has a few co-dependent issues of his own. That seemed real to me.

As DID is a defense mechanism, each alter is formed to serve a specific purpose. Alice and the rest of them come out to deal with specific stresses or situations. What they do when they come out should help explain why they come out.

I’m looking forward to next season.

Kitty M said...

Did T actually say "Tara wasn't there, Trip, it was me you raped" or was it more like "When Tara is away, T will play?" I guess I'm just wondering if the abuse we had presumed or assumed, actually took place.

I too was wondering this. The double revelation that this incident with Trip had occured in some respect to 'T' and that this meant the DID had emerged much younger was perfect for a season finale, I thought. It deepens the mystery without solving anything, and makes me want to find out all the backstory.

Thinking back to the way the incident had been set up as rape prior to this (Charmaine saying Tara 'had sex with a guy she didn't want to have sex with' and the roomate who said she looked as though she's been roughed up a little, and Tara herself having a massive blackout around that time), this episode muddied those waters, for me.

Collette's delivery of 'T's 'it was my night' claim seemed to contain some pride (maybe I should re-watch this, as it may have been bravado at having been there rather than pleasure with what happened) so that I was unsure as to whether what happened was something T wanted but Tara didn't, and whether there was some co-consciousness occuring at that time, or whether Tara maybe transitioned during the enounter (ie. back from T to Tara in the midsts of something that she was unhappy with but which T had instigated).

If something like that had happened, it would still explain why Trip feels guilty but also makes it another incident where the alters have gotten Tara into trouble. I could imagine that T might have seduced the two men into a threesome (unless the presence of the other guy was just T mouthing off) and then Tara reappeared and wanted to leave, but the two others wouldn't stop, leading to a rape, further traumatising Tara. That seems more interesting, since this show is all about exploring the situations that arise from having the alters, than if the two/Trip raped T.

I hope that by the end of the series, we do at least know something about why Tara is the way she is - ie. the instigating incident. I concur with Edd and others in earlier UST threads who have theorised that there is an earlier trauma, quite probably horrifying and sexual, and occuring at a really young age. There is a very evident tension in the relationships between Tara's parents, Tara, Charmaine and the kids (who lived with their Grandparents for six months when they too were very young, let's not forget, laying them open to the same potential abuser(s) - although I imagine it would be a little too dark even for this show if it turned out to be the (Grand)father himself, more likely a random uncle or something, to keep it a slightly safer remove. Anyway, all this tension and the snippets of info about who attended boarding school and who didn't and why raise lots of questions and lay the groundwork for some great exploration of all this over the course of next season and beyond.

I love this show. I tuned in for Toni Collette (and was not disappointed - she is riveting to watch as every alter), I laughed at the Diablo Cody-esque stuff, I found it fascinating to see how all the alters and the characters interact, and I stayed for these reasons and also because now I want to know how it all got started! I hope it continues into at least a third season.