With the premier of its third season this past Monday, “United States of Tara” refuses to be anything less than an oddly hilarious, brilliantly written and scary Showtime drama. Tara Gregson (Toni Collette) is a loving wife and mother of Kate Gregson (Brie Larson), a troubled teenager, and Marshall Gregson (Keir Gilchrist), but her mind is also home to several other people.
“United States of Tara” follows Tara, who has Dissociative Identity Disorder, with her struggle against all of her “alters,” or other personalities. The title refers to the United States of America as well as the state of unity between Tara and her alters.
Produced by Steven Spielberg and Diablo Cody (writer and producer of Juno), “United States of Tara” is the first show to seriously address the problems behind living with multiple personalities. A dark comedy, the show presents the alters in a very funny way without forgetting that DID is a serious condition.
Tara is the genuine and dominant personality, having to be the diplomat between other alters, but unfortunately also struggling to remain in control of her consciousness. When overcome by stress, Tara blacks out, which allows one of her many alters to grab the reins of her mind. “Alice” is a traditional 1950s housewife, “T” is a 16 year-old party girl, “Buck” is a motorcycle-riding Vietnam veteran (who gets Tara into a few too many lesbian encounters, since Buck is a man in a woman’s body), “Shoshana” is Tara’s internal hippie and therapist, and then there is “Chicken,” who is the 5-year-old child.
During the first and second seasons, Tara and her family work relentlessly to find ways to rid her mind of alters. After seeing numerous psychologists, doctors and other psychological professionals, the second season ends with Tara having little understanding of her mind.
The first two seasons follow Tara’s journey of discovering why she has all of these alternate personalities, but it’s the third season that marks a major shift in the direction of the show.
The third season starts with Tara’s decision to return to college for a semester in order to finish her degree. Tara’s husband, Max Gregson (John Corbett), reveals that it was in college that Tara attempted to take her own life. Max fears that a return to college will add to Tara’s stress, causing her to change into an alter and perhaps have a suicidal relapse.
As predicted, Tara feels an enormous amount of stress while writing her first essay, causing her to change into an unknown alter and type rapidly into her document. Suddenly, the words “youwillnotwin” spray across the screen while the alter grabs an object from her desk and slits her wrist.
Tara regains her consciousness to learn that this suicidal act was an illusion, but for the first time in the show’s history, none of the usual suspects caused this scare. The display on the screen and the history of Tara’s college experience tell me that there is an additional alter within Tara whose motive is to end her life. Interestingly enough, after Tara regains control she sees her room occupied by projections of each of the aforementioned alters, but this time they aren’t vying for control; they want to help Tara. Each alter offers their support for Tara, promising to contribute to Tara’s well-being to the best of their abilities. Picture a skinny blonde woman, dressed in plaid, riding a motorcycle and beating the living hell out of a grown man — a Buck contribution from the past season.
Putting all criticisms of the true nature of DID and Multiple Personality Disorder aside, Cody and Spielberg certainly do a great job creating an interesting array of personalities with whom a protagonist must struggle in order to keep her life stable. You don’t have to have DID in order to appreciate the value of “United States of Tara,” since everyone has their own inner demons with whom they struggle. Hopefully, your demons aren’t war veterans who have a strange craving for bar fights and sleazy women. That’s Buck, again.
Steven Piccione is a sophomore in the College. Hulu Saxa appears every other Friday in the guide.