Sunday, February 22, 2009

United States of Tara, "Transition": Party games

Spoilers for tonight's "United States of Tara" coming up just as soon as I get my truck customized...
"My kids are safe. Maybe you should have spent more time looking after yours." -Max
"Transition" reminded me, oddly, of certain issues of the Incredible Hulk comic, where Bruce Banner desperately needed to not turn into the Hulk, and tried one method after another (meditation, tranquilizers, booze) to remain calm enough to stay human. It would always fail in the end -- a Hulk issue without the big green (or grey) guy isn't quite as much fun -- but dammit, he tried.

Tara's DID in many ways feels like Banner's situation. It's not quite a super-power, but the alters do give her abilities she doesn't ordinarily display, and they in theory provide protection for her in moments when her brain thinks she needs it. But as with Banner's temper, the bar for summoning one of Tara's alters feels uncomfortably low, making the whole situation far more curse than blessing.

And when Tara's judgmental, passive-aggressive parents (played by the always-reliable Fred Ward and Pamela Reed) show up, hoping to take Kate and Marshall away from their parents, Max realizes that he has to pull out all the stops to keep Tara as Tara. The scene where he pulls her around the backyard in a frantic circle, making her too tired/amused/distracted to transition, may be my favorite of this young series. It was so filled with sweetness and comedy but also the awareness that the Gregsons got a raw deal with this situation.

And we find out near the end of the episode that Max wasn't as successful as he thought -- that one of the alters has been peeing on Grandma and Grandpa's sofa bed in the middle of the night. But which one? Ever since Tiffany's condo got vandalized, there's been some speculation that there might be a fourth major alter (and Diablo Cody said in our interview that we'd be meeting other alters down the line. This particular move seems too vulgar for Alice, and too stealthy for Buck or T, who'd want everyone to know what they had done, and so I have to assume the bed-wetting (possibly inspired by Marshall?) and the vandalism were the efforts of this still-to-be-revealed entity.

"Transition" also gives us more clues about the trauma that created the DID. Last week when Charmaine and Max talked about boarding school, I had assumed that their parents sent Tara there to get her away from the person who hurt her (or to separate themselves from the guilty feelings about not protecting her), but Charmaine makes it sound here as if the rape (or whatever it was) happened at boarding school.

And that, in turn, really changes my view of Charmaine. She admits at the end of the episode that she wishes she had Tara's life, and her desire to have gone to the same boarding school where Tara was assaulted suggests that she even envies the DID a little. And from her perspective, why not? It makes Tara seem more interesting, and gives her a license to get away with all kinds of things that Charmaine can't.

(We also find out, in a hilarious bit involving either great makeup or an unfortunate body double -- or both -- that Charmaine's ex-husband made her get a lopsided boob job, and that in turn leads to the incredibly funny, incredibly mean moment when Max makes Tara laugh by miming being a guy playing with those breasts.)

There was one part of the episode I didn't like, and that was the business with Kate and Gene. I was relieved last week that Kate apparently saw through all of Gene's sad attempts to be the cool older guy and was able to stay in charge of their interactions, but in this episode he withholds from her just a little and she's putty in his hands? Bleh. In particular, I find it hard to believe that she'd be so desperate to make out with him after his unplugged performance of Cheap Trick's "Dream Police." I'll never complain about an opportunity to hear the real thing (which also popped up a few weeks ago on "Lost"), but this story seems all over the map. (It's also starting to come uncomfortably close to Juno and Jason Bateman's friendship in "Juno.")

What did everybody else think?


Myles said...

I really just have to agree with everything you brought to the surface here, Alan: the Tara stuff is interesting both conceptually and in its execution, the Charmaine stuff nuanced and evolving well in Rosemarie Dewitt's capable hands, and the Kate stuff just feels like it's part of a different show.

The problem is that Marshall's storyline has some pretty clear connections to Tara: he has his own sort of identity crisis that isn't actually a crisis (he has no concerns with being gay) but becomes one around his grandparents, or around the boy he likes. Whereas Kate is just a normal teenager, who likes boys and who currently lacks a connection to the show's central points of investigation.

Overall, though, the show is entering into a similar territory as Weeds for me in that, in moments like the spinning in the backyard, you're seeing people act very human in very trying situations. That's one thing Weeds nailed in its first season, and something that Tara is finding well here.

Anonymous said...

Kate is 16 yrs old right and Gene is atleast in his early 20s. Isn't this a little creepy?

Anonymous said...

I didn't agree with you assessment concerning Kate. She has really weird taste in men. She also is manipulative. It seems the weirder they reveal themselves the more she digs them. The first boy was something else. This dude is revealing more of his quirky personality. The attraction got stronger.

I was shocked and laughed to see Tara standing there peeing on her paps. She looked insanely goofy.

I thought it was pretty clear that Tara got raped at boarding school. They have yet to reveal why she went there and when her alters started to reveal themselves.

I'm not sure if DID develops that late in a person. I'm still under the impression it starts at a really young age resulting from sexual abuse as a child. Does anyone know if there are cases of it developing in your teens?

If it doesn't happen in your teens but the result of a much younger age I would have minor problems with them using this as the leap that created her alters.

Anonymous said...

I am really starting to love this show, except for the Kate and Gene part.

You're right Alan, it totally went away from what happneed last episode.

