‘United States of Tara’ – ‘Bryce Will Play’: Go fish

First thing’s first, “United States of Tara” fans: if you missed the news earlier today, Showtime decided not to order a fourth season (while at the same time renewing “Nurse Jackie”). Go click the link for my thoughts on that – as well as my explanation for why cancellation in and of itself may not be such a bad thing for this show, given where I know the season is going.

But we still have four (very good) episodes to go, and I’m not abandoning ship, not when the really cool stuff is coming. Now that we’re close to the finish line and I no longer have to stay mum on a certain major plot development that y’all learned about last week, I’ve got a more full-length review of “Bryce Will Play” coming up just as soon as I go to a museum dedicated to the manufacturing of baseball bats…

“Mom is crazy, and we treat her like she’s an eccentric, and there’s a cost.” -Marshall

Max finally gets a look at Marshall’s movie in “Bryce Will Play,” and is shocked to realize exactly what it’s about and how it’s about that. At the same time, “Bryce Will Play” is the episode that reveals exactly what kind of movie this closing stretch of “Tara” season – if not the entire series – is:

It’s a horror movie.

As Marshall says in the line I quoted above, you can shrug off Tara’s condition as a quirk – as the show itself sometimes did in its early days – but it does real damage, to Tara, to her family, to everyone who gets close to her. But it’s not until she begins transitioning into her new “abuser alter” as Bryce(*) that the horror becomes blatant to Tara, to Charmaine, and especially to converted non-believer Jack Hatteras, who nearly dies as a result of one of Bryce’s pranks.

(*) The revelation that made me reluctant to write much these last few weeks, lest I give it away.

I’m reluctant to use this word in a show about mental illness, but it’s kind of insane what “Tara” is doing here. To take a suburban domestic comedy and transition it into a weird slasher film pastiche, one with scenes like the death of Gimme that are played for laughs and intense creepiness simultaneously… like, who does that? Who would think to do it?

But it’s also brilliant, because as I watched Bryce stab Gimme’s poncho over and over with pumpkin on his head, I thought to myself that of course this was the only place for this show to go. Again, Tara is toxic. She is destroying this family. Max’s film is in some ways insulting and condescending to Max, but it’s also not wrong. Max chose to love Tara and all the crazy, so in some ways it all can wash off his back. But Marshall and Kate chose none of it, and the weight’s crushing Marshall, and has already sent Kate off to her semi-glamorous career with SkyKans because at least it takes her away for a few days each week.

And Jack Hatteras, who thought that DID was a lame excuse invented by whiny Americans – who took a perverse pleasure in mocking Tara in front of his whole class, and then a voyeur’s view of her condition for the purposes of his book – discovers just how real, and how dangerous, the condition is courtesy of Bryce’s special crab soup. I didn’t think the show would actually go so dark as to have Bryce actually kill Hatteras – if only because it would take Tara off the table for the rest of a season with a bunch of episodes to go – but that was a spectacularly disturbing scene, particularly once Bryce started coming onto Charmaine even as Jack was in the throes of his allergy attack.

(I also liked the introduction of Robert Picardo as Hatteras’ boss, who made it clear just how in over his head Jack was with this little experiment, and how unwise it was of Tara to put her trust in this guy in such an informal setting.)

Charmaine befriending the drunken mom’s book club felt a bit tangential, but the rest of “Bryce Will Play” was pretty fantastic. “Tara” may be going out, but it’s going out strong.

What did everybody else think?