'The United States Of Tara' Season 3 Premiere - Recap
Season Three’s opener ‘youwillnotwin’ reintroduces us to the Gregson’s, a typical American family, as long as the typical American family’s 2.5 kids has a .5 component of multiple altered personalities. Well, it’s really the mom that has the alters, but you get the drift.
These alters include Alice, the 50’s housewife, T, the out of control teen, Chicken, Tara’s 5 year old self, Buck, the male redneck biker, and Shoshanna, the therapist. They haven’t been seen in months, or so Tara believes. Tara’s son, Neil, is in the midst of his first real love affair with Lionel, while her daughter, Kate, a whole lot of personality wrapped up in just one mixed up teenager, struggles to find her own place in the world. Tara’s husband, Max, struggles with not only his wife’s extreme psychological problems, but his own need for some sort of rational suburban life. And Tara’s sister, Charmaine, pregnant by a man she feels she cannot love, has just been left at the altar by the man she does claim to love. As if that isn’t enough familial chaos, Tara’s mother revealed at the aborted wedding that Charmaine and Tara also have a brother, Bryce, who’s previous existence was never mentioned.
One would think that that would be quite enough for any sane, never mind challenged, mind to deal with. But series creator Diablo Cody has always got a few more cards up her sleeve. This year she adds the brilliant Eddie Izzard to the pot, as Tara’s college professor, Dr Harris. Yes, college. Although Max worries that Tara’s return to college will stress her to the point of breaking, Tara is determined to finish her degree. And so we begin …
Buck takes it upon himself to find lost brother Bryce, but comes up empty. At a family barbeque, Charmaine, enormously pregnant, still won’t marry Neil, no matter how he pleads. Neil even proposes to Charmaine in front of the crowd, but she turns him down, to his humiliation. Kate’s moved in with Charmaine, Neil and Lionel are practicing their camera skills on the hapless guests, and Tara admits that not finishing college is the biggest regret of her life. Despite Max’s fears that Tara will transition (into an alter) under stress, Tara feels that she’ll transition no matter what the situation, so she may as well be at school while she does so.
When Max tries to pin Lionel down on a definition of their relationship, Lionel refuses to commit, and changes the subject to a joint purchase of a video camera. They will need to raise $700, which neither of them have at this time.
Money issues are on Max and Tara’s mind as well, as Max discovers a $300. speeding ticket that Buck incurred on his drive back from confronting faux Bryce. Max is losing jobs to a competitor who is undercutting prices. Tara’s hope is that, with a college degree, she can help the family by getting a real job. Max is skeptical.
Tara announces to Charmaine and Kate that she’s enrolled at college, and Charmaine says she’s jealous of Tara’s strength in dealing with their mother’s acknowledgement of the abuse in their childhood and revelation of the lost brother. When Charmaine wonders if they should be looking for the missing sibling, Tara’s denial seems confused and sneaky. As she leaves, Neil arrives, bearing goodies, and discovers that Charmaine still has her wedding cake in her freezer. Later, Neil tries to force Charmaine to face reality about her situation by pretending to eat the cake. She believes she is now ‘independent,’ despite his words. When she is later admitted to hospital in false labor, she lies that she is taking childbirth classes to cover her lack of information on Braxton Hicks spasms. Neil then insists that he will be moving in to take care of her, and she grudgingly says he can have the couch.
Tara desperately wants to get in to Dr Harris’ abnormal psychology class, but he snootily tries to blow her off, citing late enrolment and a full class. Using the logic that she, as a mature student with years of therapy, can fill the places of students who will drop out during the semester, Tara changes his mind, and is given the syllabus and an assignment. Based on her completion of the assignment, he will accept her into his class.
Kate applies for a job as a writer at a fashion magazine, although she is desperately under qualified, and the opening is actually for an administrative position. The interviewer reveals that he has seen her Internet porn, which she has not mentioned, and Kate realizes that the Internet is forever – she may as well have her past tattooed on her forehead. During a family visit to her old employer, Barney’s restaurant, she is recognized by the staff as the girl seen online ‘sitting on a cake.’
As Tara begins to study the material for her upcoming class, she realizes that she is afraid of failing at her dream. When she tells the kids about her fear, they counter that she has to try, or will end up an old lady still talking about what might have been.
Max and Neil bond over a game of bowling and a few beers. Max tells Neil that Tara tried to kill herself in college, and he’s afraid she may try again if things get tough. Neil tells Max that he may as well stop trying to take control of the situation, since he’s never been in control in the first place.
While Max tries to be supportive of Tara’s college dream, he admits he’s never gotten over his terror at nearly losing her when she attempted suicide. While he sleeps on the couch, Tara is overcome with despair, feeling she will not win, and takes a knife to her wrist. (Is this Tara, or another alter?) Buck appears, removing the knife, as alters Shoshonna, Alice and T enter the room to give Tara encouragement. Shoshonna provides the information Tara needs for her essay by drawing on the information Tara already has learned, while Alice pours tea and Buck massages her shoulders. Tara may not want any help, but Shoshonna says she needs them now, more than ever.
This is a brilliant start to the series. Hopefully, upcoming episodes will reveal more about Tara’s integration of the personalities, while allowing the superb cast to showcase their own talents.