United States Of Tara: "Dr. Hatteras' Miracle Elixir"
B+

United States Of Tara: "Dr. Hatteras' Miracle Elixir"

B+

United States Of Tara

"Dr. Hatteras' Miracle Elixir"

Season 3, Episode 5

“Dr. Hatteras' Miracle Elixir” feels like the episode where this season really starts to snap into place. We've seen how destructive the alters can be; in this episode, we see how they can be helpful. And we finally start to get a sense of how the season is going to shape up. Tara's going to enter into therapy with Dr. Hatteras, at the behest of Max, who hopes he can find a way to pull everything together. Marshall has ditched Lionel for Noah. And while Noah is a bit too much of a perfect guy—he doesn't lie? really?—he's a damn sight better than Lionel, who was fairly irritating. Charmaine finds her way back to forgiving her sister, especially after Neil and Alice intervene, while Kate has begun the long road to becoming a flight attendant. It's not a great episode of TV, but it's a very good one at putting all of the pieces on the board where they need to be, so the writers can start fucking with them.

Broadly speaking, the episode is based around two storylines that take up most of its running time. Charmaine needs to finally let Tara hold the baby (which she does at the end), and Tara needs to accept Dr. Hatteras' offer to come and speak with him every so often, the better for him to eventually publish a paper on her condition (which she does near the end). Now, we all knew that Tara would eventually wear Charmaine down, since the two are sisters, and the show can't have them stay not speaking to each other for the rest of the season. But I thought the way in which the story played out was rather sweet. Tara makes lasagna overtures. Alice comes over to show the new parents that turning on a vacuum will sometimes soothe a newborn. And in a very sweet scene, Neil calls Tara up for advice, and she guides the care of Cassie from over the backyard fence. So much of the episode is taken up with this storyline that when Tara comes over and Charmaine lets her hold the baby, it feels heartfelt and earned.

The Hatteras story doesn't feel as sweet. Eddie Izzard is doing so much of the comic heavy lifting this season that it's easy to ignore that he could be in this for wholly opportunistic reasons. The fact that he wants to publish a paper—no matter how much he insists it will be read by no one—should probably be a giant red flag to everybody. And, to be fair, Tara is decidedly unwilling to go in for his offer for most of the episode, just wanting him to sign her drop class form. But she finally agrees to his offer, as she must for the season to continue, I assume, because Max wants her to. If she's got a chance to work with this guy, to get better, shouldn't she take it, for him, if for no one else? Hatteras, for his part, has had his interest piqued by that contract Tara was writing at the end of last episode, a contract he finds remarkably thorough in its implications. He's still skeptical, but he's fascinated. He's a good character, not least because it's all but impossible to pin down his ultimate motivation: It could be intrigue, but it could also be a desire for fame.

The contract also returns in a bigger way than I figured it might. The nature of it is so thorough that both Max and Tara are fascinated by it. It provides detailed bylaws for who can have the body when and conditions about when Tara can get the body back and all of the above. And, critically, it seems to be working, somewhat. When Alice takes over after hearing Cassie crying, she returns the body to Tara when Tara wants it. I initially figured that the contract was a one-off thing, the sort of story point that would seem to show that Tara was getting things under control but was really far more fucked up than she could ever hope to be. Instead, it might be the crucial device of the season, the thing that begins the long process of Tara not just healing but figuring out a way to move forward. Or, like these sorts of devices have been before on this show, it could just be a big waste of time, something that will hold off the alters for a while but ultimately won't be able to keep them back forever.

Both of the Gregson kids are dealing with their own changes. I liked that early scene this season where Lionel and Marshall wondered if they would be together if they had more dating options. As it turns out, that's not really the case, as Noah and Marshall's attraction has bloomed into a new relationship. The little group of students has decided to enter their short film from earlier in the season in a student film festival, which will be judged by David Lynch (who I hope makes a guest appearance). Marshall and Noah want to move to something deeper, more personal. Lionel thinks that the film they have is good enough and they should just work on making it even better. Rory mostly wants a ride home. It's a nice way to lay out just what all of these characters are about (if a little over-obvious): Marshall and Noah are all about human feeling; Lionel's all about flash and abrasiveness. And that in-your-face nature has finally worn on Marshall, who tries to hide things from Lionel but quickly comes up against Noah's whole, “never lie” thing.

Kate, meanwhile, has taken to the skies—well, the simulated ones—in training for AirKans, where she's about to become a flight attendant. Apparently, almost anybody can qualify for flight attendant training, but they only take the top few to the actual trainee program. So Kate finds herself surrounded by other applicants (including the girl she spends most of her time with, who was played by someone I'm sure I've seen before), and the woman conducting the training rapidly begins weeding them out. This is mostly a comic relief kind of storyline, and it actually wasn't all that funny. (The scene where Kate's friend plays the fake, angry passenger was kind of a bore.) But I liked Kate's final triumph with the bag—which she offered to put under the plane, instead of trying to shove into a too-small luggage compartment—and the final scene where she pushes her drink cart out into the aisle, only to have unseen turbulence throw everything about might as well be the single shot that encompasses this season so far: You think you're ahead of the game, but there's always something lurking to throw you off.

Stray observations:

  • I have to agree with Marshall and Noah. I never thought much of that short film the group made earlier in the season.
  • I liked the scene where Hatteras meets Max very much. Izzard's ability to play how Hatteras tried to keep Max docile by constantly emphasizing his size without making it seem silly or cloying was terrific, and I liked the way that Max went from that barely restrained protective anger he has to curiosity over the course of the scene.
  • Oh, right. Max got a storyline, too, though there wasn't much to it: He's chafing under the new restrictions of his job, which won't allow him to take the time to get the job done well, if it pushes past what Orgolawn has budgeted for that particular job. This seems more like it's being set-up for events to come than anything else.

More TV Club