| Episode 1: Yes
||Episode 2: Trouble Junction
|| Episode 3: The Truth Hurts
|| Episode 4: You Becoming You
|| Episode 5: Doin Time
|| Episode 6: Tornado!
| Episode 7: Dept, of Fd Up Family Services
||Episode 8: Explosive Diorama
|| Episode 9: Family Portrait
|| Episode 10: Open House
|| Episode 11: To Have and to Hold
Episode 1: Yes
The first episode of the second season begins with Tara and her family ceremoniously dumping the clothing of Tara’s alternate personalities into a donation bin, to celebrate the absence of the other parts for three months. Tara reassures the family that they are all gone. Several scenes portray everything about the family as happy and perfect, now that the others are “gone.” There are several scenes of Tara taking medications contentedly. Kate graduates from High School early, Marshall is doing well, and Max is obviously successful. Charmaine is involved in a wonderful new relationship, and all seems well with the world.
This perfection is shattered by the sound of a gunshot. Don Hubbard, their reclusive next door neighbor, has just shot himself. Neighbors gather outside the Hubbard house and chatter nervously as emergency personnel take the body away. Tara and Max meet a gay couple, Ted and Hannie. They share the common bond of being the “different” families in the neighborhood. Tara invites them over for dinner. At dinner with Ted, Hannie, Charmaine, and Nick, we see a broader range of feelings and behavior from Tara than we have witnessed in previous episodes. Ted reveals a painful psychological childhood trauma and talks about the wonderful therapist he had in New York, Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg. Conversation shifts toward how much effort Hubbard put into killing himself, and how much he must have wanted to die. Max desperately tries to change the topic, proposing they play board games.
Don Hubbard’s sister, Jana, shows up at the door and asks Tara and Max if they will keep an eye on Don’s house, which is now up for sale. Jana gives them the keys to Don Hubbard’s house and car, and returns home to Florida. Max and Tara go out for drinks. There, the bartender/cocktail waitress flirts with Max, who flirts back. As Tara witnesses this flirtation, we see a very brief change of posture and facial expression, which demonstrates she is having some reaction. Back home, Max initiates a discussion of buying Don’s house at a bargain price, confident no one would want it after the suicide. Soon after, we see Tara let herself into the Hubbard house and walk through it slowly and silently as though it were a shrine. Something is moving her deeply, but we have no clue about what she is reacting to. Later that evening, we see Tara in Don’s home office. Tara seems entranced by his large wooden executive desk and leather chair. That night, Tara is unable to sleep. We observe her as she undergoes marked changes in her facial expression, and quietly leaves her bedroom and her home. We see her next as Buck, returning to the bar where they had had drinks earlier. Buck flirts with the bartender/waitress who had flirted with Max earlier, and she flirts back.
As these events transpire, the other members of the Gregson family appear to be doing well. Contrary to Tara’s denial of herself, Marshall lets his apparently authentic self “out” and gets involved with gay activism at school. Kate gets her first “real” job in collections, and she seems to make a successful beginning. Charmaine’s boyfriend proposes to her, and she happily accepts.
Tara’s alters seem to have simply disappeared. It is implied that they are gone because she is back on medication. Is this realistic? To quote the commentary on Season 1, Episode 2, “No medication directly affects whether switching will occur more or less frequently,” although it is possible that medication could indirectly reduce switching by decreasing anxious or depressed responses to stress. Alters may become inactive or seem to have integrated for a number of reasons: They may withdraw to avoid someone or something they would rather not have to deal with. They may act in the best interests of all, as they perceive it, by hiding from the outside world. These withdrawals may keep the client out of the hospital or prevent disruption of a relationship. Sometimes alters may appear only when they perceive that their “special skills” are needed. In the absence of overt transitioning or “switching,” a dissociative individual may look like one highly functional personality, one highly dysfunctional personality, or anything in between. It is not likely that the average DID patient whose alters are inactive will look quite as perfect as Tara appears in the opening scenes of this episode. Wishing alters away or commanding them to go away never works for long. Long-term resolution is likely to be achieved only by integrating the functions of the alters into one unified personality. This usually requires considerable work with a therapist who has training and experience in treating dissociative disorders. Therapy includes processing traumatic memories, but only after helping the patient to develop the skills necessary to manage them safely.
After a series of stressful events, the alters are emerging again. How realistic is this? Alters are likely to emerge in times of stress, especially if the person feels threatened or is faced with the possibility of loss or rejection. After Don’s suicide, we see Tara present us with brief glimpses of behaviors that we associate with Alice and with T, but these are not overt or complete “transitions.” Soon after Tara appears to feel threatened by the flirting between Max and the bartender/waitress, Buck comes out overtly. Buck’s immediately returning to the bar and flirting with the bartender is more drama than probable reality, although it is not beyond the realm of possibility. We could wonder whether Buck has decided that Tara is incapable of handling this situation on her own. Buck has shown us in past episodes that he acts when he perceives that “the girls” are incapable of managing situations. Having a male alter emerge to manage stress is not unrealistic. The presence of a male Protector alter is very common, especially if the victim believes that she may not have been hurt if she was male. Although it appears that Buck may be trying to manage the threat imposed by the bartender, Buck could also be trying to engage with the bartender as a distraction to the feelings brought on by Don’s suicide, or by Ted’s story of his past trauma. Any of these stressors could be reasons to precipitate a switch to another part of the self. One other possibility is that Tara has several different sexual identifications, and wishes to initiate an affair that will be homosexual for some parts of the mind and heterosexual for others. We must wonder as well whether Tara/Buck felt threatened by Max’s flirtation and needed to both make a statement that she could demonstrate sexual desirability, or even outdo Max by carrying the flirtation to a higher level. Many more dynamics might be considered. The shape of future events for these tangled relationships will be seen over time.
How might the suicide of a friend or neighbor affect a person with DID?
We cannot be certain of the specific outcome, but we can be sure that there would be an impact. In some cases, suicide may suddenly be seen by the person with DID as a viable “escape” from emotional pain, or as something she can have control over. The person or system could also shut down or go into denial to avoid it. It could bring forth parts that want to prevent suicide or commit suicide. The efforts that alters may engage in to prevent suicide may or may not be adaptive, effective, or even logical (e.g., precipitating less severe crises causing the client to be hospitalized). In Tara’s case, we may see how this unfolds in future episodes. A treating therapist should pay particular attention to risk assessment at such times.
Tara appears to have integrated, and this is followed by re-emergence of the alters…is this common? This is actually quite common. Most initial apparent integrations, especially those which have taken place without the processing of traumatic material, are transitory or illusory. When a pseudo-integration has been imposed by an outside force, such as a very directive therapist or a spouse who threatens to leave if the person with DID is not “getting it together,” the suppressed but not integrated alters may return with a vengeance. In these cases, alters may be angry because they feel controlled, suppressed, ignored, or rejected. If the alters have retired from overt functioning voluntarily for a while, their reemergence may be less complicated and less dramatic. They may reassert their presence simply to be recognized or to accomplish a specific mission or task. Here we see a reemergence of alters as Tara starts to feel overwhelmed. We cannot be sure whether the parts were quiet voluntarily or they felt “banished.” We are likely to find this out as the season unfolds.
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Episode 2: Trouble Junction
The second episode begins and ends in the bed of Pammy, the waitress at the bar where Tara and Max enjoyed a couple of beers in the last episode. In the first scene, Buck is lying in the bed with a satisfied grin. He looks approvingly toward Pammy sleeping quietly beside him, clearly in the afterglow of sex. Buck leaves, and we see him jogging home. Suddenly, he bends over as though he is going to be sick. As he straightens up, we see that he has transitioned to Tara, who seems confused about what is happening, but aware that she has lost time. The viewer is left with the impression that Tara has no idea where she is or what she had just been doing with Pammy. After transitioning from Buck back to Tara, she arrives home and finds Charmaine waiting for her. Tara tells the first of several lies designed to cover up her amnesia, explaining that she woke up at 3 am, felt “hyper” and went for a walk.” Later, she tells Max she woke up at 5 am, and Charmaine notices the discrepancy in Tara’s story.
Charmaine eagerly announces her engagement to Tara. For Charmaine, becoming engaged means that she has, in her words, at last become someone who is “cool.” Charmaine wants to transform herself into a virgin without a checkered past. She engages in a fantasy that being engaged can make her into another person, a much better person. This wishful thinking offers a small window into the DID individual’s strong need to be someone else, “not me.” In this scene, Charmaine and Tara give the viewer two small but important glimpses into the mysterious past they shared growing up in the same family. While jumping up and down and hugging Tara excitedly, she makes a striking remark. She says, “I’m getting married, Mama!” Then Tara embraces her little sister much as a mother might embrace her daughter. The moment is tender and touching. It also raises questions about whether Tara might have been a major caretaker for her younger sister, indicating perhaps their mother was unavailable when they were young. Being forced into the role of caretaker for others as a child is a relatively common experience in those who have DID, leaving them with unmet developmental needs and with compromised capacities for self-care. Charmaine asks Tara if she can move in with the Gregson family until the wedding so she can “re-virginate” herself. Tara and Charmaine engage in adolescent chatter about sex in a way that leaves the viewer unclear how either of them really think or feel about sex as adults. But Charmaine does make a comment about no longer “giving away free milk,” suggesting she may be tired and/or ashamed of her previous sexual behavior.
The second glimpse into their childhood occurs when Charmaine agrees with Tara’s comment that Charmaine is lovable, and then unexpectedly throws out a negative comment about their parents who apparently made them feel they were not good enough and thus undeserving of good relationships: “I know! I mean we were raised to believe we should eat dog shit, you know, so you get used to dog shit.” Tara looks puzzled and asks Charmaine if she really believes that their parents raised them “to eat dog shit,” her tone mildly defensive. Charmaine does not miss a beat as she sidesteps the question, saying “No,” then “I don’t know,” and soon returns to her nonstop chatter about her engagement. In that short exchange, Charmaine demonstrates the kind of “double think” common in families of people who develop DID (i.e. she says one thing and then the opposite in the same breath). She changes the subject easily, demonstrating the avoidance at which Tara (and Max) is already highly skilled. But Charmaine’s comments leave the viewer with another puzzle piece about the sisters’ vague but clearly disturbed childhood. With her next comment, Charmaine demonstrates another characteristic typical of highly dysfunctional families - “magical thinking.” She says: “I am done with dog shit. I am reborn. I am going to be somebody’s wife.” We can reflect that so many women may entertain such fantasies, however a “rebirth” via marriage is highly unrealistice.
Meanwhile, the Gregson teenagers are striking off on their own individual paths out into the world, each striving to achieve the core developmental task of adolescence, establishing a stable personal identity. The viewer cannot help but wish them better luck than their mother and their aunt. Kate tries to track down what she hopes will be her “big fish,” that is, a client whose collected debt will allow her to earn her first big commission. Ever pushing the boundaries, Kate goes against company policy and drives to the address of a woman she has identified as her potential “big fish.” Her internet investigation of the debtor, a woman named Lynda P. Frazier, turns up a fascinating website highlighting a winged fantasy character, Princess Valhalla Hawkwind. Kate is more than a little curious, drawn in by the idea of meeting someone larger than life. She is clearly disappointed when Linda explains that the princess was no more than the product of her imagination during her “Dungeons and Dragons” phase two decades earlier. Seeing Kate’s disappointment, Linda spontaneously and confidently assumes the pose of the website’s fantasy figure saying “She’ll always be a part of me.” (If only integration of alters was so easy for individuals with DID!)
Marshall shows up for a new school club being organized by Lionel, the flamboyant and militant leader of the lunchroom Gay Table or “Gayble.” A female student, Courtney, points out that Lionel’s acronym for the club, GLBTA, or Gay- Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender Association does not account for students like herself who are "straight but not rigid” and nevertheless want to support the club and its members. Lionel responds to her in a condescending manner. Marshall supports Courtney, pointing out that there may be people who are “undecided” or “independent” and suggesting it might be a mistake to exclude individuals who are undecided about their sexual preferences, or are straight but supportive of other sexual orientations. Later in the boys’ locker room, Lionel pushes Marshall to make up his mind about his sexual orientation. Marshall pushes back, pointing out that Lionel’s militancy may be negatively affecting their group: “You ruin it for gay people, Lionel, you do. You make being gay something no one would want to be.” He ends by saying, “I’m not you, OK, Lionel?”
Meanwhile, Max has developed an obsession with the house of the neighbor who committed suicide, unilaterally deciding to buy it and fix it up, perhaps another major distraction from his family troubles. Tara tries to talk with Max about his reasons for wanting the house, pointing out at least twice that he is leaving her out of this major decision. But Max does not seem to register Tara’s concerns and questions. Tara pointedly says to Max, “Sometimes I just think I’m this voice you tune out ….. ‘crazy wife talking.’” Max’s response seems to prove her point - he sits down at the piano and plunks out a song, quickly charming Tara into joining him in a duet. The viewer will painfully recognize his masterful avoidance of Tara’s confrontations and Tara’s easy buy-in as an enabler, a party to the avoidance.
The house inspection turns up some serious problems which the inspector points out does not have to be a problem if you’re just “sully-rigging,” meaning taking short cuts on quality repairs if Max intends just to “fix it up and flip it,” but not the sort of repairs Max would want if he really intended to occupy it himself for any length of time. Perhaps this exchange is a metaphor for the ways in which both Tara and Max are dealing with her DID, trying to find a quick fix, even though it will not be stable in the long run: seeking shelter in a house of cards. It is not much of a stretch to recognize the Hubbard house as not only a distraction, but also a metaphor for Tara and the alters who temporarily use her body but do not take care of “Tara” as a whole person.
In a later scene Buck shows up at the Gregson family dinner as a type of visual hallucination only visible to Tara, follows Tara upstairs when she excuses herself, and asks for permission to “borrow” her body for awhile. “I need the body …. come on, just for a few hours.” While grocery shopping earlier for the meal, Tara and Charmaine ran into Pammy in the store, and later in the parking lot. Tara’s memory varies across a wide range within minutes. At first she doesn’t recognize Pammy at all, then blurts out “you’re the bartender.” Charmaine is within easy earshot but seems to be pretending not to notice as she continues looking around the store for dinner ingredients, muttering “we’re forgetting something!” And soon after, when Pammy and Tara bump into each other again in the parking lot of the grocery store while returning their grocery carts, Tara apologizes to Pammy with “I don’t know what happened between us … nothing else is going to happen between us” and then warning Pammy “I’m trouble, I am trouble … okay?”
In one of the most intense and emotionally raw scenes of the series to date, Tara arrives home from the grocery store, pulls out her phone as she walks in the front door and starts videotaping herself talking out loud to herself as she becomes increasingly upset. The viewer is reminded that the very first scene of the series began with Tara videotaping herself, describing her stresses as a person with DID. In this extremely painful scene, Tara is hysterical, nearly hyperventilating as she repeats “… it’s happening again, I’m losing time again, I’m fuckin’ freaking.” She retreats into a closet and sits on the floor, continuing to shakily videotape her emotional outburst as she appears to be emotionally unraveling. “I thought I was better, we all thought I was better … I can’t, I can’t.”
Kate arrives home late for the family dinner from her excursion to Lynda P. Frazier’s house, announcing she has met an amazing woman and her “mind has literally been blown.” A brief debate ensues about what exactly is involved if someone’s “mind is literally blown “ and Kate repeats the phrase as she looks clearly stunned to see that Marshall has invited a girl to dinner - Courtney, the female student from the GLBTA meeting. Interest in a girl does not fit with the family’s assumption that Marshall is gay. Max initiates a toast “to love and houses” and about the same time Buck appears to Tara as a kind of visual hallucination, posturing around the dinner table, trying to get her attention. Tara excuses herself to go upstairs, is followed by Buck, and their interaction is interrupted when Max appears at the bedroom door and asks Tara if she is okay. The viewer distinctly sees what appears to be an outward manifestation of an internal struggle cross Tara’s face as she struggles to avoid completely switching out of her Tara self and into Buck. She seems to just barely avoid a switch while Max stands at the door checking on her, and insists that she’s fine. Max seems satisfied and then announces he’s going next door to make a to-do list for the new house.
In the final three minutes of this episode, the viewer is quickly drawn through a series of brief but striking scenes. Marshall and Courtney start making out while playing with a Ouija board, a prop which seems to be an excuse to get physically closer. Meanwhile Buck takes his own prop to Pammy’s, a single red rose, declaring that he couldn’t stay away from her. Then a quick sequence of closing scenes: Max lining up bathroom tiles at the new house, Kate lingering over the Princess Valhalla website, Charmaine asleep in bed as she sucks on her engagement ring like a child sucking her thumb, Marshall and Courtney kissing for the first time, and Buck pleasuring Pammy. The very last scene shows Tara abruptly waking up, startled to find herself in bed with Pammy. She dresses and leaves quickly while Pammy begs her to stay and calling her “Bucky.” When Tara opens the bedroom door to exit, she is greeted by Pammy’s two children who are watching cartoons and who seem to have met her or at least recognize her. They sweetly call good-bye to her as she flees from the scene, once again.
