Monday, March 29, 2010

United States of Tara, "Trouble Junction": Wake-up call

A review of tonight's "United States of Tara" coming up just as soon as I literally have my mind blown...
"I'm trouble. I am trouble." -Tara
Oh, indeed you are, Tara. And at the moment, you're the only one who knows it.

Last week, we found out that Buck was back in the picture, and this week Tara finds out, too, repeatedly - first regaining control of her body in a strange neighborhood while wearing Max's clothes(*), then being confronted by Pammy in the supermarket parking lot, and then waking up naked(**) in Pammy's bed after another night of wild passion between Pammy and Buck.

(*) Because they threw out everything of Buck's - except, for some reason, the glasses. As I said in my preview of the season, ditching the alters' costumes is a nice touch - Toni Collette's too good to need the crutch, and on a character logic level, it feels like having that stuff around just enables the alters to feel like they should be in charge. So why keep Buck's specs?

(**) Toni Collette's a fearless enough actress that I'm sure she's been nude on-screen before, but it was still a jolt to see her topless here, even on pay cable. I guess the idea is to emphasize Tara's femininity after she's woken up from another Buck episode?

And because Tara and her family have just been through such a golden, alter-free period - as exemplified by that splendid duet of "All Out of Love" she and Max perform at the Hubberd house (before a cover of the song plays over Buck and Pammy's foreplay) - and because she's still fairly ashamed of her condition and the things her body does when the alters are in charge, she doesn't tell anyone. Not Max, not Pammy (who could have used a much sterner, more explicit warning than the one I quoted above), not Charmaine nor anyone else. And that should be bad for Tara and a lot of people around her, shouldn't it? Sometimes, the cover-up's worse than the crime.

It's clear Tara's relationship with the alters - or, at least, the show's approach to depicting them - is different this year than before. Not only are the costumes gone, but we see Tara and Buck interacting even while Tara's in charge, in a mental state that's known as co-consciousness. And Collette's terrific not only at playing against herself (or, rather, at giving two separate performances in a vacuum that can be spliced together), but also at Tara's dawning horror and shame at discovering that she's not better - that she's stuck with Buck and the rest of them. I'd forgotten that a number of episodes last year featured Tara keeping video diaries of her blackouts, but the "Blair Witch"-style flip-phone confessional after she talks to Pammy in the parking lot was a great moment. Watch her be that scared and angry and ashamed, and you understand exactly why Tara would keep this mess to herself for as long as she can.

As Max starts pondering the idea of buying, renovating and flipping the Hubberd house, his plumber buddy offers to "Sully-rig" the pipes, coming up with a fix that won't be permanent but will last long enough to push the problem onto the next owners. By not fessing up to everyone that the DID is back in effect, Tara's trying to Sully-rig her own life.

Some other thoughts:

• While Tara's body is being used against her will to have sex with a woman, Marshall backs off from his big political statement last week and lets himself become Courtney's gay boyfriend. Everyone on this show knows Marshall's gay, Marshall included, but he's a teenager, and he's freaked out - and intimidated by Lionel, who's unapologetic and confrontational about his own sexuality - and he's experimenting.

• The debt collection office is still too broad (particularly when Kate's male coworker slobbers over the pictures of Princess Valhalla Hawkwind), but the job sort of turns into a means to an end, which is introducing Kate to Lynda P. Frazier, played by the wonderful character actress Viola Davis. Lynda, like Tara, is an artist, and she also has something of a more manageable alter ego in Princess Valhalla Hawkwind ("I will always be her... a little"), so she could prove to be a kindred spirit to either Kate (who'd love to be around someone similar to her mom but less crazy) or Tara herself.

• Charmaine's re-virginization plan suggestions a Bridezilla-in-the-making, but moving her into Max and Tara's house should be good for the character (and for people like me who are fans of Rosemarie DeWitt).

• Fynder-Spyder is usually the fake search engine name of choice for movies and TV shows that don't want to give Google free advertising. Here, Kate uses "Sirchbot," which I haven't seen before.

