“From This Day Forward”
June 7th, 2010
I wish that I had more to say about United States of Tara’s second season finale, but for the most part I don’t. This is not to say that the episode wasn’t enjoyable, or well-acted, but rather it seemed that the show had more or less choreographed all of its reveals, and so the primary function of “From This Day Forward” was more or less appearing to reset things to the status quo.
Again, this isn’t a slight on the episode: with some strong performances and some intense emotional moments, I think the series nicely capped off a complex and intriguing second season. The problem is that it works a little bit too hard to get to the point where the Gregson family is dancing wistfully in a beautifully lit backyard, cutting away the clutter of their lives for that brief moment of bliss. I understand the impulse behind that action, and the catharsis of the episode is helped by the calmness of those final moments, but it seems to be putting a button on too many story points which went unresolved or were cast aside with remaining potential. The series kept hinting at hidden motivations or long-kept secrets, and yet after revealing the biggest secret of them all the rest were sort of just chalked up to either misdrection or the frakked up nature of the Gregson family.
There’s something about that which is just a bit too easy, and something which all the catharsis in the world isn’t going to fix, and I feel like the finale needed to acknowledge that just a little bit more.
Kate and Marshall both had dates, of sorts, to Charmaine’s wedding, and yet both ended up sending them away in order to ensure that the family remained solitary at episode’s end. My hope, however, is that the show doesn’t try to treat their paramours with the same brush. Zack, as far as we can tell, was simply an asshole, wanting to “save” and “protect” Kate from her insane mother in a paternalistic fashion that emerged during the wedding (and which we saw hints of in previous episodes). Meanwhile, while Lionel does storm off, he does so because he feels strongly about gay rights, something that Marshall can relate to without necessarily agreeing with Lionel’s high drama response. At no point does Lionel turn on Marshall for not thinking the same way, and so I hope that the show doesn’t try to claim that Lionel should no longer be a part of Marshall’s life. You can write off Zack that way, and you can certainly write off Nick that way, but Lionel isn’t the same situation even if his departure is part of the same effect of leaving only the Gregsons and those who accept them for being the crazies they are left standing.
And yet the season has shown these characters meeting a lot of people who have come to accept them for who they are, whether it’s Pammy or Linda or even someone like Lionel, and yet none of them really seemed to stick with us for any length of time. I don’t necessarily mean that I wanted Pammy to show up at the wedding with a gun, nor did I want Linda to show up for no real reason, but it seemed like there were some journeys these characters took which shouldn’t be able to be wrapped up in the backyard. For example, there was an indication this season that Alice was in some way having an affair with Hubbard (showing up at the house wearing black, for example), and yet once Tara’s mother read Alice as an imitation of Mimi, the show shifted so totally to Tara’s past that the implications of Alice’s arrival were never followed through with. Perhaps the show plans to pocket them until next season, but the conclusion is so positive in its outlook (Max and Tara reuniting, the children enjoying time spent as a family, Neil taking Charmaine out for a beer (and a 7-Up) while she’s still in her wedding dress) that I can’t help but feel that it’s in some ways water under the bridge.
This doesn’t mean that the show can’t go on: Tara may have a new answer for what caused her condition (primarily an abusive half-brother who created a rift within their parents’ marriage, and who the show is going to have some fun casting for season three), but it’s not as if she is in some way cured, and there are plenty of more roadblocks ahead for the entire family. However, it seemed like the show was taking an almost sitcom-like approach in the finale, with Kate and Marshall taking their season journeys as just another bump in the road while Max takes the arrival of new alters in stride as he dances with his wife. I think I’d feel more comfortable, perhaps, if it didn’t feel like the show was so much on their side: Nick turns into too much of an asshole too quickly, and Kate brushes off Zack with just a bit too much confidence for someone who was sitting on balloons for scooters just a few episodes ago. I like these characters (well, most of these characters) well enough, but it seems like the show is overly protective of them, to the point where I worry that they’re not willing to allow them to get truly destroyed by the world around them. All of these characters went into the darkness to some degree this season, and yet in the end they’re bathed in metaphorical light, perhaps unfairly considering the kind of experience they’ve been through.
I enjoyed the performances in this episode, whether it’s Collette switching between an oblivious Chicken and an explosive Tara or Rosemarie Dewitt unfairly getting to use her previous experience as a bride afraid of being overshadowed by her sister’s destructive behaviour, but it just felt like a lot of what we saw happen didn’t feel like the end of a journey. That’s part of the series’ argument, of course, that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so Tara’s disease will not be struck down in a single moment, nor will Marshall or Kate’s lives be completely defined by that which they experience at a young age. I get all of that, and certainly found the finale to thematically fit with the rest of the series, but I still feel as if it did very little to tap into the season’s complexities. It was still an extremely strong season, and I am still very intrigued to see where the show will go in its third season, but there is this strange sense that “From This Day Forward” seems to sort of suggest that each season will simply be another collection of events and characters that this family with weather and move on from. I’m hopeful this isn’t the case, and that we see the series willing to bring back characters like Lionel and avoid just throwing Marshall and Kate into new storylines that speak to different issues, but the finale raises some questions about the show’s future that I might not be asking had it avoided tying things up (albeit loosely, given Tara’s instability) in the end.
- For a show where we’re so used to Tara’s DID, it’s amazing how her father’s behaviour can still read as so strange: Fred Ward did a nice job of showing his growing dementia, and there was just enough disconnect between his mind and his emotional state that the show avoided turning him into the villain of the piece, allowing the unseen brother and the negligent (albeit trapped) mother who tried to do right by her daughters and ultimately failed. There’s a lot more for them to unpack there, and I’m very curious to see how the show does it in Season 3.
- Seriously, though, Rosemarie DeWitt must have read this script and looked around for Anne Hathaway and Ashton Kutcher.
- Say what you will about Glee, but I really wish that we could take Kurt Hummel and transplant him into a cable show that would actually allow him to have a boyfriend and share romantic scenes with them: I’m all for Glee as a platform to raise those issues, but their inability (or unwillingness) to really follow through on them makes me skeptical about how much Chris Colfer’s character can grow on that series compared to what Keir Gilchrist is doing here.