Tuesday, May 24, 2011

USOT Recap: Self vs. Self

"I'm a growing boy, and there's only so much room in the upstairs."  Bryce

Ah, Bryce, you psychotic little twerp. The fact that the Bryce personality would have to be a young teenager was totally lost on me last week, probably because he acts and talks nothing like a 14-year-old, but of course it makes perfect sense in retrospect. Last night's episode explains that he is what is called an "abuser alter," a paradoxical phenomenon in which the subject protects herself by becoming her abuser. Is this a real thing? Don't know, rolling with it. I'm just grateful that "Bryce Will Play" has managed to adequately mollify me after last week's great disappointment of an episode.

It's not certain why Bryce has been dormant for so long (if we are to accept the theory that he was around and responsible for Tara's suicide attempts during her college years) and why he's suddenly back (though he does imply that he probably wouldn't be if not for Hattaraswhat's that about?). What's certain is that he is ritualistically going after the other alters, so far in the reverse order that they became manifest. In addition to Chicken last week, Bryce has now symbolically killed Shoshanna and Gimme as well. I say symbolic because he claims not to believe in DID; he is performing the killings, he says, purely to mess with Tara's head, and it is working. Tara says she cannot "feel them" anymore, and that the others are there but ignore and blame her for what's happening. The real paradox here is the fact that Bryce's actions are simultaneously destroying parts of Tara's psyche and giving her what she's always wanted: her own life back. Of course, Bryce is really after the breakdown of Tara's self-preservation system so that he can finally kill her unencumbered and take over as the one true personality, though I'm not quite satisfied with the idea that his delusions are this extreme. When Hattaras points out that killing Tara equates to killing himself, Bryce becomes visibly angry and defensive, and his erratic behavior culminates in an attempt to poison Hattaras during Tara, Charmy, and Kate's girl-power dinner. "Don't all sons dream of killing their fathers?" he cryptically asks a mid-anaphylaxis Hattaras. Realizing once and for all that he is out of his depth, he abandons Tara once again, in spite of the evident friendship they've forged, and I don't blame him; it's scary to think that there is a part of her that wants Jack out of the picture. Still, in spite of the finality of their goodbye, I hope this isn't the last we see of the good doctor.

The other dominant story this week revolves around Marshall and Max's NYC [mis]adventure, where Marshall's movie receives Honorable Mention in the student film festival. The screening instigates an argument between father and son, the former feeling betrayed by the film's depiction of Max as tragic hero stuck in an impossible situation and duty-bound to an insane woman. Max insists that he is with Tara because he loves her, and I believe him, but Marshall's interpretation is equally valid. "Mom is crazy, and we treat her like she's an eccentric, and there's a cost," he says, nailing the complexity of the situation in a single sentence. This is the real tragedy of Tara's DID: that in order for her to be a real person, her disorder must be given free reign. This may be the first time the show has ever truly hinted at the sheer unlikelihood of Tara ever getting cured.

Who will Bryce go after next time, and how will Tara manage him without Dr. Hattaras? Answers to follow in two weeks.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

USOT Recap: Twist?

 "And who are you?" Dr. Hattaras

Answer: Bryce Craine, presumably modeled after the real-life Bryce Craine, mysterious and abusive half-brother of Tara and Charmaine and possible sociopath. Oy. Where do I begin talking about this week's episode? I was not crazy about it.

Let me rephrase that: a part of me was not crazy about it. The part of me that enjoys cheap thrills and shock factor and instant gratification? She was happy. It's the snobby critical bitch with elitist TV tastes that is being a huge stick-in-the-mud right now. And given that she is the one in possession of all the words and brains and stuff, well... guard your loins, folks.

It's no surprise that Tara's alters are modeled after real people she's known (we saw this with Alice last season), but Bryce is possibly the first of her personalities to be directly lifted from real life, at least in name. Since Tara didn't even remember that she had a brother in the first place, we now have to wonder: what is she basing the Bryce personality on, and how close to the original is her rendition? Also, why did Bryce kidnap baby Wheels, and where was he trying to take her? And this is the extent of the real intrigue this episode provides. Otherwise, "Chicken 'n' Corn" was sorely disappointing.

First off, Bryce is an utter caricature! Granted, all the alters are caricatures, but he strikes me as exceptionally over-the-top in his Eeeeevil Prospector impression. If he had a mustache, he'd be twirling it (and actually, Tara did seem to be smoothing an imaginary goatee while "occupied" by Bryce). And even if I could get on board with the personalitywhich I probably will do given the chance to sleep on it, because I still like this showwhat's with the whole "take me to Tara so that I may kill her" schtick? Does Bryce really not realize that he is Tara? More importantly, is the viewer supposed to believe that he doesn't realize this even after he has already attacked her on several different occasions? He certainly knew where to find her those times!

