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'United States of Tara': Alter-free?

March 29, 2009 | 10:31 pm

Tara_max_2

This episode was one for my friend Jonathan and all you "Tara" fans who love the show when it focuses on the family and lose interest with the dramatic transitions to Tara's over-the-top alters. With Tara taking a couple weeks away and Charmaine moving into the house to play "fake mom" and bring home her new boyfriend, "fake dad" Nick, this one was especially chock-full of family. 

It's our second-to-last peek into Tara's psyche before next week's season finale, and the alters were almost nowhere to be seen. After last week when Mom as T hit on Jason, Marshall's first love, and Marshall subsequently torched T's shack, it was apparent that no one was enjoying the ride anymore. "She should be put away," Marshall tells Max.  "In the words of police chief Martin Brody, 'We need a bigger boat.' " 

Tara overheard her son's final dismissal of her, which must be one of the hardest things for a mother to hear. The next we see her, her bags are packed and she confesses to her testimonial tape, "Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is ask for help.... We need a bigger [expletive] boat."

Cue Dr. Handsome ...er... Holden, played by Joel Gretsch, who looks like Aaron Eckhart and Matt Damon's love child. The beautiful doctor explains his in-patient program, that Tara and Max will both have group therapy, and Tara will have individual therapy with him.

Can't you just hear Alice squealing in modulated delight and see T tying her top to bare her belly?  Yet even though Tara is ready and willing, sharing the only memory she has from post-trauma prep school where she wore her bathing suit under her clothes, waiting for summer break, only to come out of a fog six months later and see snow, the alters aren't having it.  Not one comes out for Dr. Holden until he injects Tara with a truth-serum medication, and Buck comes out to play darts, leer at an older patient and inform the doc that "nobody wants to talk to you, that's why I'm here."

Meanwhile, back at the house, Marshall's way of coping with his arson and ex-potential-boyfriend is to pop Xanax every time we see him. Kate is losing her sexual-misconduct case against creepy Gene, told by her restaurant's HR rep that "the food-service industry is a hotbed of sexual impropriety. That's why people work at restaurants." (Eww!  Keep your hairnet on!)

I've said before that John Corbett always seems to play the calm, cool and collected Mr. Fix-It.  But all characters have a breaking point, and Max reaches it after one more session with Dr. Handsome and Buck, who seems to like living in in-patient treatment. He turns to Buck and asks him to relay a message to Tara, should he see her. "I'm through. I'm not doing this anymore."

After Max rides off into the sunset, Tara comes back for a party thrown for a patient who is integrated and leaving the program. As Tara wistfully congratulates her, Jenny gives her a shot of reality. "We'll see if it sticks. I've been integrated before and it turns out the alters were just hiding." Looking at a picture of her kids with Tara, she admits she hasn't seen them for a while, since her ex has full custody. 

Tara rushes from the room to call Max.  "I want to find Tripp Johansson. If my alters won't tell me what happened then I want to find him myself. Can you help me?"

Max isn't ready to give up yet, and as Tara hangs up the phone, it's an in-patient miracle as it starts to snow. As she told her group earlier about waiting for sun and waking to snow, "It wasn't what I expected, but it was beautiful."

-- Rebecca Snavely

(Photo courtesy Showtime)

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