Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Will 'United States of Tara' Ever Disband So She Can Take Full Dictatorship-- Err, Control??...

As episodes of United State of Tara-- like life itself-- go on, we get glimpses of elements we think may help her finally heal. Earlier they included the introduction of Shoshanna, the bohemian Manhattanite who just happened to be a trained psychiatrist and could have quite literally caused a breakthrough. Even Chicken, the version of Tara that she lost after and because of her abuse, could have forced her finally confront those feelings of loss and pain. But as each emerged and Tara got close, the show would zag instead of zig, and something would pull Tara in another direction. She, and the audience in turn, would be distracted and set down another path-- one that wasn't always as clear but could have offered a light through the trees, too. Until the cycle started all over again. She just wasn't ready to fully move on yet; she just wasn't ready to face up to all of the demons in her past.

Or maybe that is giving the show a bit too much credit. Clearly Tara is damaged; clearly Tara could not cope with an atrocity in her childhood and formed walls and personas and barriers to protect herself-- even from herself. But let's face it: this is also a scripted series that has no definitive end yet. And to allow Tara her end-- her breakthrough-- too quickly would suck all of the stories out of it and knee-cap it prematurely. Because just like Tara herself worries when the third season begins, she may be the least interesting personality, and without her alters around, from where would entertainment come?

(Mild Spoilers Ahead)

For me, though, it is actually Tara herself, even in the parts of herself that she doesn't recognize or acknowledge or even experience consciously, that are those most interesting and entertaining parts. After all, alternate personalities are really just extensions of one's true self, even if sometimes in their most primal or literal states. Their behaviors are exaggerated and manic, but they often act out of long-suppressed desires, thoughts, and emotions. In the simplest terms, and perhaps ones that undercut the severity, they are a defense mechanism, a copy mechanism, a crutch. It is an unhealthy mind that creates them, and once healing begins, they dissipate.

From the third season premiere episode, the fact that Tara is not ready to lose them just yet, though. It is evident in her words when she tells her sister she doesn't need to think about their past anymore, but it is even more evident with her actions when she, for the first time, actually allows her alters to take over her body, afraid or otherwise unable to deal with life and the stress and curve-balls it has been throwing.

This new season follows the same pattern of taking Tara down one road, leading her (and the audience by extension) to believe it could help, only to have lightning strike and her world be disrupted again. That chance at salvation first comes through Tara's new professor, a man who admits he does not believe in D.I.D. as anything but such a crutch-- until he meets Tara. At first he fights her transitions, calling her out for just seeking attention or trying to get her way. Surprisingly his own transition in thinking comes when she slips inside her mind during an exam, and he watches her frantic, manic behavior as she scribbles all over her arms and desk and shirt and every blue book on which she can get her hands. Is her episode really the evidence he needs to prove his pre-existing qualified theories about D.I.D. short-sighted? Or did Tara's psyche play it up to get what she wanted all along: an extension? Regardless of her intentions, he somehow sees her actions for what they truly are: "fucking crazy" (to quote Tara herself) and a real cry for help.

It's been a while since I saw the second season of United States of Tara, so perhaps the distance has skewed my memory, but it certainly feels like in season three Tara flits in and out of her different alters' personas in much more rapid of cycles. She hides behind her alters more than ever; she gets triggered easily and often, most probably because of the truth having been shed on her childhood abuse, but instead of sabotaging her or each other and fighting for control of her body, they actually work together toward a common goal. That could be considered progress to some, too, even if it's a really, really tiny piece. But it becomes kind of moot kind of fast anyway...

Just as the professor is starting to get somewhere with her, including unearthing even another alter-- the most sinister, scary, and somewhat absurd (to the untrained viewer) one to date-- something happens that causes him not only to pull back but pull out and cut off contact completely. I screened the entire third season in a mini-marathon last week because it was just so good I couldn't stop, but I won't spoil what it is for you because it might lose some of its emotional impact if you see it coming.

So when the door toward healing closes with the professor, a window opens somewhere else in the form of this new alter that he may or may not have unleashed to begin with. The alter is angry, violent, and self-loathing. It is the worst parts of Tara but the worst parts of humanity, too. But even though it wants to tear down Tara, it first starts by picking off her other alters. And theoretically isn't that a positive thing? If the alters disappear, willingly or not, from Tara's mind, won't she be forced to finally face up to everything? That's my thinking: they're symptoms of the problem, and if the symptoms are treated the problem can finally be tackled head-on. Unfortunately neither Tara nor the show in general seems ready for that and so just as quickly as they vanish, and you have an odd sense of relief come over you that Tara's mind is clearing (plus the fact that they each have really poignant "good-bye" scenes), the baby-steps forward get a giant shove backward.

Oddly it is Max' mother, a woman who never liked Tara and has emotional troubles of her own, who holds a shot at cracking through after the professor, too. "Crazy knows crazy," right? To a degree, maybe, but she doesn't care enough to push through their differences to even really try. And speaking of this woman, Max has always been the stable force in Tara's life, trying whatever he can, even if it's simply trying to shake her back into control of her body, but when we see what he must have went through with his own mother, well, it suddenly seems a little less like love as the real reason he puts up with all he does. And that's kind of a shame because their relationship was always especially sweet and inspirational. They are mere mortals without any formal training anyway. Tara's true best shot is delving into the depths of her own mind.

Tara still isn't strong enough yet to want to go head-to-head with this new alter, though, let alone have the tools to actually be able to. The inner workings of her mind tried something, but very quickly she's going to revert once again. Whether or not this alter will vanish or just be added to the group may be yet to be seen, but in the grand scheme of things it only did harm, no good, because Tara didn't even have time to focus on what it meant that this alter wanted her to confront it directly. She's back to hiding once again.

Maybe not all of these instances or characters are supposed to represent a finally fresh start for Tara-- a way out. Maybe Tara is never supposed to fully heal. Maybe to fully heal for Tara would be to lose so much of who she is as a person-- because she has lived her life very specifically-- that she wouldn't really be "better off" but just scarred in a different way. But I like to see them, even if it means I'm reading into things more than the average viewer, because I like to believe in hope.

I think Tara (both the person and the show) likes to believe in hope, too. That's why regardless of the crap she goes through in each short season we get to watch her life play out, she comes out the other end still resilient, still trying, and this time, actually smiling. She sees the light, even if its just the headlights of the next train that will try to run her down.

And I like to think that though Tara may never have that so-called normal family life with a white picket fence and two-point-five kids (I count her sister as an extension of her own children since she has been taking care of her for so long, too), she can still find happiness. Even if her happiness is only looking around and learning to embrace all of her pain. But she can't embrace it until she can acknowledge it. And as long as her alters are around, there is no one forcing her to acknowledge it because they absorb the brunt.

Maybe in season four...

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