All good things must come to an end, and so, too, must frustratingly inconsistent ones. United States of Tara — which falls, of course, into the latter category — ended much as it began: with some overacting, some underacting and a surplus of stereotypes. But before it went into hibernation, Tara delivered a surprising, plot-propelling reveal. And a long overdue one, at that.
The Unaltered Tara
After a dozen episodes of hearing about the the rapist who supposedly triggered Tara’s Dissociative Identity Disorder, we finally meet the creep. Victim and victimizer are reunited for mediated confrontation with soothing therapist and happy spouses by their sides. The idea is that if Tara can finally piece together the events surrounding the night of the date rape, she will finally get resolution and her humpty dumpty split personalities will get pieced together again.
Alleged rapist Trip Johannson couldn’t be more perfectly cast: He has a 100-yard stare, slicked-back, receding hair, and an oblivious, pearl-adorned Stepford wife who comes bearing homemade cookies. The meeting goes as smoothly as you might expect: with uncomfortable silences, rote apologies by Trip the Aggressor, and stone-faced acceptance from Tara. As they are saying their goodbyes, Trip refers to Tara as “T,” which provokes that namesake alter to rise to the occasion. Turns out “T” has vivid, inappropriate-for-younger-viewers memories of the night in question, which involved a sexual encounter with — and between — Trip and his best friend. Aha, says the shrink. The rape isn’t what brought on the split personalities. Nope, “T” was already there: It was she who suffered the assault.
Another Alternate Reality
The finale also brings some unfinished business for the ancillary characters. Daughter Kate’s attempts to get some cash via sexual-harassment allegations are thwarted, and the now-fired boss continues to pursue her in a delusional way. Gay son Marshall comes around to Kate’s assertions that perhaps their mother’s alters are trying to protect him from the heartbreak of gay-crush impostors. Asshole sister Charmaine turns out to be not such an asshole after all: She softens to the idea of her former oops-lover Neil as a mate, despite his schlubby appearance. Macho Max, meanwhile, remains dubious about therapy. He just wants to throttle the guy who raped his wife.
With the non-resolution that the rape wasn’t the cause, but rather a quasi effect, of Tara’s split personalities, the family abandons their attempts at a “normal” nuclear-family dinner and repairs to the bowling alley. Also along for the ride: Tara’s alters, who sit in the periphery, silently acting out each of their stereotypes.
Though the show ended with something of a whimper in terms of enticing stories to keep us on the our collective seats until the 2010 return of the series, there is one compelling reason for us to turn in for the next season. Rape is controversial, as is the gray area of sexual harassment in the workplace. More controversial, though, is the assertion that the female characters may have somehow been complicit in these incidents. Though we won’t be waiting with the same bated breath we have been for, say, Mad Men, we are intrigued to see how the producers of United States of Tara deal with this mess.