Note: The following review contains spoilers for all aired episodes of United States of Tara, including the most recent, “Yes.”
There are so many reasons to praise United States of Tara, from its superb writing with fantastic dialogue and one-liners to its remarkable characters to its slightly cockeyed view of the world that manages to feel both charmingly oddball and completely accurate at the same time to its refreshingly honest depiction of an illness that most people have many ideas about, having gleaned them from pop culture, cinema, television, etc., though very few of them accurate. At the heart of the series, though, is Toni Collette’s truly genius performance as Tara Gregson, which is so effortlessly real, it is easy for some of its more subtle aspects to go unnoticed.
Take the second season premiere, “Yes,” for example, in which Tara supposedly hasn’t transitioned for three months. So confident is Tara of her progress that she decides to (hubristically?) have her family ceremonially dump Alice, Buck, and T’s clothes off at the local charity bin. Collette’s acting work is so delicate, however, that if we really pay attention, we notice aspects of Tara’s alters peeking out from their hiding places numerous times throughout the episode, even before she becomes Buck at the end. The most obvious example is Alice, when Tara is wearing an apron and baking, but other examples include her excited tone when talking about their deceased neighbor’s car–Buck–as well as the shades of T that appear when she does her sexy dance at dinner. These tiny moments subtly indicate the concept of integration that was brought up last season–in other words, that all of Tara’s alters are actually pieces of Tara herself, pieces which assert and exaggerate themselves in the form of her various identities.
“Yes” showcased some of Tara‘s darkest humor yet, when the Gregsons make friends with neighbors–a gay couple–to whom they had never previously spoken. Tragedy may bring people together, but gossip can prove even more adhesive. Tara, her family and neighbors’ various reactions to the suicide are rather fascinating. They initially make jokes about it, even as the body is being carted off to the morgue, because without the jokes, they would have to face the gravity of what this man who, as Tara realizes later on and which sets off her first transition in months, really wanted to die, has done. The humor surrounding the death is morbid (Tara at first is glad she’s no longer the craziest person on the street, and later on she and Max agree that if there were ever going to be a suicide in the family, it would be Charmaine) but also rather liberating in how blissfully free of political correctness it is. It is only when Tara goes to the man’s house and really allows herself to absorb his sadness, without her humorous defenses, that her subconscious again feels the need to be someone else.
Tara isn’t the only character going through life changes. At school, Marshall seems to be making his first friendships with other gay guys–they ask him to sit with them at lunch at the “Fruit Bowl,” or my favorite, the “Gayble,” or “gay table”–and initially feeling rather uncomfortable with them, a plot line which is already very accurately depicting that transitional time that occurs in every young gay man’s life in which he is trying to figure out his identity and isn’t quite sure where he fits. Marshall certainly isn’t traditionally masculine but neither is he as flamboyant or political as the guys (and girl–”straight but not narrow”) in this group who would rather he conform to their conception of gayness. This thread has the potential to be a very astute dramatization/satire on the pack mentality that occurs among all groups, and I’m very eager to see where they go with this.
Meanwhile, Kate has taken her GED, gotten an early high school diploma, and decided to get a real job for the year before applying to college, while Charmaine receives a marriage proposal from Nick, making her one step further away from Tara and Max’s suicide prognosis. But the big question remains, with Buck now back in the picture (and flirting with a waitress who had earlier been flirting with Max), how long until the walls of this currently happy suburban facade start crumbling down all over again? Either way, it certainly is wonderful to have Charmaine, Kate, Marshall, Max, and Tara–all of her–back in our lives for the next 2 1/2 months.
United States of Tara airs on Monday nights, 10:30 PM on Showtime.