Monday, April 06, 2009

In Treatment: Week one in review

As I mentioned last week when I wrote my "In Treatment" review and behind-the-scenes feature, I'm taking a different approach to blogging the show this year than last. Only one post per week, put up after all five episodes have aired, with some overall thoughts and then brief notes on each episode to get the discussion started. Spoilers coming right up...
"I just don't care anymore... The truth is I'm just f---ing sick of sitting in a chair day after day after day listening to people's problems." -Paul
"Oh, boy. Oh, boy." -Gina
An exchange like that might, at first glance, make it seem like "In Treatment" season two will be a rehash of season one. But despite that outburst, and the way that this year's patients resemble last year's (most strongly this week with Oliver's parents and Walter, which I'll get to), this year already feels different.

Yes, Paul's in the midst of another crisis, brought on by the end of his marriage and the lawsuit brought by Alex's father -- and can I once again give a standing O to Mr. Glynn Turman for how brilliant he is each time we see him in that role? -- but he seems much more engaged and in control as a therapist than he did last year with any patient other than Sophie. This is a Paul who knows what he's doing, even if he doesn't know exactly who he is or what he wants, and it's nice to see him back at full professional strength even when he's a mess inside.

Now, patient-by-patient...

Mia (Hope Davis)
"It's not like therapy. The law is win or lose. There's no subtext here." -Mia
After the brief, painful encounter with Mr. Prince, Paul finds himself unexpectedly face-to-face with former patient Mia. He last saw her 20 years ago when both were just starting out, and while she's risen to literal heights in her profession (palatial office with an amazing view and a line of designer stilettos in the closet), she resents the hell out of Paul for abandoning her two decades earlier.

One of the things I always liked about the occasional off-format episodes from season one (Paul and Laura at Alex's funeral, Paul and his daughter Rosie hanging out) is that, while they don't technically feature therapy, they're still structured like any of Paul's other therapy sessions. It's predominantly just two characters talking, questioning one another and revealing uncomfortable truths along the way.

The fun in this one was the role reversal halfway through. For a while there, Mia has the advantage of Paul. He's not prepared to see this woman from his past, while she's not only ready, but armed with a file full of personal info she can use to pick at Paul and hurt him the way she feels he hurt her two decades ago. Paul's always uncomfortable to some degree when he's on the couch with Gina, but there are rules there, as well as some degree of personal warmth. Here, he's just under assault and confused and miserable...

...until the moment Mia's boss, Bennett, comes in and (intentionally or not) cuts Mia's legs out from under her, and Paul, to his relief, gets to assume control of the "session."

It's not a spoiler to say that Paul and Mia will soon resume the doctor/patient relationship, and Hope Davis is so good at playing sharp-edged, brittle characters like this that I look forward to seeing more of her.

April (Alison Pill)
"I think you need to have a conversation that takes place outside your own head." -Paul

That immediately raises the stakes on the April sessions above all the other episodes. Mia and Oliver and Walter -- and Paul, for that matter -- have their own problems, but April's the only one who will die if Paul can't unlock her problems, ASAP. Therapists no doubt deal with patients all the time who have thoughts of suicide, and April's refusal to do anything about her diagnosis is its own kind of suicide. We know from last year (particularly the sessions with Sophie) that Paul has a savior complex, and April is going to need a savior right around now.

What makes this episode particularly sing is how much time is spent establishing who April is as a person, and how she's going to deal with Paul, before she hands him the piece of paper. You meet her and she's tough and sarcastic and has impossibly high standards for people, and then you see Paul meet those standards by correctly diagnosing her character just as she was about to write him off as another moron like the New School in-house counselor. (Because Paul was such a wreck last season, those moments of professional brilliance were rarer, but they're no less engaging for coming up more often this year.)

I could spend a year writing praise of all four of the new actors (in addition to what I wrote about Byrne in my column), but this week I want to single out Alison Pill for creating such an immediate impression on me, as April does on Paul. April's a hard nut to crack -- if she wasn't, she'd be in chemo already -- and Pill does a wonderful job of making her a person first, and a cancer victim a distant second. The moment where she describes telling the construction worker about her cancer to shut him up -- "It was awesome!... Not really." -- was just beautiful.

Oliver (Aaron Shaw)
"Maybe we should apologize to Oliver, too. Sometimes adults forget the rules." -Paul
In season two of the Israeli show, this was the continuation of the Jake and Amy story, where the therapist, having presided over the end of their marriage, is now brought in to help their son deal with that. Some of the material is similar (Jake and Amy used to bicker about how much junk food their son ate), and the relationship between Luke and Bess is no less toxic, but it doesn't feel like they just recast the roles Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz played last year. This is a mess, and Oliver, like April, needs rescuing, but it's its own mess.

We see here that both sides are doing what they think is best for the kid, but in extreme, counter-productive ways. Bess wants to protect Oliver, but she's doing it in a way that smothers him, while Luke wants to let the kid be his own man by basically abandoning him.

It's a terrible situation, but Oliver is lucky about one thing: Paul is very, very good with kids. (So long as they're not his own, of course.)