• Between "Breaking Bad" last night and Courtney and Marshall's make-out session tonight, it's been a good week for ouija boards on cable, hasn't it?

What did everybody else think?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of the show since day one so of course I enjoyed it.

I am still creeped out that Tara takes her shoes off and feels comfortable enough to be barefoot in a house she supposedly has never been in before. It's off putting and eerily because of the suicide and how natural she does it. I hope it leads to an over arching plot development.

Kate's story continues to feel fake.

I'm disappointed the crazy ex-manager story didn't play out. Unless it did and I don't recall.

JWIII

Mark said...

I just think the story is getting better but they are still testing the waters...
I just hope they find the right mix soon enough :>

MrsB said...

Loved this episode. Watching Marshal explore his own identity is as gripping to me as watching Tara explore hers.

I have to say that I'm finding Kate a little less annoying than I did last year, though she still doesn't seem to have much to do yet.

The barefoot in the suicide house thing freaks me out. Surely they are setting up for some big reveal there, as she's done it twice now, and Max even commented on it. Maybe the poncho goblin has been driving the man insane, lol!

Craig Ranapia said...

Toni Collette's a fearless enough actress that I'm sure she's been nude on-screen before, but it was still a jolt to see her topless here, even on pay cable. I guess the idea is to emphasize Tara's femininity after she's woken up from another Buck episode?

FFS, if you're right about the motivation behind that, am I the only person who really finds that pretty damn demeaning and patronising to the viewer? Yeah, guys, I think at this point folks get that Tara isn't gay or transgendered she has a "male" alter. That Tara feels seriously violated every time she wakes up in a strange place with no idea what she's been doing -- and where Buck and T. are concerned, not sure she wants to.

Think the point has been made without the gratuitous boobage.

LA said...

As much as I like DeWitt, her character is driving me nuts. Did I forget how neurotic she was during the long hiatus, or have they amped it up this season? That said, she probably gave a clue when she was discussing with Tara how badly their parents treated them. Tara defended the parents, but that probably only means that they are at the root of her DID.

Susan said...

I don't think the nudity was gratuitous. I think it was meant to show Tara's vulnerability - and to show how far the situation went without Tara knowing what happened. It's not like she just woke up in someone else's bed, she woke up *naked* - think about how violating that must feel, and then how ashamed she must feel to know that she wasn't violated, she just had no choice. (Just like the rape from boarding school that turned out to be an alter taking charge.)

Craig Ranapia said...

I don't think the nudity was gratuitous. I think it was meant to show Tara's vulnerability - and to show how far the situation went without Tara knowing what happened.

I'll take your word for that, Susan, and am thankful for that. I'm just annoyed by it, because even though I can't stand the show Colette is such a talented actor she doesn't need to go topless to convey vulnerability that would break your heart like a rotten twig in a hurricane. Have you seen Muriel's Wedding - which was her breakout role in Australia? Colette brought a real depth to the title role when it could have turned into a really ugly running fat joke.

belinda said...

Nope, wasn't bothered by the nudity at all. I think it fitted with that particular scene quite well.

I can't remember the history (or if we were ever told), but was this the first time Tara was able to keep her other identities at bay for a long stretch of time? (Well, before the suicidal neighbor anyway). I'm curious as to how the family was when she was ok, how she 'lapsed', and how they reacted to her 'lapse' in comparison to this one, if it happened before.

Art Fleming said...


(*) Because they threw out everything of Buck's - except, for some reason, the glasses. As I said in my preview of the season, ditching the alters' costumes is a nice touch - Toni Collette's too good to need the crutch, and on a character logic level, it feels like having that stuff around just enables the alters to feel like they should be in charge. So why keep Buck's specs?

I think people with multiple personality disorder can change from to right to left handed, i think buck might actually need glasses when hes out.

Anonymous said...

Did they really throw out the alters material or is it all in the closet of the house? Am I reading too deep into the house and Tara's actions? It looked like she went to the closet of the house to change.

