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United States of Tara: Sex, Drugs, and Group Therapy

And now, back to our regularly scheduled aggravation. After diving headlong into nail-biting territory, United States of Tara has retreated back to ho-hum predictability. Which is something of a remarkable feat, considering that this episode involves a screaming orgasm, teen drug use, and a disarmingly attractive shrink.

The Unaltered Tara
We begin with Tara and her nuclear family picking up the pieces — literally — from sexually frustrated Marshall’s foray into arson. Tara sulks, feeling guilty for hitting on her son’s love interest, and Marshall isn’t feeling sympathetic to her apologies. He’s not feeling much at all, actually — he’s too busy cultivating a Xanax habit.

That’s okay, though: Tara’s not forgiving herself, either, as is made abundantly clear by the extended Lady Macbeth–esque scene in which she showers, fully clothed, trying to wash away the stains of the fire sparked by her split personality’s big boo-boo.

Another Alternate Reality
And so, with her home almost literally crumbling around her, Tara finally caves: She and Max head off to an inpatient therapy facility, where they are greeted by the dashingly handsome intake therapist who calmly, suavely congratulates the increasingly unhappy couple on their courage to come to his clinic.

Max is along for the ride in his macho-reluctant way — dudes don’t do therapy! — but he’s getting impatient with his wife’s “condition.” Meanwhile, Mr. Handsome Therapist is gaining on him. The camera lingers on the doc’s soothing smile as he all but explicitly vows to be the guy who saves the disordered damsel in distress. But this sexual frisson is a mere blip compared to the heaping helping of too-sensistive therapy speak running through the entire clinic — including that in the tortuously tolerant group sessions Max himself is forced to attend.

The shrink’s wiles (and some serious IV drugs) bring about a transition in Tara. Here’s Buck, who entertains the whole hospital with his dart-throwing skills. It all proves too much for Max to take, and he storms out of the hospital telling Buck that he’s “done” and “can’t do this anymore.”

Back at the Tara Ranch
While Max and Tara are away, Charmaine moves in to “take care” of their kids. She uses the home as a bachelorette pad; the marital bed becomes a haven for her screaming orgasm. We know this because we get a gratuitous shot of teenage Kate in boy shorts, calling out her aunt’s late-night activities.

It’s a somewhat jarring juxtaposition with Kate’s own conflict — she’s trying to prove to the corporate office of her terrible chain restaurant that her boss’ sexual advances are unwelcome ones. The effort is thwarted by the old lady in human resources who essentially asserts that Kate, like all young waitresses, was asking for it. The old lady asks: “Didja blew him?” Kate responds with the series’s most clichéd acting (and that’s saying something!), yanking at her collar and stutteringly denying the accusation.

Pause for Pop-culture Comment
We’d rather ignore the stream of pop-culture self-consciousness that runs through this show, but it just won’t let us. This week’s unlikeliest reference comes once again from Marshall, who likens their family drama to “early John Waters,” minus the charm of the late, great transvestite, Divine. He also delivers a semi-misquote of the famous Jaws line “we’re gonna need a bigger boat,” which becomes even more cringe-worthy when Tara tearfully repeats it.

As if that weren’t enough, the episode ends with a bit of heavy-handed symbolism, as snow starts to fall when Tara relents to Max’s desire that they abandon all therapy in favor of chasing down the date rapist who brought this upon her. (Her last memory after the incident is winter’s first snowfall.)

Like its protagonist, United States of Tara is trying to balance too many perspectives and too many characters. It’s a difficult undertaking, trying to please everyone, but right now our guess is that it's pleasing next to no one.

Photo: Courtesy of Showtime