Tara is losing time again and at least one alter, Buck, is pushing to come back after Tara has declared “they” are all gone. Is this common in DID? Alters that “return” with a vengeance after being suppressed and denied by the main personality or “host” as Tara has done is common in Dissociative Identity Disorder, and may be a major problem. Viewed straightforwardly, if the issues that originally generated an alter have not been resolved, it is self-deceiving to imagine that their apparent absence for a period of time might indicate that they are integrated. This wish not to have DID is common and intense, sometimes causing a crisis in which the patient takes extreme measures to deny and avoid the diagnosis. This is contrary to the common myth that individuals are eager to “have” DID. Tara works hard to conceal, minimize, or distract from any indications of alter activity that might be observed by others. DID is a painful disorder of chronic avoidance, hiding, shame, and fear. It is understandable that people would rather be “rid” of difficult aspects of themselves. Tara demonstrates in this episode her ability to cover up the fact that she “loses time.” She does it with finesse, and only someone paying close attention in the family who is open to seeing what is really happening might find that there are serious discrepancies between her actual behavior and her accounts of her behavior.
Buck is male, while Tara is female. He has sex with a female (Pammy). Does this mean Tara is a lesbian? And do alters actually engage in behaviors like having sex with someone while the person as a whole has amnesia? We discussed in the first season that alters can take any form, according to the meaning that form and function have for the individual with DID. Buck clearly identifies with being male so forcefully that he has become not so much a man as a caricature of a macho male. We do not yet know if Tara has lesbian tendencies that she is disowning and displacing onto Buck as if they were more acceptable heterosexual urges, or whether this is yet another way in which Buck further solidifies his sense of self as a tough, capable, and now conquering male. He is not the first of Tara’s alters to act out sexually: “T” did so with Marshall’s love interest in the first season. So we do know that Tara as a whole person has a theme of sexual acting out, which is likely relevant to her history. It does make sense that if a person is seriously confused about his or her identity, that person might well be confused about his or her sexual identity and sexual preferences. A therapist might make a priority of exploring why Buck is acting out in such a potentially destructive way, and only secondarily would proceed to explore questions of sexual identity and preferences. Stabilization would be prioritized.
Why is it a problem to suppress alters and hope they have gone away? After all, they cause Tara and the family a lot of trouble. Although alters are not separate people, but rather parts of a single person that are not integrated, they do have at least some autonomy. That is, they have some capacity to think, feel, and act on their own accord. They will never just “go away,” because they are disowned aspects of a single person. Human beings cannot get rid of aspects of themselves they find unacceptable: they must first accept and then learn to change themselves. In the same way, alters must be accepted and eventually integrated: their feelings, thoughts, wishes, needs, memories, and actions are all part of a single person’s experience. We all have to “own” ourselves and as much of our experience as possible in order to function at our best. That is why dissociation is not the best long-term option in the majority of individuals with DID. When they are not integrated, they are always vulnerable to switching, time loss, and actions beyond their control that affect their lives in extremely painful ways.
This episode focuses on the theme of identity, and whether a person’s identity is something definite or uncertain, static or fluid. Kate is intrigued by her client Lynda P. Frazier’s alternate persona, the Princess Valhalla Hawkwind. Marshall rebuffs Lionel’s efforts to co-opt him as decidedly gay by suggesting that some people may still be questioning, suggesting an alternative category of “independent,” or possibly “undecided.” Does any of this material relate to DID? Yes. The struggle to develop a firm identity is a universal aspect of the human predicament. The scenes about identity and aspects of identity such as sexual orientation express the struggles of Tara, Marshall, Kate, and Charmaine. The struggling adolescents of “Gayble” are wrestling with the politics and practical realities of sexual orientation while Kate is curious about the true identity of this woman/princess she has discovered. Their efforts to make their way in a world that confuses and at times overwhelms them suggest they are dealing with issues that are similar to the concerns of a person who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. The very words that describe the diagnosis suggest that individuals with DID are engaged in have an ongoing struggle to develop and maintain a cohesive sense of identity. Instead of one identity, they have many, all of which are rather narrowly defined and rigidly opposed to change, in contradiction to the flexibility and openness that Marshall models. Their narrowness and incompleteness raise the issue of whether DID patients suffer from too many identities or too many shortcomings to assemble a single identity. Buck, for example, would never consider being more like Tara, and vice versa. He cannot see that his identity conflicts with that of Tara in fundamental ways that make life miserable for not only Buck and Tara, but also for the family. And, while Marshall is refusing to allow his identity to be foreclosed, choosing to stay open to explore himself, his mother, in her most frequently seen alter, Tara, has gone in the opposite direction, trying to discard and deny parts of her self. We also see Kate’s fascination with Lynda Frazier’s avatar. She wonders if it is possible to be ideal, and has the chance to see that Lynda is not the Princess, but has at least been able to incorporate aspects of the Princess into her identity: a wonderful metaphor for integration in DID.
Lynda P. Frazier, a new character introduced in this episode, offers the appearance of a possible example of a more integrated personality encompassing several ego states, or at least represents a person whose different “self states” or parts cohabitate more peacefully with each other. How does this compare with Tara’s personality system? When Lynda asks Kate how she located her, Kate explains that during her internet search she found a website with artwork depicting Princess Valhalla Hawkwind and that Lynda’s address was listed for ordering art work depicting the Princess. Kate admits that she thought Lynda and the Princess were the same person. At first Lynda laughs and explains to Kate that the Princess was her invention, created two decades before during her “D&D” or Dungeons and Dragons phase, a complex role-playing game wildly popular in the 1970s and 1980s. She continues chuckling as she remembers the persona she created which caught on even to the point that some “Harvards” started drawing comics based on this character. We come to understand that Lynda herself has left the Princess self image behind once she began taking women’s studies classes in college. She began to appreciate that her art work and the role-playing as the character Princess Valhalla Hawkwind had been a reflection of her developing and evolving sense of herself as a woman. But when Kate admits she came in part hoping to meet the Princess, Lynda smiles, takes the pose of the character in the art and says “Well I’ll always be her …. a little.” Kate seems pleased to see a flicker of a shadow of the Princess still very much within the woman in front of her.
By contrast, Tara does not seem to know much, if anything, about her alters, and certainly cannot let herself become aware of the kind of history Lynda P. Frazier was able to give about her alter ego. The Princess’s story was developed from Frazier’s imagination. The stories of Tara’s alters began in her desperation, pain, and shame. Imagination was enlisted in the service of defending herself, not exploring other aspects of her selfhood. What Lynda shares about Princess Valhalla Hawkwind provides us with a starting outline of the kind of questions a DID patient might try to explore about parts of his or herself that are unfamiliar -- When and why were they created? What purpose did they serve then and how does that adaptation relate to the person as a whole now as well as during the time in between? Also, Lynda’s attitude toward this aspect of herself is so much more accepting than Tara’s attitude towards her alters who she basically wants to disappear and leave her alone. The Princess was sought and developed in the service of mastery. Tara’s alters came into being as desperate efforts to help her survive. There is also a realism to Lynda’s description of her sense of self during the time that the Princess was “active” - she describes her as “naïve” and we understand that Lynda would not choose to go back to that image of herself but has outgrown the need which the image of the Princess provided at that time. Tara, living in the present, remains the prisoner of a time warp that reenacts her past.
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Episode 3: The Truth Hurts
This episode opens with Tara talking into her voice recorder saying, "Im fucked". Quickly we see a shift to a scene in which Buck is trimming Pammy’s toenails. Next, we see Buck romantically engaging with Pammy and her children at breakfast as if they were a family. Abruptly, we are bearing witness as Tara talks to her voice recorder, expressing her confusion about why these events outside her awareness have been happening even though things are going well at home. She is shocked because she is now aware that she has been lying. She is terrified for Max as she believes telling him about her switching will break his heart. Tara arrives home while Max is busy refilling her prescriptions. Kate comes into the picture, flippantly talking to her parents. The phone rings and Max announces that the escrow has closed on the house. He excitedly hugs Tara, saying when he flips the house he can show her how much he loves her by taking her on a wonderful vacation. There is a sad quality to this familys struggle. They obviously care about each other but they often misunderstand what others need from them.
Next we see Marshall and his new girlfriend Courtney arriving at school, talking about other students making out on campus. Their conversation quickly turns to sex. We see Marshall, looking confused and puzzled as he talks shyly with Courtney, who aggressively inquires if he knows what "two dogs in a bathtub" means. The scene shifts to Charmaine, Tara, and a friend, talking as Charmaine is fixing their hair. Charmaine reveals that in college she had an affair with a woman, and Tara looks shocked and surprised. Their friend comments "you have to touch it, live it, taste it, to know it. You have to get up in it". This foreshadows Taras next adventure. She has been struggling to make sense of Buck’s affair with Pammy. We see Tara begin this adventure by consciously trying to look and act like Buck. The scene shifts to Max and Neil at the new house waiting for Sully to do a job. Sully (whose name is an undisguised reference to his being dirty, and soiling whatever he touches) has been paid for doing some work for Max, but never shows up. Max brags to his partner about Tara and Marshall and how theyve changed. Tara is becoming more and more curious about Buck and what drives him. Max continues to distract himself, by pleasing people and fixing things, his personal formula for coping and strengthening his denial. Marshall is trying to solve this identity crisis but without much adult support. The adults in his life are so out of control that they offer him little guidance, and instead often turn to him for support. He continues to be cheated out of a meaningful childhood.
As Tara continues to struggle with her divided mind and the confusion she feels, we see a number of scenes flashing back and forth between Tara trying to assume the role of Buck, Max at the new house bragging about how everything has changed for the better, Kate visiting Lynda Frazier trying to collect on the bounced check, and then to Marshall and Courtney engaged in sexual interactions, which seem both uncomfortable and exciting to both of them.
The drama peaks as Tara struggles to deal with Pammy. Tara arrives at Pammys, acting like Buck. She is experimenting with the idea of homosexuality, which she began to explore after her conversation with Charmaine and their friend. This experiment quickly deteriorates when Tara becomes overwhelmed with disgust and shame, and Pammy is left feeling confused and betrayed. Tara looks around, sees a picture on the wall that tells a story about how much fun Buck and Pammy have been having, and is completely shocked. The scene switches to Kate and Lynda, whom Kate is in the process of befriending instead of pursuing as a target for debt collection. Kate playfully tries on the costume and persona of Princess Valhalla Hawkwinds. There is an interesting contrast between Kate’s and Taras experimenting with alternate identities. Kate is excited and having fun with her friend Lynda, testing an alternative identity; Tara is being confronted by Pammy who tells her "Buck is going to kick your ass for hurting me." Tara tries to deny the reality of Buck. She tells Pammy that Buck is not real, but she is. Pammy dissolves into tears and Tara falls into the familiar role of maternal caretaker. We see Marshall and Kate talking about their life experiences. Marshall asking Kate about what it means "to do two dogs in the bathtub," and Kate shows confusion about loyalties between doing her job and becoming involved with her newfound friend. There is a contrast between Taras rejection of her dissociated senses of self, not wanting to be who she is, and Kate and Marshalls struggles to pursue finding out who they are. Tara is struggling with denial, self rejection, and alienation from herself; Kate and Marshal are embracing their struggles and confusion over becoming adults. We also see a theme found in families with a DID parent; the kids have to rely more and more on themselves because their parents are unavailable and/or incapable of mobilizing themselves to function as parents.
As this episode moves to its conclusion, Tara and Max are struggling to find a way to relate and escape their dilemma. They decide to take the family ice-skating. (We recall how a family excursion to the bowling alley brought the last episode of the first season to a close.) Pammy, who has been following “Buck,” looks on sadly from her car. The Gregsons arrive at the ice rink and we see the family having fun skating around, with the background music trying to set a romantic mood. Pammy ominously walks up to the DJs booth, picks up the microphone, and publicly professes her love for “Buck, Tara, whoever she is.” She tells everyone within hearing distance that she doesnt care about Taras craziness, and that she loves her anyway. Pammy’s heartbroken appeal to Buck exposes Taras deception to her family and everybody else at the ice rink. Max takes off, disappointed and angry, confronting Tara, "All Ive ever done is be good to you". Tara stands alone, becoming more and more confused, depressed, and dejected. Charmaine tries to reassure Kate and Marshall, but they keep skating, working hard to not notice this most recent abandonment by their parents. Max drives to Sully’s home to confront Sully about the money he gave him. A birthday party for one of Sully’s children is in progress. He uses the party as an excuse to put Max off. However, Sully pushes his luck; as Max starts to walk away, Sully dismisses him with a rude comment. Enraged, Max punches Sully, provoking a fight with Sully which allows him to vent his frustration, disappointment, and anger.
The episode moves toward its close when Tara walks through the ice rink and ends up in front of the mens and womens restrooms, looking confused and sad. Her changing facial expressions show how intense the inner struggle between Tara and Buck has become. Buck wins as he walks into the mens restroom, striding in as the tough guy, startling a man standing at the urinal. He goes into a stall and sits down, trying to keep it together. Fighting his emotions without much success, Buck dissolves into tears, pounding on the side of the stall. Could this be a good sign? Could we see the beginnings of communication between Buck and Tara?
In this episode, Tara appears to have a lot of conflict going on between different aspects of herself (the part of her we know as Tara and the part we know as Buck). Is this typical for someone with DID? DID is an condition of mind in which a person experiences intrusions into his or her sense of self that disorganize and confuse his or her ability to function. It is like an experience of me and then feeling I am not me, because something or someone has taken over. Early in this episode we see how Tara struggles to find a way to understand these experiences of me and not me (Tara vs. Buck). With almost complete amnesia between alters (like Tara has toward Buck), it is very difficult for someone to understand what is happening. The person feels he or she is crazy and tries to hide the switching that is going on from others and from his or her self. We see this form of denial all through the show, as Tara tries to appear normal to others. In this episode, we see the beginning of a shift that might move Tara more towards a more integrated state. She actually tries to pretend she is Buck, and the episode ends with Buck losing his toughness and becoming more emotional (which is more like Tara and not as tough and protective as Buck usually manages to be). Thus, both parts of herself are beginning to show their interconnectedness. Unless someone has a lot of experience acting, it is hard to imagine how a person’s subjective sense of self could change so much. However, if someone has DID, he or she may wake up to find that he or she has done things and doesn’t remember them, and sometimes (as is the case with the activities of Buck), these things are out of character.
If someone has the problems Tara is having, what needs to happen in order for change to start occurring? It is important to remember that a person with the diagnosis and DID is really a whole person but he or she doesnt know it yet. To achieve a more integrated consciousness and sense of self, a DID patient needs to develop certain attitudes. All parts of the self need to adopt an attitude of willingness to change. Usually they are disorganized and in enough pain to want to change. To do this they also need to accept the importance and legitimacy of all the other parts. Parts of the self were ALL essential in the client’s survival. Respecting, not necessarily liking one another, will be essential for them in appreciating the lessons learned by the other parts. Beginning to have mutual respect can lead to increasing communication between parts. Then as the parts learn to cooperate, a person with this diagnosis can more easily engage in the internal work needed to develop a more cohesive sense of self. This is not really different from what we see taking place in the members of the family as they struggle to find a place for themselves in life. If Tara, Buck, and the others can understand this, they can progress in their recovery.
Tara’s family members seem to care about each other, but it is not a fully functional family. What is missing? Max has affection for Tara, and acts lovingly towards her in many ways. However, his care-taking involves an unspoken assumption that he should be in charge, that his judgment is sound and that he knows what is best for Tara. Too often he proceeds without respectfully involving Tara in major decisions. The Tara he sees in his mind and for whom he makes decisions is not the actual Tara who shares his life. Max has a sense of entitlement about making the purchase of their deceased neighbor’s house, and not a lot of empathy for how this purchase is affecting and will affect Tara’s well being. He does not seem to not understand the stress this purchase places on Tara and the family. Tara has expressed her concern about it on several occasions only to be dismissed. Max in some ways is a people pleaser, but he has a sense of entitlement about how his actions should pay off in what he receives back from his marriage. He feels people in general (and Tara in particular) should behave the way his actions are designed to make them behave. His parting comment to Tara at the skating rink ("All I’ve ever done is be good to you") indicates his lack of insight into Tara’s problems, and his sense of what Tara should return to him as a result of his “being good.”
