Thursday, June 23, 2011

USOT Recap: Beautiful, Magical

Adieu Gregsons!

"When you get to Boston, don't let 'em pull out all the good parts."     -- Marshall

And that's all she wrote, friends. Tara is now off into the magical unknown, hoping against hope to find help and answers with the Boston psychiatrist of Hattaras's recommendation, Max, as always, in her tow. Except this week Max earned his dues as a full-fledged character independent of his troubled wife. I'm referring, of course, to his moments of extreme inner turmoil and despair, which ultimately culminated in the mother of all uncomfortable dinner table outbursts. That poor turducken never even saw it coming. The fact that three distinct birds had to die in order to bring about John Corbett's best acting on this program only makes that moment more dramatic somehow, and being able to see Max finally lose his cool in such an achingly honest, frustrated, loving way (after three seasons of being a glorified straight man) almost makes up for the premature demise of this show.

But temper showcases and midnight guitar solos aside, Max had some typical knight-in-shining armor moments, too, what with saving Tara from drowning and all. Luckily, her attempted suicide managed to only take out Bryce, but not before the two engaged in a final confrontation, replete with desperation (on Tara's part) and aloof skeeviness and foreboding on Bryce's ("You have no idea how much crazy is bouncing around that lopsided skull of yours." Yeesh!) Besides Bryce's drowning, the only other alter sighting takes place at the very end of the episode, when Tara catches a glimpse of the original three looking a little worse for wear, almost as a quiet reminder to the viewer that Tara's DID will never truly go away despite her success in banishing Bryce.

With Max and Tara on their way to Boston and Charmaine and Neil moving to Houston and getting engaged (she proposed this time, so we know she's no longer as self-sabotagey as before. Growth!), it really looked like Kate would take Evan up on his suggestion that she move to St. Louis to be closer to him. And yet, twist! She loves Evan, but Marshall needs her. It's interesting that, like her mother before her, Kate ended up falling for a stable, almost staid, kind of man, yet in doing so (like her father before her) she is also embarking on a romantic adventure that comes with some collateral baggage she did not initially bargain for. She is another character who underwent tremendous growth this season, now stepping voluntarily into a maternal role with both Evan's son and Marshall, who spent the majority of the episode being justifiably angry at Tara and releasing an uncharacteristic torrent of snark at her. He is still reeling from the altercation with Bryce as well as Lionel's death, so it's understandable that he would regress into egocentric teenager mode for an episode. In fact, it's all too easy to forget how young and fragile Marshall actually is beneath those wise eyes and verbal eloquence, but he pulls it together in time to see his mom off to the "loony bin" with appropriate Moosh-esque knows-just-what-to-say flair.

As much as I loved the hopeful note the show ended on, with a serene-looking Tara letting the sunlight wash over her face and entrusting herself to the road ahead (a scene fittingly scored by Supertramp's "Logical Song," the same tune Bryce was singing in the episode's beginning) it's difficult to completely banish the resentment I feel at being unable to know what might have come next for this family, especially after such a stellar season. I've talked before about how USOT evolved from a quirky comedy to a layered almost-drama from inception to conclusion. Well, I dig that, even though it probably alienated a lot of viewers. I will take development and fluidity over wheel-spinning and repetition every time, even if the elements being repeated happened to be strong at the outset -- eventually, even caviar gets boring. The downside of this, of course, is that the evolution of a TV show often takes place at the cost of its characters growing less sympathetic as new complexities are added, yet I still prefer to frequently and vigorously shake my head at Nancy Botwin's latest sin than watch a show that, six seasons later, still had her in Agrestic, combating newer and meaner antagonists just for the freedom to peddle dime bags to bored suburbanites.

So perhaps it's preferable that Tara ended when it did, after creating three dynamic seasons but before getting the chance to subject us to hypotheticals like the Max/Tara split or Marshall turning tricks to pay for NYU film school. As for closure, accidental though it was, "The Good Parts" may seem like a poor substitute for a proper series finale, but it actually gave us as decent a resolution as the fans could have hoped for; the tragicomedy of this show is that there's just no curing Tara, and the ambiguity surrounding her future would have featured prominently in any deliberately plotted finale the writers may have produced. And at this point, I have no other choice but to look on the bright side, namely that this finale ultimately made for a cathartic and satisfying-enough conclusion to a gem of a show I got to enjoy for three seasons. But I"ll sure as hell miss it.

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