‘United States of Tara’ – ‘Crunchy Ice’: In sickness and in health

A review of the penultimate “United States of Tara” (ever!) coming up just as soon as I have a habitat for ferrets…

“I think you can’t keep doing the same thing hoping for a different result.” -Kate

This third and unintentionally final season has been all about the toll that Tara’s illness takes on those who care about her, and for most of them, the events of “Crunchy Ice” seem to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Marshall has already moved out to live with Grandma Sandy (albeit briefly), Neil wants to take Charmaine and Wheels to Houston and as far away from Tara’s new child molestor alter as possible, Kate’s preparing to build a new life with Evan and his son, and Sandy very strongly urges Max to walk away from Tara the way her husband eventually left her. Even Tara herself attempts to run away – permanently – from the problems she’s caused by jumping off the bridge at the episode’s end.

And the great, painful thing about the show is how much it complicates our sympathies. Who could blame any of the Gregsons and Gregson-affiliated characters for wanting to run away and not look back. And yet who couldn’t feel something for Tara with Toni Collette’s performance in the moment where Tara finally resumes control of her body and weeps at all the damage Bryce has caused? She’s hurt every last one of them, but she’s the original victim here, and even Jack Hatteras would admit at this point that she’s not the one causing all these problems.

What was most impressive about “Crunchy Ice” was how it balanced that sense of total family apocalypse with humor. For the most part, this season has left any pretense of comedy behind, but there was gallows humor in abundance here: Kate seeing everyone in basement and assuming it’s another torando (“I am not doing this again sober”), Bryce somehow peeing into a urinal (prompting Neil to ask, “So, does your wife have a dick now?”), Neil singing a lullaby about porn(*), etc. And Marshall and Kate even get a brief moment of happy sibling bonding before Bryce bangs on the door of Kate’s barricaded room. This misery is driving everyone away from Tara, and yet pulling the rest of them closely together.

(*) Also bonus geek points to whoever not only had the idea of Neil reading a copy of the very awesome “Planetary,” but who wrote that half-finished joke about what it means to be dead in the world of “Planetary.” Seriously, go read “Planetary.”

So we go into the finale with Tara in the water, with Bryce apparently the last alter standing, and with everyone but Max having already turned their backs on our heroine. Damn.

What did everybody else think?