Monday, April 20, 2009

In Treatment: Week three in review

Once again, I'm going to review all of this week's "In Treatment" episodes in one clip. A broad overview, followed by patient-by-patient thoughts, coming up just as soon as I take nap...

We're in week 3, which means (in the compressed therapeutic timeline of "In Treatment," anyway) the patients' defenses are starting to come down. No more pretending that they're not in therapy, or why they're there. They're starting to grow comfortable enough with Paul that April and Oliver both fall asleep in his office (really, it's the only place they can find peace), and April and Walter both feel okay with showing up at odd times. (Mia, on the other hand, winds up being annoyed that Paul's late for her.)

At the end of Mia's session, Paul talks about the phenomenon of "doorknob moments," where something dramatic happens just as the patient is on the way out of the office. As a TV drama, "In Treatment" has an awful lot of doorknob moments, and an especially high concentration this week, now that Paul's finally getting through (a little bit) to his patients.

Mia
"Aren't you glad I'm back?" -Mia
God, Hope Davis is such a delight playing an enormous pain in the butt, isn't she? While her situation is in many ways as sad as Oliver's or Walter's, you can always count on the Mia episodes to provide laughter -- whether it's the "Mia, 7:12 a.m." chyron at the end of the opening credits, or her declaing, "And I'm demanding, and I'm needy, and I'm angry, and I'm weepy. I'm the seven f--king dwarves!" -- before the inevitable tragedy of the April episodes.

Because she knew Paul way back when, and because she has access to personal details that an ordinary patient wouldn't -- including Laura's deposition -- Mia tries to act like she's not your average patient, and that she's entitled to know more about Paul's life. But where Paul let himself dance to Laura's tune last year -- and to Alex's when Alex started looking into Paul's past -- he very easily fends Mia off. Where a year ago I would have been nervous to hear Paul encouraging Mia to share her vision of how things might have gone between himself and Laura, here I was never concerned, because it was obvious that he was using that as an excuse to make Mia open up about her own fantasies and neuroses.

What's particularly amusing is that, other than the "small hips" comment, Mia could not be more wrong in her assumptions about Laura, who was every bit as complicated and difficult and frustrating as Mia herself is. But because Paul -- who was married, presumably happily, back then -- never showed an interest in her during their original therapy, she assumes he could never be drawn to someone so much like her.

This episode also has one of my favorite moments of the week, as Paul completely disarms Mia by playing the piano concert tape to show her just how well he remembered her. Again, all those scenes of the patients being difficult and Paul fumbling for answers are always worth it for when we get to see him have a breakthrough or make a grand gesture like that.

It's understandable why Mia might fear that Paul had forgotten her, as she's suffering from major abandonment issues on top of everything else. Note once again that she blames everyone in the world but her father for everything, in this case letting him slide for shipping her off to New Jersey while her mom had the twins.

April
"Can I use your phone again?" -April
This one's going to be the death of me. Allison Pill is so amazing, and the stakes are so high, that I almost want to skip to the last episode on this one and hope that Paul has finally dragged her to the world's greatest oncologist. The final scene -- when we're deliberately out of the room, so as not to know for sure if April called her mom, or if she just told Paul she did -- was as tense as you can get with a show that's nothing but talk, and the knot in my stomach only grew when she came out and told Paul she'd try her mom again another time.

I can understand, unfortunately, why April would be so reluctant to tell her mother about this. Bad luck in the genetic lottery meant that she spent her childhood always coming in second to her brother Daniel, and so concerned for her parents' emotional well-being that she couldn't even bring herself to tell them when she fell out a window, because she didn't want to ruin their one happy, carefree moment together. After that trip, and the way her mom and Daniel both backslid because of it, April decided she could never ask her mother to put her first. And so here she sits, with no one to call, no one she feels she can burden with this terrible news, other than a random construction worker, her ex-boyfriend (and his new girlfriend) and now Paul.

