Monday, April 19, 2010

United States of Tara, "Doin' Time": Patient, heal thyself

A review of tonight's "United States of Tara" coming up just as soon as I totally subvert the hero archetype...
"She said that you need me to be sick! Because it's the only f--king thing holding us together!" -Tara
If season one of "Tara" was in part about showing how a marriage could hold together in spite of ridiculous stumbling blocks, season two has shown us that there are some things that even the most laid-back husband will not stand for (even if he's played by the guy who kept taking back Carrie Bradshaw after she screwed him over again and again and again). Between Buck's affair, Tara keeping it a secret and now the emergence of another alter - whom Tara is treating not as another symptom, but as a possible cure - Max is about at his breaking point. And Tara taking her sweet time to bail him out of jail while she had a roadside therapy session with Shoshana sure didn't help.

But is Tara right with what she says above? Does their marriage succeed in spite of the DID, or because of it?

Diablo Cody gave an interview to New York Magazine's Vulture blog a couple of weeks where she confessed to dissatisfaction with the show's first season, and specifically with how she and the writing staff serviced Tara herself:
Ironically, I felt that Tara was one of the least interesting characters on the show last season — the audience responded to her various alters, but not to her. So in season two, we’ll get acquainted with Tara, the core identity of the character, and get some insight into her weirdness and her pain and what drives her forward through this endless storm of transition and treatment.
Looking back at my reviews of the first season, I can see where she's coming from, as I tended to respond more to the alters, or Max, or Marshall or the rest of the family, with Tara sort of along for the ride.

And if Tara's behavior earlier in this season in letting Buck and Pammy's affair go on, or here in letting Max stew in jail so she can talk to Shoshana (and possibly avoid being committed by Max) seems more selfish than before, then at least it's Tara making choices, as opposed to being dragged through life by her alters. It's showing us the imperfections of Tara, and of her marriage to Max, and it's making me more interested in what happens to her, even if I don't always like what it is she's doing.

And the idea of Tara having co-consciousness with her alters allows for Tara's seemingly insane idea of using Shoshana as an actual therapist to make a weird kind of sense. On one level, it's just an excuse for Toni Collette to act opposite a green-screened version of herself, but she so far is doing that well. And if this series is going to be about this war going on inside Tara's psyche, there have to be times when it's just Tara with another version of herself. And the show's portrayal of the co-consciousness gave us that great visual at the end where a fed up Max accepted Shoshana's existence and chose to talk to her under the veil of "doctor"/patient confidentiality, with Tara having to sit out in the hallway of her own mind while her husband shares his innermost thoughts (about her) with one of her alters.

A few other thoughts:

• Because Pammy is a waitress at Max's favorite bar, he has to be frequently reminded of how his wife snuck around on him. And I loved the way Pammy described Tara to Max to remind him of how intimate she was with his wife: "She tastes like rain. Sometimes kiwi fruit. And once, she tasted like a penny." Between that and Marshall and Kate's discussion about Uncle Jemima and Mr. Butterworth, Sheila Callaghan's script had some of the sharpest dialogue of the season so far.

• As I suspected, Charmaine's baby turns out to be Neil's, and that revelation forces her to admit her true, conflicted feelings about the two men in her life: "I want my wedding pictures with Nick, but I want my wedding night with Neil."

What did everybody else think?


Rollie said...

Does it bother anyone else that Tara can now "speak" to her other selves? It bothers me, especially after last season's emphasis that this *isn't* schizophrenia.

That complaint is just a small one in what I'm finding to be a disappointing season. Three of the four story lines span from really annoying (Charmaine's) to over the top quirky (Kate) and resting on pointless (Marshall). What keeps me tuning are two things. It follows Nurse Jackie, and I'm interested to see where this therapist alt heads.

Anonymous said...

The Kate line is over the top. It's kind of absurd. I still enjoy her character for her comments and the storyline with the women. It's enjoyable but outrageous. How old is Kate?

The problem with Marshall's story is that his character in season 1 came across as gay and everyone knew that, including himself. Now I understand people can question themselves, wonder, and experiment but it feels false, especially his scene of coming out.

Charmaine's is more of the same and it fits her character. It's a natural progression. I'm surprised she's not as smart mouth about Tara as she was in season 1. It's seem to have jumped to Kate.

I like the co-consciousness. Now whether or not people with DID experience that I wouldn't know. It doesn't come off as schizophrenia because she's talking to part of herself. Then again I don't know much about medical diagnosis concerning these situations.

Whatever happened to Tara being an artist? That seems to have disappeared.


