‘United States of Tara’ – ‘Explosive Diorama’: Alters’ day off

A review of tonight’s “United States of Tara” coming up just as soon as I lollygag in a nice sensible beige pant…

“You make art with all your selves.” -Lynda

After the last two episodes took place on consecutive days, “Explosive Diorama” picks up with weeks having passed since the tornado and Gimme’s rampage, and a couple of interesting things have happened: 1)Tara has been spending a lot of time with Lynda (and not with Max and the kids), and 2)The alters have been gone for a while.

In fact, unless my memory is failing (both of the series and of this episode, which I watched a few weeks ago), this is the first installment of the series in which the alters haven’t appeared at all. And I seriously doubt that’s a coincidence.

Diablo Cody has said she wanted this season to go deeper into Tara as a character herself, and not just as the person who turns into Buck, Alice, et al. And what we see here isn’t an especially pretty picture: a woman eager to run away from her life, and barely even aware that she’s doing it, or that she’s hurting the husband and kids who put up with an ocean of trouble because they love her. Last year, T tried to steal Marshall’s boyfriend, which was vaguely forgivable because it was T doing it. Here, it’s Tara herself who has stolen Kate’s new friend and mentor without even acknowledging what she’s done. It’s Tara who acts put out when Max drives out to Kansas City to give her a home-cooked meal, Tara who clearly would rather not have the family show up to the First Night event, and Tara who looks ready to run away from the family altogether by the time she and Max blow up at each other.

Or is it really Tara?

When Max asks about the possibility that Tara might have an alter who’s similar to her in many, but not all, ways, it opens a kind of Pandora’s Box for the series. On the one hand, suggesting that there are more Tara-like alters basically gives the writers an easy out whenever they want to do something that’s not 100% consistent with the character, and it could leave the audience constantly questioning which “Tara” they’re watching (and possibly caring less about the show’s heroine as a result). On the other hand, though, the idea isn’t out of bounds from what little I know about DID, and something is up when Max is able to unload on Tara like that in front of a crowd without triggering a transition into Buck or Gimme.

The idea could be a metaphor – that Tara, through her friendship with Lynda and her extra-curricular activities, is changing her own, real personality enough so that she and her husband don’t get alog, and in a way that makes her strong enough to resist a transition – or it could be leading to yet another breakthrough between Tara (whichever Tara it is) and Shoshana whenever they have their next session.

All I know is that the more the Gregson marriage spirals out of control – here with Max running to see Pammy (who may have no better chance for revenge on Tara) – the more interesting this season has become. I may not like the person Tara is right now, but she’s not boring.

Some other thoughts:

  • All the talk of the bicentennial flag, coupled with Tara’s fireworks fear, was pretty anvilicious. Clearly, the bad thing that triggered the DID happened in 1976, right?
  • Charmaine was in rare, amusing form tonight as she tried to drop the infidelity bomb on Nick without losing him. Loved her blaming sex with Neil on having watched a documentary on chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as her attempt to compare the restaurant to something in a Euorpean gum commercial. And the punchline of Neil asking Nick for a ride home from the art show was nicely-played by all involved.
  • Kate’s entrance into the cyber sex world (and what happened to the collection agent job, anyway?) still remains largely divorced from (and less interesting than) the rest of the show. But I do wonder if we’re heading towards the idea of Kate starting to treat Princess Valhalla Hawkwind like an alter – where she’s still in charge, but can pretend like it’s the superheroine doing all the distasteful things.
  • Penny Marshall directed this, which led me to her IMDb page to see if she’d directed any episodic TV since the “Laverne & Shirley” days. Turns out she directed two episodes of the final season of “According to Jim” – and that those were her first directorial credits since 2001’s “Riding in Cars with Boys.” I had no idea she’d dropped off the map like that.
  • When Max told Charmaine that guys have a hard dealing with fiancees who cheat on them, all I could think was that John Corbett would know this well, given the number of times Carrie Bradshaw messed with Aidan. (And that was even before the heinous-looking movie sequel.)
  • At first, I assumed Hanny helped out Marshall with the Courtney break-up as a favor to the newly-out gay kid on the block, but here he is hanging out (and doing “A-Bombs”) with Marshall and Lionel again. Having more fun with the local teenagers than your middle-aged partner isn’t a good sign for that relationship, is it?

What did everybody else think?