JWIII

Anonymous said...

Alan, I don't think that oral sex between two women is usually considered "foreplay". It is a slippery slope to the statement that all lesbians can have is "foreplay".
And have a nice day!

BFH said...

"flip-phone confessional"

You mean Flip videocamera, right? Not phone.

I wouldn't usually nitpick, but I had to share... my wife and I got one of those before a vacation last fall. She had to keep correcting me every time I asked her, "Are you going to tape this on the flip-phone?"

(Also, as a Hubbard, it's creepy to keep hearing my name, especially when the characters speculate as to the ways the neighbor might have tried to kill himself.)

Anonymous said...

To 6:14 Anonymous:

When oral sex is done in the living room, mostly dressed, I'd consider that foreplay - especially when it apparently ended in the bedroom and completely naked.

I don't think oral sex between two people of any sex has to be foreplay, but it certainly *can* be.

Kitty M said...

As a lesbian, I would say that oral sex between women in the living room with clothes on is not foreplay but sex in the living room with clothes on. Even if it leads to more sex in the bedroom and without clothes, later. Maybe that's just me, but I think the classifications are different when there is no male genitalia involved. When you're both female, if one of you touches the other there for any reasonable length of time, with any part of your body, probably even over clothes, I'd classify it as sex.

But all that isn't really relevant.

I wanted to comment on the nudity thing too. Initially, I was going to argue, like Susan, that it showed Tara's vulnerability. I was surpised, like you were Alan, since it's tv and it's a big name actress but, taking into account my thoughts below, I felt it made the scene really powerful and gave me even more respect for Colette as a 'fearless' actress.

More than vulnerabilty and gratuitious nudity, I think the fact that Tara wakes up naked with another person (no matter whether it's male or female), really highlights the sort-of-adultery issue. I know it's Buck, not Tara, who has 'fornicated' with someone else other than Max, but the fact that the two of them have shared the intimacy of not only having sex but then sleeping naked next to one another (which adds another level of connection, I think) would be gut-wrenching for Tara herself. For me, the nudity doesn't go to show that she's all vulnerable and afraid but instead highlights that her body has been sexually involved with someone.

Since Max isn't even allowed to have sex with the alters, Tara would obviously have massive issues with this, leading to how upset she is when filming that flip videocamera phone monologue. Waking up naked next to a near-stranger would be horrifying to Tara for these reasons, more than any fear, I think, especially as she now knows who the woman is. I think the nudity heightens the guilt rather than emphasising vulnerability.

It is interesting to me that the show has this first case of an alter sleeping with someone else be with a woman, not a man. On some level it makes me think 'yay, sort-of-lesbianism!' but also it troubles me a little. Let me explain. All last season there was the threat of 'T' sleeping with random other men, and of both 'T' and Alice trying to sleep with Max, none of which occured. It's almost as though Tara's body having sex with another man would be too much for the show to handle, from Max's perspective. Obviously we don't know yet (at this date in time but also after this episode) how Max will react when he finds out about Buck's extra-curricular activity but I get an awful sense of foreboding that it will be something along the lines of, "well, I am very very upset but I can forgive you because, after all, it wasn't real sex, it was lesbian sex."

I will be a bit disappointed if that does happen, because I think so far the show has been extraordinary in its gay representation, with Marshall just already being whatever he is (sexually attracted to boys, if not exclusively) at the show's inception, without the need for that to be a story in and of itself. So, I hope that Max takes this alter-induced situation just as seriously as he might, say, take some T-on-boy sex.

Kitty M said...

Hmm, I've just thought about this some more and of course my lesbian sex/foreplay discussion doesn't even totally apply here as for Buck, at least, (alhough maybe in a way for Pammy) this isn't sex between two women - although there's still no male unit, you know, cuz of 'Nam... But whatever, it wasn't really about the episode, just about lesbian sex in general. But I'm sure there's a whole other blog for that ;)