Tuesday, June 21, 2011

{alltv} 'United States of Tara' finale: The end is a beginning

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Showtime sent the entire third season of "United States of Tara" to critics before it premiered in March, which means production had wrapped sometime before that. The cable channel then announced in late May that "Tara" wouldn't return for a fourth season.

All of which is to say that unless showrunners Dave Finkel and Brett Baer, who wrote Monday's (June 20) finale, are either clairvoyant or were tipped of way, way in advance, they had no real way of knowing the show would end with this episode. Yet "The Good Parts" turns out to be a really fitting and satisfying series finale: There's still a lot of road in front of Tara (and not just because she's driving to Boston) and her family, but if it's not exactly a happy ending, it's at least a hopeful one.

The episode opens and climaxes with bravura scenes for its two stars. As Tara, Toni Collette gets to do what her abusive alter Bryce has been doing to Alice, T, Buck and the others all season, exacting a sweet, cathartic (and kind of disturbing -- she waterboarded him) form of revenge. No way does this mean Tara is better -- even with the trip to Boston, she may not get all the way back to normal. But the season began with Tara attempting to exert control over her alters, and to bookend it with her banishing Bryce was a fine touch.

"The Good Parts" really belonged to John Corbett, though. For pretty much the entire run of the series, Max has been superhumanly patient and loving and understanding. He's cracked a few times, and has been doing slow burn for much of this season. But to see him finally let loose -- first just in a couple of brief inside-his-head cutaways, and then for real with his turducken-massacring rant at God and the universe at Tara's final family dinner, was just as big a release as Tara taking care of Bryce. Corbett has always been good at playing the quiet moments, but going big suited him particularly well this time.

In between those two big screams, though, the finale nailed most of its smaller moments, whether it was Max and Neil reminiscing about their dream for a strip club/pancake house -- and Neil's insistence at photographing Charmaine in lingerie, holding a short stack -- or Tara and Charmaine descending on Kate's boyfriend Evan or pretty much everything Keir Gilchrist did as Marshall. Gilchrist has been phenomenal this season, and his wounded-to-mostly accepting actions toward his mom in the finale hit exactly the right notes.

The episode and the series end with the Gregson family essentially splitting up -- Max, who despite his outburst can't and won't leave Tara, is driving her to Boston, Charmaine and Neil are moving to Houston, and Kate is foregoing (for a while, anyway) moving to St. Louis with Evan to stay with Marshall at home. It feels like that goodbye scene should be sad, but it's not. It's almost as if everyone in the show has been holding his or her breath for three years, and now they're finally exhaling and looking forward.

We can't look forward to more "Tara" -- the audience just wasn't there to sustain another season. But even if it was inadvertent, the finale got its characters and us to a pretty fine place to say goodbye.

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