TV for Armchair Psychologists

Featured, Television — By on March 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Since the first season of Lie to Me ended in May 2009, my wife and I have been in a drought of sorts. We’ve longed for some television content that would engage our psyches. We loved Cal Lightman‘s ability to illumine the spectrum of deceptiveness. We all lie, and it is detectable in facial micro-expressions and non-verbal gestures which betray our true thoughts and intentions. Beyond mere entertainment, Lie to Me informed us and fashioned us into pseudo-intellectual arm chair psychologists, making the experience all the more pleasant. Frequently, we concluded episodes with a sense of awe at the beauty of God’s work in creating such complex psychological beings. And, with new tools to assess all of our closest family and friends to determine their emotional states, we must have seemed like pretentious asses. But alas, it was all in good fun. Seasons two and three have not delivered the same high, and we’ve felt the gradual withdrawal over the past two years.

Until, Hallelujah!, we discovered and quickly became addicted to United States of Tara. Consider this a Psychology 102 course. United States of Tara ramps up the analytical complexity found in the Gregson family whose mother Tara, played by Toni Collette, has Dissociative Identity Disorder. Tara’s six personalities emerge over the first two seasons.

This Showtime original series makes great effort to push the limits in its exploration of human sexuality, of psychological fragmentation, of coping mechanisms, and of familial disintegration. If language, the extreme lack of boundaries and underlying bi-sexual tension offend, please be warned all of these can be found in the Gregson household. Faint hearts should beware, however, when starting the first episode. Like Lays potato chips, just one taste is all it takes to overeat. My wife and I have been entirely sucked into the tremendous narrative shortly after our first bite. This highly bizarre, addictive and downright brilliant show is worthy of much consideration, especially on a Christian website such as the beloved Burnside Writers Collective.

Each of Tara’s distinct personalities illustrates a core identity which needs to be integrated and redeemed in order for Tara to regain wholeness and dignity. The powerful message of Christ’s salvation of our entire beings is magnified through considering her intensely broken and fragmented soul which has literally split into six. Even Tara is not beyond reintegration, but it will take a huge measure of soul searching, therapy, familial love, and time for such to come to full fruition.

The following aspects of Tara’s psyche are metaphors for human psychological frailty which Christ is fully capable of restoring and transforming. The alters are listed roughly as they appear in the first two seasons.

1. “T” divulges Tara’s psyche in its crudest feminine form. Unfiltered by her normal sense of adult propriety, “T” is a sixteen-year-old version of Tara with extreme gall. Watching a middle age woman posture as a teenager and perform sophomoric behaviors can be nauseating at times, and Tara is likewise ashamed and repulsed. “T” makes a pass on Tara’s son’s friend, causing tension and further reinforcing Marshall‘s sexual identity struggles and deep frustration with his mother. Unbridled feminine sexuality repulses rather than attracts when portrayed in the degree to which “T” embodies it.

2.  In contrast lies “Buck,” Tara’s masculine alter – a rough and tumble truck driver type trapped in a woman’s body. “Buck” gets Tara into an awkward affair with a local female bartender. “Buck” is just as ugly, as sexual and as fallen as “T.” Being a rather petite framed woman, Tara’s actions as “Buck” expose the absurd attempts men make to appear strong, confident and attractive to other women.

3. “Alice” is Tara’s goody-two-shoes personality. A flash back from a 1950s TV show, “Alice” does everything to an obnoxiously perfect degree. “Alice” reveals Tara’s desire to keep her family together. She is all that Tara can’t be due to her erratic and unpredictable transitions into various alter egos. As “Alice,” Tara illustrates the filthiness of personal righteousness that Isaiah graphically depicts in 64:6.

4. “Gimme” is the animalistic alter whose appearances surround her brief interactions with her parents as they stay during the holidays in the first season. “Gimme” is terrified and terrifying. Tara does not speak in this state, but cowers, urinates on others, breaks objects in close proximity, and exposes the unparalleled degree of artistic brilliance that Toni Collette possesses as an actress. Gimme is raw emotion that appears when we succumb to our own urges and lose the dignity that makes us all unique from other animals.

5. “Shoshanna” appears in the second season as Tara begins to unpack her childhood. This alter is a psychologist who has written extensively and is seemingly the only “person” who Tara can turn to for therapy. “Shoshanna” even holds sessions with Tara’s husband Max to address their marital woes as a result of the tremendous tension the Gregson family undergoes in each episode. Max even has an affair with the same bartender that “Buck” did. “Shoshanna” helps Tara navigate through her emotions upon hearing this news and enables Tara to forgive Max. Self-help seekers find a friend in “Shoshanna” and her counsel. This alter is not bad in itself, but there can be a danger in over-dependence upon human wisdom to navigate through life’s broken relationships.

6. “Chicken” is Tara’s childhood self. Helpless and frail, “Chicken” appears when Tara recalls her childhood memories of a foster mother who took care of Tara and her sister Charmaine. Tara discovers this upheaval during Charmaine’s wedding, which ultimately breaks apart as “Chicken” embodies the full extent of abnormality the Gregsons possess. A grown woman acting like a four-year-old amplifies Paul’s wisdom in 1 Cor. 13:11.

Season two closes with this open-ended revelation of a sixth alter. It will be great to see where the series goes as it resumes in March. United States of Tara will not appeal to all, but its lessons are transcendent. We all retreat into alter egos on a smaller degree: sexuality like “T” and “Buck,” self-righteousness like “Alice,” raw emotion like “Gimme,” immaturity like “Chicken,” or self-help like “Shoshanna.” The power of this TV show is its ability to expose the depths of our need for Christ. His work in taking broken selves and restoring them into whole, healthy identities is truly magnificent when seen in this light. I would imagine Stephen Speilberg and the producers would disagree, but United States of Tara is a beautiful metaphor of the power of Christ’s salvation in our broken lives.



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