Damn it.

Oliver
"I don't feel comfortable anywhere." -Oliver
First, I want to commend all of you who spent so much time last week analyzing the deeper meaning of Oliver's turtle. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, but on this show, I feel like a turtle is surely not a turtle. Keep at it, even though Paul finally gets to send the turtle home with Oliver here.

As with Mia, and April, we see more and more of how clueless and neglectful Oliver's parents are. Bess thinks she's being a good mom by hovering over Oliver and trying to anticipate all his moods, but she's only making him more nervous, and more reluctant to share his feelings with her, or with anyone else. And she and Luke combined are so damned oblivious that it never once occurred to them to tell Oliver what happened to the adoptive brother he was going to get from Africa.

In the same way that Mia wishes she was Laura, the object of Paul's affection, Oliver desperately wants to be Paul's son -- not knowing, as we do, that Paul wouldn't be half as attentive to him if he were family and not a patient. And where April asks to be woken up after only a minute of napping -- and wakes up just as restless and disturbed as she was before -- Oliver's parents and Paul seem willing to let him keep sleeping in the waiting room for as long as possible (at least until the next patients arrive, I guess).

Walter
"And then she told me to go f--k myself... She broke my heart, Paul. She broke my heart." -Walter
Look at John Mahoney as he delivers that line. He is so angry, and so vulnerable, and so pained and so lost, as if nothing that's happened in Walter's long and difficult life -- not the loss of his brother, or the distance of his parents, or Vietnam, or the death of the Donaldson's son, or this current fiasco with the tainted baby food -- has mattered remotely as much to him as hearing those words come from his daughter's mouth.

Clearly, the love of his daughter -- the one person, other than his wife, who seems to have given Walter the affection he was denied for his childhood and much of his life -- is so important to him that he would leave the country, in the middle of the worst crisis of his career, just to check up on her based on a gut feeling. And in going, he only makes both situations worse, by opening himself up professionally to a move by this Jace he distrusts so much, and personally by becoming so controlling that he drove Natalie further away when he wanted to bring her closer.

His issues with abandonment and loss of control are so great that he's lost all sense of proportion, and of his own current problems. He tells Paul that the company can't get rid of him, quoting Louis XV's "Apres moi, le deluge" ("After me, the flood"), but he doesn't seem to realize that the flood has already started, and he's in danger of drowning in it.

Gina
"I just want to stop them all going through the windshield." -Paul
Mia and Gina provide nice bookends to the week, not only because they both have a longer history with Paul than the other three characters, but because what laughs there are to be found in "In Treatment" tend to come from the two of them. Paul's examination of his family history isn't what you'd call a laugh riot. But Dianne Wiest still gets these marvelous moments where Gina knows a lot more than Paul thinks she knows -- or wants her to know -- like when Gina refuses to get up from her chair to invite him in, just saying "Hello, Paul" in a perfect sing-song, then returning to that tone at the end of the session to warn him, "And next week, we'll talk about Tammy."

Fortunately, we don't have to wait until next week. That Paul should run into his first great love at his old therapist's office is as much of a dramatic contrivance as the rate at which his cases progress. But it gives us insight into what's making Paul tick this season, and into how he's changed since last year. A year ago, he waited forever to try anything with Laura, where here he dove right in. Admittedly, there was an ethical conflict present then and not now, but the man couldn't even wait seven days before breaking his promise to not try to date her until one or both of them were done being Gina's patient.

Because Gina is a good therapist and better friend, she lets the transgression slide this week once it becomes clear Paul has weightier problems on his mind from an especially rough week with his patients. And that conversation inevitably returns to talk of his parents, and the Christmas Eve memory -- which, like April's story of falling out the window, and many other unusually vivid stories we hear the patients tell, may be a screen memory, where what happened isn't exactly what the storyteller remembers as having happened.