Walter (John Mahoney)
"Tell me what my problem is and what I need to do." -Walter
If Bess and Luke are the most obvious sequels to season one characters, then Walter is close behind. As I watched him challenge Paul on every insight and try to dictate the terms of their conversation, I said to myself, "He's Alex."

Now, John Mahoney and Blair Underwood are two very different actors, and the characters have distinct problems and personalities (Walter is less of an ass about it than Alex ever was), but they're of the same controlling type, which makes it interesting to see how Paul deals with that type this time around -- especially since he still feels so much guilt for failing to save Alex. Paul got defensive with Alex almost immediately; here, he's not letting Walter push his buttons, content to bide his time and figure out what's causing his sleeplessness...

...which, of course, turns out to not even be the biggest problem, as we see with the panic attack at the end of the episode. What's so startling about it is how easily Walter brushes the whole thing off by telling Paul, "I knew it would go away. They always do." This is a man fundamentally lacking in some type of self-awareness -- you can see him getting frustrated as Paul makes him examine his feelings about his daughter being in Rwanda -- and that can be a tricky, maybe even dangerous, thing in therapy. If a man makes it to Walter's age and level of success without significant self-examination, does it do more harm than good to ask him to do it now?

Gina (Dianne Wiest)
"I want you to tell me what to do. I want to know what to feel about all this." -Paul
Ah, Gina.

Because we're dealing with two professional equals, more or less, and because Paul knows what the point of therapy is, the Gina sessions usually require less dancing around than the ones where Paul's in charge. But the fun of this one was in watching Gina play Paul much more nimbly than Paul ever manipulates his patients, guiding him to where she knew he needed to go -- asking to resume their therapy -- even as she was playing along with his denial. ("We're friends, talking about work.")

Paul's juggling a lot of issues here -- guilt over Alex, guilt over the almost-affair with Laura (and how he feels that situation may have led to Alex's death), angst over the divorce and separation from his kids, fear of losing his career through the lawsuit, fear of losing yet another patient (April), plus the unresolved issues with his parents that Gina keeps pressing him to talk about -- and it helps to have Byrne and Wiest working opposite each other to sort them all out.

Finally, a few other thoughts:

• Warren Leight, who took over from Rodrigo Garcia as showrunner this year, tried to as best he could to assign specific writers to specific patients, and he and Paris Barclay wanted to do the same with the directors. The latter proved impossible due to the scheduling problems detailed in the behind-the-scenes story (though Ryan Fleck managed to do most of the Oliver episodes), and even the writing match didn't work all the way through the season, but for now, you've got (with Leight co-scripting this week) Jacquelyn Reingold on Mia, Sarah Treem on April, Keith Bunin on Oliver, Pat Healy on Walter and Marsha Norman on Paul/Gina.

• I really like Paul's new office, which is more connected to the outside world through those big windows, and through all the Brooklyn references this time out. It wasn't clear for a very long time in season one that Paul practiced in suburban Maryland.

• Speaking of those windows, note that each session (including Mia as of next week) takes place at a different time of day (April around lunch, Oliver in late afternoon, Walter in early evening) to allow a different quality of light into the set and give each session its own atmosphere beyond what the patient brings.

• Other than the return of Mr. Prince, my favorite pre-credits sequence of the week was Paul on the Amtrak train, trapped next to the heavyset guy who blames his own shrink for his divorce. "So what do you do?" "I'm in sales." Ha!

• In addition to all the new patients, we get to meet a part of Paul's past when it turns out that his first girlfriend, Tammy Kent (Laila Robbins) is conveniently also a patient of Gina's. Small town, indeed.

What did everybody else think?


sedeyus said...

The only thing that I don't get is why Paul would move to New York in the first place? I know they're were real-world concerns with Gabriel Byrnes not wanting to be away from his family so they moved production, but it doesn't seem to make sense for the character. He'd lose all his patients, friends, and be hours away from his kids. They should have try to fake Maryland and considering the entire show happens in two rooms I think they could have gotten away with it.

Nicole said...

I've only seen the first two episodes, but so far I am loving this as much as last year. I do hope that Mia does not take on Paul's case, especially if she ends up his patient. That screams all kinds of wrong, even if one ignores the ethical code. Ultimately, I don't think a case like this would be successful, but the stress of the lawsuit is an interesting enough impetus for Gabriel this season. In real life terms, it could realistically carry over to next year as well, as it's unlikely that a trial would happen in less than a year after he was served with the action.

LA said...

I think I'm still processing week one, I'm finding I have very little to say. So I'll say this.

I've seen all five episodes, and I think this season looks very promising indeed. I'm very impressed with the actors they've gathered. I'm in for the long haul, hopelessly hooked.

dez said...

^I'm in the same space as LA, still processing and definitely in for the long haul. Only difference for me this season vs. last is that I like all the patients so far (no Laura in there, thank God!).

Unknown said...

The only thing that I don't get is why Paul would move to New York in the first place?

In his session with Gina, he said that he was offered a teaching position with his alma mater. So he has a steady income to build upon with what he can make from new patients.