Max’s lack of empathy (despite his affection), coupled with Tara’s preoccupation with her own troubles, results in their lack of availability and empathy for their children. Marshall and Kate are both struggling with their identities, but without much help from their parents, who are so engaged with their own struggles that they seem unable to free up sufficient emotional resources to address their children’s needs. Marshall is struggling with his sexual identity. He is not sure who he is, but hes willing to step out there and try to find out. It is painful to bear witness to his embarrassment, his innocence, and his stressful attempts to experiment to gain self-understanding. However, we can’t help being concerned that Max and Tara are not emotionally available to him, and that he has to turn to his sister Kate for advice and information. Although Kate is much more exuberant and seems to have a firm sense of herself, her identity is strongly defiant, boundary-breaking, and pleasure-seeking. She rarely demonstrates maturity in her decision-making, and her solutions to problems that concern Marshall are often superficial and flip, showing her to be as profoundly shallow as Marshall is profoundly deep. She seems to sense in Lynda a strength and maternal energy she cannot find at home, and her struggle to find herself in that relationship becomes so compelling that she abandons her original objective, to collect a large sum of money from her for the collection agency which employs her, in order to immerse herself in Lynda’s world. As viewers we wonder whether Kate would be so invested in her new relationship with Lynda if her parents were more able to be there for her.
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Episode 4: You Becoming You
Episode 4 begins with Max reacting angrily to learning that Tara’s alter “Buck” was having an affair with Pammy, the waitress. In the first scene, he confronts Tara about her dishonesty regarding the return of her alters over the last few months. Tara said she “didn’t know” about it; Max retorted, “You didn’t want to know.” This exchange highlights the co-occurring amnesia and denial that is pervasive in those with DID. Max’s manner is hostile as he insists that Tara “get help.” Tara initially blames Buck and does not accept responsibility for her behavior. Max also seems to accept that Buck is the problem, refusing to see that the problem belongs to Tara as a whole person. Max’s anger rapidly becomes redirected into an aggressive sexual encounter with Tara in the backyard of the Hubbard house. This seems to be a misguided attempt both to restore their threatened relationship, to vent Max’s aggression, and to allow Tara to make a somewhat masochistic sexual apology. Tara responds eagerly, ever the master of avoiding the difficult and conflictual. The scene has violent and disturbing overtones easy to overlook because of its erotic intensity. Their coupling calls to mind the aggressively passionate sex in which some couples with serious attachment problems engage after violent fights. Later, Max tries to act like “Billy Jack” in front of Marshall, and starts aggressively tearing out bookcases in the Hubbard house with a crowbar. We wonder if Max is still trying to make a powerful statement by asserting his macho masculinity to compensate for his shame about Tara’s having gone elsewhere for sex. Marshall is not caught up in Max’s attempts to repair his damaged masculine self-esteem. He has concerns about his father’s anger, and asks him to tell Tara that he beat up Sully. Max is angry but is stuck. We see him torn between his rage and his powerful need to be the “nice guy.” We see him unable to find an assertive middle ground, and sliding back to his usual ways of coping. Tara tries to discuss the public disclosure of Buck’s affair with Pammy at the skating rink with her children, but the entire family seems disconnected from one another, each member involved in his or her own problems and struggles with identity. Beneath the usual Gregson veneer of denial, there seems little family togetherness or mutual support.
In a later scene, Tara seeks advice from the new gay neighbors, Ted and Hannie, about finding a local therapist, and Ted tells her there are few competent therapists in the area. Though Ted is probably not the best and certainly not the only source of reliable information on the subject of therapists who treat DID, Tara takes his word without further investigation. Ted gives her a book written by his former therapist in New York City, Shoshanna Schoenberg. We recall that Ted has been singing Shoshanna Schoenberg’s praises in previous episodes as well as in this one. Tara begins to read Shoshanna’s book and immediately becomes enthralled, as though she has found the answer to her problems.
Musing in the house Max is renovating, the former home of the late Don Hubbard, Tara is thinking about calling a therapist. Absentmindedly , she dials a couple of numbers on an old rotary phone. This evokes a childhood memory. We see Tara as a small girl of about 3 or 4 coming in the door with Charmaine. Charmaine is wearing a tattered red poncho, the very kind of poncho that “Gimme” wore in the first season. A woman in a dress and high heels (perhaps like Alice?) is at the door, telling them to come in, and asks Tara, “What in the world have you done to your poncho?!” The woman then goes to a rotary phone to call someone. That is the end of that memory fragment. Tara later tells Max that she has contacted Shoshanna and will begin “phone therapy” or “maybe Skype” to begin treatment since her new therapist, the much-praised Shoshanna Schoenberg, is in New York. Max is dubious about phone and Skype therapy. Does he already “smell a rat?” Later, in bed, Tara continues to read Schoenberg’s book. When Max asks her how her first session went, Tara describes the first telephone session as “intense.” It is unclear both to Max and to us whether Tara is being truthful about having a session, or even what a “session” means.
The Gregson family continues to struggle to meet one another emotionally. After an awkward and uncomfortable second sexual encounter with his female friend, Courtney, which was clearly unsatisfying to both of them , Marshall formally “comes out” to his father, disclosing that he is gay. Although this is hardly news, it is a profoundly poignant, painful, and important moment for Marshall. Max briefly acknowledges his son’s disclosure, but he does so in an emotionless and almost offhanded way. His diffidence goes far beyond what we would expect on the basis of Max expecting this kind of revelation (which of course he was). Max virtually “blows off” one of the most important moments of Marshall’s life. He rapidly changes the subject. Marshall is left a little confused. We can see that he had expected more of a reaction from his father. Max later tells Tara that Marshall’s disclosure gave him hope for his son. Tara was not surprised either, and seems comfortable with the news. Marshall made himself very vulnerable in making this profoundly important statement. He had just been experimenting with heterosexuality, and finally had concluded that his homosexual orientation is fixed and firm. We cannot help but cringe in empathy with Marshall’s pain in taking the risk of making this major step and finding that his parents, despite their superficial acceptance of his situation, are not there for him in any meaningful way when he tries to come out.
Charmaine’s fiancée announces to Max and Tara that Charmaine is pregnant before Charmaine has the chance to do so. The pregnancy is an unexpected development. Charmaine seems truly excited and Tara hugs her. As they hug, Tara has a vision of herself and Charmaine as small children.
Meanwhile Kate is spending time with Lynda Frazier. She poses in the Princess Valhalla Hawkwind costume as Lynda paints her portrait. Clearly, Kate is enjoying the attention of an older and somewhat wiser and more mature woman, a kind of attention she does not receive from her mother, her mother’s alters, or her terminally childish and immature aunt Charmaine. Lynda suggests they make a movie about Princess Valhalla, which excites Kate. Kate’s car will not start when she starts to leave Lynda’s, so Max and Tara come to pick her up at Lynda’s place, a funky studio in a warehouse. Tara has misgivings about Lynda and her motivations toward Kate, almost as though she suspects there is the potential for sexual acting out. We appreciate that such possibilities must surely be on Tara’s own mind, given Buck’s recent escapades with Tammy.
The concluding scene of this episode reveals that Tara has created a new alter who is a therapist based on the inestimable Shoshanna Schoenberg, with whom she is allegedly having phone sessions. Max unexpectedly encounters Tara in the Hubbard study. Tara, in this new alter, is having a therapeutic dialogue with Tara as we usually encounter her. In the role of Tara’s therapist, she chastises him for “interrupting” her phone session with Tara. Max seems stunned by what he is witnessing as the final scene draws to a close. Tara has once again found a way to engage in and/or perpetuate major avoidance of her problems by creating a new alter, just as new memories have begun to surface and Buck is creating chaos.
Those who enjoy the movies and love the way motion pictures and television shows often, whether intentionally or unthinkingly, pay tribute to memorable moments and performances in the past, will savor Toni Collette’s fantastic and meticulously nuanced homage to Barbara Streisand in the “debut” of Shoshanna Schoenberg. Whether consciously intended or not, those few moments in and of themselves are a remarkable performance.
What is it like to have a family member with DID? Each person with DID and each family with a member who suffers from DID is unique. In the Gregson family, the struggle to understand and cope with Tara’s DID create an ongoing tension between the Max and Tara. Both go to increasingly greater lengths to avoid the very real problems confronting them both individually and as a couple. Max vacillates between anger, frustration, and acceptance, a common dilemma for family members who are dealing with those who have a serious mental disorder. Neither Max nor Tara can quite seem to accept that Tara must be responsible for her alter’s behaviors, yet the condition cannot be stopped dead in its tracks – allowances must be made for outrageous acting out that likely would not be tolerated in a relationship with someone who did not have DID. Family members, as well as the individual with DID, are often confused about how to think about and cope with alters that act out, and perhaps one of the easiest ways to avoid tension and conflict is to consider the alters different people. Max and Tara have colluded in creating this delusion, so they do not have to address their growing relational issues that result from Tara’s fragmentation and Max’s dysfunction. In fact, Max’s preoccupation with the alters is a relatively common phenomena in partners of those who have DID.
Marshall and Kate have accepted their mother’s DID and talk about it openly, but more typically “in real life” it is not discussed with others, efforts are made to conceal and be secretive about the situation, and often the children are confused and ashamed about their family member and their family member’s disorder. We can see that Tara’s acting out takes time away from her children. It not only compromises her own time for mothering, but also often compromises Max’s function as a father as he takes time to deal with Tara and appears endlessly preoccupied with her situation. This is probably responsible for Max’s totally failing to be there for Marshall when he was trying to talk to Max about coming out as gay. Tara’s children are very aware of her alters and their activities, but much less able to identify and relate to their mother’s pain and struggles. In reality, the manifestations of Tara’s DID are extreme in their overtness and in identifying themselves to others. Mostly, alters are hidden and many may be very similar to each other. A considerable portion of a DID patients’ personality system is more an internal than an overt phenomenon, so that others do not notice when switching occurs. The dramatic presentation of different alters is usually an indicator of extreme stress or conflict in the person with DID. A DID mother’s children may react differently to different alters when they are aware of them, and this can be confusing to the children. The overall stress in the family is typically felt by children and may lead to a range of reactions including withdrawal, acting out, depression, anxiety, and attentional problems. Kate clearly has sought out replacements figures, others who will focus attention on her. Marshall is more of a caretaker and though he seems wise and highly intelligent, he essentially is often left alone to navigate the difficult waters of adolescence and the exploration of his sexual orientation. Educational and family therapy can assist in the process of adapting to the stress of living with a parent who has a serious mental illness, but so far, the United States of Tara has not addressed this potential source of help for Marshall and Kate.
Is it really possible for one alter (Buck, for example) to engage in behavior such as a sexual relationship with someone and the person cannot recall what has happened while that alter is dominant? The short answer is yes, but it is a complicated question. Periods of lost time and inability to remember one’s behaviors are common in those with DID. Many of these behaviors are relatively minor, for example, doing chores around the house, writing in a journal, shopping. Some people have alters that go to work, and then they are unable to recall what has happened at work. But the majority of these behaviors are within the bounds of normal life. Actually carrying on a sexual relationship with another person and having no memory of it is possible, but less common. In many people the distinctions between alters is not as dramatic as in Tara, and more information is shared internally among them. But many people with DID report that people seem to know them and to have had previous conversations with them, although they have no memory of it. As with Tara in this episode, people with DID may have a combination of amnesia and denial about activities and relationships in which alters are engaged. This can be especially true when the individual feels shame, guilt or fear about what they have done. A major goal in therapy is to help those who have amnesia for their behaviors to gradually, as Tara is attempting, to get to know their alters and establish empathic communication and cooperation.
In this episode, Tara created a therapist alter. Is it common for people with DID to continue to create alters? In some cases, yes, individuals with DID continue to create additional alters in order to avoid or cope with situations that feel overwhelming or involved serious conflict. Tara does not want to acknowledge that she needs help for a variety of reasons, and is avoiding getting into therapy in a way that will truly help her confront herself. At the same time, Tara is in need of a therapist, so she creates an alter that identifies herself as such. In Tara’s mind, this magically “solves” the problem of not having an ideal therapist locally available and protects her from the scrutiny of a real therapy, which would be confronting her avoidances and resistances. It protects her alter system from scrutiny by an objective observer who might challenge Tara to face the catastrophic truths she hopes to never have to face.
Can persons with DID do therapy with themselves by creating another alter based on a therapist in real life? No, it is not likely that a DID patient can treat and cure herself or himself. A “therapist” alter is not a trained therapist, after all, but only a caricature of one, perhaps drawing upon the individual’s own wisdom or imitations of past therapists. Tara avoids certain threatening issues and forms of relational closeness through her switching, a common finding in those with DID. Therefore, the therapeutic relationship itself is an essential aspect of the complex treatment of DID that a “therapist” alter could not provide. An intense relationship with a therapist trained to work with DID, or with a therapist who acquires such training rapidly when that therapist appreciates that he or she is confronted with a DID patient, is necessary. One cannot presume to be capable of appreciating and addressing one’s own blind spots. Both lawyers and doctors have a similar axiom for such situation. The medical version goes something like this: The doctor who treats himself has an idiot for a patient, and a fool for his physician.
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Episode 5: Doin Time
Doin’ Time builds directly on Episode 4, which ended with Max walking into the office in the Hubbard house and meeting Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg. This episode begins continuing with the same scene. Max realizes that the therapist is a “new” (at least to him) alter. Dr. Schoenberg tries to get Max to talk to a chair representing Tara. At one point she sits in the chair and on her face we can see the struggle between the therapist alter and Tara. Dr. Schoenberg calmly tries to get Max to talk about Tara’s attempt to talk to him about “her alter’s recent transgression” and Max putting “the kibosh on the conversation.” “You need to look at you. In this world there givers and there are getters, and my real feeling here is that you need to explore becoming more of a getter if you want to get better.” Max blows up and says that Tara needs to pack a bag for the hospital.
Marshall and Kate are upstairs talking. Marshall shares that he is afraid to tell Courtney (his quasi girl friend) that he is gay because he does not want to hurt her. Like Max, Marshall is a people-pleaser, who does not want to make waves. Kate is discussing the video of Princess Valhalla Hawkwind she made with Lynda Frazier. She is excited, but we see a snippet of it on the web, and understand why people are making fun of her: it is ridiculously silly and poorly made. Kate tries to defend it rather unsuccessfully. She is smoking a joint when she and Marshall see the police pull up to their house. Kate is convinced that they are there to arrest her for marijuana possession. In a complete panic, she and Marshall flush the bag of marijuana down the toilet. They come downstairs and are mortified to see that it is Max who has been arrested, for his earlier assault on Sully. Tara and Charmaine are confused and upset. Tara starts to drive to the jail, which is twenty miles away, in order to bail out Max.
Charmaine, Kate, and Marshall go in to the house to have breakfast. Charmaine is focused on making pancakes rather than talking much about what has just happened. Kate is stoned, at first acting silly, then suddenly slumping down into a dark depression. She is serious when she says, “So. As a family, we are completely (pause) fucked.” We see again the turmoil that affects everyone in the house, and that Marshall and Kate having to cope as best they can without effective adult support.
As Tara is driving to the jail to bail out Max, she is terribly startled when she suddenly hears Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg speaking to her from the passenger’s seat. In a panic, Tara swerves off the road and runs into a signpost. Tara becomes flustered and starts to call a tow truck without even checking the damage on the car. There is no observable damage, but Tara is not thinking clearly. After complaining that Tara made her spill her Tab drink on herself by swerving, Dr. Schoenberg tells Tara to slow down and to think. She pushed Tara to consider why the accident happened at this particular time. Tara realizes that it was an unconscious attempt “to avoid bailing Max out of jail, because he was going to commit me [to the hospital].” Dr Schoenberg tells Tara that Tara does not give herself enough credit; she says she wants to talk to Tara about the two little girls she saw in the hallway and in order to do so, “I’m gonna give you all the time that you need.”
Meanwhile, Max waits anxiously in jail for Tara to bail him out. Tara finally arrives at the jail about three hours later, far too long for a twenty mile trip. The officers tell her that Max was bailed out half an hour before she got there by Neil, Max’s partner and Charmaine’s occasional lover, and that Max “wasn’t very happy.” One officer sarcastically comments that Tara should check her messages more often. Given the fact that she had her phone with her and did not use it, and only arrived at the jail three hours after she started out, we presume that Tara has lost a couple of hours of time with Shoshanna Schoenberg.
Max and Neil go directly from the jail to the bar where Pammy works to have a drink. Neil points out to Max that his recent angry explosions are out of character and implies that Max’s anger has been displaced everywhere but “the one place it belongs,” that is, toward Tara. Pammy serves their table, which makes Max uncomfortable: he clearly wants to avoid her. Yet he chose to come to the bar where she works. He changes his mind and tells Neil to go ahead and leave without him, and he confronts Pammy. He starts with, “You know, that little thing you had with my wife?” Pammy retorts, “I don’t know your wife. I have a thing for Buck.” Max condescendingly gives Pammy cash as a “tip,” saying “thank you for not taking advantage of her (Tara) in her fragile state.” Pammy calmly advances and says provocatively, “Your wife tastes like rain,” and recites several other flavors bursting with sexual innuendo. She thrusts the money back in Max’s shirt pocket and walks away.
Meanwhile, Charmaine is at her doctor’s office for her first ultrasound. She is shocked to learn that her pregnancy is not as far along as she thought. It quickly dawns on her that her fiancée, Nick, was not in town during the time she got pregnant.