Gina's good at this, and she's already been working with Paul for a while, and so she's able to get to a breakthrough moment more quickly than he has with his own patients, as Paul starts to realize that his father isn't the monster that he remembers -- that any man might be driven to infidelity by a bipolar wife, under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

Moments like Paul's Eureka, like Paul playing the piano tape for Mia, are why I keep coming back to this series, why I obsess on each episode of it when seemingly little happens, why last year I stuck with it even though I hated half the patients. Those breakthroughs -- or those simple instances of professional grace -- feel so much more powerful because we've gone through all the work to get there.

Now, obviously we have four weeks to go in this season, so Paul's not out of the woods yet. (And, in the event there's a third season, I imagine Warren Leight and company aren't going to "cure" him altogether.) But for a moment, everything in his fuzzy, messed-up life became crystal-clear, and I was glad to be on my own couch with him to see it happen.

What did everybody else think?

32 comments:

Michael said...

This is easily the best series HBO has had since "Deadwood", and the best acted show on tv right now. Hope Davis and Allison Pill (who is new to me) are astonishing, but so is the rest of the cast. The show will never achieve enormous popularity, so its best hope of sticking around for several more seasons is that it's got to be relatively inexpensive to produce. Long may it run.

Pete said...

Sometimes it's hard to be a lawyer and watch shows that depict lawyers. The show's depiction of Mia has actually been pretty accurate so far, but her session was confusing.

That had to be the slimmest deposition transcript I've ever seen. And there is no way that Mia would have to ask Paul if he had slept with Laura. The answer to that question would be in the deposition.

Dan Jardine said...

Pete, doesn't matter what it said in the deposition, Mia had to hear it from Paul.

And I'm with you Alan. April's episodes are gonna kill me. Her rage at having to design a memorial for a buncha dead people when facing her own personal 911 was one of the great moments in a series that has been full of them. And, like Paul, as a parent I couldn't help but wonder how I would feel if my daughter didn't tell me she had cancer, or god forbid, she died rather than seek treatment because she didn't want to bother me with the trouble of nursing her during chemo.

Heartbreaking stuff.

M.A.Peel said...

I was afraid I wouldn't feel the magic a second time, that the second season would pale in comparison to the first, but not at all. It is exquisite television.

I like the Gina sessions the best. I like to see Paul break out of the hushed voice he uses with his patients. One quibble: I thought that psychoanalysts had to go through analysis themselves as part of their training. Wouldn't Paul have discovered his screened memories then? Can some professionals comment on this?

dez said...

I would imagine that depending on the therapist, Paul could have successfully hidden anything he didn't want to reveal. Gina doesn't give him a break on anything, so with her, he's more open (plus their personal history helps).

Now, obviously we have four weeks to go in this season, so Paul's not out of the woods yet.They cut the season shorter than last? Bah, humbug.

Scholar of Turtles said...

Very great episodes this week. The April episodes are my favorite, for sure.

I think an important conversation in the series today came in Paul's discussion with Oliver about the turtle. Paul remarks how a Turtle carries his home around with him, and, here is the key, Oliver says "Thats why they're so slow."

What does this mean? Perhaps it means that the patients, and Paul, are burdened by their "homes", their pasts, that they keep carrying around with them. When Walter was lugging around all those bags in his episode tonight, was this imagery not similar to the image of a turtle slowly carrying around his home? April spoke of wanting to go back "home", Oliver is not comfortable in either of his "homes", and Mia is completely unsatisfied with her home life.

Also, Oliver forgot to take care of the turtle, could this be similar to how Paul forgot to take care of his father?

Maybe there is also something to the fact that the turtle this week was concealed in a box...it was overly sheltered, just as Walter's daughter had been.

LA said...

This week's episodes really wrecked me. In the interest of full disclosure, I work for the hospital in Calif where last week an employee shot and killed two coworkers before taking his own life, and I was acquainted with - and liked - the gunman. I spent the weekend watching a lot of bad escapist television just to keep from thinking about it too hard. So I was fairly raw watching In Treatment because it was the first time since Thursday that I really let go and allowed myself to delve into the emotional drama that this show delivers so well. There were highlights in every episode, but Oliver's and April's stories gutted me.

