‘United States of Tara’ – ‘The Good Parts’: Please tell me who I am

And so “United States of Tara” has come to an unplanned but still very effective end. My review of the series finale coming up just as soon as I own the world’s first combination strip club and pancake house…

“You have no idea how much crazy is bouncing around that lop-sided skull of yours.” -Bryce

Again, “The Good Parts” was apparently not written with any kind of assumption that this would be the end of the series, except in the vaguest ” show some respect for your audience, just in case” fashion. But, like the last episode of “Deadwood,” it’s a season finale that actually works more perfectly as a series finale than anyone would have intended.

Because here’s the thing: there is no fixing Tara. What we’ve been told about the condition of DID in general and her condition in particular suggests that the best she, Max and the kids can hope for is the occasional period where the alters are more under control. (Or, failing that, for Tara to be so doped up that her personality disappears along with that of Buck, Alice, etc.)

And more to the point, if a therapist were able to effectively treat Tara’s condition, where is the show there? There’s maybe an interesting episode or three in Tara trying to move forward in her life without the alters – and with dealing with the issue she lamented earlier this season, where she fears she’s the most boring of all her personalities – but there’s not a series there. So Tara’s treatment couldn’t really take, and then we’d be back riding the same treadmill every other Showtime series does(*). And that version of the show would still have Toni Collette and John Corbett and Keir Gilchrist and the rest, and it would still have clever, heartfelt writing (and might have had more from Diablo Cody now that her maternity leave is over), but I fear it would have felt like the show continuing because that’s how the business works.

(*) Other than “Weeds,” where most of the fans have so turned against the show’s evolution that it’s no doubt strengthened Showtime’s resolve to have its other series run in place.

Tara confronted her abuser (or, at least, the version of him her mind created), and she defeated him. She came out the other side shaken but not broken, and with at least the core alters still around, if looking a bit worse for wear. Her family has figured out how to get along without her for the time being, with Charmaine and Neil getting engaged and taking Wheels to Houston, and with Kate staying in Overland Park not for the sake of the ill mother who’s been such a burden to her but for the little brother she adores. Max can’t quit her, in part out of love and in part out of trying to prove his old man wrong, but you can see just how much it’s costing him.(**)

(**) At first, I thought that the two fake-outs with Max’s imagined outbursts wound up lessening the real one at the dinner table, because I spent the first 30 seconds wondering when we would go back to reality. But then I thought on it and decided that they worked, because they primed us for just how much Max is hiding behind that laid-back John Corbett exterior. So for him to let those feelings out for real – to transition from Supercool Max to Superpissed Max – showed just how bad things are for the guy right now, and was one of several fantastic moments for John Corbett in the finale, up to and including the look on his face as he played his neverending incendiary guitar solo on the front lawn.(***)

(***) And that, in turn, inspired Ted’s hilariously profane takedown of the neighbor who wanted Max to stop. With such a full, talented ensemble, Michael Hitchcock didn’t always get a ton to do, but that was brilliant.

This season, I felt, took the show’s premise as far as it could reasonably go without becoming either repetitive or so dark that it was just unpleasant. The writers, led this year by Dave Finkel and Brett Baer, managed to confront the implications of Tara’s condition on herself and her family in a way that built on what had come before without diminishing it. (That the condition was played at times in season one as an amusing, occasionally bothersome eccentricity, was the show walking us slowly and carefully into the territory it would eventually cover.) And every actor raised his or her game accordingly, not least Collette herself as both the exhausted, miserable Tara and her disgusting abuser alter.

I love this season. I’m sorry that the people involved will have to go find work now while other, far less adventurous/good shows keep on chugging along. But as I talk about from time to time, there’s value in achieving greatness and then having that greatness trapped in amber, never to move forward, but also never to be damaged. We won’t get more “Tara,” but we also won’t reach the point where we’re just hoping that the show can reclaim a shred of its dignity before ending 3 or 4 years from now.

And I can think of no more appropriate final sequence than Tara and Max on their way to find the miracle doctor, Tara feeling the warm sun on her face, as Supertramp’s “Logical Song” – specifically, the “Please tell me who I am” refrain – plays.

Tara wants certainty in an uncertain world, with the most uncertain condition of all. She’s never going to entirely answer that question, but we get to imagine her trying – struggling at times, triumphing at others, but always trying – and to picture the kids and Charmaine blossoming in environments where they can love Tara without being smothered by her problems and her needs. That I don’t get to see these things is a bit of a shame, but I’d rather a show leave me wanting more – especially off a season this strong – than one that makes me wish it would go away already. I wish Showtime and the production could have found a happy medium, but I also don’t know where else they could have taken the show after this.

So bravo, “United States of Tara.” It was fantastic and weird and funny and moving while it lasted. I’ll hit the bowling alley in Buck’s honor for ya this weekend.

What did everybody else think?