Back at home, Tara walks in after her interrupted trip to the jail, and tells Charmaine that she hit a sign. She omits any details about the cause. Shoshanna’s presence had startled her so profoundly that she had swerved off the road. Charmaine is focused on another matter: she immediately tells Tara that the baby is Neil’s, not Nick’s. The focus shifts to Charmaine’s dysfunctional relationships and devolves into a juvenile, giggly talk about Neil’s body and sex. It seems this prepubescent giddiness is the only manner in which Tara and Charmaine can discuss sexual issues, no matter how serious they are. Charmaine is clearly torn. She wants “Nick in my wedding picture and Neil on my wedding night.” She loves sex with Neil, but finds Nick the all around good looking man who is the façade that makes her feel respectable, while Neil is a great guy but not as attractive.
Tara then suddenly asks if Charmaine remembers a woman named “Mimi” from their childhood, a hint that Tara has again been having more memories. Charmaine says she does not remember anyone by that name. We assume that Tara and Shoshanna have been talking about “the two little girls,” and about the woman who met them at the door and commented on the state of Tara’s red poncho in Tara’s previous memory fragment.
Max storms into the house from the bar, furious with Tara for not coming to the jail to get him. He angrily shouts that after 17 years of their relationship, “it’s not fuckin’ workin’ anymore.” In exasperation, Max confronts Tara that Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg is not real. Tara responds that years of therapy with other therapists have failed to help her get better, and Dr. Schoenberg is finally helping. She emphasizes that she is finally having memories, as though having memories in and of itself is a help. “If the measure of real is that she helps me figure things out…then she is real." This is a poignant statement from a person who has long avoided reality and does not know how to confront it. Tara tells Max that Dr. Schoenberg thinks that Max needs her to be sick: “It’s the only fucking thing that is holding us together!”
They are both sleepless that night, Tara in bed and Max on the couch. At 4:23 AM, Tara gets out of bed and saunters over to the Hubbard house, appearing serene. Max follows and sees her transition into Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg. Shoshanna welcomes Max. Max asks for her confidentiality, again confusing the alters for separate people, and says, “I just want someone who will listen.” He is responding to Shoshanna as though she is real, just as Tara does, even though earlier he had shouted at Tara that this “doctor” was not real. He clearly is as confused as Tara. As he takes the patient’s chair, we see Tara sitting on the floor outside the office, listening in, yet another episode her growing co-consciousness with some of her alters.
Tara’s alter, Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg, seems to be a bridge between Max and Tara during this time of high stress between them. Can alters be used to help a relationship? Again, this is a complicated question. The very existence of alters in a person with DID adds risk and vulnerability to a relationship, as we have seen in the case of Tara and Max. However, at times, an alter can serve as bridge of connection, in more, and sometimes less, healthy ways. Shoshanna seems to have some insight that is helpful for both Tara and Max to share. She is able to communicate with both Max and Tara about their inner states in ways that neither one can do alone or with each other. This is unusual. More often, one alter communicates what another alter can not, will not, or is not even aware of. For example, a child alter will seek comfort from a partner, when the alter personality out most of the time would not. The child alter might get the attention of an otherwise unavailable or preoccupied partner. A sexualized alter might engage in sexual activity with a partner, when the alters most commonly in control cannot or will not, thus keeping a sexual relationship alive. Although we do not know yet, Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg may be operating in the outside world to engage with Max in a way that is impossible for Tara. Tara has always been in the “sick” role in their relationship, and Max has been in a caretaker role. The emergence of Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg may provide an opportunity for Tara to move toward a more adult relationship with Max. We shall see.
Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg seems to be fairly balanced. Are alters that have a higher degree of functioning a sign of improvement? The answer is sometimes. Most of us know what mature behavior is, even if we do not generally act maturely, and can pull ourselves together to face certain challenges that require that mature behavior. Each person with DID is different. Some people have alters that grow in functioning as they improve; others perpetually create new alters, which, for the moment, appears to complicate their disorder. Generally the creation of a new alter is not a positive sign. We do not yet know if this alter, whether she is newly created or has existed internally and is only now taking on the persona of the real Dr. Schoenberg, is a sign of improvement for Tara. Tara and her other alters are a contradiction in self assertiveness. Tara and Alice have been overly subservient to Max (although it is clear that Alice plans to get her way regardless, with more indirect strategies). Buck and “T” have been aggressive, in-your-face rebels, even disowning the fact that they are married to Max. The emergence of Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg shows us, for the moment, a calm, wise, rational, assertive woman. She has a range of feelings and behaviors, but there are no extremes. However, as with Alice, we may find out that she is “too perfect” and thus fatally flawed.
Tara tells Max that Dr. Schoenberg thinks Max needs her to be sick, as it is the only thing holding them together as a couple. Do partners or families actually “need” a person to continue to have DID? This is a complicated question. Few, if any, partners or families would ever intentionally want someone to remain sick. However, everyone in a family plays a role which has meaning in the family system and which maintains the status quo of the system, whether that is a healthy status quo or not. We have seen that Max needs to focus on Tara to avoid his own serious issues. His “need” to have her remain “sick” is obviously unconscious, but nevertheless, serves its purposes. It seems at this point in their marriage, their only major point of contact is around Tara’s alters and their escapades. Usually, no one in a dysfunctional family realizes the unconscious pressure to maintain dysfunctional roles; these roles continue on without ever being addressed. Families of any person who is significantly impaired may come to revolve around the impairment, whether it is mental or physical. The illness or disability can become the common glue that holds them together. The Gregsons identify themselves as the crazy family on the block: it is an identity that they promote in part because it sets them apart, but also because they recognize their dysfunction and making it a point of “pride” defends against their shame at being so dysfunctional. As long as Tara is “sick,” any and all problems within the family can be blamed on Tara’s alters, that is, her illness.
How can both Max and Tara act at one moment as if they know Dr. Shoshanna Schoenberg is an alter personality, and at the next moment act as if she were a completely separate person with a separateness and reality all her own? Is that nuts, or what? The capacity of the human mind to entertain two mutually incompatible perceptions at the same time is called “trance logic” in hypnosis research. It is not insanity. It is a particular mode of thought sometimes found in people who are highly hypnotizable, and people with DID are highly hypnotizable. On that basis, Tara’s alters can both know that they are aspects of Tara and firmly assert their own separateness, or fluctuate back and forth between realizing and not realizing their situations. Max may also be a highly hypnotizable individual, because about one out of six people are highly hypnotizable. However, it is also possible that after 17-plus years with Tara, he simply has become socialized to seeing the world through her eyes, and accommodated to her dissociative perceptions of reality to the point of adopting them. We may recall that in Season 1 Max at times spent “guy time” with Buck, watching porn, swilling beer, and according Buck a reality of his own.
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Episode 6: Torando!
In Episode 6, Max continues to consult with Tara’s most recently surfacing alter, Dr. Shoshana Schoenbaum. He sees her in her “office” at the Hubbard house, where it appears she has offered Max a regular time and space for his feelings to be heard. He ventilates his disappointments about recent events with Tara. Finding out about Tara’s affair and lies was a setback for Max, who had thought things were going well and that “there was a light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in a long time.” The office has become a shared space where Tara can sit “outside” and listen in while her therapist/alter handles the interactions with Max. Dr. Schoenbaum for the moment is both a buffer and a conduit in their marital relationship, providing the couple with a modicum of observing distance to both speak (in the case of Max) and listen (in the case of Tara). For now, it seems to be helping, as Tara comments to Shoshana after Max leaves a session: “He’s trying so hard.” The office also represents a shared, transitional space for Tara’s self-experience in which she moves between her relationships with those in the external world and her relationships with her alters inside her mind. Tara tells Shoshana that she’s “the only alter she’s been so continuously co-conscious with,” providing viewers with a glimpse of how Tara is progressing and becoming less dissociative.
Several scenes following in which other characters in the show are learning about a tornado watch in the neighborhood. Back at the Gregson house, Marshall and Kate are both struggling to break free: Marshall from Courtney who proposes they are perfect for the “rich tradition of celibate power couples;” and Kate from Max who has grounded her despite her intention to accompany Lynda to a comic book store to make an appearance as Princess Valhalla Hawkwind. Everyone is trying to continue on with his/her individual business despite the news about the tornado (or, as the news inaccurately spells it, much to Marshall’s consternation, “torando”) warning. Max is taking the tornado watch seriously, telling neighbors Ted and Hannie “it could be big this time.” This surprises Ted, who notes that Max has been “pretty lax when these things have come through before,” a possible suggestion that Max seems more aware of problems than he has been in the past.
In the Gregson’s kitchen with Charmaine and Max, Kate demonstrates her advanced skills in adolescent rationalization and manipulation, as she minimizes the storm (and her father’s grounding of her) while trying to lure her aunt into enabling her by driving her to meet Lynda. Meanwhile, Max assumes he’s got his daughter on lockdown as he declares, “Don’t think about taking Hubbard’s car. I’ve got the keys.”
As Kate finishes her make-up in the bathroom, Marshall makes a determined effort to reach someone at the radio station on the phone to inform them of their spelling error, which he fears could endanger some of the most vulnerable citizens in Kansas for whom the word “torando” means nothing and who “will be the first to sail away when the mighty winds blow.” Kate sarcastically tells her brother “You are an inspiration, Moosh!” Her disillusionment with the adults in charge is transparently revealed as she announces to an invisible audience “And you say there are no heroes! Ladies and gentlemen - We have a homegrown hero right here in my bathroom!”
As the storm comes, Kate seems to share both Marshall and Max’s sense that something big is coming. She warns the group: “Prepare to be probed, earthlings!” (Little does she know that she is foreshadowing important events that will occur in the basement.) As the sky and wind become turbulent (with Kate in her dramatic Princess Valhalla costume and Charmaine in pigtails), the scene draws a strong but ironic set of visual allusions to the Wizard of Oz, with Charmaine (who is quite child-like and immature) resembling Dorothy, and Kate (who is trying to be grown up and powerful) demonstrating vague similarities to the good witch, Glynda.
As the storm cranks up, Max directs everyone to follow him to the Hubbard basement and we see the first of a series of instances in which Charmaine falls into a panic-stricken state. The word “basement” seems to have set something off in her as she freezes in the yard, at the top of the basement stairs, and a third time halfway down the stairs, each time nearly hyperventilating. Although it is unclear what her response is related to, we have to think that she is so clearly frightened of basements because of previous traumatic life experiences. Ted and Hannie soon join the Gregsons in the Hubbard basement and everyone gathers in a circle to wait out the storm. Charmaine continues to look terribly uncomfortable. Finally Marshall verbalizes what others are undoubtedly thinking by asking, “What’s the matter, Aunt Charmaine?” Although Charmaine protests that “it’s nothing,” Tara’s initially contained facade gives way and we see Tara begin to mirror Charmaine’s uncomfortable physical gestures, putting her hand to her throat while opening her mouth to take in a deep breath. Tara appears to be over-sympathizing and/or over-identifying with Charmaine’s discomfort and pain (probably something she learned to do when they were children), even to the point of absorbing some of Charmaine’s emotional experience. When Kate sarcastically and insensitively asks Charmaine, “Is it the prospect of confronting home canned veggies or the drains in the floor that set you off?” this proves to be way too much for Tara.
Tara’s initially calm demeanor finally surrenders to a series of rapid switches. We witness the appearance of some of her alters, starting with Buck and followed by Alice. It is notable that Buck’s appearance occurs at a time when Tara and Charmaine are clearly having difficulty. This repeats a pattern and dynamic that has been mentioned in previous episodes - Buck emerges when the girls are in danger and seems to be their protector. In fact, when Buck emerges he talks about going to the Home Depot so he can cover Pammy’s windows and protect another set of vulnerable girls from the effects of the tornado – Pammy and Pammy’s two girls.
Ted and Hannie are astonished as they witness with their very own eyes what they had only heard about before - Tara switching into her different personas. The sense of disbelief common about people having DID is captured beautifully when Hannie says slowly to the group “Oh my God, this thing is happening to your Mom.” Marshall quietly echoes in a faint robotic voice “…. thing is happening to my Mom.” When Alice appears, Max explains why they are in the basement. Alice rolls her eyes and says “I know why we’re down here Max - what do you think I am, a whore?” She emphasizes the word “whore;” as she does this, her face contorts and settles into a very hateful, frowning, almost witch-like look. Charmaine startles and exclaims to the group as if she couldn’t believe what she just heard: “Did she just say whore?!”
At this point, Tara’s body seems to go into a kind of convulsive state, somewhat reminiscent of other times we have seen Tara “transition.” The group in the basement reacts by recoiling backwards. When the convulsing stops and things become quiet, Ted looks at Max and asks “Is she done changing?” At this point Tara sits up straight, clearly having transitioned into a stronger, more confident persona. She crosses her arms over her legs and says in Shoshana’s exaggerated New York accent: “Well, that was a lot of mishugas!” Kate looks at her mother, stunned, and asks “Who the fuck is this?” Max introduces the new alter to Kate:, “This is your Mom’s new therapist, Shoshana Schoenbaum.” Charmaine puts her hands over her eyes, but Shoshana proceeds to attempt to conduct a group therapy session. Charmaine begs Max to “make her fucking stop” to which Max replies “I can’t Char. You know I can’t.” When Shoshana asks who would like to go first in the group, she looks inquisitively in the direction of Max and Charmaine. Charmaine gives her the finger.
Hannie and Ted appear to be entranced by Shoshana the therapist as Hannie tells her his story of adjusting to his arrival to the United States and of how Ted reminded him of a teacher at his British School. Shoshana notes this must have been comforting, using it to demonstrate how “choosing someone for safety can be comforting, but it can also lead to resentment over time …. a little” and she seems to be speaking to Max (and Tara) at this point. When Shoshanna quotes from her book about “love loving it all, but love has to see it, it can’t be left in the dark,” Kate seems to have had enough and demonstrates this by clapping loudly while sarcastically stating “Well I don’t know about you guys but I’m kind of grouped out.” Shoshana tries to address Kate’s anger, calling her Princess Valhalla outfit a pretty costume and asking “what’s really under all those costumes ….. Where’s Kate?” Kate abruptly jumps up and leaves the circle, upset and angered, “God, can’t we just take a minute? Give me a fuckin’ break!”
Several additional scenes in the basement follow, with Max trying to get an update on the weather through the short wave radio and Charmaine standing beside him, jiggling like a nervous little kid. Ted stands by, continuing to eat bagels as he comments that it’s pretty amazing actually how much Tara is like the real Shoshana.
Hannie and Marshall have gone to a corner and seem to be bonding as they commiserate about what a sad state of affairs prevails when those in charge of the news can’t even spell important words correctly. Marshall tries to explain his understanding of this surprisingly low standard in the American media to Hannie, but the way he explains it suggests that in doing so, he has probably explained the state of his own family’s dysfunction to himself: “I think it has something to do with freedom. We’re very free so we’re very free to be stupid.” It is a poignant moment: Marshall is clearly explaining in a parallel way the benefits of growing up in a free-spirited, albeit dysfunctional family. But Hannie sees through it, asks Marshall if he’s always been so smart and empathizes that “It must get exhausting.” Marshall acknowledges that “You kind of have to be [smart] around here, or the system eats you alive.” At this point the sound of Tara’s breathing intrudes (she now sits nearby in a lotus position), demonstrating what Marshall is talking about. Marshall shrugs his shoulders while clasping his hands tighter, acknowledging to Hannie that yes, “It is.” This acknowledgment of the stressful impact of Tara’s DID and the family dysfunction is in stark contrast to an episode in Season One when Tara asked Marshall if he liked their family “being different” because of the tumult created by her DID. At that point, Marshall enthusiastically exclaimed “I love it!” Now, the viewer can feel that the full weight of what goes along with being a member of the Gregson family has begun to descend upon Marshall. Having a mother who suffers DID can impose a terrible burden upon a child.
Kate continues to try and reach Lynda on her cell phone, and we slowly hear the radio play a series of 1950s songs. When Kate returns to the group circle, most are now dancing the twist. However, Charmaine continues to sit on the stairs in a daze, just waiting for the storm to pass so she can get out of the basement. Shoshana encourages Max to invite Charmaine to join the dancing, and when he declines, saying it’s best to “leave her be,” Shoshana confronts Max over one of the primary roles he plays in the family. She tells him that he is “not doing anyone any favors stopping things from happening.” And, in fact, in very short order, that’s exactly what Max tries to do. When Charmaine turns down Shoshana’s invitation to dance, Shoshana pushes on and starts a confrontation with Charmaine about lying, both lying in the present in terms of not admitting that it’s actually Neil’s baby she’s carrying, and lying in the past through “a pact you and Tara made.” Charmaine vehemently denies what Shoshana is saying while Max calls out for them to stop as he moves quickly towards them, just barely reaching Shoshana in time for her to faint into his arms and pass out.
