Monday, April 27, 2009

In Treatment: Week four in review

As usual, I'm going to review all five of this week's "In Treatment" episodes together, giving a general overview of the week, followed by brief thoughts on each patient. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I get some pastries...

This is the midway point of season two (which is seven weeks compared to season one's nine), and so we see many barriers broken. Mia and Oliver both find themselves dining in Paul's kitchen, though only one of them is invited. Paul takes April to chemo (finally!). Walter shows up dressed casually, his career ruined. And the fifth episode is the first of the series to mostly break with the usual format, featuring three vignettes instead of one -- though all three are, in the series' usual style, two-character pieces. (Even Paul with his dad is a two-hander of sorts.)

And as various social and procedural barriers are broken, Paul and Gina start breaking through to their patients. Paul gets Mia to start thinking seriously about her relationship with her father. He gets April to put off her mother and finally place herself first in her own life. He starts talking to Bess as a person and not just Oliver's mother. And Gina finally gets Paul to go see his father, just this side of too late.

Amazing performances from everybody this week. Only three weeks to go. It seems to be going by awfully fast with this scheduling, doesn't it?

"That's pretty good. I thought I was just sleeping around." -Mia
Mia's been trying to push past Paul's own professional barriers throughout the season, but here it's not about entitlement, or about trying to justify the scenario she's built up in her head where Paul is the man responsible for her abortion. Instead, just like Alex hooking up with Laura last season, this is Mia trying to send a warning to Paul that she's in a real crisis and needs his full attention. And unlike a year ago -- perhaps because of a year ago -- Paul notices this time, and calls her on it.

And we get some more insight into Mia's self-destructiveness and how her relationship with her dad plays into that. He didn't molest her, apparently, but he held her emotionally closer than a father should, and it's messed her up.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Mia story this week is what Paul says to Gina in the fifth episode: that, under different circumstances, if Mia could deal with her issues, she's the kind of woman he'd be interested in. That tracks with his attraction to the similarly-difficult Laura, and with the rapport he shows with her in the moments when she's not being an enormous pain in the rear. Where Paul's great with kids (even a young adult like April), there's often a greater tension between him and his grown-up patients, but there are moments when he and Mia are remarkably at ease with each other, and not just because they go so far back together.

I don't expect, or even want, Paul to wind up dating her -- he makes that clear to Gina, and I don't think he or the writers are foolish enough to go down that road twice in such rapid succession -- but I'm wondering what the ethical rules are here. Is he forbidden from ever seeing her romantically? I would think so -- he has so much power over her as her therapist that there's just too much possibility for abuse, for him to subtly mold her into someone who'd be attracted to him -- but I don't know, and I know we have some people with serious therapy experience (from either side of the couch) in the audience who might want to weigh in on this. It seems like a Paul/Mia relationship, down the road, would be much healthier than Paul/Laura, but it still seems inappropriate.

"What if I come with you to the hospital?" -Paul
"Would you?" -April
"Yes." -Paul
"Now?" -April
"Yes. Right now." -Paul
Thank. God.

Again, on the subject of ethical boundaries, I spent so much of this episode -- really, so much of the last two or three -- wondering where exactly the line is for Paul in this situation. He even admits to Gina, "I know it was wrong" to take April there, and I can see the reasons why under ordinary circumstances -- if April can't bring herself to go on her own, then Paul's just a crutch creating another emotional problem for her -- but these are desperate times when ordinary standards can't, or shouldn't, apply. April was slowly killing herself, and isn't Paul obligated to keep his patients from doing that?

The rest of this episode, in which Paul realizes April is doing this in part to avoid being stuck as Daniel's caretaker, was also incredible, but those last two minutes... damn. That's the strength of this show, and these performers, writers and directors: four weeks in, less than two hours total of this story, and I felt enormous relief at seeing Paul take the steps he took, and seeing April follow him to the doctor.

"The moment they saw Oliver, it's like their daughter disappeared." -Bess
It's interesting that so much of this episode featured Bess solo without Oliver -- just as several of the Jake/Amy episodes featured one but not the other -- because the more we see of this story, the more obvious it becomes that there isn't a damn thing wrong with Oliver. He's in a terrible circumstance, and he's shutting down because of it, but the patients Paul needs to fix are Bess and Luke. Improve the situation -- improve how Bess and Luke behave with each other, and with Oliver -- and maybe Oliver will be bullied and deal with the other angst of a kid that age, but overall, he'd be fine.