Walter's response to his daughter's e-mail was interesting to me. As Paul said, she sounded as if she was handling a very stressful situation in a mature way, and letting her dad know how she felt about things. Walter, who is all about not letting people know how he feels about things, can only interpret her sharing as a "cry for help."

His situation with his daughter makes an interesting parallel with April's with her parents. She hasn't been letting them know what's going on with her life, but she's in a situation where she really needs someone to get on the first plane and drag her to the doctor.

Anonymous said...

"We know from last year (particularly the sessions with Mia) that Paul has a savior complex"

Did you mean Sophie? Also, there's an asterisk after Paul's parents but no footnote.

Anyway, I loved last year, and this is off to a good start

Boricua in Texas said...

Last season, I thought Sophie's story was very compelling, but I am completely put off by the April character. I tried, but I just could not find any sympathy for her.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Did you mean Sophie? Also, there's an asterisk after Paul's parents but no footnote.

Yes, I meant Sophie (the actress' name was Mia, which keeps confusing me), and the footnote was going to lead to something I decided not to mention yet, only I forgot to take the asterisk out. Thanks for pointing out both.

tabernacle said...

"I'm in sales" was indeed hilarious.

I was particularly impressed with the economy with which Paul and Mia's history was established. The most enjoyable thing (in books/film/TV) is subtext, and the show is great at managing to create a lot of it--which is difficult, since it immediately has to destroy it by making it explicit text, since the subject matter of the show is analysis.

I'm so glad the show is back.

KC said...

These episodes are done extremely well in that they feel so uncomfortable to watch. Byrne is masterful at moving from being so astute and in control to someone so desolate, fidgity and all doom and gloom about his life. He is great in this role.

I feel more engaged with these new patients from the start, which I take as a good sign for the season. Also, after last season I am better equiped to see the interweaving of the storylines seeing the episodes as part of a whole. All the character actors seem great.

I love watching Paul with Gina, and what appears to have been little contact since last season ended. She reads him so easily and sees through the facade to his vulnerability. I loved the way their episode ended. with them both sitting so close, yet uncomfortabley together there on the couch.

I like that the episodes run together this way, it is a better way of presenting the show. So I think I am going to very much enjoy this season. Excellent so far.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

I am very excited about this season - it was well-cast and the storylines are intriguing. Just when you think each character is obvious, they throw something new at you.

My least favorite character is April, but the way this show rolls, that could easily change next week.

Anonymous said...

Although put off by the opening Mia episode (feels unlikely that a malpractice lawyer would engage in malpractice as she did) the rest of the episodes were great, especially John Mahoney as Walter. But boy, do I miss Sophie.

Byron Hauck said...

As a fellow 23 year old, albeit one who doesn't have cancer (fingers crossed!), I enjoyed Pill's character. We really are that prickly and annoying. I also liked that not all of her jokes worked out as well as she wanted them to.

Anonymous said...

So Paul grew up in Maryland? Since Byrne uses his native Irish accent I thought they'd make Paul Irish, too, maybe coming to the United States for college. But here in this episode they mention him growing up with Tammy Kent. I guess they just took the original storyline from the Israeli show and forgot about the "accent" problem.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's implied they knew each other as teenagers, which still gives Paul enough time to live in Ireland and get the accent.

TC said...

I'm definitely fully invested already, if not totally on board with all of the characters, if that makes sense.

I know I'll be all over the Oliver storyline. My heart was just breaking for that poor kid through the whole episode. I think he played it perfectly. And, of course Paul's adeptness with him. Plus the actor who plays the father was an acquaintance in college (Go BU!) which is actually somewhat distracting.

I loved the irony of Paul giving Gina the "just tell me" treatment that he gets from his patients.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

Unfortunately, I didn't see last season's shows, but I'm definitely already hooked on this one. I'll have to see if I can find them someplace so I don't feel so behind the curve.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone else distracted by the frequent editing mistakes? One instance in friday's episode was especially jarring because it had Paul looking straight ahead in the close-up shot and then switched abdruptly to a general shot in which Paul was looking down onto his hands.

I don't know, maybe I'm just being pedantic, but In Treatment specifically demands such an intimacy with it's characters that any error which reveals you're just watching a TV show dampens it's emotional impact considerably. Also, this is a show in which every single glance is considered important, so I'm kinda dissapointed they don't pay attention to details such as these.

But yeah, except that, great patients and more fuel to my obsession.

furtive said...

"sedeyus said...
The only thing that I don't get is why Paul would move to New York in the first place? I know they're were real-world concerns with Gabriel Byrnes not wanting to be away from his family so they moved production, but it doesn't seem to make sense for the character. He'd lose all his patients, friends, and be hours away from his kids. They should have try to fake Maryland and considering the entire show happens in two rooms I think they could have gotten away with it.

11:30 PM, April 06, 2009"

Paul left Maryland to be away from BOTH his obsession, Laura, and avoid dealing with the consequences and guilt of his failed marriage
He returned to Maryland to work when he completed school in NYC. NYC apparently is the only OTHER place he has lived for any length of time, and he obviously enjoyed it.

As for Gabriel Byrne, he happens to live in Brooklyn!
The show was always shot in NY I believe, never on location in Maryland.