But other than that, loved this episode, nice to know Charmaine doesn't hate Max in the end and i thought the parents were parents and grandparents have the same dynamic (without hte DID) and family is always so awkward, eh?

Unknown said...

Am I the only one that wondered briefly if maybe the new personality actually peed on Marshall for some reason?

I just assumed by the main alters that they developed when Tara was older. Not many kids are going to need to play their own mom (Alice) or even really get Buck. And T seems like the perfect wild, confident foil for a struggling young teen. So far no child alters have shown up, which I assume a young mind would have created. Of course, I have no actual knowledge of DID, so these are just assumptions on my part, lol.

Since the first episode, Kate has been the weak link in this show -- the only character I just don't feel anything for. And yes, I think it's creepy (and illegal) for her to be messing with her much older boss. Perhaps that's going to be fodder for an upcoming episode? Maybe Buck just beats up every guy Kate sleeps with....

Anonymous said...

I think the rape is going to end up being a red herring. Maybe it's a symptom, or a trigger, but not the central cause by a long shot.

I really am liking this show more and more with each episode. I'm starting to look forward to it every week.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad u wrote this spoiler, the ending happened so quick I didn't realize what happened- that Tara or her other self pee'd on the bed. I am enjoying this show and think Toni Colletti is doing a great job. Hope we learn more about what made her this way.
Bugged me that Katie would go for that loser and when Charmaine ripped open her shirt (hysterical) the next scene she was sitting on the stairs with same shirt closed!

Unknown said...

I think she just popped her snaps open. They actually showed her clutching the sides together and running out of the room (assumably to fix herself up) after her mother tells her father to write her a check.

Anonymous said...

Although the sight of the red-ponchoed night pee-er was funny, I find it hard to believe that both occupants of that bed would not wake up when a grown person stood on top of them on the bed.

Other than that, I liked the episode.

Anonymous said...

It's me again- I watched episode again and yes I think her shirt was snapps! Whoops! LOL
But I am enjoying this show, I think- it has my attention anyway. I feel so much more is yet to be revealed!

Anonymous said...

Right before Kate makes out with Creepy Gene - she starts staring off into the distances - is she developing a 2nd personality of her own?

Lord Floppington said...

James: I agree with your take on Kate's taste in men, and I could totally see with the weirdness in her family, that for her, a "normal" guy wouldn't cut it. The "normal" boy for us could seem weird and undesirable for Kate.

The scene with Tara peeing on the bed was out and out creepy for me. Maybe I was flashing back to The Village, with those creepy Red Riding Hood wolf people, but I half expected her to look up at Max with her dad's entrails clenched in her teeth.

Finally, the vandalized mural in Tiffany's apartment. I really felt that Charmaine seemed very jealous of all the attention that Tiffany was suddenly giving to Tara. I also had the impression the Charmaine was not such a hot saleslady. This week we see that Charmaine always feels like the second rate, afterthought sister to family star Tara.

Maybe in that relationship with Tiffany, Charmaine finally had the chance to be first, and Tara ends up sending Charmaine to the bench again. Does anyone else think that maybe Charmaine vandalized the mural to get back at Tara for the real and perceived hurts she has caused Charmaine all these years?

Tyro.k.y said...

Lord Floppington, it's definitely out there floating around that Charmaine could be the cause of the mural disaster but so is the new Red Riding Hood alter that travels by night and pees on family members that annoy her. (Oddly enough, I think this could make a great 30 minute comedy, satire on superheros.) I'm not sure if the writers have decided who committed the act. At that point it's pretty open that it could be either character. Issues like these I can only ponder so much until I take the LOST route, stop thinking about the unanswered questions and possibilities and just enjoy the show.

tabernacle said...

(Coming into this *way* late...)

Believe it or not, I, too, started thinking about the Hulk right around that moment when they were running around the tree in the backyard.

The boob thing was pretty bizarre, but, somehow, it didn't throw the tone too much.

Those parents are (1) so believable, (2) so unbearable. I did enjoy Max's mean little payback at the end.

OT: In _Rachel Getting Married_ the dynamic between the sisters is a little similar, as folks have pointed out. In that one, Anne Hathaway's character gets all the attention (primarily negative, but attention nonetheless) and the sister, played by RdW, also resents it. It seems too small a niche to get typecast, but best play a hostage negotiator or a Bohemian in the next one, deWitt.

tabernacle said...

Hey, one degree of _Mad Men_ separation between _Tara_ actresses:

-Rosemarie DeWitt (plays Charmaine in _Tara_; was in _Mad Men_)
-Joel Murray* (was in _Mad Men_; was in a show called _Grand_)
-Pamela Reed (was in _Grand_; played Tara's mom in _Tara_ in this ep)

*For the asterisk-lovers and foot(note)fetishists out there: In _Mad Men_, Joel Murray peed himself and conducted a symphony with his zipper, NNITO**. In _Grand_, I think he kept impersonating Jack Benny (or some other comedian?) pretty much 24/7.

**NNITO = not necessarily in that order.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else notice that now when she before she transitions she makes a face, like she scrunches her eyes closed? Like you know it's going to happen? I didn't notice that in the first episode?
And this last episode when she was on the bed with Kate, after they got back from the tattoo palor- sometimes she sounded more like T then Tara. This show definitely has my attention!!