Monday, April 26, 2010

United States of Tara, "Torando": Beautiful disaster

A review of tonight's "United States of Tara" coming up just as soon as my anger is a very pretty costume...
"Group time. Who wants to begin?" -Shoshana
We're at the midway point of season two, so why not lock most of the regulars into the Hubbard basement for some bonding and uncomfortable truths?

"Torando" - named for the misspelling on the TV weather report that so unnerves Marshall - ultimately didn't go as full "Breakfast Club" as I was expecting once the Gregsons, Charmaine and Ted and Hanny(*) went into the basement together - but, of course, it couldn't. Still lots of season to go, lots more to be revealed about Tara's psyche, the childhood secret that she and Charmaine share (that fractured Tara's mind and made Charmaine afraid of basements), and the state of Tara and Max's marriage.

(*) But not, interestingly, Courtney, whom I would have pegged for a berth in the basement just so she could weird out Marshall and his new grown-up gay role models with her plan to be a "celibate power couple." Down the road, I guess.

But "Torando" still offered us plenty of revelations, including a lot more detail about Shoshana and Tara's relationship with her. I wondered all through last week's episode whether Shoshana knew she was an alter, and it becomes clear here that she does, and that this fact doesn't seem to matter to either her or Tara when it comes to their "therapy." (And it was also interesting to see Ted acknowledge how much she resembles the real Shoshana, other than the slight lisp - and then funny to see Max and Charmaine simultaneously tell him not to tell Tara that, lest the lisp become part of the character.) I don't know if there's an actual case of an alter being used as a healing tool like this, but as a dramatic device, it works, particularly in an episode like this where the other characters were all trapped with Shoshana and forced to listen to her psycho-analyze them. (And because Shoshana is an alter, with a slightly over-the-top Noo Yawk accent from Toni Collette, we can laugh a bit at her rather than feel uncomfortable that the show is using Shoshana to tell us things about the characters we should be able to figure out in less obvious ways.)

And in addition to Shoshana, we got rapid-fire appearances by Buck, and Alice, and even Gimme, as Collette got to prove once and for all how unnecessary last year's alter costumes were. She's good enough to tell you exactly who she's playing without the pumps and the ponchos and the hunting vests, isn't she?

And for all of Max's despair about the flickering light at the end of the tunnel, and Marshall's unease about what the "Torando" misspelling says about society, and everyone's fear of the storm's damage, in the end the Gregsons do what they usually do in these circumstances: they took pain (or, in this case, fear), and they (literally) danced around it. And in the final moments of the episode, Tara stepped out of the Hubbard house and into the wreckage of their neighborhood (in a sequence gorgeously shot by Craig Gillespie). Tara's as much a mess as that tornado-ravaged street, but in the end she and her family will have to pick up and start trying to patch things up again.

Finally, in case you missed the news earlier today, I'll be moving to HitFix.com in a week's time. While I've tried to get these "Tara" reviews up by the time the show finishes airing on Monday nights, I suspect the next week is going to be chaotic enough that my review of episode 7 will be one of the first things I post to the HitFix version of the blog on Tuesday, rather than one of the last things I post here on Monday. So I look forward to discussing "Department of (Bleeped)-Up Family Services" with you at HitFix next week.

What did everybody else think?

13 comments:

Tassoula said...

I loved this episode—it felt like Cody and the writers were using a classic sitcom device, placing the family that was drifting off into their own corners of life, into an inescapable disaster to "bond" them, yet they kept the quirks and hallmarks of the show in tact all the while.

I also agree with your comment about Toni's acting being good enough to show us the alters without the aid of costumes. It was somewhat poetic that her daughter had one on, yet she didn't.

Michael said...

Between Gimme and Shoshanna, that's two new alters that have shown up in the last two years for Tara. Is that unusual in DID cases? Does it suggest that Tara's mind is splintering more, or that the new alters are appearing for some purpose that they can accomplish?

And we've seen suggestions of the origins of Gimme and Alice, from the flashback scene a couple weeks ago. Wonder where Buck and T came from? And for that matter, have we seen T at all this season?

Bruce said...

I understand that all of the crew, and even the actors, on this and all other cable tv series, get paid about half of what they would get if it was a regular network series. But the Producers are getting their regular overcharged rates. Like millions per episode etc.. This, to me, regardless of the "writting" quality, makes Steven Spielberg look like the swine porker he was depicted as being on "South Park".

