We've come to the end of season two of "In Treatment," and I'm going to do something a little different at the end. Rather than do my brief sketches of each patient, I spoke at length with showrunner Warren Leight about how each story ended, the season as a whole, deviations from the Israeli series, and the possibility of getting more amazing adventures of Dr. Paul Weston, with or without this specific group of patients.
It's long, so if you just want to get to discussing how the five storylines ended, I understand if you just jump to the comments. But Warren offers a lot of insight, as you might expect the head deity of this particular fictional universe to do.
I want to start with the ending, with Paul ending his therapy with Gina, and Gina making it clear she won't take him back yet again. Given how integral Gina is to the show, and that there have been all these rumblings about how exhausted Gabriel (Byrne) finds doing it, should we take that to mean that this was written as a series finale?
No. When we were shooting, and even now, we have no idea if the show's coming back, and/or if Gina's character comes back. I've received no input from anyone on that. It's always fair to an audience (to provide an ending), but you never know. It has the potential to be closure if that's how it goes. I wouldn't think this is the first time these two have said "Never darken my door again." Clearly, something is wrong in their therapy process. I think therapists call it dual role. They need to unclot their lives a little bit. I think it's fine for Paul to leave the nest. I don't even know if the show's coming back, let alone who'll be with it.
Well, the first season was so exhausting that Rodrigo (Garcia, who adapted the show from the Israeli "Be'Tipul" and ran season one) passed the reins to you. If it comes back for a third season, would you be up for it?
That's the big debate within my family at the moment. The last four five weeks of this thing, I never put in less than 100 hours a week -- and I've been sick about 3 times since the shoot stopped. Creatively, it's great to get to work with those actors and those writers. There was a degree of autonomy because of the pace. But it's extremely difficult, if I didn't publish three episodes, we fell behind. The notion that you're burning through an episode every two days, it's just horrifying. When I tell other showrunners, they're like, "You're f---ing kidding me."
I would love to see a slightly elongated shooting schedule, where you could shoot four days and have done day to rehearse, tone and edit, but there's obviously a price point at which this show doesn't work at HBO. Part of its appeal to HBO is each episode does not cost a lot to shoot. But that's basically because Gabriel and me and a few other people are grinding ourselves. I shouldn't speak for Gabriel, but I'd imagine Gabriel and I have the same sense of pride about the season and utter exhaustion. It doesn't really matter what I want. If Gabriel wants a different schedule, it might have another influence. If I died on the shoot, they might put my name at the end of the credits, "In Memoriam," and move on. Physically, doing it was disastrous.
HBO, it must be a difficult decision for them. It hasn't been a breakout hit. I don't know the numbers, nobody seems to understand the numbers, but it is a show that people are catching up with. This is never going to have the mass appeal of the breakout hits that made them HBO, and yet it's getting very nice reception. It's a little like AMC with "Mad Men," I suppose, except HBO has other shows. There is a possibility of a season three, and artistically, the least of the issues is,"'Could you pull it off?" I don't think the challenge is can you come up with four more patients for Paul. I don't think we've exhausted the people who could come to see him or where he is. I just think we've exhausted ourselves.
Just in case, though, you brought everyone's story to a kind of an ending. Even Mia and Walter, who are staying in therapy, are at a point where the therapy might not be that interesting from a TV perspective.
Remember the last line of "Portnoy's Complaint": "Now vee may perhaps to begin?" I think you sense that, in a weird way, Walter in week 7 is his first therapy session, where he finally allows himself to be there, and Mia in week 7 starts with "I'm leaving," but allows herself to realize she needs to be there. Who knows if they're going to be all right, but they're going to keep trying.
Oliver, when we started talking about Oliver early on, one therapist said one of the toughest things about doing therapy with kids is an adult can keep having some control over his environment, but a kid keeps going back into a toxic environment and can't do anything about it. That stayed with me. You know where Oliver is going, but the kid still has a tough road.
It became clear after a while with Oliver that his only real problem was his parents -- that if Paul could somehow fix those two, Oliver would be just fine.
I like that episode 6 where the kid says, "They'd both better off without me," and on some level, he's picked up on his parents worst secret. The kid's childhood is, I think, about to be over, but at least there was a connection to Paul, and a healthy one at that. It's a strange thing trying to wrap these things. It's like trying to land a jetliner. In the Israeli version, almost everyone ended with a hug. I thought, "We can't do that," so we ended up with a mix.
