So much for whipped cream and hard-core porn. Turns out no amount of artifice and posturing can jump-start the sex life of Tara and her obedient hubby. Early on in this episode, we’re subjected to a premium-cable-size shot of John Corbett’s naked body, glistening with shower water as his arm pumps away in a moment of self-love that Tara later nicknames “Gentleman’s Time.” Well, at least now he can get it up.
Episode four served up very little in the way of alters (they only appear as flashbacks or imaginings). Instead, we’re force-fed an overabundance of inspirational-quote pap such as “find joy” and “make your own future by innovating your present.” The source of said hokum is Tiffany St. John, the bubbly, white-wine-swilling positivity queen who has commissioned Tara to paint a hideous mural in her living room. While Tara is dealing with her patron and Dissociative Identity Disorder–denying sister — a plot seemingly constructed to prop up expository dialogue about the causes and controversy of D.I.D. — the men in her family bond over the art of landscaping, riding lawnmowers, and life-threatening bee stings. Guess which plotline is more interesting.
Another Alternate Reality: The Gay Son
Without the distraction of multiple-personality moments, we have room to focus on the gay son — who, somewhat ironically, is emerging as the most complex member of Tara’s family. While Max remains sweetly, non-threateningly one-dimensional — a prop to hold up Toni’s attempts at an Emmy — Marshall quietly goes about the business of being a gay teen in Kansas, which is arguably even more difficult than being a split-personality female artist in that neck of the woods.
It could have been easy to dismiss Marshall as a simple receptacle for series founder Diablo Cody’s beloved pop-cultural references: We’ve seen him reading a vintage copy of Sybil, watching and opining on Louise Brooks’s performance in Pandora’s Box, listening to smarty-pants jazz, and hanging out on his bed next to his Cabinet of Dr. Caligari poster. He’s a bed-wetter and still confused by his sexuality, but he’s also precocious and preternaturally tolerant of his mother’s “condition.” He says he loves that it makes them “interesting.” Perhaps he appreciates having another “deviant” in the household.
The object of Marshall’s unfortunate affection is Jason, the son of an evangelical pastor whose boyish good looks entice Marshall into playing a part in the local Christ the Redeemer church’s fire-and-brimstone “experimental theater production,” Hell House. In what may be Cody’s most subtle reference yet, the possibly closeted-gay Jason is shown wearing a pale-green T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Meat Packing Dist.” — a garment he soon removes to lie in the pile of writhing, half-naked teen boys who comprise the chorus of doomed gays set to be tortured by Satan.
The Unaltered State of Tara
With all of its nauseatingly tolerant exclamations and therapy-speak, United States of Tara seemed poised to tumble into the politically correct point of no return. But at the end of the episode, Tara and her asshole sister Charmaine literally ditch the “Yay me!” garbage: After one of Tara’s alters allegedly destroys Tiffany’s mural with the words “Die Yuppie Cunt” (and Tara is unceremoniously served with a restraining order), the sisters bond over Tiffany’s vapidity and toss her inspirational-phrase stones into the gutter. Thank Jesus, there may yet be saccharine-free hope for this series, after all.