No sophomore slump here, this show is amazing. And oddly cathartic.

Michael said...

(the other Michael)

Last year the theme was "daddy issues", this year it's looking like "abandonment issues".

Mia feels abandoned by Paul, April feels abandoned by her parents in favor of her brother, Oliver is abandoned by his parents during their divorce, Walter feels abandoned by his daughter, and Paul was abandoned by his father.

April, though, just kills me. She so desperately wants her parents to have some happiness so she refuses to tell them she has cancer, and is willing to die for that? Talk about short-sighted, any parent would rather hear the bad news and have their kid go through chemo in order to try to save their life, than the "ignorance is bliss" tactic she's working now.

beth said...

Paul's histrionic tantrums with Gina lack credibility as compared with his mild charming personality even at the doorknob with Mia.

The mood swings make him appear bipolar... maybe that's what we'll discover...he is his mother's son.

Apu said...

@other Michael:

With regard to April, the counter-dependency (psych jargon just picked up) thing isn't something that can be dealt with in the way a rational person would step through it. It's like telling someone with depression to cheer up or not see everything in their life a negative light because it's depressing.

Similar to her cancer, there's a cognitive dissonance (am I using that right?) between what she knows and how she chooses to interpret it. As the previous sessions alluded to, she knows the cancer is fatal but here she is doing nothing about it. And with telling her family it's the same thing.

On some level it's just her own fear or neuroses that keeps her from revealing her condition to her mother.

I wouldn't call it myopic as if she's weighed all the pros and cons. It's just some overwhelming fear of the worst if - God, forbid - she actually asks for help and attention and care from her mother.

That is all. Thank You, come again.

HOLA DEA said...

I'm struck by how much more I notice the rules and boundaries of the therapeutic relationship this season. I imagine this has a bit to do with how much better Paul and Gina have been as therapists this time around. They both have definitely stepped up their games.

This week carried a particularly strong transaction motif. Bess brings cookies to Paul for caring for Oliver's turtle, but excuses the gesture as something else, possibly out of pride. After arriving hours later than originally scheduled, Walter tries to pay Paul extra in cash up front for seeing him under special circumstances, reminiscent of how Alex would pay for his sessions last season. Mia gets upset about Paul being late for their session, but the anger seems to relate more to another perceived debt that Paul owes her, as indicated with how differently she treats the transgression when Paul notes about making it up the following week.

If we are to accept Oliver and Paul's observations of the turtle this week as applicable to the other patients, it should be clarified what the "turtle shells" would be for each one. They aren't literal homes. Keeping with the analogy, the things each of these patients carry with them, the scenarios they choose to dwell in, would be the "turtle shells", but as homes, they are not tenable. To her session, Mia carries an envelope with Laura's deposition, an act which serves to represent her preoccupation with Paul's romantic life. Mia fantasizes about having a life together with Paul, a fantasy which Paul apparently does not share.

April's project is a product of a great deal of toil and effort, but she hates it. Instead of submitting it, she reschedules her appointment with Paul, brings the project to the session, lets the time expire on the deadline, and then proceeds to smash the project in front of him. Similarly, she is avoiding treatment for her lymphoma despite the urgency of her condition, and Paul speculates that it may be indicative of a suicidal tendency. In this week's session, she describes the burden she assumes in protecting her autistic brother Daniel, and how she regards her home as the one transient moment in which Daniel was not there.

Last week Oliver mentioned how his backpack is always weighed down with school books, because he can't afford to lay them down at either of his parents' places, for fear of leaving something behind when he goes to see the other parent. Likewise, he carries his thoughts and anxieties by himself, refusing to share them with Luke or Bess for fear of what would happen when it reaches the other parent. Oliver is trying to carry his parents' marriage on his back.