Anonymous said...

Although Gimme's existence may not have been revealed until last year, I doubt that Gimme was a newly-formed alter. In fact, Gimme may well be the "first" alter, most likely having formed as a defense mechanism soon after (or perhaps during?) whatever childhood trauma Tara suffered through.

Anonymous said...

I find that the alters costumes were necessary for season 1. It's okay to not have them now because we know who they are but prior to this they needed to be fleshed out. So, I have no problem with the execution of the alters in season 1.

Charmaine was able to show off her acting chops. She was impressive.

At this point I've mostly given up whether or not the portrayal of DID is accurate. I would like the root issue to be realistic but beyond that the alters themselves and how she co-interacts is engaging and necessary for the show to grow.

JWIII

Anonymous said...

I'm not one to bicker about minute mistakes in TV shows and movies, but since the very title of the episode is a reference to somebody's spelling mistake, I feel free to nitpick.

It was said that the system that produced the storm had caused big problems in St Louis a couple of days prior. Well, these systems that produce that kind of weather move west to east, not the other way around. And they don't take 2 days to move across Missouri. Something that hit St Louis 2 days ago would be in the Atlantic by now.

Also having worked for a TV station, they wouldn't debate you on the spelling error like the person on the other end of the line with Marshall appears to do. They would take down you comment and pass it along. They don't have the time nor self-righteousness to argue with you.

MrsB said...

I agree about Gimme. I think he (she? it?) was probably the first alter, and just hadn't been needed again until he poked his head out last season.

I'm also interested in seeing where Buck and T came from.

Just to throw out guesses, I'd think Buck came in when Tara was trying to guard herself from sexual abuse. Sort of a way to hide her femininity. He's the defense of the "team" (like when he punched Kate's boyfriend out for grabbing her).

T, I think is Tara's way to take back the power of her sexuality. T isn't afraid of sex, so she can take control of situations where it comes up.

Can't wait to see what the truth is behind them all!

LA said...

I really liked this episode, and I can't wait to see how the rest of the season plays out.

Does anyone else get a Streisand-as-Lowenstein-from-The-Prince-of-Tides vibe from Collette's portrayal of Shoshana?

Brandon Nowalk said...

Fantastic episode and season so far. I haven't seen Season 1 since it aired, but this year strikes me as a lot more cohesive, not only in the story of Tara's alters but all the Gregsons/Charmaine are in clear and related identity quests.

Re: T, I'm glad we haven't seen much of the most annoying alter in the universe, especially with my new favorite (Shoshana) in the mix, but more importantly, it seems fitting. After that breakthrough with Trip last year, some of the mystery of T, some of the assumed importance has been drained now that we know she was around even before that. Whereas Alice and Gimme are clearly connected to this Hubbard House-related memory and I suspect we're about to find out Buck is, too. I wouldn't be surprised to learn the Buck origin has something to do with Charmaine's secrets too.

I've always been a fan of Rosemarie DeWitt on this show, and I think she's done a fantastic job portraying a character as damaged as Tara, if not as, from her view, showy. Now we're getting hints that her damage goes deeper than just growing up while Tara gets all the attention. I hesitate to speculate, partly because whatever happened can't be good, but it's starting to look like something happened to Charmaine that Tara kept secret. Thus, Tara's DID and Charmaine's response that she's the one with the problem, not Tara.

Eldritch said...

"Between Gimme and Shoshanna, that's two new alters that have shown up in the last two years for Tara. Is that unusual in DID cases? Does it suggest that Tara's mind is splintering more, or that the new alters are appearing for some purpose that they can accomplish?"

I'm not sure how the show is handling that, but several years ago I had a friend who was diagnosed with DID (though it was still called Multiple Personality Disorder [MPD]) back then.

MPD occurs is some people who experience severe emotional, physical, or sexual abuse at a very early age, usually under age 5 or so. It's a defense mechanism, a way of handling things too terrible to handle. My friend told a few tales of brutal beatings by a grandfather. The text I read gave an example of a 5 year old in Lebanon who was found trying to put the pieces of her mother back together after a bombing.

Just like people rely on habits they've developed, once you find a defense mechanism that works for you, you tend to continue using it. So over time, more and more alters can be created to deal with problems. Usually, alters have particular functions, dealing with specific problems or situations.