Sam Garret said...

with Tara having to sit out in the hallway of her own mind while her husband shares his innermost thoughts (about her) with one of her alters

Oh - right. I didn't pick up on that because the door was still open, so I thought Tara was secretly listening in, or unable to help doing so - trapped on the periphery. But your interpretation makes more sense.

Kim said...

Neil had one of his best moments of all time this episode: the bar scene with Max. "Hey, you know, in Bridget Jones' Diary, when she finds the girl...?" "...What?"

Anonymous said...

Edward Norton and Tyler Durden could talk.

Jamie said...

i really like the season. Each character is really intriguing to me!

i especially love kate. and the whole aunt jemima thing was hilarious!

MrsB said...

It doesn't bother me that Tara can talk to her alters. What bothers me is that her alters look like her to her.

I understand the need for it, to keep things straight for the audience, but it bugs me that in her mind, they all look like her instead of what they probably look like to themselves - and what would probably be clues as to why they are around.

On the marriage question, Tara and Max have always dealt with DID in their marriage. They've never been without it. It would be natural for them to wonder if the marriage would survive if she was cured.

Anonymous said...

The thing that bugs me about Shoshannah is that all of the other alters seem to be aware that they're alters. For all of her insight, Shoshannah seems to be the one alter who believes she's a real person and not another one of Tara's alters. Maybe they're trying to exploit some kind of irony in that, but I just find it to be inconsistent storytelling. And I also thought Tara was listening in on Max's therapy session from the outside. Maybe that wasn't the case, but it certainly wasn't clear. And if Tara is able to listen in on Max's session then it adds another layer to her co-conscious abilities but also another inconsistency. Because last year it was pretty clear that Tara had no memories of what her alters did when they took over.

qrter said...

I also interpreted the ending as Tara more or less being forced to eavesdrop Max' conversation with Shoshanna - which to me doesn't make it any less sad of an image. She's still shut out, she can hear but can't respond.

I really don't like Kate's storyline at all. It seems to be going nowhere and the details (the Valhalla Hawkwind character, the Youtube success) ring false.

Kitty M said...

In response to the comment above, and all the discussion about co-consciousness and re: "Tara having to sit out in the hallway of her own mind while her husband shares his innermost thoughts (about her) with one of her alters" (which I thought was beautifully rendered) -

It seems that all the niggly issues, like the alters looking like her, to her, come from the difficulties of representing things that are going on inside her head in a visual way on screen. That's why I like the image in the hallway so much, it was a beautiful representation of the way Tara's brain 'listens in' to the alters and their actions, even if she can't remember it later.

It's all about these different things occuring in her mind, and the show plays around with different ways of communicating that. Maybe a real DID person doesn't have real conversations with their alter in a more schizophrenic way (although I have no expertise on this at all), but I assume with co-consciousness there is some amount of information that gets shared. It's difficult to represent that, and the green-screen/motion control conversations are just one option of conveying co-consciousness to viewers. The hallway image is one of my favourites so far.

I loved when Shoshana sat in the chair pretending to be Tara for Max. All kinds of weird! Clever writing.

Anonymous said...

what did the whole taste like a penny thing mean??

DID Student said...

People with DID do indeed speak with their other alters. Sometimes even an alter may *only* speak through another alter. You must remember that all of these conversations are going on inside Tara's mind. She is not psychotic. She is not seeing real people outside her head. She has an internal world consisting of she and the other alters. They may or may not, depending on the level of co-consciousness, see and talk to one another. They can even fight with one another in the way that Buck and Tara fought earlier. Again, it is important to remember that the show is trying to portray an internal reality - externally. This is very difficult to do. These conversations and images are occurring inside Tara's internal world. Normally, no one else would be privy to them. She is not on the roadside having an out-loud conversation with herself. She is having an internal conversation with an alter.

For more information about DID, and for episode by episode expert analysis by those from the International Society of the Study of Dissociation (which has two prestigious members advising the show), please go here:

I hope that helps!


Kitty M said...

Fantastic link, thanks so much! And good to have a more professionally informed explanation of the internal nature of intra-alter conversations...

Um, on this: what did the whole taste like a penny thing mean?? - I'm not totally sure if this is a genuine question, but just in case, let's remember Pammy and Tara engaged in sexual activity, which evidently involved Pammy tasting Tara (as Buck) in a most intimate way (and not just Tara/Buck tasting Pammy, which we saw on screen). With a woman's reproductive cycle, the taste changes. Apparently with Tara, sometimes it's like rain, sometimes like kiwi fruit, and sometimes like a penny. One would assume Max is also familiar with these tastes, so Pammy's description would be designed to upset him; he would want to be the only one to know that from recent experience.

Apologies if this is a little too much explanation...