And poor Walter, who seems burdened with the most emotional baggage, and Natalie, the one person left who had helped him carry that weight is pulling away from him.

Four weeks doesn't seem like that much time.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe there is also something to the fact that the turtle this week was concealed in a box"

After watching Breaking Bad this week, I'm just relieved the box didn't explode ...

oz

Alan Sepinwall said...

They cut the season shorter than last? Bah, humbug.



Yeah, seven weeks instead of nine -- or 35 episodes instead of 43.

Given the ratings for last season, I'm kinda grateful we got a second season at all. But I do wonder if the pace will start to feel rushed at some point, and I wonder if the writers will leave more issues unresolved this time, hoping there might be a third season where more of the patients can continue.

Whiskey said...

Alan, thanks to you I started watching this show and I'm totally hooked. One of the things I love is that it's so well-written that I find myself feeling like it's a whole hour of therapy, even tho the show isn't even 30mins long. And thank you for the comparisons to last season WRT Mia's fantasies vs. Laura's. I didn't watch last season, so I know only a little of the backstory but obviously missed all the delicious nuance in the relationships. When Mia started to fantasize about how Paul would've crossed the line with Laura, I was cringing and a little shocked that he was encouraging her to elaborate. What you said about the contrast in how Paul deals with it now vs. last season makes sense but I'm still going to ask my Godfather about it since he's an avid fan of the show and a retired psychologist.

And I think HOLA DEA totally nailed the turtle thing. Just four weeks left? Gahhh, I wish my favorite shows could have longer seasons! With a show like this it doesn't seem like seven weeks is nearly enough time...

Daniel said...

Alan, what were the ratings like for last season, ballpark-ish?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Daniel, I don't remember the specific numbers, but they were incredibly small even by HBO standards. I think well under a million viewers per episode.

Anonymous said...

The Oliver's parents grate me tremendously. They are borderline torturing the poor thing, I just want to punch them to dust.

Here is the thing, I think if they were Jake and Amy, like they were supposed to be in the Israeli version, then maybe I could have worked up sympathy for them - because now I know them. But here, I have no idea why they are such horrible people. I think re-assigning the part to different people might have been the wrong choice here.

Also, I vote that all characters in In Treatment should be women between ages 16 and 22. Cancer is optional, but recommended.

Anonymous said...

Also, Alan, do you know if the show is doing better this season rating-wise? I really don't know how to access to such stuff.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this season wasn't cut short. It seems as if season 2 of the Israeli series has the same number of episodes.

Ebeth said...

LA - I'm so sorry about your experience last week. I work in a hospital, too and couldn't imagine how we would feel if that happened here.

On topic? I haven't watched yet this week. I watched weeks 1 and 2 over the weekend. Week 2 Oliver made me cry with the name calling - that actor is doing a great job. All of them are. I put off watching the show because I wasn't sure if I was up to it, but once again, it's so fascinating and well written. Love it.

Oaktown Girl said...

First off: LA - so sorry to hear the news about what happened at your work place.

As for the show, the acting continues to be excellent all around (how great is that kid playing Oliver?), and the stories pull you in. This is one of the few shows in my "can't wait to see" category. I share Alan's concerns about this shorter season possibly forcing the stories to move too quickly. I'll guess we'll just have to hope for the best.

So far the patient I'm enjoying watching the most is Mia. I'm just eating up the interactions between her and Paul. Plus, we got to hear that beautiful Chopin piece.

Technical question: I was watching via Comcast On Demand, and the Oliver episode had very shoddy sound quality. Especially in the beginning some key words were completely inaudible and I'll have to try to catch a live repeat. Anyone else experience a problem with that episode on Comcast?

dez said...

@beth, I don't think Paul is bi-polar. His mood swings have external triggers.

@LA, sorry to hear about your workplace. How frightening!