While the stakes here aren't as high as with April, in some ways Paul inviting Oliver into the kitchen for a sandwich was just as satisfying as Paul taking April to chemo. The kid needs to be rescued, and if Paul is maybe setting up a dangerous situation where Oliver invests too much in Paul as a surrogate father, at least for that moment, Oliver was happy. (And he was eating.)

"Let's face it: death is just the final acknowledgment. The show's over." -Walter
Well, at least Walter's aware he has problems now.

Of course, he's primarily focusing on his external problems -- loss of a job, the ongoing public humiliation, the strained relationship with his daughter -- and only vaguely aware of all the inner torment that was really causing the sleeplessness that originally brought him to Paul's office.

Like Mia, and April and even starving Oliver, Walter seems perilously close to giving up on everything. And he's old enough and stubborn enough and powerful enough -- or, rather, has lost enough power -- that I don't know how Paul is going to stop him.

Tammy/Gina/Paul's dad
"We both know what it's like not to be there at the end. It's something you don't get over -- ever." -Gina
As with the April episode, I'm tempted just to dwell on the last couple of minutes, with Paul talking to his dying father and saying "Dad" over and over again, his voice getting weaker each time. (I defy the people who mocked Gabriel Byrne's Golden Globe win to watch that scene and still say he doesn't deserve awards for this performance. I'm not saying Jon Hamm isn't brilliant; just that Byrne is, too.)

But the rest of the episode was great, too, from all the time cuts in the deposition to how quickly the bloom went off the rose in Paul and Tammy's relationship, to the way Gina slowly but surely got Paul to do the one thing he had to, while he still could, in the same way that Paul went to save April.

Now, just as Paul taking April to chemo once isn't going to cure her emotional problems (let alone her physical ones), Paul going to see his father isn't going to fix all his family issues. But it's a big moment for him. What comes next?

What did everybody else think?


KC said...

Some of these episodes just blew me away, the pain is raw and so too is the frustration waiting for the realizations to dawn on each face as they come to understand the reality of their individual situations.

Superb acting, really my hat is off to everyone, this really is so masterfully done where it could so easily tip to the overdramatic and histrionic. I thought the closing moments in all of these episodes where heartbreakingly sad in their poignancy and touchingly well done.

Scholar of Turtles said...

I am fascinated by the continued importance of the symbolism centered on the turtle character. It's as if the turtle is a spoke at the center of the giant spinning wheel that is In Treatment: Season 2.

It is very interesting that Oliver built a new home for his turtle. A nice home, a fancy home, a paradise for a pet turtles used to living in tupperware cans or plastic bowls. Is it a coincidence then that Oliver has also revealed that he wants a new home? He wishes his parents would give him away. It was this thought which must have driven him, at least subconsciously, to create a new home for his turtle. Can Oliver be living vicariously through his pet?

Another thing about the turtle is that it could possibly be seen as a burden to take care of. Pet ownership is a big responsibility, often more trouble and time than children realize. Is it possible that Oliver's attempts to care for the turtle can relate to April's attempts to care for her brother Daniel? It is too much for too handle. She has always had to take care of Daniel, but she can't do it anymore. It's too much responsibility, she has too much else going wrong in her life. The connection between April/Daniel and Oliver/Turtle is clear, but could there also be foreshadowing here? Is Oliver to plagued by his own troubles to keep caring for his turtle? Will the turtle meet an end?

We also saw this week two characters finally admit certain truths. Walter revealed that he feels responsible for his brothers death, and Paul revealed to his father he doesn't blame him for his mothers death. These two characters had kept these truths locked within themselves, shielded from the rest of the if they were in a SHELL? I don't think I need to remind you which animal spends a lot of time inside a shell, now do I!

As for Mia this week, I enjoyed her episode but I have to admit I am having a hard time perceiving the turtle connections. Any ideas? To me the turtle seems to have the strongest link with Oliver (of course) and also April, but there are also many connections to Walter and Paul. Mia is more complex when it comes to the turtle.

Captain Henry said...

April's episode this week is my absolute favorite of the season. In my opinion the last few minutes of that episode rank right up there with the outstanding dramatic moments with Alex's father from season 1.

April is definitely my favorite character this season and I look forward to her episodes the best. As far as the ethics issue this week, I really don't see the problem. Paul probably just saved her life. Maybe he crossed some sort of artificial "line" between a therapist and his patient, but the fact is this guy just saved her life, and you can't tell me there's anything wrong about that. There are rules, and there is life and death. If you have to break a rule to save a life, go for it.