The dramatic changes in lighting in this episode are often used to indicate that Tara is switching or on the verge of switching/changing her state of mind. Back at the “office” in the Hubbard house (which appears to be Tara’s internal vision of the office), Tara asks Shoshana why she made the statements she did in the basement. Shoshana replies that it’s simply time for the sisters to stop covering for each other “…. it’s time for Tara to come out of the basement.” Tara listens carefully, agrees, and the scene shifts back to the basement as Tara “comes to” in Max’s arms and stands up. Looking dazed at first, she gathers herself, and starts walking up the stairs out of the basement. Ted calls to her “But what about the tornado?” to which Tara replies “It’s over. Can’t you guys tell? The pressure’s changed,” and keeps on walking to the top of the stairs. She then turns and speaks to Max in a clear and steady voice. She says to him: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel Max. There is.” We sense these are words from Tara and Shoshana, working together.
In the final scene, we see Tara walking away through the rubble, past the wreckage of the tornado towards the sunlight, past fallen signs that say “Danger” and “Wrong Way.” The family emerges from the basement. Marshall expresses worry about his mother while Kate asks where her mother is going, and wonders if she’s coming back. Max reassures them confidently: “She’ll be back. She cares too much about you guys to just disappear.” We sense that this is the beginning of a new chapter for Tara and her alters, and for the Gregson family.
In fairly rapid succession, Tara switches from one alter to another while the family is in the basement. Does this happen in DID, and does it really look like this? What causes this kind of rapid switching? Rapid switching between different alters does occur in DID, but it usually doesn’t look as dramatic as the switching we see in this episode. Although clients may display some subtle physical signs of switching (most typically blinking, eye movement, or change in posture), wild jerking movements while switching are quite unusual. It’s important to again remember that DID is a “disorder of concealment” in which most individuals with DID try hard to hide their switching so they can appear to have a unified sense of self. When rapid switching like this does happen, it typically takes place when there has been an unusual amount of stress that overwhelms the individual’s ability to cope. Tara could have become overloaded by the stress of the weather emergency, by seeing her sister distressed, or by being in a basement herself (although she does not state this overtly as her sister Charmaine does). Although her dramatic jerking movements are not characteristic of most individuals with DID, it is not unusual for people with DID to have physical reactions to stress that occur with switching, such as headaches, stomach aches, and shaking.
Some of the scenes in this episode seem to be about Tara’s interactions with actual people in her external life, whereas other scenes seem to blur the boundary between Tara’s external world and internal world. Is this common in DID, and how can it be understood? This is a complicated question and has to do with how individuals with DID experience “reality.” Most individuals with DID experience confusion between external reality and internal events. Examples of this include being unsure whether something really happened or it was a dream; “coming to” in the middle of a conversation and not being sure whether something was an internal auditory hallucination or had been said out loud; experiencing perceptual confusion as to whether a person who is seen might be someone in the here and now, or an alter, or someone from the past seen in a flashback, or as an illusion that a person in the here and now might be a person from the past. These types of experiences can be very confusing to someone with DID as well as to those in relationships with the person who suffers this disorder, and can sometimes cause major relational problems (e.g., if someone with DID accuses another person of doing something that an alter did).
It is important to clarify that the blurring between internal and external realities does not mean the individual is psychotic and out of touch with reality. As children, individuals with DID have utilized a capacity for imagination to survive horrendous traumatic experiences. It is this capacity that they were able to tap into as children and draw upon in order to create their alter personality system or “third reality,” (a term coined by DID expert Dr. Richard P. Kluft). Although individuals with DID may hear voices in their minds or experience visual hallucinations, these symptoms are not psychotic or delusional in nature, but rather are connected to very real events that occurred in the past.
Through her therapist/alter, Shoshana, Tara breaks the rule of secrecy and confronts Charmaine about their pact as children. Would a therapist see this as progress? Some therapists might feel that this type of confrontation about a shared secret or pact would be considered progress in treatment because it indicates that the person is becoming less dissociative or less defensive and is more “ready” to deal with events that occurred in the past. However, other therapists, most therapists, would consider it a poorly-timed and potentially dangerous misadventure. It is not advisable that an individual confront someone from their past in this manner without doing significant preparatory work in therapy, and without taking the other person’s feelings and situation (and potential adverse reaction) into account. Confronting a family member, whether it is thought that the family member is a potential witness of important events or an alleged abuser, is a major event, and may bring about considerable distress and turmoil in the person with DID and the person being confronted. This already complicated issue is further confused by the possibility that the confrontation may not be based on historically accurate information. Charmaine just got engaged, is pregnant by someone other than her fiancée, and has just been through a period of intense discomfort and panic. However dramatic, Tara’s confrontation is unkind and potentially harmful. Confrontations bring with them many risks: the issues the DID patient raises may be denied, the DID patient may experience a painful rejection or invalidation, or the DID patient may get information which is beyond his or her capacity to handle. Confrontations may also create pain and turmoil for the confronted individual. Most therapists advise that confrontations be avoided because of their risky nature for all concerned, and recommend that if a confrontation is deemed necessary by a patient, it occur only when recovery is complete or nearly complete. Whether what she says is on target or not, Dr. Shoshana Schoenbaum’s approaches are too blunt and brutal to resemble good therapy. The confrontation promoted by Shoshana does not necessarily reflect progress but may reflect severe acting out by an alter who appears to be reasonable and normal.
During the confrontation of Charmaine about the secret pact, Shoshana offers a theory of how lying can begin in families, why it is perpetuated and how it becomes a habit. Is there any truth to what she said? Most children who are abused are threatened to not tell, or grow up with a family code of “what happens in the family stays in the family.” In dysfunctional families, particularly where abuse has occurred, children learn to cover up what is really happening at home through lies, fabricated stories, explanations, and other strategies. Lying about family events can be out of fear of retaliation, shame, or wanting to protect family members from consequences of their actions. Repetitive lying may develop in the service of survival.
Shoshana tells Tara ”it’s time for her to get out of the basement.” What does she mean? The basement seems to be a metaphor for Tara’s denial and concealment of her dissociation as well as the hiding of the truth of her past and her shared past with Charmaine as represented in their pact. However, the viewer also wonders (given Charmaine’s reaction to the basement) if the two sisters were abused in a basement, and if Shoshana is telling Tara she can “get out of the basement,” to indicate to her that she can eventually be free of her traumatic past. The true meaning of this metaphor will become clear as we continue to watch the series.
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Episode 7: Dept. of Fd Up Family Services
As Tara awakens to the ringing of her cell phone, she finds that she has been sleeping on Don Hubbards grave overnight, the only place in the cemetery that has been cleared of leaves and debris after the tornado. Max is calling to tell her that the Department of Family Services is sending a social worker to the house to assess his fitness as a parent because of his earlier arrest for assault. When Tara gets home, Max is desperately trying to clean up debris from the tornado before the social worker arrives. Tara appears calm and uninterested in Max’s panic, which is growing by the minute. Max focuses on cleaning, as though that will be the deciding factor in the social workers visit, and not his (or Tara’s) fitness as a parent. Tara leaves to pick up Kate at Lynda’s and bring her home, while Max continues his frantic cleaning. Once again, a member of the family is left alone to deal with a major crisis.
Tara becomes fascinated with Lynda and Lyndas artwork and volunteers to lend her a projector. When Lynda returns home with Tara and Kate, Max is furious. He greets her caustically, "Whats she doing here?!" As Tara searchers for the projector, Lynda finds a portrait of a man and asks who it is. Tara looks shocked as it dawn on her that it is a painting of Don Hubbard, which she must have done. When Lynda asks her why she painted the portrait, Tara responds, "I wish I knew." There is a marked change in voice and demeanor, suggestive of Alice, who says, "I wish I knew why it was important to him that we all went away." Tara briefly explains the nature of dissociation and discontinuity of memory to Lynda. When Tara and Lynda return to the living room, Max is again extremely rude to Lynda. As she leaves, Max angrily says to Tara, "I needed you today…I needed you for me!" At last, Max is beginning to be more aware of what he needs and wants from the relationship, which seems to be slowly crumbling around the edges.
In reaction to Max’s anger, Tara transitions to Alice, who has been “close at hand” after her reaction to finding the painting, and starts to help putting the house in order. Max speaks to Alice as though she is a mere irritant, and he touches her arm. The usually pleasant Alice turns on Max fiercely, with a vehement, "Dont you touch me!" She then said, "You tried to kill me!" and slaps Max across the face. Max tells Alice that the only person he needs right now is Tara. Alice replies, "Oh, youre not getting rid of me again. You have no idea what you have done, the pain that you have caused." She tells him that he has been playing with peoples lives as though they are just “paper dolls.” She says that he acts like the Noble White Knight, but "you are nothing but a murderer,” making the very real and present threat of a family services home seem inconsequential.
Meanwhile, Marshall’s erstwhile “girlfriend,” Courtney, with whom he had broken up comes to the house. Alice greets her graciously, offers her tea, and goes to prepare it, blind to Marshall’s discomfort. In one of many important lapses in awareness among Tara’s alters, Alice is unaware that Courtney is there to berate Marshall for ending their relationship. Courtney cruelly and unfairly upbraids Marshall, presenting him with a box on which LIAR is written in large letters. The normally quiet Marshall finally loses his composure and shouts in frustration about Courtney’s distorted view of relationships, Kate’s “specialness” with which he cannot compete, Charmaine’s pathological narcissism, and Tara’s craziness. Marshall has finally lost his patience and composure with all those around him who hurt him with their neglect and self-centeredness. Alice drops the tray of iced tea and she reaches down to clean up the mess, she suddenly transitions to Gimmee, who tears across the room, over the sofa, knocking down a lamp, just as the social worker pulls into the driveway. Tara is becoming increasingly unstable and easily triggered. Max manages to catch and lock Gimmee in the laundry room just before the social worker arrives. Max, Marshall and Kate greet the social worker at the door, looking like the perfect family, if somewhat breathless. Charmaine comes forward and identifies herself as Tara, the loving wife. They all present as a nauseatingly perfect family in a spotless home. We hear noises from Gimmee in the laundry room, and they attribute these to “the dog.” The social worker is thrilled to find that all is well, a nod to how dysfunctional families can appear to be so normal to the outsider who look no further than a five minute conversation, leaving traumatized individuals stuck with a feeling of being crazy because everyone thinks their family is so “normal.” As the social worker leaves, we see Gimmee running away across the yard: all is not well under the perfect family façade.
Tara has developed her own relationship with Lynda, to the chagrin of Kate. Where Kate had felt a special relationship with Lynda, Tara now seems to have taken over that relationship. Kate feels as though she had lost something that was her own. She scrambles to gain recognition any way she can, using Princess Valhalla Hawkwind to make money and win “prizes” by clumsily fulfilling online sexual fantasies for men. Charmaine continues to shows amazing degrees of pathological narcissism and oblivion; she seems oblivious to Neils feelings with regard to his child and her treatment of him. At other times, she seems to step in and to do exactly what others need, but with an unevenness that bespeaks of an underlying instability. Her narcissism clearly contributes to the family chaos, but she jumped in to save the day when Tara was unable to be present for the social worker.
Max and Tara, who have been so close in the past, seem to be having more serious problems. If a person has DID, should relational conflicts be expected to worsen over time? The answer is, it depends. The relationship of a couple is often pressured by the stresses and strains of daily life. The stronger and more healthy each individual is, and the more mature the bond, the less stress affects the relationship. However, Max and Tara’s relationship has increasingly visible cracks; they have bonded around Tara’s illness. And Tara’s behavior is becoming increasingly erratic and difficult, now including a lesbian affair, the first infidelity of which we are aware. These are major onslaughts to a marriage under the best of circumstances. Max seems to be fed up with Tara, who is increasingly out of control and unavailable. Up until the re-appearance of Gimmee, Tara appeared to be increasingly calm and assertive, searching for her own identity, albeit by neglecting her family. Her alters were quiet, which gave her a chance to explore her own identity outside of the Gregson home, and importantly, away from Max. Her adolescent-lie search for self in her art appears to be destabilizing for Max, who realizes just how much Tara’s illness is costing him (though he is less aware of its effects on the children). And he is likely terrified that Tara will leave him. We have seen him become increasingly angry and anxious as he becomes more aware that his relationship with Tara is tenuous, hanging by threads of shared experience that are becoming increasingly rare. Max’s role in the family has been to be even tempered, patient, steady, and caretaking. Most consummate caretakers have an unconscious expectation that they will be cared for in return. Although he may not fully realize it, Max is outgrowing the caretaking role, just as Tara is outgrowing her need for him to be a caretaker. But they have not yet found a new way to be together. It is very common for family members to be at a loss when someone with the dissociative disorder begins to change, regardless of the direction of the change.
Alice accuses Max of trying to “murder” her because he insisted Tara take medication which seems to suppress the alters. Can medications make alters disappear, and can alters be “murdered?” In this episode, Alice appears sad, puzzled and angry that Max has wanted all parts except Tara to go away. She interprets his attempts to suppress the alters and to control them with medications as attempted murder. To some degree this response parallels Marshalls response to Courtneys efforts to get him to be what he is not: he made a great outcry to be allowed to be himself. It is not uncommon for alters, particularly those that are invested in being separate, to fear being “killed off” or “disappeared.” This fear typically begins as resentment at being suppressed by the person with DID, and then is projected on to others. Even though it appears that some alters have a very strong sense of identity, it is a brittle strength, and underneath, there are often great fears about losing a sense of self altogether, which may feel like annihilation. Of course, parts of one’s consciousness cannot be killed or murdered, as they are, indeed, parts of one person. Alters can be suppressed by the individual or perhaps by those around him or her, but often with negative consequences down the road, and they inevitably re-surface at some point.
Over time we have begun to see just how many problems Tara’s sister, Charmaine, has. But she does not have DID, and she and Tara seem quite different. How could that be? In Tara and Charmaine we have two women each with apparent childhood trauma, who are dysfunctional in very different ways. Tara, the elder sibling by a couple of years, has developed DID, while Charmaine, as far as we can tell, has not. Yet presumably they had some of the same experiences: we know both are damaged; both are terrified of basements; both have serious sexual, relational, and identity issues; both have astounding capacities to ignore reality; and Tara’s beginning flashbacks always include Charmaine in them. We do see some remarkable similarities amonghsome the qualities of Tara’s alters and Charmaine as a “whole” person, for example, narcissism, crudeness, adolescent sexuality, silliness. At least some of Tara’s alters are more mature, whereas Charmaine seems consistently immature, more like the adolescent T. than Tara. There are innumerable factors that impact the developmental trajectories experienced by children who are traumatized in some way. Tara and Charmaine, like most siblings, were probably born with different temperaments and predispositions to integrative failure. We do not yet know, but they might have significantly different life experiences as young children, as well as some in common. And their parents may have responded differently to each of them, adding to stability here and developmental vacuums there. We are likely to find our more as the series progresses.
Everything that we have seen in this episode is realistic in the sense that it reflects at least to a degree the experiences of many people with dissociative disorders and their families. We must, however, remember that this is called a drama for good reason. An impossible number of events occur within the amount of time allotted to one episode. Nearly everything is depicted in extremes, because that is the nature of the TV drama.
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Episode 8: Explosive Diorama
In this episode, we continue to witness how Tara’s problems result in conflicts with her family members, who become overwhelmed. Both individual family members and the family as a whole become chaotic. Tara’s husband and her children take impulsive and at times irrational steps to deal with their pain and distress. In an early scene, Kate angrily rejects her mother’s invitation to an art show. She accuses her mother of “taking away” her relationship with Lynda. Max expresses anger at Tara when he makes several comments about Tara’s absence from home. He is distressed, but does not directly express his feelings in his interaction with Tara. His unexpressed tension explodes later in the episode.
Kate continues her efforts to create a successful business as the fantasy character Princess Valhalla Hawkwind. Following the advice of a more experienced role player, Kate sets up a “wish list” on a website and begins to trade fantasy role playing for gifts. In response to the desires of her customers, she acts out their fantasies and fetishes as they watch via webcam. The psychological implications of this behavior do not seem to be of concern to Kate, despite the fact that initially she appears very uncomfortable with what she is asked to do. Kate’s involvement in this perversity is enabled by her parents’ lack of supervision and involvement as they engage in their own preoccupations. In one exchange, Max comments on Kate’s being in her room “all day,” but he doesn’t pursue the reasons for her behavior. The increasing isolation of the Gregson family members from one another is appallingly palpable in this scene.
As Kate struggles with her own identity issues, Marshall continues to wrestle with his own sexual orientation. He queries friends about how “gay” he looks and behaves. He seems to express insecurity with his sexuality while also becoming increasingly open about it. Later in the episode, he uses illegal attention deficit disorder medication to get high with his friends while attending an art event where Tara has an exhibit. This episode finds Charmaine trying to repair her relationship with Nick, following last weeks’ disclosure that she is pregnant with Neil’s baby. Charmaine has difficulty accepting Nick’s reaction and taking responsibility for her behavior, making various excuses for her sexual encounter with Neil. Although she admits that she lied, and seems to be remorseful, her performance appears narcissistic. She begs Nick to not leave her, and to help her to believe in true love. When the couple runs into Neil at the art show, she asks Nick if they can give Neil a ride home. Charmaine seems to want to have it both ways, either out of confusion, guilt, or selfishness or some combination of these feelings.