One of the things that's always kept me tuning in to this show was its plausibility, as strange as that sounds. Sure it romanticizeseven glamorizesDID, but at least there was always enough of a method to Tara's madness that the viewer could still go along with all of her "crazy" antics under the justification, "hey, it could happen." Now, even with my rudimentary understanding of [this show's] psychology, I get the sense that this really couldn't happen. The addition of Bryce to the mix just smacks of the kind of sensationalist crap that writers often utilize when they're desperate. I like a good, shocking twist as much as the next person, but I still want it to make sense and feel somewhat realistic within the parameters of the show. Perhaps this creative decision will prove to have hidden depths and a more logical rationale in future episodesI hope it doesbut right now I just feel let down and vaguely insulted as a fan.

I can't say what it is exactly about the Bryce thing that bothers me so. We've been treated to enough hints this season to anticipate a murderous and violent new alter to spring forth eventually, so I shouldn't have been surprised when he finally introduced himself. It was also obvious that this alter was out to destroy Tara and possibly the other alters, so hearing him confirm his intentions shouldn't have been a shock, either. In the end, I suppose that's just it: everything about Bryce's big introductory speech pretended to be a big, shocking twist but was ultimately full of stuff we already knew. This episode played like a mini whodunit, except without the mystery factor, which made it a bad whodunit and somewhat ridiculous when we consider that none of the purported crimes are actually happening. The only big reveal is that Chicken was "murdered" by the mystery alter, whohint, hint!is named and modeled after a real person from Tara's childhood. Well, big freaking whoop.

If this "big reveal" were a food pyramid item, it would be sugar: delicious but empty of substance. Combined with the archetypical evil affectation (poor Toni Collette must be up to here with all the new voices they're making her do) and the painfully obvious significance of there being two Bryce Craines, it ultimately made for a pretty insulting TV gimmick. Besides, all the so-called secrets Bryce readily revealed to Dr. Hattaras (and reallywhy now?), including his name, were the kind of secrets that should have been merely hinted at and left up to the viewers to uncover using a little thing called deductive reasoning. And the fact that the episode's climax occurred in a corn maze? Gee, I wonder what that could symbolize. Come on, writers! We're bright enough to have managed to follow along for three seasons; have a little faith in your audience and stop spelling everything out. But anyway.

The other storylines were no more inspired than Bryce's this week. I seem to remember some boring minor conflict between Max and Marshall, and some boring minor inner conflicts within Kate and Charmaine, both of whom are having some trouble navigating the waters of new step-/mommyhood. (And speaking of caricatures: Monty, anyone?) Here's hoping next week's episode delivers a little more protein.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

USOT Recap: College Tara Returns

"You must be that part of her that shoots bullets at the birds." Dr. Hattaras

Thus spake Hattaras to Buck in last night's episode whimsically entitled "The Electrifying and Magnanimous Return of Beaverlamp." Buck accosts the good doctor at his office to try and persuade him to take Tara back on as a patient/project, after Hattaras ditches her following his former patient Kite Boy's regression and consequent suicide. It turns out the mystery alter is getting a bit out of hand with the physical attacks on Tara's person, and Buck is concerned. An "accidental" cut while chopping vegetables evolves into a self-inflicted gash with a broken beer bottle by the end of the episode. Yikes! What's worse is that Tara is still unaware of this added threat currently residing in her psyche. The alters know, though. They even have discussions about it and take turns watching out for Tara's safety. Some recent developments are definitely angering this Other Personality (OP), and I'm willing to bet it is Tara's recent emancipation, such as it is.

Meanwhile, Marshall is trying very hard to unearth even more drama, intrigue and dysfunction in his family and Max in particular. It seems he might suffer from that common affliction of young aspiring artists: wishing to become the type of tortured soul that he thinks is a requirement for creating good art. Too bad his parents loved him too much and he's too well-adjusted for that. But wait! He is gay, after all, so naturally, the only thing left to do is pay Lionel a booty call, which, for at least two reasons obvious to everyone but Marshall, is a Bad Idea. On the other hand, any Lionel sighting makes me happy lately, so I'll take it; I enjoy the little reminders that even the Lionels of the world have feelings, and even the Marshalls of the world can occasionally act like total dicks.