I enjoyed all the other episodes this week as well. It's interesting we flash forwarded to Monday in Gina's episode. I suppose this creates the interesting scenario that during Mia's next session we already know what Paul will be doing later that day.

Also, I'm kind of sad there's only 7 sessions this season. It seems like there could really be a ways to go with some of these characters.

dez said...

I noticed in the Mia ep that Paul was very closed off while they were in the kitchen--his arms were folded across his chest and his body language showed his irritation with what she was doing--but in the therapy room, he was more relaxed and gentle. I'm sure her confrontational nature at the beginning didn't help. I also think any post-therapy relationship would be inappropriate and possibly detrimental to Mia's ability to deal with her issues.

Both April's and Oliver's eps just killed me this week. Even though Paul was violating the doctor/patient relationship, I cheered when he took April to chemo. And then I noticed there was a lot of dust in the room [ahem].

Interesting that Oliver, who is afraid he may be given away, built a nice home for his turtle, putting in the home all the things a turtle likes. It's a shame that his parents are too wrapped up in their own pain to notice what he needs. When he acknowledged that he was still hungry after eating the sandwich, my room got all dusty again.

I also liked the parallel between Oliver not getting his needs met and Paul feeling the same, as he revealed to Gina. Paul is still a wounded child, and that scene with his dad (which admittedly hit close to home for me) was heartbreaking. And dusty. I don't know why my house gets so dusty when I watch this show [sniffle].

The Walter ep was so quiet that I became very worried about Walter. He's clearly depressed, and he's overmedicating himself. I agree with you, in that I don't know how Paul is going to stop him (especially with only a few eps left!).

(I defy the people who mocked Gabriel Byrne's Golden Globe win to watch that scene and still say he doesn't deserve awards for this performance. Who the hell said he didn't deserve it? Sheesh!

dez said...

It's interesting we flash forwarded to Monday in Gina's episode. I suppose this creates the interesting scenario that during Mia's next session we already know what Paul will be doing later that day.
It makes me wonder if something in his session with Mia will send him to see his father. He could have gone back to the city over the weekend, but he chose to wait (and see his children, presumably). I can hardly wait until next week's ep!

And Alan, I swear Scholar of Turtles' post wasn't up when I wrote mine :-) But it should let you know that we're not joking around about the turtle symbolism when we're noticing the same stuff, I hope.

Captcha: "coconym": different words that all mean Cocoa Puffs

Oaktown Girl said...

Another wonderful week of episodes. I find myself looking forward to this show so much.

I know some people here have said they wished this season was like in the original Israel season 2 series - a continuation of Jake and Amy's story. Actually, I am glad for the change to Oliver's family. I think Jake and Amy's story ended on a profoundly emotional note, and I am content to not have that impact probably lessened by adding more on. Oliver's parents may drive a lot of people crazy, but I think in this case it's a sign of good writing and excellent acting. And I'm glad we got a peak this week into Bess' world.

Just 3 more weeks for everybody's story really makes me nervous. Maybe I should see a shrink about that. Nevermind, I'm uninsured.

Yet another anonymous said...

I am so glad I stuck with this show. I have to admit that last season was uneven for me, but there was much for me to admire. This season has been mesmerizing for me. Like many of you, I can't believe that we're at the halfway mark.

I've been wondering why this season is so much better for me - clearly, all the of the stories, and especially the actors, are resonating strongly for me. However, I wonder if the way the show is now broken up on Sunday/Monday creates a deeper sense of involvement rather than 25 minutes a day. Which is ironic given how bad my attention span is, normally.

As far as the specific episodes this week, like many of you, I have a few 'oh' moments when the room "got dusty(TM)." But by a nose, the one that killed me, made me rewind was the trio of "Dads." Broke. My. Heart.

Mapeel said...

The Gina episodes are my favorite, because we see Paul expand out of the professional hushness that he has in session.

Re: the Golden Globes dustup. There is a quality about Irish men, and therefore Irish actors, that is unique, and may therefore make it seem like Byrne isn't masterfully acting. Which of course he is.

They don't make a point of Paul's nationality, except in the Manchester news for his Dad, probably because it's not a part of the original's scripts. But it would add another whole layer to Paul, son of an Irishman and we assume American mother.

Cinemania said...

As regards the query re: the ethics of a Mia-Paul hook up after they've finished therapy, there is no question about it. Absolutely verboten, for the reasons you cited Alan (the power relationship doesn't end just cuz therapy does).

