The United States of Tara
Spend half an hour with Tara, the beloved main character in the television series United States of Tara, and you’ll also meet beer-chugging “Buck,” demure “Alice,” reclusive “Gimme” and teen terror “T,” who steals skimpy tops from Tara’s daughter’s closet. They have little in common, except for their eyes, family and therapist. These eccentrics are all part of Tara’s personality—she suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID), a condition formerly known as multiple personality disorder, which may result from childhood trauma.
Each episode weaves Tara’s personalities into, and abruptly out of, everyday family life. One day Tara is dutifully driving her gay son to high school, and the next T is disturbingly making out with his unrequited crush. “It’s a reminder that the illness takes a toll on family and friends as much as it does the patient,” says David Spiegel, associate chair of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Yet, he says, Hollywood has taken some liberties with this portrayal of DID. “My patients don’t change costumes when they go into other identities.”
The first season ended ominously. At a bowling alley, Tara leans on her husband’s shoulder as she watches her kids cheer each other on and says, “You know, it could get worse before it gets better.” She’s right. The more disturbed a patient is, the more fragments she’ll have, Spiegel explains. “The problem is not that patients have more than one identity but that they have fewer than one identity.” There’s no doubt Toni Collette, who won an Emmy for her portrayal, can deftly take on more characters this upcoming season, but can Tara?