Last week was obviously designed to be the darkness before the dawn, and there was a lot of discussion on the blog about how many of the patients Paul was actually helping.
I'd like to think that Paul helped all of them. It was designed for Mia to hit bottom. It's week 6. A number of therapists have said it's not unusual. It does take a while, if you hit bottom in week 2, you have nowhere to go. Hitting bottom is sometimes how the process begins to turn around. Week 7 is, for some of them, a legitimate beginning, and for some of them, it could be a dead cat bounce. If they are not better, this season, it's nothing where Paul's impairments screwed up the therapy. That was another goal I was hoping to achieve. Oliver, I think he did a pretty professional job, and the kid's parents are just not able to see past their needs right now. There's a hint in week 7 that now that the couple's done, at least they won't be at it. You can hope for a better day for the kid. I hate to be "Blame the parents, not the therapist," but it doesn't feel to me like Paul really blew it, like he got so attracted to Bess that he did this. There's a reality to it: you can do your job well -- there's a meta, you can do your job well and the show can still not get picked up -- and people's circumstances can change.
April is on the road to a physical recovery, which is probably the most important thing for her. Emotionally, I don't think she's ready to do what she needs in therapy.
You didn't write the first season, where Alex died, but since his death hangs over so much of this season, let me ask you what you think: was his suicide Paul's fault?
There's moments in this season where he says, "I misunderstood Alex's anger." The larger question is what does Paul think? I think Paul's anger at Alex, I think the affair interfered with his judgment, with Laura, Paul's feelings for Laura interfered with the treatment. I don't think you can say the suicide was his fault, but that wasn't his proudest moment as a therapist. I think that's going to haunt Paul for a long time. You can only let yourself off the hook. Paul has a couple of moments in the season where he flat-out says to Gina, he spells out his reasons for guilt. When Walter says "You've got blood on your hands," I know you can't save everybody, but that's hardly a good treatment. There was too much going on between them, and Paul was unable to handle his own transference there. If he had lost Walter, that would have been tough for him. If you lose a patient a season, that's just not good. He will have a degree of guilt, or sense of guilt about Alex for the rest of his life.
You told me last week that Walter didn't attempt suicide in the Israeli show. Where did that story go instead?
The Israeli show stopped tracking Walter after week 4 and switched over to the daughter. I asked Hagai (Levi, creator of "Be'Tipul") about that. It seemed like he was heading for suicide. I guess week 5 it was just one on one, Paul and Walter's daughter, and week 6 was Paul and the daughter and Walter trying to reconcile. I talked to Hagai and said, 'What happened there?" He said he thought it'd be interesting, I said, 'You can't introduce a new character here! That's cheating.' My psychoanalysis of what the Israeli writers were thinking is, the next episode would have been his suicide attempt, and none of them wanted to go there. Because they were all writing about their dad in some way... It was getting to a very dark place with Walter, so they brought in the daughter and talked about lesbianism and India. Mike Leigh films can sometimes get away with that, but we couldn't.
In a weird way, the show is writing the stuff you don't want to write, and going to places you would rather avoid. On top of that, it was fascinating to do the hospital scene. And we built a set, which we've never done, and there was Mahoney, staring out the window, that shot was gorgeous, that was the director, Jean de Segonzac's choice. Walter really was tough in that episode, and I thought, 'Okay.' It was kind of great. Obviously, you could play that whole episode weepy or tough. I had written it where he'd get tough again and say "Get out, get out," but I had assumed there'd be a larger loss of dignity before that, and I thought, 'This is probably correct.' This wasn't about Mahoney's chops; he can do anything. I messed myself up with the week 6 episode, I got very sad writing it, and I thought, 'Okay, this will work.' It was interesting, because it's about missing your life, and that sense of the loss of your true self early on. Boy, did it resonate on the set with a lot of the older guys. Men, you're not supposed to acknowledge that. But seeing Mahoney weep there, and looking around, and there was a DP all screwed up, he'd just lost his dad. It was worth the wait. Who am I to tell Mahoney? You bring John Mahoney in, you listen to him. And he's, in a way, the most people pleasing actor I've worked with.
Were there any similar situations where the other guest actors were taking the characters in directions you didn't anticipate?