Aside from the aforementioned exceptions, things at the Gregson house are rather peachy. Tara is being fun and positive, planning parties and raving about yoga. Max is getting his college band (Beaverlamp) back together for his birthday, even Kate is back on top, having finally managed to ensnare her dweeby new crush, who, it turns out, is no longer married but does have a kid. I don't think Evan realizes yet that Kate isn't much more than a kid herself, but there's something about that guy that I don't trust. Then again, maybe I'm just reading too much into his BTK-killer glasses.

The only character who's been truly miserable this week is poor Dr. Hattaras, who, incidentally, also appears to be a bit of a stress eater (and cheese connoisseur). He's had a rough week, what with Kite Boy's demise and his psychiatric work coming under scrutiny as a result. Luckily, Eddie Izzard makes even despair look hilarious, and I've actually been eager to delve a little deeper into his character this season. So far, this has been the first episode where we actually see him as a standalone person as opposed to just another member of Tara's entourage. Next week looks exciting, with a direct encounter between Hattaras and the OP, who has presumably killed Chicken. Could this be only the first in a series of pseudo-homicides?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

USOT Recap: Fine is Amazing

"I want you. Just you." Max

The line is BS, of course, but a sweet sentiment nonetheless. Max certainly thinks he means it, but he no more wants to have a normal wife than Tara herself wants to have a normal life. Denial seems to be a comfort for both of them at this juncture; it keeps Max from acknowledging that his savior complex accounts for a significant chunk of his self-worth, and in spite of her claims to the contrary, it keeps Tara from admitting that she doesn't truly want to be a regular old boring person. "You think I like living my life this way?" she rhetorically asks Hattaras during a therapy session. Perhaps she doesn't like it, per se, but she is definitely dependent on it. "My life is not my own," Tara complains, sounding frustrated. It's a frustrating predicament, without a doubt, but it is also a convenient one when the subject has had a history of avoiding conflicts, difficult situations, and unprompted action-taking. In fact, Tara herself is very rarely anything but a passive character, merely reacting to the shenanigans of her alters, who are the true carriers of any active roles she ever does take.

First off, last night's episode was good. For the first time in a long time I was so enthralled by Tara's mind that I barely even gave a crap about Neil and Charmaine's financial problems, Max's professional dissatisfaction, or Kate's  probably married crush du jour (boo hoo, poor little pretty girl has never experienced rejection). More Tara in therapy, please!

True to form, Hattaras spends a great deal of their sessions trying to convince Tara to take responsibility for the actions of her alters and continues to write off her DID as essentially a glorified defense mechanism. In a way, this assessment is spot on; whether we believe said mechanism is consciousas Hattaras doesor unconsciousas Tara doesfor the purpose of her treatment and potential cure, it really doesn't matter.  Her doctor's job, as he sees it, is simply to rid Tara of her belief that she is seven people instead of one, just like he rid another patient of his belief that he was a kite. The comparison sounds too simplistic to Tara, and frankly, it is, but I am a huge fan of this no-nonsense, do-the-hard-thing, rat-trap approach. Tara has been coddled by her family all her life about her condition. Max, her children, even Charmaine have caved under the "Oops! It wasn't me!" rationale over and over again. In his refusal to play into her expectations, Hattaras may be the most valuable person in Tara's life right now.

The good news is that she finally seems ready to begin assuming some credit/blame. We saw this two weeks ago with her attempt to harness the alters via written contract, then last week with her acceptance of Hattaras's help, and finally last night with her eventual willingness to confront her mother. Becoming fully autonomous is a delicate process, and the baby steps Tara has been taking seem to be leading somewhere promising. On the other hand, if Hattaras's assessment of DID-as-avoidance-tactic is correct, that would mean Tara's biggest problem might be something as simple-sounding as repression, in which case having multiple personalities could be a blessing in disguise or at the very least, the lesser of two evils. Who knows what level of crazy could be unleashed if Tara were to suddenly allow herself to follow through on all the impulses she's been delegating to the alters? 

And what will happen to her if and when she becomes her own sole caretaker? I am reminded of the scene in the season premiere when the alters intervened and prevented Tara-as-mystery-personality from killing herself. If they should be completely done away with, who's to say Tara is equipped to successfully filter and handle the difficulties of real life? The one thing that's becoming clearer and clearer is that her recent emancipation is not being lauded by the mystery alter. If Tara calls her current form of self-government a "benevolent dictatorship," then the new alter is definitely pushing for anarchy"You will not win," he/she comments in response to Hattaras's conviction that Tara is always in control. The primary alters could literally be keeping her alive.