United States Of Tara: "Bryce Will Play"
B+

United States Of Tara: "Bryce Will Play"

B+

United States Of Tara

"Bryce Will Play"

Season 3, Episode 9

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Well, United States Of Tara fans, it’s been a good run for this weird little show, but this is the first of the show’s final four episodes. It was canceled earlier today, in favor of Nurse Jackie, which will get another season where there will be the promise of change and consequences but nothing will actually ever happen. Having heard rumors that cancellation might be around the corner, I plowed through the rest of the season last night, to assure all of you of whether it would end in a way that would provide a good series finale or not (since I know some of you would want to bail if not), and I can assure you that the season wraps up much more satisfyingly than season one or season two did, and the finale, while obviously planned as a season finale and not a series finale, works beautifully as a series finale. So let me assure you all of that, and let’s talk about tonight’s episode.

The central storyline of season three has been Tara’s journey with Dr. Hatteras, a man who didn’t believe in DID when he met her and now apparently does (at least as of the end of this episode). Hatteras was a man who thought he could help Tara, eventually realized he couldn’t, then came to find that he needed to help her move through the crisis point that came up because of her return to college and her work with him in particular. The arrival of Bryce as a full-fledged alter and not just a vague monster lurking around the edges of the season gives his quest a new urgency, and if I have a favorite thing about this episode, it’s Hatteras basically moving into the Gregson house while Marshall, Max, and Kate are away and attempting to keep Bryce from doing too much to destroy Tara’s life or any more alters. 

He realizes he needs to do this when Bryce bumps off Shoshanna, but he’s unable to save poor Gimme (who hasn’t appeared all season) either. It’s not immediately clear just what Bryce is doing, but at least we learn something about who he’s supposed to be: He’s an abuser alter, the personality of the abuser who kicked off Tara’s DID internalized and made into a personality within Tara herself. It’s a terrifying notion, and it underlines something about the series that’s made this season the best the show has done: Tara may be the heroine of the show and the name in the title, but she’s also the villain, the one who casually destroys things in both her own life and in her family members’ lives. When Marshall has his freak-out on the streets of New York about how the Gregsons treat Tara like she’s quirky but she’s really crazy, it’s the fundamental question of the show (at least in its second and third seasons). Just how much does Tara’s condition hurt the people around her, even if they try to give her a pass because they love her so much?

The person Tara directly hurts here is Hatteras, who nearly dies when Bryce puts crab in his soup at the little gathering of Gregson/Crane women. Now, to a degree, the too-long Showtime “previously on” promo spoils this moment—since why else would they drop in that moment where Hatteras mentioned to Tara that he’s allergic to crab?—but it’s still terrifying to see Hatteras start to choke up and then have Bryce appear, smiling his sly smile. Toni Collette’s so good at playing both the many alters and the frazzled Tara that it’s easy to take her work for granted. But her work as Bryce is subtly scary, and she makes a believable villain here, trying to kill Hatteras, taunting Charmaine, killing Gimme, and reacting poorly to being called a bully. One of the big questions of United States Of Tara has always been just how much these alters are characters on their own (if the alters were played by someone other than Collette, these last two episodes would qualify as a main cast bloodbath) and just how much they’re parts of Tara. But Bryce is something else entirely. There’s no quirk here, just something legitimately terrifying.

I love just about everything about the Hatteras, Tara, and Bryce storyline, particularly the end, where it becomes evident that Hatteras was out of his league and can only give Tara the recommendation that the woman in Chicago is “shit,” and she should go see the doctor in Boston. It’s a very sad moment, particularly because Eddie Izzard has made this guy feel like a vibrant character within the show’s universe, a cocky, self-assured guy who, nonetheless, got too confident and found himself slipping from Oxford to Columbia to University of Kansas, Overland Park. But where this stuff was great, the other storylines were hit and miss.

My least favorite was probably Charmaine’s time among the other women in the “book club” (which actually consists of gathering in a park to let the kids play while drinking cocktails named after books). I’m always in favor of more Rosemarie DeWitt, but she’s always been the character the show most struggles to give storylines. When she gets tied into Tara’s main storylines—as when Bryce taunts her tonight—she’s a very effective character, particularly in these last two seasons, but when the writers have to find stuff for her to do on her own, they have trouble. This season, she doesn’t even have Neil to bounce off of, which leaves either cliché stories about how hard it is to be a new mother and/or stories about the mommies who drink.

The kids split the difference. The stuff with Kate, Evan, and Monty is basically hitting the same notes as last week, and I’m not sure I buy just how heavily she’s getting into this guy (though I like the actors). Still, she needs something to do, and the show can’t have her hanging out in Overland Park either. The Monty stuff is just SO broad, on a show that has mostly eschewed broadness this season that it sticks out like a sore thumb.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed Marshall and Max’s time in New York City. I’m not entirely sure that I buy that Marshall didn’t realize that his film would prompt that reaction in his father, but I can also buy that he might have just been done with the whole charade and wanted to let someone know how he really felt. The episode showed us just enough of the film to make us understand just why it’s a pretty good student film (good enough for honorable mention!) and also understand Max’s reaction. And at the same time, I like that Marshall, who’s been kind of the conscience of this season, is kind of a jerk all the same. His excitement about Jim Jarmusch perfectly captures that douche-y period every pretentious teenager goes through (and I would know this period well), and I liked Hatteras explaining who Jarmusch was while Tara talked to her son. And this whole storyline suggests something even more important for the future of the show (even if it’s only three episodes): If Marshall’s done with his mother, then what does that mean for the rest of the family.

Stray observations:

  • It’s too bad the show didn’t make a lot of use of Shoshanna this season. Really, the alters have been backgrounded much more in this season than in the first two, but I always liked her when she would pop up in the past.
  • We meet Hatteras’ department head, who has no desire to see Hatteras take on this case and reminds him of the limits of his abilities, a reminder that proves prescient.
  • Not only do the previously ons spoil much of what's to come, but they have what is hands down the least suitable music for the dark turn this season has taken, as if Showtime were attempting to INSIST this is still a comedy, against all evidence to the contrary.
  • I like how Max always buries what he would like to do in favor of what his family wants to do, but he always lets them know what he'd rather be doing without being an asshole about it. "Yeah, fuck the Empire State Building!"
  • So I know what’s coming in the final three episodes (and I’m not going to spoil). What would you like to see happen as the series concludes?

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