It took me a while to realize it, but this season of the United States of Tara has not been using its theme song, which I think is kind of a travesty.
This sequence was directed by Jamie Caliri, whom you may remember as the director of Marcy Playground’s video for “Sex and Candy.” And honestly, the parallels are pretty interesting. Watch:
Caliri-as-auteur has some interest in barren, forbidding, and dream-like landscapes, with single heads rising out of the ground. Everything, including interior shots, looks delicate and handmade, seemingly a child’s fully-realized fashioning of a fantasy.
In the case of Tara, the setup is a pop-up book about Tara’s alters. The ones established at the beginning of the series (Alice, T, and Buck) make appearances doing what they do, but it’s not until the last moment that we see Tara herself - not just not altered, but it is also our first glimpse of her face. This is kind of a strong reveal, as Toni Collette’s face is what makes the show. To watch Toni Collette as Tara transition between alters is a weekly face-acting lesson (is face-acting a thing?). To make a show where the bulk of the ensemble is played by a single actor (be quiet, Tracy Ullman) you need someone who can not just play all the characters but can also demonstrate when she’s transitioning. You either get Anna Deveare Smith or you get Toni Collette, and Anna Deveare Smith is busy.
The song is by The Polyphonic Spree, who as far as I can tell are incapable of making music that’s downbeat. The song’s complaint that “this mess is getting high” is preceded by its own solution: to “open up the skies.” The world can either make space for us or not, but we’re not going to change to fit its dimensions (this is visualized in Tara’s head’s enormous expansion out of a house that can’t contain her at the end of the video). Even though sometimes (especially at this point in the third season) it doesn’t always feel this way, we will be just fine. The second season finale, when this family unit realizes that they can live through their dysfunctions, is kind of emblematic of that. They should really bring back this sequence (even though Tara’s alters have increased in number since it was produced). It’s so good.
Update! Apparently the show was just canceled. Bummer.