With Alison (Pill) and Hope (Davis), you don't get rehearsal time on this, but they would come in for a read-through, and I would always take their notes. I trust the collaborative process a lot. If there's one good thing I get from theater. I had Edie Falco in "Side Man" (Leight's Tony-winning play), and if something couldn't work for her, it usually meant that her instincts were right and my writing was wrong. Gabriel, too, in the morning, if something wasn't working, if you do 35 of these, you better be able to figure out when he's not happy. It's one of the more collaborative shows. The downside is you're shooting in two days and trying to do it like a play where you rehearsed for four weeks.
With Hope, the original conception of Mia was a much more overtly ethnic character, and then Hope was available, and she was too good an actress not to take. Then it becomes somebody like Martha Stewart, who was ethnic once, and has become something else, at some cost to herself. Alison, by the time you get to week 4, 5 and 6, everyone's in sync. I just watched and waited for something not to work and tried to figure out what the problem is.
Dianne Wiest did not want to judge Paul, and that became tricky for me. There were also times when people had certain reactions, and you don't let go of the reins. Dianne didn't want to judge, criticize, and if I had taken every one of Dianne's notes, there would have been no conflict at all. I started to write about the Buddha-like place she was coming from. The big mistake I made from week 1 was they both sat on the couch together, and there's such a huge difference in the energy. She wanted to do that again, and I couldn't let that happen again. It's a give and take, and then at the end of the day, I've gotta figure it out on the set.
One of the things you did more often this year than last was to give us glimpses of Paul's other, less interesting patients, and to show how much less engaged he was with them.
One of the things I liked was that these are the four who are getting to him. Therapists will do 30-50 hours a week of this stuff. I thought it was interesting to have therapists talk about, "You have your narcissists, and they come back every week, and they don't get better, but it's stable income." I thought it would be interesting to get a larger picture of Paul's life, every now and then have a little bit of humor. And also the notion of Oliver seeing a happy couple. It's such a claustrophobic world, those little extra glimpses. I enjoyed them, I think everybody enjoyed them. The lesbian couple in the last Walter episode, the Caucasian lesiban was played by Jackie Reingold, who had written all the Mia episodes.
And whenever you did an episode, or a scene, that wasn't in therapy, it was still structured like a therapy scene.
I don't know why I made that a rule, but I felt it's less of a cheat, if it's only two people in a room together. Walter in the hospital room, Mia in her office. It should always be a one-on-one, Paul at his dad's bedside, Paul with Tammy, a relationship that was obviously doomed. He's not ready emotionally. For some reason, that was important to me. Otherwise, I worried it was too jarring. You can imagine an hour-long series of this on network, there'd be a session, and a scene at the bar where they're all hanging out. It'd be a different kind of show.
Well, I was just watching this new Fox show, "Mental," that's about a psychiatric hospital, and you get a little bit with the patient, and then you cut away to banter between the supporting cast, then to another case -- there's a lot of respite there.
I had actually written a (network) pilot a few years ago about a family therapist whose personal life was in a shambles. I know what that rhythm would be, and you would never be allowed the intensity of these 20-minute one-act plays. That's a lot of time for two characters to be talking.
It's a lot more intense than the network version would be.
I was on "Criminal Intent" for six years. We did some very good stuff there, but it's the third one of a tired genre. There are 11 million viewers at times, or even 5 million, which is a number we'll never get, and I get more response to this than I ever did from "Criminal Intent." The people who plug into this show are in trouble, I think. It's a much more visceral experience.
I imagine it'd be tough to go back to writing something like "Criminal Intent" after doing this.
Among the things I didn't have to worry about were act-outs. "You're pregnant," cut to commercial. I still tried to have a structure but didn't have to worry about that. I didn't ever want one of those actors to get a bad script. I'm not saying I didn't disappoint them, but I didn't want to disappoint them. It's an intense process, and I just never wanted to hand Mahoney or Hope a bad script. It's like having master musicians come in: you want to have a score for them. I've had the other grind. It would be a tricky transition. Maybe it's a challenge. I think "Mad Men" pulls it off -- I think that's why people say ("In Treatment") is the best show on the air, because ("Mad Men" is) not on right now. You can do it, but it's not easy. This was really good writers, really good actors, really good crew killing themselves -- and a lot of corporate anxiety.
How do you mean?