The artwork that Tara is doing is consuming time and energy at the expense of attention to her family. Max is reacting to this while trying to also be supportive. As Tara and Lynda work on their art creations, Max surprises them by delivering dinner. Tara implies that she did not want to have dinner with him, and after a brief angry encounter with Lynda, Max leaves with Tara feeling guilty.
Tara’s art exhibit attracts much attention from her family and friends. However, Max openly criticizes her work, referring to it as “crap” within earshot of Tara. This is especially significant in light of the nature of the art project. Tara designed a house with a detailed exterior, covering a maze inside (made of cheese nips). She signed it with her maiden name, a detail that did not go unnoticed by Max. Max’s criticism leads to a dramatic and very public argument, where he confronts Tara about her neglect of his needs. Max storms out of the art show enraged, and Tara turns to Marshall and Lynda for comfort.
The final scenes reveal Max driving to visit Pammy at the restaurant where she works (which is closed at the time), Tara successfully coping with fireworks which she is afraid of, and Kate repeatedly sitting on balloons to appease her sexually disturbed online customer. Although seeing Tara tolerate her fear appears hopeful for her recovery, the other scenes (which demonstrate that Tara has become so self-involved that she is out of touch with her family), suggest impending interpersonal disaster.
Are the family conflicts shown in this episode typical in the families of those with DID?
Although every family is different and copes differently, this episode highlights a few common emotional themes in families of individuals with DID. First is the high level of tension in the relationships and the anger at Tara for her behavior. Kate is completely disillusioned with her mother, and makes disparaging comments about her behavior. Marshall appears more ambivalent, sometimes rejecting his mother, and other times comforting her. While all families have some conflict, Tara’s symptomatic behavior has led to frustration for her children and a rupture in their relationships. Tara’s preoccupation with herself has resulted in her children’s needs going unmet.
Although the families of DID patients vary tremendously in their tolerance of the DID patient’s acting out, most can only endure it for a limited period of time before becoming angry and pressuring the DID patient to get well as soon as possible.
A second theme is the lack of communication in the family. Anger is either repressed, expressed indirectly or sarcastically, or becomes explosive. It appears that the family members don’t address their concerns to Tara directly, possibly because they do not want to stress her or precipitate a “transition.” It is common for family members of DID clients to try to protect the person from becoming symptomatic, only for these efforts to backfire in the form of emotions being expressed in unhealthy ways.
Tara’s relationship with Max is impacted severely by her DID. Max is becoming more and angry as time goes by and his needs are not being met. It is not uncommon that spousal conflict can result from attempts to cope with a dissociative disorder. Family conflicts may also relate to the internal conflicts of each family member. For example, Max’s anger is often suppressed until he has an emotional explosion, as we witnessed in this episode. These explosions can complicate things further, as they can serve to trigger past traumatic memories in the person with DID in addition to their “here and now” distress.
Family members of DID clients can find themselves overwhelmed at times, so the support of an adjunctive family therapist who has expertise with DID could be helpful. Having an opportunity to address family issues in a safe setting could potentially be an important experience for all involved. DID patients can make use of this type of intervention to address the family dynamics and stressors BEFORE they overwhelm a family’s ability to cope.
Lynda made a comment about Tara making art with “all of her selves.” Can art be useful in the healing process? There are many ways that art may be very helpful in the therapy of DID. As Lynda pointed out, many of Tara’s self states participated in her artistic creation. Art can serve as a medium of expression that allows self states to cooperate and work together toward a common goal, each contributing their unique perspectives. This increases internal communication between self states, which, in turn, decreases dissociation. Art can also be helpful in expressing themes, memories, and experiences that cannot be put into words. Art can also be used to assist in creating safe or peaceful imagery that can be helpful in managing symptoms. It is important to note that other modalities such as movement therapy and occupational therapy may play an important role in the healing process. It is very important to have the support of a trained professional to guide such efforts. A good first step is to find a certified therapist in these areas with experience with clients who have dissociative disorders. Using art, movement, or occupational therapy in conjunction with individual therapy may enhance verbal psychotherapy and promote further healing. Tara’s art project is a house with a roof that opens to reveal a maze with a wind up toy that is stuck and bumping into walls.
Charmaine points out a detailed United States flag on the front door. What could these things mean? Watching the wind up toy bumping into the walls of the maze is a disturbing image, and could mean many different things. The house could symbolize Tara’s home growing up, and how she may have felt trapped and helpless. It could represent a specific traumatic event. Alternatively, it could also symbolize how Tara feels in her current home. More likely is the interpretation that the house and the maze symbolize how Tara feels trapped in her own mind and unable to break free of her symptoms and illness. The United States flag, however, seems more hopeful and optimistic, and makes us wonder if Tara sees the potential to be “united” (i.e. integrated) despite the pain and turmoil that she carries inside of her.
In one of the last scenes of this episode, Tara mentioned that she has a “phobia” of fireworks.
Are fears and phobia’s common in those with DID? Is it helpful to respond the way Lynda did when a person with DID has a fear (i.e. by gently pushing the person towards the feared experience)? Anxiety and fear are common experiences of those with DID, and many individuals with DID have fears of specific places, objects, and situations. Often the fears are associated with the apprehensions and traumatic expectations of specific self states. Typically these fears are related to past traumatic experiences that elicited anxiety and panic in the past. Persons with DID, because of their amnesia for past trauma, often have alters who do not know or understand why they are afraid of certain things. However, the fears are very real and can at times result in persons being so activated that they go into a flashback state (a state of the person with the subjective experience of literally being in the past in his or her mind and unable to connect with present situation and become grounded in the here and now).
Although persons with DID do need to be slowly exposed to their fears with support and encouragement, pushing an individual too quickly towards a feared stimulus can often prove disastrous. If pushed too quickly, an individual with DID that does not have adequate coping strategies can respond to feared situations by becoming much more symptomatic. It is best to have a therapist specialized in treating DID to teach the client useful coping strategies to deal with fear, and to make sure everyone involved knows how much the client can handle at any given point in therapy.
Episode 9: Family Portrait
After a period of absence from her home and neglect of her family while she was trying to “find herself” through her art, Tara tries to reconnect with Max and her children. But is it too late? Tara announces to Max that she wants to paint a family portrait, but when she returns from the art show, her proclamation is made just as Max, who has felt abandoned by Tara, walks in the door fresh from having revenge sex with Pammy. The several members of the Gregson family are scattering and moving away from each other. Tara’s plan to create a family portrait impresses us a sad cover-up of their collective pain, a symbolic gesture, when something much more tangible and demonstrative is called for. The expression, “too little, too late,” comes to mind. Neither a shared project nor an artistic depiction of the family together will make the Gregsons feel more connected at this moment in time. We understand that in Tara’s mind, creativity, which is so profoundly important to her, has a magical quality. She implicitly assumes that others will be equally affected by what is so important to her, and often seems oblivious to the fact that the members of her family are crying out not for her projects, but for her actually being a responsible wife and mother.
Kate has quickly grown bored with her online “job” as the Princess Valhalla Hawkwind, who acts out the erotic fantasies and fetishes of men in exchange for gifts from her “wish list.” A young man named Zack shows up on her webcam and wants to actually talk with Kate as “who you really are.” This scares Kate at first, but she continues her conversation with this man, who seems polite, earnest and open, uninterested in using her for sexual gratification alone, but actually interested in Kate herself. While we are cautiously pleased to see Kate responding to positive attention, we cannot help but wonder why this “nice” young man went in search of the Princess in the first place. We remain wary. Eventually Zack asks Kate to dinner and she accepts. Kate and Marshall are each trying to carve out their own identities, but like many adolescents without adequate guidance, they put themselves at great risk in pursuit of finding love and identity. Thankfully, the date goes well, with Zach being a perfect gentleman. We learn he is rich, owning a chain of YoGo restaurants. When Zach drops Kate off at home after their lunch date, Kate jokingly thanks Zach for “not taking me to the quarry and dismembering me,” revealing a vulnerable, fearful side of herself that she does not often show, and reminding us of the terrible risk she took.
In the meantime, Marshall is mortified when the school principal calls him and Lionel to the office, certain that their drug use at the art show has been found out. Instead, the principal wants them to distribute condoms to “their” group, meaning the gay students. Marshall has mixed feeling about Lionel, both attracted to how self assured and assertive he is, but also repelled by his edgy and over the top behaviors, such as seducing Ted’s boyfriend, Hannie. The absence of parental supervision and active caring and interest is painfully evident as Tara and Max continue to be preoccupied with themselves and each other, while their children are left on their own to find their way in a confusing and risky world, at times trying to counsel or parent one another.
Tara’s mantra to the family is “I’m back” as she tries to reassure them in a number of ways that she really does want to be with them. But the reactions of family members suggest they have seen this one too many times. Tara’s approach and the gesture of the family portrait reflect a self-centeredness, as if she expects everyone to pick up with her where things left off. Her inability to fully appreciate the impact of both her illness itself and her unpredictable comings and goings upon her family have devastating and usually unconfronted consequences. The family members of someone who has DID inevitably resent this kind of treatment, and people with DID often feel confused and hurt when their loved ones are not happy when they come and go unpredictably and then return to re-engage as though nothing has happened.
Tara has converted the office at the Hubbard house into an art studio and is beginning to paint the family portrait. She stands at a distance eyeing the painting when Shoshana reappears , noting astutely, “I see you’re having a hard time trying to paint a portrait of a family you’re not sure really exists.” Tara confides her worry that something “weird” is going on with Max; it is upsetting to her that he thinks she is an alter. Shoshana suggests that Max is just feeling neglected and unloved. She offers to take care of his sexual needs. This is a change in the usual arrangement in which Max and Tara agreed that Max will not have sex with any of the alters. It is also a stunning re-enactment of the Prince of Tides, in which the psychiatrist played by Barbara Streisand (upon whom many viewers believe Shoshanna is modeled) has sex with the brother of her patient. And last but not least, Shoshanna’s suggestion that she be a sexual surrogate reminds us more than ever that she is not a therapist, and does not maintain the boundaries of good therapy. Tara, avoidant and often quite suggestible, agrees to let Shoshanna “handle” Max, as if great sex will repair the relationship.
Three separate scenes update us on Charmaine, who is dealing with her dilemma of being pregnant with the child of Neil, while engaged to marry Nick. Clearly unresolved about this, she and Nick argue about the extra attention she gave to Neil when they gave him a ride home from the art show, leaving Nick waiting in the car while Charmaine chatted with Neil for over ten minutes. Nick is furious and demands that Charmaine set limits with Neil and ensure he has no plans to be involved with the baby in the future. Charmaine does bring this up with Neil but gives him mixed messages, and later lies to Nick saying that she did get Neil to agree to surrender his parental rights, when in fact, he had refused to do so. Charmaine, like her sister Tara, has trouble dealing with conflict.
In the final scene, Tara wakes up to find herself on the floor of the Hubbard house office/art studio with Max after sex. At first she is confused, but she quickly remembers her deal with Shoshana. In a serious tone, Max says they need to talk and Tara first thinks it is about his having sex with one of the alters, and she rushes to reassure him she knows and was in on the plan. She soon learns that Max is feeling guilty and wants to confess about having sex with Pammy. In the final scene the camera focuses on the unfinished family portrait, without the faces filled in, as Tara cries to Max “What’s going to happen to our family?” and Max answers “I don’t know, I don’t know.”
In this episode there are several references and allusions to being “real.” Ted shouts to Marshall that “you can’t just fuck around with other people, we’re all real.” Max wonders if Tara is “really” Tara or another alter. When Zach meets Kate online he asks her “is there any way for me to talk to you as who you really are?” At the end of their date, he refers to Kate’s job “pretending to be a princess” and makes her an offer for “when you get tired of being a pretend princess and would like to be treated like a real one.” How does the concept of “real” apply to DID? This is a complicated but important question because it speaks to the very essence of what it is be human, to be conscious, to feel alive and real. It is also speaks to the question of identity and who we “really” are. Are we who we think we are, or who others think we are? And does our identity stay the same or change? Our sense of self or perceptions of ourselves can, at times, clash with how others see us. This seems to be happening between Max and Tax and is very unsettling to Max as he explains to Pammy, “I’ve lived with this woman with multiple personalities for 15 years and for the first time, I’m not sure I know who she is.” Our sense of self is a somewhat fluid and ever changing concept, not a “thing,” and yet it is also somewhat stable over time and across situations. In DID, the individual’s sense of self is fairly rigidly compartmentalized into selves that are not very fluid: No matter the situation, the alters respond with their often limited knowledge and repertoire of responses to a world they see only through the lens of their limited perceptions. Developing a stable, continuous sense of who we are is a developmental achievement; one with which Kate and Marshall are struggling age appropriately, and one with which Tara, Max, and Charmaine search for in all the wrong places, much later in life than is ideal. We know that Kate and Marshall are not receiving the kind of parenting we need, and we know that Tara and Charmaine did not have ideal parenting, and possibly very bad parenting. We will not be surprised if somewhere down the road we learn that Max had not enjoyed ideal parenting either. These ideas about being real are important, but fairly complex and abstract. Another aspect of being real has to do with whether or not we are genuine, whether we are honest and straightforward. It is hard to be genuine while not rooted in a firm identity, but we can certainly contrast Marshall’s painful sincerity as he tries to figure himself out and Neil’s blundering and stumbling straightforwardness with Charmaine’s invention of a different lie for every situation, Kate’s glib superficial posing (which is beginning to show some cracks in this episode), and Max’s attempt to impose his will on realities. Tara’s painful floundering involves so many alternate realities and inner conflicts that however genuine she tries to be, she often encounters tremendous difficulties in her endeavors.
Max tells Tara that with the recent changes he sees in her, he is wondering if she is really Tara or an alter? This raises the question of exactly who is the personality that is out most of the time. Is Tara just another alter, or is she different from an alter? In previous commentaries, we have talked about the term “alter” as originating from the Latin word meaning “other” – in this case, “other” personalities or self-states besides the personality that presents to the world most of the time. There is some difference of opinion among experts in the dissociation field about whether there is a “main personality” from which alter fragments split off. A few clinicians propose a main (or “core” or “birth”) personality, with alters being secondary. However, the general consensus in the field is that DID does not involve a core or birth personality because personality is not a “thing” that exists within a person, but a complex of enduring patterns of response sets that are a developmental achievement. Thus a constellation of alters or self-states make up the person as a whole. The personality (in the general sense) of a person with multiple personalities is composed of multiple personalities, that is, has a dissociative organization. Usually, a handful of alters are on the surface at any given time, while other alters are dormant or function through passive influence (which means alters not at the surface are influencing the personalities on the surface by speaking to them inwardly or imposing urges, feelings, warnings, advice, ideas, and actions), and may not be noticed by others—even clinicians-- for long periods of time. For example, we have not seen “T” for quite a while, and occasionally an alter previously unknown to Tara or her family emerges without any indication that it was there beforehand (e.g., “Gimmee”). This uneven overt presentation is one of the reasons DID is so difficult to diagnose. Dr. Richard P. Kluft has described the fluctuating opportunities to recognize DID as “windows of diagnosability” over the lifetime of the patient, during which alters may manifest overtly only during particular periods of stress.
We have been discussing different aspects of reality, and how we develop a sense of who we “really” are. Tara’s sense of reality is shaky at times, and Shoshanna alludes to this in her comment about the family portrait, “I see you’re having a hard time trying to paint a portrait of a family you’re not really sure exists.” Are there specific symptoms of dissociation that involve disturbances in sense of reality?
Yes. The very fact that a person experiences him or herself as more than one person is a distortion of reality, though understandably based on multiple senses of self that are not cohesive or coherent across time and situations. And as we have already noted, each alter has its own reality, which may or may not correlate with the shared collective reality of those around the person with DID, or with the reality of one or more of the other alters. Pierre Janet, a major early pioneer who studied dissociation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, referred to dissociative disorder as syndromes of nonrealization, and more recently, Richard Kluft has referred to DID as a “multiple reality disorder.” Beyond these fundamental issues with reality, people with dissociative disorders may also experience severe symptoms of derealization and depersonalization, both symptoms that involve an unpleasant sense of unreality or perceptual distortion of reality. Derealization involves the sense that the world around you is unreal, unfamiliar, or strange, as though you are in a dream. For example, people might describe recognizing their home, but say it does not seem familiar, as though they have never been there before. This particular experience is called “jamais vu” (never seen), the opposite of déjà vu (already seen), a common experience in which a situation is familiar or has happened before, even though it has not. Depersonalization is a feeling of being unreal (as opposed to experiencing the world around you as unreal). People describe a sense of not feeling real, as though in a dream, or like an actor in a play on a stage. Some describe feeling like cardboard, or feeling two dimensional, or like an automaton, with a sense that emotions, sensations, behaviors, and even their entire body does not belong to them. A common experience of depersonalization is an out-of-body experience, watching yourself from a distance as though you are someone else. These symptoms can occur transiently in anyone who is under stress, very tired, or ill, but can become chronic in those with dissociative disorders. Tara demonstrates this when she visualizes and interacts with Shoshanna, for example.