Gish said...

Hey Dez and Scholar,

See if you can make any hay out of this. The turtle Oliver has is a red eared slider. This is an aquatic turtle, so the nice home Oliver made out of a sneaker box is not an improvement. Oliver has assumed what would make the turtle happy, without spending any effort to find out the truth, much like his parents keep assuming what is best for Oliver without actually asking him. Oliver is making the same mistakes that his parents are making. Can't say I honestly believe this is intentional from the producers, the script may have called for a desert tortoise, which would be readily available in Isreal, but in NYC you can buy a red eared slider anywhere.

dez said...

Gish, great catch! If it's intentional, then I think you've nailed it (it also means the poor thing will die). I think it would also tie in with Oliver's inability to care for himself (thinking that not eating is the best way to lose weight, for example, or not being able to stand up to the bully). It could also mean Oliver's teacher is an idiot for not giving the kids proper care instructions (unless Oliver lost them, which, given that he forgot his turtle at Paul's, is within the realm of possibility).

I do hope it's just an error on the producer's part, though, because I want the turtle to live (and Oliver to thrive!).

Anonymous said...

I know most of the accolades have been for Alison Pill, followed by Hope Davis, but I think that John Mahoney's been consistently brilliant week-in, week-out. The way Walter's voice would choke up and loosen in his session this week was as impressive to me as anything I've seen this season.

Loads of stuff about family issues this week. Jealousy, guilt, obligation, resentment—over fathers, sons, mothers or brothers (would-be, disabled, dying, or dead). Tying in with that is a theme of father surrogates: Walter and Mr. Donaldson, Oliver and Paul, April and Paul, Mia and Paul, Mia and Bennett, Mia and the police officer, etc. With Paul, this relates to bounds of the therapy room, and the varying risks involved in allowing them to be crossed, like with Paul accompanying April to chemotherapy, Mia crashing into Paul's kitchen for breakfast, and Paul inviting Oliver into the kitchen to prepare a sandwich for him.

When Walter said, "He did the best he could," nearly echoing what April had said in her session last week, and then similarly describing a situation in which he felt he had no choice, I thought of how each of the patients have covered up, excused, or rationalized a flaw or shortcoming of someone close to them by assuming an inordinate degree of blame or responsibility. Their situations are so different, and yet share that common coping mechanism.

Orion7 said...

When Paul took April to chemo, he helped her in the short term, but probably not in the long term—but she may not have a long term. He did the right thing. The revelation that she was delaying chemo so that she didn't have to be the one responsible for Daniel for the rest of her life (just as she delayed handing in her World Trade Center memorial model until it was too late), was one I wasn't prepared for, so it hit me like a blow.

Realizing that Walter blamed his six-year-old self for his brother's death because he was excited when his brother told him about his jump was another sad moment. I used more than one Kleenex to get through these five episodes.

wjm said...

Is Paul a psychiatrist or a psychologist? Either way, Id' expect the Hippocratic Oath to be something he'd have to follow and it specifically says, "FIRST do no harm." So, I would argue that he was morally obligated to take April to the doctor if that was the only way she was going to go.

Cinemania said...

Gabriel Byrne deserves every award he can garner for his work here, and the final episode this week sealed it for me. The way he squirmed in the cafe with Tammy, eventually biting her head off, just after the torment and discomfort he conveyed so well in the beautifully edited deposition scene, then on to the petulant book thumping moments in his session with Gina, rounding it off with the heartbreaking visit to his father, as his voice fails him and bodily fluids start dripping from him...I mean DAMN, that's one helluva 30 minutes work, no? Byrne did more here than most actors have to do in an entire season, and he did it so convincingly, so authentically.

Much as I love Bryan Cranston's work in Breaking Bad (and I really, really love it), Byrne's the man I'd vote for if I were given a ballot today.

Anonymous said...

This was a very strong week overall but I think Paul's visit to his dad warranted more time than 1/3 of an episode. I would have liked to see him pace, deciding whether it is worth to talk, whether it is even logical to talk - considering his father is in a non-responsive state -, cowering, trying to talk to the nurses etc, before eventually breaking down.

Anonymous said...

I also think they should have showed Paul getting his coffee, deciding which kind he wanted, what size, etc, talking to the cashier, deciding whether to pay with his debit card or in cash, how much sugar to use, maybe using too much sugar because he's distracted thinking about his father.

I also think they should have showed him walking down the hallway, etc.

LA said...

