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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

United States Of Tara: "The Family Portrait"

Illustration for article titled United States Of Tara: "The Family Portrait"

I think it would be very interesting to watch this season of Tara all in one sitting just to see how tight the timeline is, as it seems like each episode picks up right where the last one dropped off. Last week we saw Max knocking on Pammy's bar door and that's how we open tonight, with Max having a beer and complaining about Tara, saying that this is the first time that, throughout all the transitioning, she seems like a different person to him, and not exactly one that's compatible with him.  Pammy obliges Max's hurt feelings by going for it: as they start making out on the pool table, she warns him that this is a one-time thing. 

Similarly jaded about relations with the menfolk, Kate is now a hardened veteran of sitting on things for guys for stuff.  She meets a "freakshow" named Zach online who just wants to talk, no goofy stuff, and it throws her off.  Tara comes by to ask where Max is, and tells Kate she was missed at the art show.  Peeved, Kate returns to her conversation, where the guy tells her to "shoot yourself and walk away—meaning change." 

Poor Nick. He's one of the few people on this show who I feel sorry for because he didn't do much to deserve his crappy fate.  The handsome nice guy has to put up with Charmaine chit-chatting with Neil about this and that after Max "left him there like a cone" after the art show. Weird turn of phrase since I've never heard of a delicious ice cream cone just being left behind on a park bench, but who knows what Charmaine's thinking half the time.  Nick lets Charmaine know he'd like for Neil to put it in writing that he won't try to lay claim to the child or to come around anymore, as if it's Neil and only Neil who's keeping that relationship going.

Tara decides this is a great time to paint a family portrait, maybe since it's about to fall apart. She apologizes to Max for making him feel "left out" at the art show, and Max confesses to her that he doesn't feel like he knows her right now, and then he goes off to stare at himself in the mirror in shame after having been with Pammy.  She turns to Marshall to ask him to sit for the portrait but he's off to hang out with Lionel at the mall. On the way out neighbor Ted runs up to Marshall, blaming him and Lionel for getting Hany hopped up on drugs and then leaving him.  "Other people are real Marshall, you can't just fuck around with other people,"  he calls to him. Poor Marshall—this is a great line but of all the people on the show who fuck around with "real" people, Marshall seems to do this the least.

Kate and Zach meet up at a fancy cafe and she confesses that she feels a little out of her element—he offers to take her instead to a Barnaby's down the street, which is a cute callback to last season.  Turns out that Zach happens to own a big frozen yogurt chain in town so not only does he not just want to talk to and get to know Kate, he's rich as well, PLUS he seems to suffer from depression. Jackpot! Rich, good-looking, nice and just the appropriate amount of mental illness? Marry him, Kate! 

While Tara works on the family portrait a bit more, Shoshana shows up to "kvetch" but really tell Tara that she's on the right track of becoming a whole person, coming "out of the basement." She advises Tara to make Max feel good, or actually, let Shoshana make Max feel good. I like the gradual reveal of Shoshana as a creep-o (because in real life, every good shrink would say "You know what, I'll blow your husband for you.")  There was something so sinister in her "Trust me, I know what to do."

Speaking of evil, Charmaine basically tortures Neil by telling him she's having a girl and then informing him that he's going to hear from her lawyer about not getting anywhere near the baby. Also playing the "You can't have me, yes you can" game is Pammy, who stalks Max on his cell phone, deciding that she changed her mind about the "one time only" thing. "Nobody normal wants me more than once," she complains. Probably because…bitch be crazy?

Marshall slowly finds himself more in the "gay kids" camp at school as the principal asks Lionel and him to distribute condoms to the students. The writing in this scene reminded me a little bit of last season in that there was a bit of a conundrum with the principal being so sneering and offensive ("Obviously when I think of AIDS I think of you and your friends" and "I know how safe sex is important to your little community") while at the same time not seeming to have an actual moral problem with the condom distribution. If she were really so homophobic or anti-sex she'd dump the condoms and want nothing to do with Marshall and Lionel so the scene just felt a little unrealistic to me.

Max heads to the Hubbard house to find Tara but instead comes upon Shoshana who invites him for a little "sit down" on the floor in the sunshine. Again with the slightly sinister talk, she asks Max if she has some authority in this situation and lets him know she's the part of Tara that wants "only good" for him.  She informs him that Tara said that this was all OK, then pulls her hair back and lets him know "And then you'll do me." For the second time in two days Max gets it on with someone other than his wife.

On the pink Vespa that somebody bought her, Kate decides it's time to abandon childish things and brings the Princess Valhalla Hawkwind costume back to Lynda along with a few of the prizes she earned.  The two have it out, Kate accusing Lynda of abandoning their friendship, Lynda telling Kate that both Kate and Tara used (or "accessed") her, like she was some sort of artistic website.  This was a good scene for Kate, as Lynda tosses at her, "Do you know who you're mad at?" and Kate responds matter of factly, without even being a smartass, "Myself. I wanted to be an adult. I settled for a costume, good luck staying one step ahead."  I like this self-knowledge coming from Kate but I hope I kind of hope the situation with Zach takes a bizarre turn because something about the trajectory of this new relationship isn't sitting right with me. From a thematic point of view it's neat and tidy that the princess should be rescued and tamed by a prince, but I don't want Kate to find happiness in the arms of a rich boy.  His advice of "shoot yourself and walk away" might be right for Kate, but I liked it better when she was working at the collection agency (and what's been going on with that, anyway?)

Back home, Charmaine informs Nick that Neil will be signing away custody of the baby (although we don't know if this is yet true) and next door Tara wakes up as herself next to Max, who confesses to her that he had a thing with Pammy. "What's going to happen to our family?"  she asks.  "I don't know," he responds, and then the camera pulls out to reveal the portrait of the Gregsons with the faces yet filled-in.

While this season is still going strong, for some reason this wasn't my favorite episode to date, maybe because I want Tara and Max to shit or get off the pot already.  Same thing with Charmaine and Nick and/or Neil.  The only person who knows what he's doing on this show right now is Lionel. And maybe Shoshana.