We made a lot of changes. The relocation, a little opening things up, more exteriors. HBO, I'm sure, and (producer) Stephen Levinson, they were nervous, because season one had the Laura/Paul "Is he or isn't he?" and that has an obvious appeal to an audience, and they were very worried that you can't compete with "Is he going to f--k her or not?" Also, I had wanted him to be functioning better, last year there were more outbursts in a way. The way he would push Alex. We didn't do as much overt malfunctioning of Paul, and that made them nervous. There was a fear, at times, you were smoothing out too much. And because we were shooting out of sequence, they didn't know it was going somewhere. It was somewhat less histrionic. The Mia character was sexualized, but it wasn't as overtly titilating. That has to be scary if you're a network that has a show that people praise but a lot of people don't watch, and you're taking some sex out of it. We changed the location, moved him away from his family, gave Gina a waiting room set, set some boundaries -- there were a lot of e-mails and phone calls for a long time. I don't blame 'em.
I hope they were happy with the result of all those changes.
I'm sure they are. I think, I don't mean this disrespectfully, but it'll help if it garners more nominations and awards. People don't always trust their impulses. My life got easier when the reviews started to come out. There was fear, and anxiety, that's all. Richard Plepler has always been very proud of this season. But Steve Levinson, who does "Entourage" and is the Dick Wolf of this show, there are things he wishes were different, where we respectfully disagree. I think there was a worry that he was becoming too much the therapist this year. And as the show went on, you got to know more and more about him, and the conflicts were clearer. It's more dramatic to have a guy fighting one of his patients and trying to sleep with another. But, boy, do that two years in a row...
He wasn't fighting the patients, but he seemed even more combative with Gina this year -- especially since he seemed so calm the other four days of the week.
Unfortunately, we shot out of sequence, so we didn't do Gina week 3 until we'd done Mia week 6. He was functioning better at the job and was purging out of him in those sessions. And that's a choice (Gabriel) made, that I was fascinated. The way Gabriel played those scenes, there'd be another example -- I didn't know they were going to play that hot. And there was never any rehearsal, the day of, the two of them arrive, and usually you shoot the guest actor first and then turn around and get to Gabriel and he's talking about his father and his mother, and you go, 'Oh, that's not what I heard, but that's very good.' That went with the lonely life he's leading this year, and in terms of the transference. A lot of reasons for it, and it was sort of fascinating to watch. Maybe Gabriel knows more than I do about what Paul would do in this situation. I used to love when directors would try to give him a big acting note about Paul.
What would happen?
On a good day, he would just nod. On another day, I was standing next to him when he got an incredibly complicated note -- "Now, you're playing this 20 percent understanding that this really means he misses his father, and 10 percent..." -- just this unplayable note, the director walked away, I smiled at Gabriel, said, "Are you good to go?" he said, "I'll just give a blank look. It'll work." And he gave a blank look, and the director liked it, because he thought the note had been taken.
I liked that, near the end of the final April episode, we get to hear more about Sophie.
That came from a writer's assistant, this guy John Haller. You want to have a smart support staff. The piano music Mia played in one episode, that was our script supervisor. But John read that script, tossed that idea out, and (Sarah) Treem and I went, "That's a very good idea, young John." He said there was an overlap between the two characters, and it would be sweet, and it just went right in. And in a way, it provides a little closure on season one, and there's an echo of Sophie in April, for a variety of reasons. And I'm glad when Paul gets a little bone every once in a while. We beat the crap out of him this year. That was not in the Israeli show, the original draft or my rewrite, but it came from the writer's assistant.
One of my readers suggested that if Paul had been the idiot April assumed he would be when she entered therapy, she would have gotten bored with him and gone to chemo on her own. But instead, she got caught up with him, and needed him to make her go.
I don't know that she would have gone for herself. I like to think Paul had that effect on her. There's a suicidal side to that character: "It's better for me to wake up dead than upset my family." I don't agree with that (interpretation). That's a possible interpretation, I don't know that she would have gone on her own. She got lucky with Paul. And even with Paul, it took her four weeks. I don't see it. But I do love there are different ways of viewing these characters.
And by taking her to chemo, he effectively destroys any chance of continuing as her therapist.
The therapy is ruined at that moment. I imagine he would do that again. That was also interesting for us. That's why April ends where it does. The relationship, if it wasn't dead then, was dead when he called her mother. And he must have known it would be.
There's a similar thing with Oliver, where he asks to live with Paul. And Paul can't say yes because it'd cross a line, but also, I think, because he knows he wouldn't do right by Oliver once he stopped being his therapist and started being his dad.