Another amazing and emotionally gripping week. Don't have much to add as Alan and the rest of you have mentioned a lot of what I've been thinking. Will only add that the deathbed scene was not only extremely moving but also, to my experience, a realistic portrayal of both parties in these situations.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who absolutely loves it when Gebriel Byrne says the word "burden" (boiden)?

perse said...

I feel a little late to the party. Thank goodness for On Demand. I share many of the sentiments already expressed, especially the ones for Gabriel Byrne. And as long as we're talking about underrecognized performances, may I say that Aaron Grady Shaw is wonderful as Oliver. And just as with Jake and Amy last season, Oliver's story really benefits from giving Luke and Bess each a chance to see Paul without the other half present.

I'm not convinced of the suggested connection between Oliver and his turtle and April and Daniel, though. The anxieties Oliver and April have about their caretaking duties are different. Oliver is worried that he will neglect to properly care for the turtle, much like his parents have neglected his real needs. But I don't see Oliver being concerned with the level of work involved in caring for the turtle, and I doubt he believes that he is too much to handle. If that were the case, he wouldn't be wishing to be given to different parents, like the ones who received his would-be brother. The issue is that Oliver is picking up on the ambivalence of Luke and Bess to the parental roles which they were thrust into. Rather than feeling like a son who is wanted, Oliver feels like a project, and his parents are so caught up with approaches and their own issues to notice what is really going on with Oliver.

Despite the superficial similarities, it's not the same for April. Unlike with Oliver with his turtle or his parents with him, April is well aware of what Daniel's needs are and how best to minister to them. Failing to do so is not an option or possibility. Although like Oliver, she was also neglected by her parents, April understands it not as a lack of awareness or empathy on the part of her parents; her mother's commitment and sacrifices for Daniel proves to her otherwise. Rather, April feels that she herself is unworthy of such love, such that she could fall out of a window without her parents even noticing. It's why she sabotaged her relationship with Kyle. As Paul made clear this week, April's conception of love is based on the example of Daniel. Love is torturous. Love is miserable. Love is a terrible burden that one can't handle, that consumes everything, that eventually crowds out the joy and happiness from life. It is a Sisyphean task that ultimately leads to resentment. As much as she yearns to be loved, she doesn't want to risk being let down again, and doesn't want to be for anyone else what Daniel is for her.

Those things don't really apply to Oliver. As Alan pointed out, there really isn't anything wrong with him. He has a remarkably clear-eyed view of his circumstances, and is as self-reliant as can be expected of a boy of his age and situation. The misconception about dieting or his bully problem could be resolved relatively easily with the supportive guidance of an adult, if only he could consult one without setting off his parents. Paul is the closest thing he has, but as a therapist, there is a line to maintain.

Anonymous said...

No. The turtle is key.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

Dez and Scholar,

I’m really enjoying your analysis of the body language and the turtle symbolism. I sometimes teach literature, and students will often think I’m reading too much into what seem to be minor details. My response is that whether the author intended the symbolism to be there or not, if it works, it’s there. And one of the things we often do is talk about what at first seems insignificant—like the turtle. Yet it works on so many levels, as you both have pointed out. And I loved Gish’s comment about the type of turtle it was. I know nothing about turtles, so I wouldn’t have picked up on that at all; but it does work symbolically. All those kinds of details add so much to the texture of the show. Thanks for a great discussion.

MMS said...

Reading Alan's comments and the posts that follow has added tremendously to my enjoyment of this incredible series.

I ran across an insightful and well written blog entry on the series and Gabriel Byrne's many talents that I think Alan and the other fans here would enjoy.
No, I didn't write it, only wish I wrote that well.

DB said...

wow, i didn't realize this season is two weeks shorter...kind of a bummer because i'm actually enjoying this season much more than the last.

i'm not surprise at all regarding paul's comment to gina about how he'd like to have a relationship with mia if they were under different circumstances because i actually thought the exact same thing when i was watching the mia episode when she said she wanted someone to come home to. there was just something between them that made me think paul would want a relationship with her, and i could totally see them together as well.

i wasn't sure if i wanted to watch this season since all the episodes in the first season made me feeling depressed and kind of annoyed since the only character i actually liked was sophie, but this season is different, for some reason, i actually feel hopeful and care about all the characters this year...weird, i can't really explain it, but this show is more addicting than ever.

HMM2 said...

I'm just catching up, and just finished week 4. I feel really stupid that I hadn't realized until this week that all of the patients are doppelgangers for Paul's family members with whom he's estranged.