Lots of changes are occurring as United States of Tara begins its third season on Showtime. Season two ended a number of subplots pretty completely, so it’s time to move on, though some of the new directions may take some getting used to. The biggest change may be the abandonment of the theme song, at least in the season premiere. It needs an update if they’re going to continue to use it, anyway. Also, it appears that several minor characters are gone, quite possibly for good, while others are entrenching themselves even more firmly into the cast. As such, new dynamics are solidifying. Unlike other shows, I often feel United States of Tara is still finding its way, even three seasons in. However, that’s part of the fun, as the series’s story is as up and down a roller coaster ride as the character of Tara (Toni Collette) is, so it’s not a bad thing, as it would be elsewhere.
Tara has decided to go back to college, always having regretted dropping out just a few courses shy of a degree. Neighbor Ted (Michael Hitchcock) makes a call and gets her accepted into the right program, but she soon hits a snag when a class she needs is full. Appealing to the grumpy Professor Harris (Eddie Izzard) is partially successful, as he agrees to let her in – if he’s impressed with an essay she writes. Unfortunately, as Tara sits down to write, she discovers it is much harder than she expected it to be.
Meanwhile, Tara’s husband Max (John Corbett) isn’t very happy with her decision. It’s not that he wants to hold her back, but she dropped out the first time, years ago, because she tried to kill herself. Max is worried Tara’s current stresses, including recently finding out about childhood abuse, will drive her to do something dangerous again. He’s not wrong, as Tara soon puts a knife to her wrist while struggling with the assigned essay.
But this time, Tara’s four main alter personalities – Buck, Alice, T, and Shoshana (all also played by Collette) – arrive to help her, convincing her to put down the weapon. Shoshana offers to come up with the prose, while Tara types, Alice pours Tara tea, Buck rubs Tara’s shoulders, and T, well, tries not to get in the way. This is an unexpected turn; quite a surprise. Up until now, Tara’s personalities have appeared to cause her problem after problem. Obviously, they hold they key to Tara getting better and overcoming her disorder, but they have gone about their business in a chaotic way, never in one that is blatantly useful.
Has Tara finally accepted them enough to embrace them as a part of her? Or perhaps there are less secrets that need revealed now, so they can act in a manner not so obtuse? I’m not so sure this will be a permanent change, as Buck does take over Tara’s body at the beginning of the episode to look for Tara’s missing brother. Perhaps a balance can be found?
Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt) is left at the altar last season, and is now determined to be an independent woman. As long as that independence allows her to rely almost entirely on Neil (Patton Oswalt), who buys her groceries, pays her bills, and paints her toenails. Oh, did I mention that Charmaine is pregnant with Neil’s baby, and he is not the one who left her during the wedding? Neil wants to make things more official, and proposes, but Charmaine turns him down. Neil continues caring for her, even as she fails to appreciate him. However, Neil does eventually get more forceful after not being there during Charmaine’s false labor, and insists on moving in. She relents to that, at least.
These two have been in a delicate dance for years, and it’s nice to see some forward momentum. Charmaine is damaged, like her sister Tara, but has different ways of coping. One way is clearly to push Neil away verbally, even while depending on him heavily. Neil is much more patient than most men would be, and the two share genuine affection. At first, I assumed Charmaine didn’t want Neil because she is shallow. Now, I think the situation is much more complicated than that. I hope that Charmaine will eventually marry Neil, but what it will take to get her to that point is unknown at this time.
Tara’s daughter, Kate (Brie Larson), is learning a valuable lesson many young people are probably repeating all over the country. She seeks employment, but is haunted by her past, namely, sitting on a cake in a sexual manner, something readily searchable on the internet. There is some debate as to how a whole generation of internet exhibitionists will be affected in the long-term by their lack of discerning judgment. I personally feel like so many people post their whole lives that it will matter less and less as time goes on. The writers have chosen the more immediate option, though, and Kate will have a very hard time getting a job in any industry but one where morals are loose.
Kate’s brother, Marshall (Keir Gilchrist), is also dealing with contemporary issues. He is in a relationship with Lionel (Michael J. Willett). Lionel doesn’t like labels like “boyfriend,” though Marshall is more traditional. Well, as traditional as a homosexual can be, considering gayness is not usually thought of as traditional. I know marriage is trending towards later in life, if at all, and many couples rebel against convention. I find myself in Marshall’s camp, however, it’s hard to know what the new norm will be in a couple of decades. Is this a cycle, that will someday swing back more conservatively? Or is this a new trend that may lead to the end of marriage as we know it?
See? United States of Tara is educational and thought provoking, as well as entertaining. You should watch it when it airs Monday nights at 10:30 p.m. ET on Showtime.