In the Gregson kitchen, Tara offers Marshall “Mom’s famous oatmeal” and asks him to sit for the family portrait after school. He turns her down saying he has plans with Lionel. Tara acknowledges that she has not been available but “she’s back.” What does Marshall mean when he replies to Tara, saying ,“It’s cat’s in the cradle, Mom …. It’s nobody’s fault”? The phrase “cat’s in the cradle” probably refers to the lyrics of a 1974 Harry Chapin song which tells the story of a father who is too busy to spend time with his son. Though the son repeatedly asks him to join in childhood activities, the father always responds with little more than vague promises of spending time together in the future. But it may well be a double entendre, as the original meaning of cat’s in the cradle was a popular belief that if a cat jumped in an infant’s bed, it would curl up on the child’s face and suffocate the infant. Is Marshall not only saying that he holds the sad belief that benign neglect is expected behavior in parents, but also that this neglect has to potential to be deadly to development? Perhaps. In the song, while the son longs to spend time with his absent father, he continues to love his father, and grows up to repeat the pattern with his own children: The father laments, “He’s grown up just like me, the boy is just like me.” Will Marshall and Kate grow up with an unstable sense of self in some manifestation, as Tara, Charmaine, and Max have all modeled in different ways? Tara, like the father in the song, is stung that Marshall now has no time for her just as she decides to make herself available, albeit too late. Children of DID parents undoubtedly feel cheated of time with their parent who is self-absorbed with his or her inner experiences, and who have lapses in continuity and congruity. Families of individuals with DID can often end up resenting the implication that they should drop everything and resume life now that the family member with DID is “back to normal” after yet one more crisis. However, family members may unwittingly helped play into or perpetuate this dynamic by making the “disorder” the center of the family’s life, developing their own unique understandings of what is going on, about what is necessary (as Max illustrates again and again), and dropping everything to deal with crises as core issues remain unresolved.
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Episode 10: Open House
This episode starts with a dream-like scene of a bicentennial parade. Tara is riding a little bicycle, and Charmaine is riding a tricycle. Charmaine says, "Lets go home, Tara." Tara responds that they cant go home, because she doesnt know how to get there. Tara looks upward and says "Happy Bicen’ial, Mimi!" Smiling, Mimi tells the girls to have fun. Then her voice takes on a haunting quality as she says, "Dont talk to anyone." At that, Tara awakens from her dream, appearing frightened.
Max has spent the night sleeping on the couch, the consequence of his having had sex with Pammy. He tells Marshall that he is sleeping there because it is better for his back, but Marshall knows better. When Tara comes down the stairs, Max says that he wants to cancel the open house. Tara disagrees, and they move forward with the planned open house to sell the Hubbard home.
In the next scene, Tara and Charmaine are talking about Max’s having had sex with Pammy. Charmaine asks Tara how many men her alters have had sex with since she has been married. Tara says that she counted them up once and that the number is between 33 and 35. She emphasizes that what Max did is different, because it was Pammy. Tara speaks of how thoughts and images of a woman named Mimi and the two of them as young girls are always associated with the Hubbard House. Charmaine suggests asking their mother about Mimi. To facilitate this, Charmaine manipulates their mother into coming to visit. Their mother arrives just as the Gregsons are preparing for the open house. When their mother arrives, we notice that she is focused on herself and goes out of her way to avoid talking about Taras childhood. When she is asked point-blank who “Mimi” is, their mother, Bev, insists that she does not know. Throughout Bev’s interactions with her daughters, she dismisses Taras concerns and curiosity about her childhood. Charmaine steadfastly stands up for Tara. As Tara leaves the room, she assumes the posture and mannerisms that we have come to associate with the alter Alice.
As Max and the real estate agent are showing the house to a young couple, Alice appears in a black dress and black veil. Far from supporting their efforts to present the house in a positive light, Alice describes a vivid image of the suicide that occurred in the house. She thanks the potential buyers for coming to mourn the death of the house’s previous owner, Don Hubbard. Tara’s mother then enters the room. Bev addresses her daughter Tara caustically saying, "I see you already know who Mimi Parmeter is." She has essentially told us that Alice bears a striking resemblance to Mimi, who continues to remain mysterious to viewers. She then turns to Max, and tells him that he should get Tara away from the potential buyers and the real estate agent, “to stop embarrassing others.” Alice then turns on her mother saying that she understands the importance of manners and that her etiquette books say that a mother should never lie to her children. Becoming bitter in her tone, Alice says that people need the truth, not “horrible fun house mirrors designed to confuse and confound.” One outcome of this is that Charmaine decides to join Tara in her search for Mimi (and thus for answers about their shared past). (Implicit in this exchange is a more thorough appreciation that Charmaine, like her sister Tara, also has amnesia for some of her childhood, and could potentially be suffering from some form of a dissociative disorder.)
As Tara and Max talk at bedtime, Max apologizes for his affair with Pammy, and Tara (whom we now know has had many, many affairs over the years) forgives him. Later, Max awakens, and is shocked that Buck is assaulting him, taking vengeance for his liaison with Pammy. Buck punches Max in the face repeatedly, getting back at him for stealing/hurting/violating Pammy, “his” woman. Max pleads for mercy, telling Buck that Tara has forgiven him, but Buck continues his attack, making it very clear that Tara does not speak for him. With his last punch, Buck appears to knock Max out cold.
As these events occur among the adult family members, the already complicated personal lives of the Gregson children continue to evolve into further complexity. Kates relationship with Zack intensifies, but then appears to crash within a few hours. He flaunts the wealth he claims to have, and invites Kate to attend the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago with him the next evening. When Zack speaks of reserving a suite in the very upscale Peninsula Hotel, Kate becomes uncomfortable. Zack seems to become abruptly upset with himself for getting involved with someone as young and unsophisticated as Kate. He dismissed their relationship and then walks out.
Marshalls gay activist friend, Lionel, takes him to a park to introduce him to the world of casual sex with strangers, essentially selling this behavior as a necessary part of being genuinely gay. Lionel rapidly disappears into the woods with a man he has just met. Marshall meets a stranger and quickly becomes uncomfortable, realizing that he does not want to be there. As he is struggling with a situation he fears is escalating out of his control, he sees his neighbor, Ted, apparently about to perform oral sex on another man. Ted quickly sizes up Marshall’s predicament, leaves his own casual sexual partner, and rescues Marshall from the uncomfortable situation by identifying himself as Marshall’s father. On the drive home, Ted, who has grown sadder but wiser in the gay world, tries to counter Lionel’s problematic influence on Marshall, explaining to this confused young man that a man does not have to be promiscuous to be gay.
Meanwhile, Charmaine and Neil are continuing their relationship, which is dysfunctional, and seemingly headed towards its demise. Neil tells Charmaine that he just wants her to be happy. He gives her the signed documents giving up parental rights to their child.
There are many themes in this episode, but the one that stands out for all the characters is “I need an identity!” Kate has gone through a series of attempts to be something she finds she is not, seemingly lost as to who she is. She is trying to find a sense of who she might be in Zack’s eyes, but this is a difficult endeavor. Marshall also is struggling to discover who he is, first in his fling with Courtney, and then in his effort to be “gay enough.” Charmaine also seems desperately trying to be someone she is not, and characteristically, is trying to both have her cake and eat it too. Her behavior suggests that she loves Neil, but she is trying to be the perfect wife and mother, married to the perfect man. Charmaine also swings from appearing to be a caring person to acting like a totally uncaring self-centered person. As has been observed in previous commentaries, Tara’s internal struggles with her conflicted identities are open for us to see and observe, as her different alters put these conflicted perspectives into words and act them out. However, many of the same types of problems preoccupy all of the other major characters in “Tara.” In “Tara” just as in the literature of the mental health professions, DID offers us a useful lens with which to observe and study the same types of problems with which we all struggle to a greater or lesser extent. The struggle to become more complete and genuine is both a developmental task and a personal struggle for every human being.
Tara has a memory of herself as a child while she is dreaming. Is the memory accurate? The dream makes Tara want to go find Mimi. Is this a good idea?
Tara has "memories" of Mimi that unfold in her dream. The memories may or may not be accurate, but they are clearly meaningful to Tara. Perhaps the most powerful part of this dream is the end, where Mimi says, "Dont tell anybody." This implies a secret, although we do not yet know what the secret might be. We must be cautious in our interpretation of this dream episode. This could be a literal memory, it could be symbolic, or it could also just be a dream. People who have trauma-related disorders can certainly experience memories in dreams. But a dream experience does not confirm that it is a memory of an actual event. The nature of dreams is that they are often surreal. Because we know that even non-traumatic, waking memory is fallible and malleable, a cautious approach must be taken when considering what a dream about childhood events may, or may not, mean.
The pressure for someone with DID to find out what happened can be very compelling. However, as we learned when Tara explored her memory of a rape in boarding school, things are not always as they seem. We also know that just identifying the traumatic event is not going to make things "all better." It is not uncommon for people with dissociative disorders to search for “The Memory” that will resolve everything. This path can lead to disappointment (if there is no confirmation of what a client believes to be a memory), or potential decompensation if too much information floods one’s awareness too rapidly. Knowledge of things that could have happened in the past should be allowed to emerge gradually, and dissociative barriers should be broken down slowly in a careful and gentle therapy.
Tara’s mother dismisses any questions she may have about her childhood. Does this mean she is guilty of anything? Charmaine begins to show interest in helping Tara find out about the past, including Mimi, although her reasons for doing so at this point are unclear. Her plan to ask their mother about Mimi initially falls flat, with her mother firmly denying any knowledge of anyone named Mimi. This is to be expected. We know from previous episodes that Tara’s mother has been unwilling to discuss anything that may have happened in childhood, and that she has dismissed all of Tara’s questions in the past. We see her rather desperately try to quash any hint that she may have had any accountability for something that may have gone amiss. Does this mean that the mother was involved in some sort of abuse? Not necessarily. People deny events for many reasons. These include shame about things that are indeed shameful; shame about acts that an objective person would not consider shameful; guilt about acts of omission; guilt over acts of commission; fear of retaliation; fear of legal action, etc. Denial can also just simply be a person’s coping strategy for dealing with his/her own feelings of discomfort with conflict. We cannot yet assume that Tara’s mother is guilty of anything other than being distant, cold, obscure, and unhelpful. This is certainly damaging in its own right, but cannot be used as evidence that she has done anything beyond just being difficult.
In this episode we learn that Tara’s alter Alice is strikingly similar to Mimi, who is a real person from her past. What does that mean? Individuals with DID do have internalized versions of outside people as part of their alter systems. Such alters serve adaptive functions. They may preserve, alive in the mind, a person who has died or become unavailable in some way. They may “import” a set of skills, strengths, or ways of being that the person with DID may wish for or need to survive. Many such alters serve a protective function, helping the person with DID survive stressful or abusive situations. The two most commonly encountered types of such protector alters are those: 1) who are based on someone who either has provided nurturance and consolation or who is seen as someone who could provide nurturance and consolation; and 2) who are based on abusive individuals and, by warning or threatening the DID person against violating the abuser’s rules, even if they do it punitively, influence the other alters to avoid behaviors which, if the real abusers were still present, might bring still further pain and punishment upon them. At this point, we don’t know who Mimi is, or what she did, but given that Tara’s alter Alice is similar to Mimi, we can assume Mimi was important in Tara’s developmental history in some way.
In this episode, alters are coming out to stand up for themselves in relation to Max and Tara’s mother. Is this a good thing? Alters are there for a purpose, and Tara’s suppression of them prevents them from serving those purposes. This is true whether the purpose is helpful or harmful in the present. Just like suppressed individuals in society tend to rebel, we now see alters coming out both assertively and aggressively, after long being “banished” from the scene. Alice confronts her mother openly for the first time. Buck literally assaults Max over his sexual encounter with Pammy.
On the surface, the alters’ standing up for themselves appears to be a good thing: the “collective Tara” is no longer a doormat. However, therapists who work with DID would be very concerned about the actions of these alters. Buck and Alice are acting out unilaterally (i.e., without internal consensus of the whole system) and engaging in actions that have potentially deleterious consequences. Hitting a spouse and confronting a parent can cause both inner upheaval and interpersonal chaos that someone with DID may not be able to handle. When any sort of interpersonal confrontation is contemplated, the DID patient should be advised to explore the potential consequences of that confrontation in therapy, trying to understand and anticipate how that confrontation will affect his or her contemporary life, alter system, significant others, and those being confronted. All things considered, confrontations make for better crisis-filled drama than for successful therapeutic interventions.
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Episode 11: To Have and To Hold
The 11th episode begins the morning following Buck assaulting Max in retaliation for his adulterous behavior with Pammy. As the assault is discussed, both Tara and Max seem to avoid the seriousness of the act and minimize the need for responsibility. Tara is amnestic for the assault and Max does not hold all parts of Tara accountable for this, possibly because of his own feelings of guilt related to his sexual indiscretion. This scene points to one of the aspects of their relationship that is the most difficult…the issue of who is responsible for the choices made be each of them. As the season has progressed, Max has shown an increasing difficulty managing his anger and his impulses, both aggressive and sexual. Both he and Tara have trouble clarifying their own and each other’s responsibilities and boundaries. They seem to have an implicit agreement that both are allowed to act out without taking much, if any, responsibility for their actions.
As Tara struggles with her marital problems, she also is struggling to make sense of aspects of her history of which she is gradually becoming aware. A central theme of this episode was Tara attempts to learn more about a figure from her childhood (Mimi) only recently remembered. Tara enlists the help of Charmaine (who seems to be equally amnestic about the events surrounding Mimi), who invites their mother to the house to plan the wedding. Tara almost immediately derails the interaction between Chairmaine and her mother, once again taking the limelight away from her sister, as has happened numerous times before. She asks her mother who Mimi really was. Tara’s mother is evasive and angrily defensive, leaving the viewers wondering what she is hiding. Tara asks if Mimi was a babysitter, and her mother angrily says, “So what if she was?!” and storms out of the house, leaving Tara and Charmaine confused. Following this discussion, Charmaine and Tara plan to look up Mimi and pay a surprise visit. When they arrive at Mimi’s house, Tara realizes that the house is just like the one she created in her art project (earlier in the season.) This uncanny realization starts the visit with an awareness that something of significance is to be found here.
As events unfold with Tara and Charmaine, the rest of the family is also struggling with relationship difficulties. Marshall is exploring his sexual identity with his friend Lionel, and learns that casual sexual encounters in a local park are accepted as part of Lionel’s sexual world. Lionel takes him there and quickly goes off in the bushes with another man. Marshall is left alone, almost cringing at these lust driven and loveless encounters, when he seeks connection and romance. He looks young and scared. Fortunately, Ted (what is he doing in the park?) comes by and takes him away from this painful scene. Kate is becoming more involved with Zach, the young and wealthy man she met on her fantasy internet site. Kate struggles to “be” the “right” person with this charming man far beyond her means, unsure of who she should be, again highlighting her own struggles with identity. But Zach is already very critical of her family and her attachment to them, and offers to set her up in an apartment and pay her way, as well as employ her in his company. This generosity seems excessive and is part of a worrisome subtle yet powerful control that Kate is not yet able to discern. Kate sees Zack as a way out of her dependence on her family, losing sight, or perhaps never seeing that this relationship may be emotionally unhealthy.
Returning to the scene at Mimi’s, Tara and Charmaine meet Mimi, who is a dead ringer for Alice, Tara’s “perfect” alter. One mystery solved. They begin to question her about what she remembers about them. And she does indeed remember them. She tells them that she was not a babysitter, but rather a foster mother. And furthermore, that she was their foster mother for some time. Stunned into silence, they both sit with frozen smiles on their faces. This stunning moment is interrupted when Mimi’s husband Dwayne walks over. As soon as Tara sees him, she transitions to Buck, who angrily confronts Dwayne, as though he might have abused Tara. Dwayne huffs back, saying that he wasn’t even married to Mimi at the time. This angry exchange is halted by the unexpected arrival of Max. Tara immediately transitions into a sweet little girl alter we have not seen before, who Charmaine immediately recognizes as “Chicken,” a nickname Tara apparently was given as a small child. “Chicken” is happy and full of childlike wonder and fun, pulling Tara far away from the overwhelming dark of what she has just discovered. As they leave, Mimi tells Charmaine that she only fostered children who were severely abused. As the episode comes to a close, Max is struggling to get a “sweepy” Chicken into the car before she dozes off. Charmaine seems like a deer caught in the headlights, confused and lost.
