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United States of Tara, “Yes” (2.01)

“I bet everyone thought I’d be the one to off myself. Guess what, Oak Avenue, the lady with all the personalities is not the most fucked up person on the block.” – Tara Gregson

The season two premiere of United States of Tara, “Yes”, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Craig Zisk. Review after the jump…

Summary: Dr. Holden’s treatment, started at the tail end of last season, must have worked because in “Yes” Tara is enjoying an alter-free life. Kate’s graduated and searching for work while Marshall explores gay culture at his school, and all seems like life as normal. However, the suicide of a neighbour sends things off-kilter, leading to the return of wayward personality Buck.

Thoughts: If you consider United States of Tara a multiple-personalities comedy, then “Yes” is a format-breaking episode, more about showing how the Gregson family live without the distraction of Tara’s alters. And, strangely enough, their life isn’t that different: Kate’s still struggling to find a direction for her life, Marshall’s still trying to establish an identity, and Max still needs a project. And for Tara, the absence of alters is largely the absence of a story, as she obsesses over the neighbour’s dead house and throws a dinner for her neighbours, but doesn’t show a larger, overaching need. She’s just happy to be a full person again, without fragments.

Indeed, the show seems to visually address that. With the alters gone, the influence of those sides of Tara become more subtle, with Tara donning an apron to make pot de creme for the dinner (recalling Alice) and going out for a beer with Max (recalling Buck). Tara doesn’t have to live on edge, worried about transitioning if a problem hits.

It’s only during the dinner party, when she hears the rumour of how their neighbour tried three times in one night to kill himself before finally succeeding, that the cracks begin. She’s deeply disturbed by how Hubbard died, which only grows throughout the second half of the episode; I have to wonder whether there was a psychological trigger in the story that recalled Tara’s trauma without her realising. Soon enough, she’s using the key Hubbard’s sister left in their care to wander the house in a daze, something that is implied to directly relate to the sudden return of Buck.

The Buck storyline, in which he seduces a waitress at the bar, is very interesting, but since it’s only hinted at here, I want to wait until next week to properly dig into that. It’s a great moment to end the episode on, both bringing us to an inevitability (an alter returning) and yet sending a curveball (that Buck is pursuing a sexual partner).

One interesting thing is that, at the top of the episode, Tara throws out all the clothes she’d set aside for the alters. This has an interesting effect; for one thing, Buck’s attire come the end of the episode is much less obvious and theatrical, which may be a move to have the alters be less clear-cut in season 2. Also, though, a sound cue of fuzzy music, the kind used often to indicate confusion or druggedness, before the transition to Buck makes me wonder if that will be used to signify transitioning, allowing the show to be a bit more subtle visually.

Now, Tara may be the most fascinating character, but the show wisely lets the other characters breathe here while the alters are out of commission. Having graduated, Kate pursues a job as a collections agent, an arc I’m hoping won’t follow too closely in last season’s Barnabees plot (which largely fell flat). Meanwhile, having Marshall confront the identity that goes along with being gay is a very fun plotline, watching him clash with the head of the ‘Gay-ble’ in the cafeteria. What I particularly like about the plot is that they never specifically groom the boy to be a love interest; rather, he seems to be a reflection of being gay that’s allowing Marshall to think differently about the label, which is interesting to watch.

All in all, while the episode lacked some of the pace the alters bring, it was a very intriguing and rewarding premiere. Hoping things ramp up in coming weeks; thankfully, having seen next week’s episode, I’m not terribly worried about a sharp downturn. What did you guys think about the episode?

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