Back in March when the third season of United States of Tara was just starting to air on Showtime, I dissected all of the characters that were going to help Tara (Toni Collette) take baby steps towards getting control of her own life, and her own mind and body, back. But at the end of the day, and at the end of the article, I couldn't ignore the fact that every time she seemed to inch forward, she would fall back a much greater distance. Call it the mind's way of protecting one's self from dealing with painful memories and the emotions they would bring to the surface, too, or call it self-sabotage, but it is Tara's reality and has been since the show premiered. And at the end of season three, and at the end of that article, there is an allusion that Tara may be finally on the right road to recovery. My exact words were "maybe in season four."
If you want to read that psychological study, please click here.
But there is not going to be a season four. Showtime announced mid-way through season three's airing that it was going to be the last for the series; they would not be ordering any more episodes. At that point the season three finale had not only already been shot but also screened by critics (including Made Possible by Pop Culture), so what was meant to be a mild cliff-hanger, like every season the proceeded it, is going to have to hold up as a finite end. And looking back on it, we think it more than does the job.
Of course, whether or not you think Tara, seemingly stripped of all of her alters and literally riding off into the sun with Max (John Corbett) to get the fine-tuning help she so desperately needs a place surrounded by people equipped with medical degrees, not just unconditional love, to deal with her, is actually cured will come into play here. For some, the final episode leaves a lot of loose ends, and after three dozen episodes of getting to know and care about these characters, you will want more answers; you will want to continue the journey with them. But for others (Made Possible by Pop Culture included), the ending offers the exact about of hope and heart you would expect from a series about people banding around a severely damaged woman.
For everything Tara had working against her, for example, she was still able to take care of her family. Her kids Kate (Brie Larson) and Marshall (Keir Gilchrist) certainly had their ups and downs and rocky adolescent spots like any others on their block or in their class, but they're grown now, faced with decisions like moving away from home and going to college. They're not in jail or rehab or fighting demon alters of their own. She did something right. And then there is Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt), who was like Tara's first kid; she was protecting her even back when they were little kids in an abusive home. Charmaine seems more okay now than she ever has been; she is no longer willing to settle for the image of a perfect couple but instead has actually settled down with someone who is the right fit for her. She has her own baby now, a child of her own to protect, and she is leaving the protective nature of Tara's nest, too. Tara's support system is flying the coop not because Tara is too much or they can't handle her but because it is their time and they are actually ready thanks to her.
Would I like to see some of those journeys and the rest of Tara's own struggle to find her true self-- who she really is-- now that the push-pull of the alters is not there to overtake her or mess up her progress? Sure. But I know that so much of the alters were really just parts of Tara anyway, holding herself back and burying fears under bad behavior. That was the most interesting part, even if at times the show chose to shy away from the controversy and only hint instead of really showcase. That was also the part that could be easily explained in an extroverted way. So much of what Tara is about to face is internal, and that may make for an interesting story, but it's tough to capture in a visual medium such as television without resorting to cheap and often expositional ploys like voice-over to explain her inner thoughts or weird POV tracking shots that distract and don't stay true to the original style of the show. What comes next, therefore, must really be a private journey for Tara, one that she must go on alone from her family, as well as away from an audience, as well.
When you look at it that way, it's hard to see this show going on at all. Though it is certainly a favorite in this household, it is a pleasure to at least see it going out on a high and happy note. For once, I'm going to choose to believe Tara really has rid herself of the alters that have plagued her and defined so much of who she is. I'm going to assume she is getting the help she needs (albeit off-screen) to be able to cope with just being her 24/7/365. And I'm going to imagine Max standing at the car with open arms waiting to bring her home once she is truly ready to just be.