There's a line where Paul says, "I can't do it," and he says it really quickly. That was an interesting moment. The more professional answer there. Part of him must have wanted to say, "Okay," as insane as that would be. But he's got that flaw, I guess. Some of what Gina says to him in week 7 is true. Maybe that's the lesson he needed to learn this year: you don't save them.
I imagine that's a choice he made with April. That was another acting moment: Gabriel on the set in week 4, it had been written more therapeutically, the moment where he takes her, and he started playing it father/daughter. It was a little tricky on the set, but we stripped away all the jargon, and he was a father saving a daughter. "I'm telling you you're going now." He immediately played it that way, and then I, as quickly as possible, rewrote it to support that. I thought it was a really brilliant instinctive choice on his part. This isn't about therapy -- "For f--k's sake, I can't sit there and let her die." And I thought, "Oh, yes, our mistake." But therefore he's lost his therapeutic neutrality and become a surrogate parent. Once you've lost that therapeutic neutrality, it's like once you've slept with somebody, you can't go back to the way it was.
Before the season, we talked about whether Walter, at his age, is better off for having to examine an unexamined life, and you have that line in the week 6 episode where the other therapist suggests Paul shouldn't have opened Pandora's Box.
I don't think Paul opened it. He has that line: "This is the last thing I would have wanted for you." I thought about this a lot. My dad played trumpet his whole life, and he developed the first signs of Parkinson's, it affected his playing, we didn't even know it was Parkinson's. And suddenly he was depressed, but the truth was, he was depressed his whole life, but he had his horn. Here was this 70 year old trumpet player who couldn't play his trumpet going to therapy for the first time. It was glacial, but in the end, the last years of his life were better for it. It was nothing you would have wished on him. That's why that line was written. If the guy had come in and (Paul) could have just knocked it with sleeping pills, he would have. I don't think Paul opened it up -- from week 1, he saw it. If you go back, you see Gabriel observing a lot early on. Maybe there were surprises along the way. But what you get are this guy whose defenses are about to collapse. So now, what do you do? There was no point. You couldn't shore them up anymore. I talked to shrinks. Some shrinks like (the flood), which tells you something, but it's like, you can never get the guy to this point, but if that's where he is when he comes in, it's about managing the crash when it's inevitable, and having enough of an alliance for when they hit bottom, so they have a person who can help them get back together. It would have better for this not to happen to Walter, I suppose. But it's a flood. It's 65 years of denial, or whatever. When those structures break, there's no holding it back. The dam broke, and there was nothing to be done.
But would Walter have gone to Africa to find Natalie if he hadn't been seeing Paul?
I think he was going to Africa also to run away from the crisis. I think that was, in part, a self-destructive act on his part. He has this enormous burden of guilt. I suspect he would have, in some way, precipitated his firing. his firing was inevitable, but going to Africa made it easier. It's Darwinian, when you're weakened in that world. I thought a lot about safari politics. He's the one who was going to take that hit. My belief is, he is better off because Paul was with him during this time. That would be my hope for people viewing it.
You had a lot of shrinks offering you opinions on this show?
You ask 10 shrinks, you get 10 different opinions, all of which disapprove the other 9. It's very strange, the number of shrinks come up to me. The number of people whose spouses turn out to have been therapists. There was something on HBO where they interviewed me and Paris (Barclay), so they know me. I've actually had people come up to me on the street and go, 'You're that guy. You know something? it's unrealistic. There'd be many more silences in a session.' And I go, 'I appreciate it, but it's a drama. We have silences, but if we just do silences, people wouldn't watch.' They get upset about Gina and Paul, there are too many boundaries that have been crossed in the past. But I think, 'Okay, it is Dianne Wiest.' They're not taking into account my issues. But also, would Paul have gone to someone else last year?
Do you have any idea when HBO might make a decision on a third season?
No, and it's an anxiety. Right now, for me and a lot of the writers, the next two weeks is musical chairs in terms of hiring for next season, and if the music stops...? I'm as anxious as any of the fans are to know. If you could find out, that'd be great. I've heard wildly differing rumors. It will come down to budget more than anything. There is no season 3 in Israel, so it means this season would be somewhat costlier, because the writers would have to be paid respectfully. And every season goes up (in cost). I think it will come down to things beyond my control. I don't know what else we could have done, and I don't mean that in an a--hole way. If I was a network, I would be jerking me around, too.
At the very least, it feels like that's a good season. I feel okay about it. But it'd be tricky to go back to doing something else.