Re: Walter--I love how he handed off his bag to Paul in the beginning, how Paul called him on it, and how Paul handed it back to him at the end with Walter subtly acknowledging the exchange.

I also fear that with only four eps left, things will feel too rushed. At least we have the show back, though!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Beth
"Paul's histrionic tantrums with Gina lack credibility as compared with his mild charming personality"

I'm finding myself becoming more annoyed each week watching Paul turn from a sensitive and insightful therapist into a ...well i can't use the word i would like. The dichotomy is a little much. He uses Gina as a punching bag. The minute he walks in the door he starts spewing out all his anger. He's rude and insulting. He doesn't know how to be a decent human being when he's the patient? There's a difference between expressing anger and working through it and what he's doing.

LA said...

Ebeth, Oaktown Girl, dez - Thanks for the kind words.

As for the show, I'm still worried about Oliver's turtle. I'm scared something is going to happen to it, and Oliver is going to be really devastated, and it's all going to be a metaphor for how his parents aren't taking care of him at all. That boy's sadness tears my heart out.

Sometimes for fun, I try to imagine that Jake and Amy are the parents we're dealing with in the Oliver story, and I'd have to say that I think Jake would be the counterpart to Bess and Amy the counterpart to Luke. Anyone know if that's how it was in the Israeli version? I defintely imagine Jake as the more nurturing parent.

Michael - Allison Pill was in Milk and also in a "controversial" show NBC quickly gave up on a few years ago called The Book of Daniel.

Orion7 said...

Oaktown Girl,

I had the same problem you did with Oliver's episode on Comcast's On Demand. I put in a call to my local cable Customer Service, but I don't know if they can do anything.

Oaktown Girl said...

Orion 7 - thank you so much for letting me know you had the same technical problem. I didn't call Comcast because I wasn't sure if the problem wasn't simply due to the rather old television. But now that I know for sure, I'll call Comcast today if the problem is still there. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I personally took Paul's attitude at the top of his session with Gina as a deliberate (if not carefully thought out) attempt to torpedo the session.

By coming in full of angry bluster and leading with an incredibly grim personal situation ("My father's dying"), he's desperately trying to put off/ignore Gina's confrontation of him regarding Tammy, which he surely realizes is coming. His demeanor in the first few moments before he sees Tammy come out of her sessions is not the same as his demeanor going into the office. Maybe he's also angry at Gina and "her rules" that he should have to feel guilty at all.

The irony is that by plunging in like that (he had been otherwise reluctant to even acknowledge his father's situation), he wound up having one of the most significant sessions he's had with Gina - and she still let him know she was only granting him a temporary reprieve with Tammy.

Anonymous said...

makes sense, but he does the same thing every week. It wasn't just this session although it might have been a little worse. I agree that there is a motive behind it, a defense mechanism perhaps, but it's making him an unlikable person to me.

aimee said...

The characters who break my heart on this show are the ones I love the most; so this season, that's April and Walter, with Oliver close behind. Mia's hard to like, but I love Hope Davis and nobody does prickly and pissed off like she does. I really hope we get a third season.

Mike F said...

I heard that the turtle starting acting like a total diva around the set and started making demands for more lines, so they wrote its part out of the show. That's why we only saw a box this week.

In addition, I did a frame-by-frame breakdown of the turtle-box farewell scene and I couldn't find any tangible evidence of any turtle being inside what I believe may have been just an empty box.

Dan Jardine said...

In answer to anonymous's complaints that Paul is an unrealistically bad patient, there is a saying in my line of work that teacher's make the worst students. Perhaps therapist's likewise make the worst patients.

Anonymous said...

As a therapist, I am delighted that there is finally a TV show that depicts a brilliant therapist as opposed to the buffoons that have been portrayed on every other show prior to In Treatment.
I am new to this site and have been enjoying the intelligent and insightful dialogues.
Thank you HBO for having the smarts to "get it right".