I am so going to miss The United States of Tara, and the finale exemplified many of the reasons why this show should have been renewed. The acting is superb, the characters well realized, and the comedy/drama fine line walked so exquisitely that the viewer truly doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
The season and show finale, “Best Parts,” began where the last episode ended – as Tara leaped from a bridge into the water below. Quick cut to Tara in an abandoned cellar, dunking alter Bryce headfirst into a vat of murky water. Between water-boarding dips, Tara tells Bryce that she deserves better, and will have better. He taunts her until she dunks him one last time. Max breaks open the cellar door and ...
Max and Tara huddle by the side of the bridge, soaked and draped in blankets, as a very unsympathetic cop refuses to buy their story of just wanting to have a swim. Tara tells Max that she had decided that the politically correct funny farm they were headed to would not help her. She wants to go to the proper lockdown facility in Boston that Dr. Hatteras had mentioned. It would mean three months of intensive treatment, but she thinks it’s the best chance she has of ever getting better. He reluctantly agrees to her plan.
Back home, Kate, Charmaine and Marshall are confused with the change of plan, and ask Max if he’s okay with Tara’s decision. He explodes in fury, and stomps out the door ... except that was just in his fantasy. In reality, he sits patiently and agrees to do what’s needed. The family begin to discuss how to handle Tara’s time away – what will Marshall do? And Kate wonders if it’s time for her and Evan to move in together. Tara asks for a final favor, that the family, including Evan and neighbour Ted, have a big family meal before she leaves.
Neil and Charmaine are still arguing about the move to Houston. Charmaine claims to fear everything about Texas, but she’s mainly afraid of facing life without Tara by her side. Neil and Max have a nice scene together. Cracking open a bottle of vintage hootch, the two sit in the basement, and reminisce about their college days, and their plans for a combined strip bar/pancake house, called ‘TitCakes.’ They admit they’ve had better ideas since then, and Neil says he’d like to take Marshall with them to Houston while Max and Tara are in Boston. When he flies the idea by Charmaine later, she’s charmed by his innate goodness.
Kate and Marshall pick shallots from the garden together, and she mentions the memorial the kids have put up to Lionel, on the corner where he was killed. Marshall admits he hasn’t been able to go by the site. Evan arrives, and Kate rushes to save Evan from the relentless questions being posed by Tara and Charmaine. Tara admits she’s worried about her baby, Kate, going away from home to be with Evan. Evan charms the ladies. While Max, Neil, and Evan try to watch the football game, Ted shells the beans, and yammers on relentlessly throughout the game play. Max explodes, strangling Ted while the beans fly everywhere and ... except, again, that’s Max’s fantasy. In reality, he sits glumly in his chair, sipping a beer.
In the kitchen, Tara, Kate and Charmaine prepare the meal. When Marshall drifts through, Tara asks him to help her prepare the ‘turducken.’ He refuses, saying they should just order in from Domino’s. When Bryce’s name is brought up, Tara says that Bryce is dead, but does not elaborate. Charmaine continues to find nothing good about moving to Houston, and wonders if her moving, along with Kate moving to be with Evan, implies the end of feminism. It seems that all three of them are following their men’s wishes. But Tara has advice – Char’s jumped from guy to guy and one bad situation after another, culminating with the baby. She’s finally with Neil, who’s been nothing but great with her and little ‘Wheels’. It’s time to grow up.
At the table, Kate and Tara serve the beans and potatoes while everyone tries to make the best of this bad situation. As the ‘turducken’ is placed in front of him, and Neil proposes a toast, Max hits a breaking point, and rails at an unjust God that rains trouble and pain on him and his family, pounding the table, and the ‘turducken,’ finally seizing the beast and throwing it against the wall, as everyone cowers. And this is no fantasy – Max really has lost it. With the air cleared, Tara says there’s really nothing more to add, and they begin to eat.
After dinner, Marshall finds Tara in his room, packing his books. He says she doesn’t have to, but Tara admits that she’s done very little beyond making his life horrible. They both say they don’t think they’ll sleep, so she proposes they take a little drive. In the spare room, Kate tells Evan she loves him, but wants to stay home, with Marshall while Tara’s away. The garage door opens to reveal Max, shredding away on his electric guitar. Ted stands nearby in his robe, silently. When a neighbour yells at Max to quit playing, Ted stands up to the neighbour for Max. Next door, Neil and Charmaine hear the guitar, and smile. Char asks Neil to marry her. At first, he teasingly refuses, and then says yes.
At the street memorial, Marshall stands in awe of the display of candles, flowers, and glittery “We Love U Lionel” banner. Telling his mother that he regrets what he didn’t get to say to Lionel, he has decided that from now on, he’ll say what is on his mind all the time. They sit together on the curb, and begin to talk.
The next morning, the family gathers as Tara and Max prepare to leave for Boston. Charmaine is teary, saying she doesn’t know if she can handle a wedding, the move, and life in Houston without Tara. Max and Tara are grateful to Kate for stepping up to stay home with Marshall. As Tara hugs Marshall, it seems they’ve come to a place of peace. He tells her to be sure they don’t take out the ‘good parts.’ Tara says Marshall and Kate are her good parts. With a final hug for Kate, she turns to the truck, and sees Buck, T and Alice, bloody but unbowed, sitting in the back. As Supertramp’s “The Logical Song” plays, Tara and Max leave for her biggest battle yet, with her family behind her, in both senses of the word.
And so we leave the Gregsons, that quirky little family, to an unknown future. We’ll never know which way Diablo Cody would have taken them into the fourth season. But I’d like to think that, if she had, we’d have seen Max finally getting some help in releasing all the anger and pain he’s swallowed over the years, over both Tara and his mother’s mental illnesses, and his father’s abandonment. I don’t know if Tara can live without the safety valves of her alters Alice, T and Buck, at the least, but I’d have liked to see her try expressing herself without them. Kate’s done a lot of growing up over the three seasons, and wants and deserves a peaceful adulthood. Would she get it, after surviving such a troubled childhood? And Marshall, once over his grief and loss, would still have much to deal with, being a gay man in a hetero world, and with his new decision to speak his mind. But this family, even burdened so heavily, had a strong bond, and I believe that would have kept them together, regardless of what the future held for them.
A toast – to Tara! And thanks to all of the cast, crew and writers, for three entertaining years. You will be missed.