The problems can be major or minor. An example in the text book I read told of a patient who hated history class so she created an alter whose job it was to take history. That alter knew all the history, which meant that none of the other alters knew anything about history. My friend was generally secretive about his alters, but I know he had a female alter who did the housework.

A patient can continue creating alters until there are dozens of them. The famous Sybil, of the book and movie, had dozens. The famous "Three Faces of Eve" was only known to have four or five (some of which came out after the book was written).

Some alters know about the others. Some don't and only know that they're losing time. Some share memories and experiences; others don't. Big mix and match affair.

The object of therapy is to integrate the personalities. And that's usually done by integrating them in twos and threes until there's only one left.

Media Mindset said...

So much going on this week. Was a great episode and I think it moved everything miles forward. This are starting to unfold quickly this season and we're only half way though. Seeing something going on with Charmaine now too.

Kitty M said...

This episode was soooo good! I watched the whole thing in a ball of tension. Every time they reveal more I am on the edge of my seat trying to piece it all together ('Ooh, Charmaine hates basements... OOOOH, they made a PACT to keep something SECRET...') but also, I don't want to know because I feel like when it's all revealed, the show will be over - and I will sincerely miss it.

Toni Collette is always fantastic but in this show she is a revelation. I'm not overly excited by what's going on with the kids right now (blah blah blah Kate's obsessed with Linda, who must surely find the girl really irritating) but the whole Max/Charmaine/Tara/Shoshana co-consciouness/unfolding mystery story just imploded into one of the best things on TV. Possibly ever.

I wonder if they will pick up on the fact that Tara revealed to Max how much she shares co-consciousness with Shoshana with her 'light at the end of the tunnel' quote. He didn't seem to react as much as I thought he might.

That alter converstation flash as Tara was transitioning back from Shonana in Max's arms at the end was also really beautifully shot (like the walk in the destroyed street that was mentioned) - the lighting wonderfully emphasised the liminal nature of the moment.

I miss 'T a little bit. I can see why people would find her annoying but she's also hilarious - Collette seems to have a lot of fun playing her.

I can't wait to get this whole season on DVD and rewatch it. With commentaries :)

Erik said...

I was actually a little bit disappointed with this episode. The idea of everybody being stuck in the basement and the confrontation between Tara and Charmaigne was great, but it seems they didn't want to go with it, like the show was pulling its punches, pacing itself, instead of going with the idea and letting it all out, like a show like Breaking Bad would at any part of any season. And so an episode which should have been a kind of breakthrough, legacy episode becomes the shortest, least satisfying of the season so far. The basement scene is only eight and a half minutes - not nearly long enough considering the possibilities and the set-up. In the end it felt too much like a ploy to give a measured amount of information to the viewers, as Alan pointed out, rather than an engrossing and organic situation.

I love what Rosemarie DeWitt is getting to do this season. She's such a great actress (as seen in the phenomenal Rachel Getting Married) but most of last season, she was like a stuck record with all this 'DID is bullshit'-bullshit. Letting this season focus on her and Tara's relationship is a really smart choice, and one that's really beginning to pay off now. Last season was too much about characters/personas - the show is getting better by putting relationships (between Tara and the alters, Tara and Charmaigne, Kate and Marshall, and obviously Tara and Max) at the center.

I think Anonymous 9.21's points about the tornado set-up are well taken. As great as the visual representation of the tornado was, the talk about it and the news station was pretty lame, and it seems redundant to point out that Marshall feels smart in a stupid world. He's always been the least developed character for me (I especially disliked how much of a fantasy he was in the beginning of season 1 - jazz, silent movies and romance novels? Really?), but the actor is playing him well, so it'd be nice to begin to round him out more. Right now he seems extremely predictable (though I absolutely adore his and Kate's scenes together - they are the primary comedic engine of this season, but also add a lot of heart to the show).

I don't really think they are going anywhere all that interesting with the Courtney character - it seems there's no real relationship/chemistry there, just a banal fear of hurting her. Make it a harder choice for Marshall, give her something real to offer. Last season's plotline with the bicurious kid was much more ambiguous and as a result much more interesting. I get that both Kate's and Marshall's storyline this year is mostly about their relationship with each other, but Courtney and Linda need to be much more interesting than they are right now.

So, great season, the show is really starting to find its feet, but this episode was a bit of a missed opportunity.