The episode opened with the aftermath of a violent attack by “Buck” on Max. Is this type of violence common with Dissociative Identity Disorder? No, it is not common. But it does occur in some people. Since DID is often the result of interpersonal violence, it should not be surprising that this violence can be reenacted in current relationships. Buck’s anger, seemingly heightened of late, is disowned by Tara. Buck has little desire to regulate his anger, while Tara over-regulates her own. This is a common scenario in people with DID, whether actual violence is a result or not. Neither Tara nor Max seem willing to set limits on Tara’s behavior when she has switched to another alter. Tara clearly has not mastered her anger, and is not especially trying to do so. If she was in therapy with a good therapist, he or she would immediately address out of control and unacceptable behavior, requiring that Tara be more responsible for herself in all her altered states.
What is most surprising is Max’s acceptance of the behavior as the episode opens. He seems willing to tolerate every behavior of Tara’s alters without limits, which fits with his caretaking, co-dependent persona. In many therapeutic contexts, uncontrolled violent behavior would require hospitalization or even legal interventions. This episode highlights one of the key difficulties in the Gregson’s marriage: a bizarrely high tolerance for acting out. Tara and Max seem to have developed their own complicit code that if you love someone, you never set limits or ask them to be responsible. This way of thinking must be confronted and the behavior changed for the relationship to be healthy and have a chance to grow and develop.
Tara and Charmaine visit Mimi to learn more about their childhood. Is this type of search for information helpful to those with Dissociative Identity Disorder who cannot seem to remember major aspects of their history? Most people have a natural drive to make sense of their lives by examining their past. We want to know where we have come from.Several models of psychotherapy utilize reflection and insight from the past to effect change and growth in the present. Learning about our past can involve pursuits such as creating a family tree, taking an oral history from family members, genealogy research, and studying family history to learn about our own history as well as the history of our lineage. Many people with DID have amnesia for significant events in the past, especially traumatic ones, and thus live with a terrible nagging sense that something has happened to them, but they have no idea what. Neither Tara nor Charmaine seem to recall being in the foster home, although Charmaine may have been too young to have much clear recall.
Tara and Charmaine went in search of the past on an impulse, without any preparation or reflection. It is not surprising that they were blindsided. Therapists generally caution their patients to go slowly in rediscovering their past, all too aware of the pitfalls and perils of doing so without much groundwork. Learning about an abusive childhood can be overwhelming and painful. It is not for nothing that dissociation banishes one’s history from the mind. As we saw with Tara’s rapid switching to Buck and then to Chicken, such information can be destabilizing to those who have not prepared themselves carefully. The processing of making sense of a traumatic past is most safely done in relationship with a therapist who is trained in trauma and dissociation. Learning about and accepting the past and the meaning it holds in the present are essential to healing, but should be preceded by a period of stabilization and emotional skills building to manage the distress that is likely to accompany this type of therapeutic work. This model of trauma therapy provides the safest way to work therapeutically, and reduce the likelihood of re-traumatization by learning too much, too soon.
.The focus of the episode seems to center around the Gregson’s relationship problems. Why are these so common in families where trauma and dissociation are a part of the history? This episode poignantly highlights many of the central relationship conflicts common to traumatized individuals and their family members. As disturbed as their relationship is, Max and Tara genuinely love each other, and their genuine care shines through from under all the destruction and within them. They are both very wounded people trying to save themselves and each other, but theirs is a journey akin to the blind leading the blind, as with so many families with trauma in the background. Max and Tara seem to know intuitively that relationships are healing. Unfortunately their pact is to provide each other refuge from the storm, but not much else, a common dynamic in traumatized couples. Many family members of those who survived severe trauma bear witness to the pain and suffering it involves, and indeed suffer themselves because of it in some fashion or another. Max is always taking care of or cleaning up after Tara and her alters. She is not his equal partner. In previous episodes, we have seen his anger, frustration, and shame. And the same for Kate and Marshall. Trauma affects everyone in the family, and often those on through the generations, as relational and behavioral patterns are modeled from parent to child and forward. When one person has DID, the whole family needs healing.
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Episode 12: Season Finale: From This Day Forward
The episode opens with Max setting up a trellis for Charmaine’s garden wedding. She is giddy, exclaiming that the arrangements are “Everything I ever dreamed of!” Tara complains about her parents’ imminent arrival, and criticizes Charmaine for letting “a man who basically gave us away give you away.” Charmaine insists that she wants her parents at the wedding and minimizes Tara’s concern, dismissing her father’s walking her down the aisle as “just a symbol.” Tara becomes angry. She wants to know why they were in “mother-fucking foster-care.” Charmaine asserts that today she doesn’t care, and tells Tara to just put on a frock and sit at the ceremony.
Meanwhile, Marshall and Kate are blowing up balloons for the wedding festivities. They argue about whether Kate’s recent online escapades would qualify as prostitution. Marshall even questions whether Zach’s buying Kate a new condo would fall into the same category. As Kate says “I gotta start my own life,” the balloon Marshall is blowing up suddenly pops in his face, foreshadowing the explosions of hope and the disappointments that the characters will experience in the next several hours.
As Max rakes leaves in the front yard, Tara reports that her parents are on their way. She tells Max that she just wants to hide. As her parents drive up, Tara notices that her mother is driving, and she tells Max that this is unusual. They exchange superficial greetings. Tara’s father announces that he wants to go to California for the grunion run (where you can catch the fish with your bare hands). Tara’s mother quickly intercedes and tells Tara and Max, “I just had a long talk with his doctor – I’ll tell you later,” making the viewer wonder what is wrong with Tara’s father.
Kate is euphoric as she chats with Zach, cleaning out her room in preparation to move into the condo that Zach has promised to purchase for her. They start making out, and Max catches them lying on Kate’s bed. They quickly stand up, fooling no one. Max notices the box Kate is packing. He asks her what she is doing, and she reports she is packing things for Goodwill. As Max leaves awkwardly, Zach confronts Kate for not telling her parents about their plans, and she replies that she will tell them just as she is leaving.
In Marshall’s room, Lionel is venting. He does not want to go to a wedding for a “breeder” (a heterosexual), as long as gay individuals do not have the legal right to get married. Marshall asks Lionel if he can just come to the wedding and sit next to him without protest. As they kiss, Lionel promises he will keep his “big gay mouth shut.”
In the next scene, Tara is leaving a voicemail at the Parmeters’ home, apologizing for acting inappropriately when she was there. Without knocking, her father intrudes, elaborating more details about his California trip. Tara tells him that she is getting ready for the wedding, and asks him what he needs. He sits down, and despondently tells Tara that he has made “so many mistakes…too many mistakes.” He says he wishes that her brother could have been here for “Charmaine’s graduation.” Tara corrects him. She reminds him that it is Charmaine’s wedding and that they don’t have a brother. Tara’s father then discloses that he had a child from his first marriage. He goes onto say “He wasn’t well. You aren’t well. It must be my sperm. Eh? Two out of three, who knows?” Tara is shocked. She asks “What are you talking about Dad?”
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Kate introduces Zach to Lionel. They get in an argument about politics related to the gay and lesbian community, and it shocks Kate to hear that Zach is a conservative Republican and that he likes Ron Paul. Lionel loudly asserts that Zach thinks that marriage is just for women and men, and Zach confirms this. Lionel then announces he is leaving and will not be attending the wedding.
As Charmaine puts the final touches on her wedding attire, Tara anxiously tells her, “Dad just said the most fucked up thing.” She proceeds to tell Charmaine that their father said that they have a half brother. Charmaine dismisses this as a symptom of their father’s age-related memory problems, reminding Tara that he makes many memory errors. Although Tara persists in trying to talk to Charmaine about what their father just said, Charmaine derails her, stating that if everything isn’t just perfect about the day then Nick and his family will “Know something is wrong with me and I will never get the fuck out!” Tara appears tearful, and Charmaine kisses her on the nose. As Tara stands behind Charmaine as she looks in the mirror, Tara transitions into Chicken, a child alter. As Chicken, she exclaims that she wants to go to the wedding and be the flower girl. Charmaine looks disappointed and terrified. She clearly senses there is trouble on the horizon.
Out in the yard, Zach smothers Kate with caresses and tells her it “will be wonderful to see you finally get some of your boundaries up and get away from here.” He tells her that she will be better when she doesn’t have to live with “sick people.” Kate becomes upset. She tells Zach that she lives with a sick PERSON, and that she loves her mother. Zach continues to push Kate about her family, and Kate staunchly defends her mother and Marshall. Finally, she tells Zach that he needs to leave so she can “Spend time with my fucked up family, alone.” Zach says he doesn’t understand. As he leaves, Kate, unusually pensive, says “I don’t understand either.” Kate has set a healthy boundary with someone for what appears to be the first time.
Nick talks to the wedding coordinator as Charmaine chases Chicken through the kitchen. He tries to get Charmaine’s attention, and when he can’t, he grabs Charmaine’s arm and tells her “You need to do something about her!” He asks her how much she expects him to put up with, given that he has already agreed to raise a baby that isn’t his. Chicken skips by them, apparently oblivious to their conflict.
The wedding ceremony begins with Chicken, Tara’s child alter, making a ridiculous scene coming down the aisle. Charmaine tries to make light of it, alerting guests that it is “for YouTube.” Her father tells Charmaine that he is happy to be marrying HER, highlighting his cognitive limitations, and hinting at the family’s tolerance of grotesque boundary violations. As the pastor starts the service, Max has to move Chicken, who is sitting in the center aisle. She continues to act in a childlike manner, playing with pipe cleaners. Suddenly, Nick has had enough. He stops the pastor and calls off the wedding. He tells everyone assembled for the wedding ceremony that there have been multiple signs that “this marriage doesn’t want to happen.” Tara’s mother gasps “Oh, my God!” Nick’s parents appear genuinely relieved. Nick tells Charmaine that he is sorry, and leaves with his parents.
The next scene involves an intense interaction between Tara and her parents. Initially, Chicken is poking Charmaine. Charmaine gets upset and tells Tara that Tara has hurt her. Chicken gets upset, and says “I said you’d never get hurt, I’d do anything to protect you.” Mid-sentence, Chicken transitions back to Tara. Tara reports “I don’t know what happened, but it’s not my fault – it’s theirs.” As her parents insensitively divide the wedding cake, Tara announces that they went to Lawrence, her former home town, to meet Mimi. She confronts her mother: “How you could leave us there?” Her mother tries to dodge the question, but eventually she discloses to Tara that she and Charmaine have a half brother (Bryce) who came to live with them when they were little girls. She tells Tara that Bryce had “troubles” and had nowhere to go. Then she says, “When you told me what was going on, I didn’t want it to be true. Then your father told me he would leave me if he had to put the boy out.” She tells Tara that she put them in foster care to keep them safe until she could find a place for the boy. Unsatisfied, Tara flies into a rage: “This is not good enough!” She cannot believe that her mother kept this information from her for so long. Charmaine’s self-centered reaction is clearly in denial of the gravity of the situation. She wants to know, “Is he alive? Where does he live? I’ve dated a lot of fucking guys in this state!” Tara makes her stance clear to her mother, that it is a parent’s job to protect his or her children. Her mother, Bev, retorts that she tried to protect the girls and begs, “I hope you can forgive me.” As Tara’s mother and father are leaving, Tara collapses into Max’s arms. Marshall and Kate tell Tara that they love her.
The episode (and the second season) ends with an outpouring of supportive and loving gestures. Neil asks Charmaine to go out for drinks. He has forgotten (if he ever knew) that Charmaine should not drink during a pregnancy. Charmaine, showing a new maturity, agrees to go out with him, but makes it clear that she will not be drinking. Max expresses his love for all of Tara’s alters. Max and Tara begin to dance. Soon Kate and Marshall join them. They dance as a foursome. We leave the Gregson family dancing in their yard to a song that includes the lyrics, “You are all of everything I’ll need for evermore.”
As Charmaine prepares for the wedding, Tara transitions into Chicken, a child alter. Why? And do child alters typically act like Chicken does in this episode?
We cannot, with any level of accuracy, determine why Tara transitions into Chicken at this moment in time. However, there are a number of hypotheses that may explain why this switch occurs: 1) Tara has just learned some startling information about her past, and she may not be able to handle that yet, and thus “goes away” to escape the difficult feelings that this brings up; 2) Tara’s alter system feels that Chicken is the only alter that can go to the wedding and be happy (which is what Charmaine wants); 3) There are parts of Tara’s alter system that want to sabotage the wedding and so they push Chicken out because they know she will disrupt the process and potentially cause Nick to back away; 4) The allure of being a flower girl is so intoxicating to Chicken that she pushes her way to the surface regardless of all other considerations. The only way to truly know why a switch occurs is for the client to explore this internally and understand the function of the transition. This is best done in the context of therapy with a mental health practitioner who has expertise in working with dissociative disorders.
Although it is not entirely impossible for a child alter to behave as Chicken does, most child alters do not act as flagrantly ridiculous as Chicken does in this episode. It is not unusual for child alters to talk in childlike voices, or to play with age inappropriate toys, or to act joyful in a childlike way. However, it is much more unusual for a child alter to attract as much attention as Chicken manages to do. Most DID clients do not want to be noticed, “found out,” or labeled “crazy,” and thus would go to extreme measures to make sure that child alters are not out in public in this manner. However, most experienced DID therapists have encountered much milder expressions of this type of behavior.
Charmaine seems to vacillate between between wanting to help Tara discover her past, and being in denial of what she is finding out about her own family. What is this about? We do not know enough about Charmaine’s personal history at this point to speculate about whether she experienced any abuse as a child. However, given her behavior, she is certainly conflicted about something, and given her dense childhood amnesia, it is likely that she encountered some overwhelming situation(s). She vacillates among being fearful herself (as we saw in the basement in the Episode “Torando”), interested in helping Tara discover her past (e.g., going with Tara to find Mimi or helping Tara press her mother for information), and seemingly being in total denial of Tara’s struggle and what the sisters are finding out about her family. This psychological construction is not atypical in individuals who come from dysfunctional homes. Charmaine likely has some very painful feelings about what she has experienced (which would not be unreasonable given the way her mother treats her), and when she gets too close to them, she cannot tolerate them and goes back into denial. Intellectually she appears to want to know more about their past, but when she discovers things that make her feel uncomfortable, she pulls back. This is a coping strategy for Charmaine. Charmaine is not trying to be difficult, but, like Tara, her merely making her best attempt to deal with her own painful affects ends up being occasionally disruptive to others.
Tara has a realization before the confrontation with her mother that it is “not my fault – it is theirs.” Is this a realization that someone with DID would have this easily? No, with qualifications. A child who has gone through painful events typically blames herself to protect herself from psychological pain, to feel like she has some control over what happens to her, and to protect her attachment with her parents (since she is dependent on them). The coping strategy of self blame carries into adulthood, and is very resistant to change. Individuals with DID often carry enormous amounts of self blame for some or all of their childhood, and are not so willing to relinquish that self blame as Tara is in this episode. Giving up self blame means having to grieve the pain and helplessness that one experienced as a child, and to experience the loss of attachment of those who hurt them. Tara’s poignant realization makes for good TV, but is not likely for someone with DID to experience without significant therapeutic intervention. However, certain qualifications might make this moment more realistic. Although it is most unlikely that an insight will lead to immediate permanent change, it may result in a brief spell of clarity that permits new and more adaptive functioning, even if the DID patient cannot hold onto this gain, and may even forget the insight completely. When insights come through before the patient is ready to accept them, they are likely to be briefly acknowledged, and rapidly redissociated, often for prolonged periods of time, until the person can more fully accept them.
The episode ends with Tara connecting with Max, and the two of them dancing in the lawn, almost in fairy tale fashion. Given the confrontation that Tara has just had with her mother, is this a likely outcome? It has already been mentioned several times in these commentaries that Tara’s confrontation with her parents is a psychologically dangerous misadventure, and that it is not advised that individuals with DID engage in this type of confrontation without extensive preparation and examining the pros and cons in therapy (especially the cons). Via the interaction with her mother, Tara has just found out some psychologically devastating information; she has found out she has an older half brother, that he was doing something harmful to her, and that her mother selfishly sent her off to foster care so her husband wouldn’t leave her. It is highly unlikely that an individual with DID could tolerate this information to the degree that Tara appears to be tolerating it. A more typical response would be for the client to experience an increase in symptoms, including, but not limited to: flashbacks, internal disorganization leading to switching, extreme emotional distress, and possible self-destructive behavior and/or suicidal ideation. Although it is possible that we haven’t seen the fallout of Tara’s encounter with her mother yet, the ending of this episode is a highly improbable scenario for someone with DID. Although Max’s overtures to Tara are touching and very supportive (and something someone might need after a confrontation like this), Tara’s behavior is extremely atypical. Again, what makes a nice ending to a dramatic television series is not necessarily reality.
The Gregsons are a family in turmoil, desperately embracing and clinging to magical gestures and sentimental moments, hoping against all rationality and common sense that these reassuring moments and rituals (such as bowling and roller skating excursions, and now, dancing) will see them through the darkness that so often threatens to demoralize and consume them. They continue to prefer the wishful to the hard-headed and pragmatic. We note that Tara has evaded meaningful mental health treatment for two years, and that neither she nor her family have benefitted from this evasive course of action.