Monday, April 13, 2009

In Treatment: Week two in review

Once again, I'm reviewing all five episodes this week of "In Treatment" in one clip, with some overall thoughts on the week, followed by brief thoughts on each patient's episode. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I get a turtle...

Though the stories of each patient tend to move at different paces, "In Treatment" usually has thematic connections in each week. This week is about denial -- and about ticking clocks.

We're bookended by two people (first Mia, then Paul) being in denial about whether they're actually having a therapy session, and in between you have April refusing to deal with her cancer diagnosis, Oliver's parents being so lost in their own heads that they failed to have a candid conversation with their son about the separation, and Walter revealing that he's spent a lifetime with his psyche stuck in the sand.

Beyond that, there's an urgency to several of the cases. Mia notes that she basically needed to decide yesterday to get pregnant, so Paul doesn't have much time to get her head wrapped around what she wants her life to be. April's deadline is even more pressing -- it's literally life and death -- while Oliver's dad messes up the divorce timetable by jumping into a new relationship, and the scandal at Walter's company gets worse, jumping from the business section to the front page.

And Paul? Paul needs to let Gina help him, so he can help his patients -- fast.

"I meant you owe me a child, Paul. That's what you owe me." -Mia
Mia's a tough nut to crack, so after last week's non-therapy session at her office, here she comes to see Paul, allegedly not for therapy but so she can apologize for how she acted a week ago -- and, really, so she can demand apologies from Paul for encouraging her to have an abortion and sending her down the road to being 43, single, childless and practically infertile.

But did he actually encourage her, or is that just how Mia remembers it 20 years later? There are times when Gabriel Byrne makes Paul's expressions clear as day, and times when he's deliberately inscrutable. This episode featured more of the latter, particularly as Mia recounted her memory of their old therapy sessions together. It's entirely possible that Paul has forgotten how it all went down, but it's equally possible that he's just letting her vent because hearing her version of things gives him insight into the issues she's dealing with today. The end of the episode, where Paul takes out Mia's old file -- and, remember, he said last week he stopped taking notes 15 years ago, but he treated her before that -- skims it, and then removes the cassette tape of classical music that's presumably the "gift" she gave him all those years ago. If he doesn't remember it all, he remembers enough.

Mia, meanwhile, is not only in denial of the fact that she's having a therapy session, but of the role her father played in her decision to terminate the pregnancy. Her dad both figuratively and literally drove her to the abortion, but she makes him blameless and directs all of her anger at Paul. Her comment about how all girls share secrets with their daddies raised my eyebrows even more than it did Paul's, and it wouldn't be "In Treatment" if we weren't about to explore some parental issues.

As others have pointed out, Mia could very easily be a caricature of the bitter career woman, but the character is saved by the specificity of the writing and by the vulnerability Hope Davis gives her. I love the way she delivers the line about how her affair with Bennett was like a fairy tale -- "Princess f---s the frog" -- because it's funny but it's also sad, and Mia recognizes both those things at once.

"April, would you rather die than be weak?" -Paul
April is, if anything, even more hostile and sarcastic than Mia, and understandably so. If Mia doesn't beat her ticking clock, she still gets to live. Even if Paul helps April get over the problems that are keeping her from getting chemo, she could still suffer an early and very painful death.

Like Walter with his panic attack last week, we see April has her own unsettling physical issue -- the hand tremors -- that she treats as totally normal, and the more we hear from her, the more we realize she's dealing with so much that she has no room to add another problem like the tremors, let alone the cancer.

She and the show are also doing their damndest to keep Paul and the audience at arm's length. Because she's dying, it would be so easy for her story to overwhelm the other four (including Paul's), but she has her armor up and doesn't want to be a victim. She's abrasive and self-destructive and we found out that she cheated on the boyfriend (with his best friend) she's been ranting about for much of the last two episodes.

But you can see in Alison Pill's great performance how much of an effort this is for April, and Paul can see it, too. He knows she wants help, even if she can't admit it, and so he cleverly finds the weak spots in that armor. She's smart enough to anticipate Paul's questions before he asks them, but rather than act offended by her presumption, Paul plays it like it only makes his job easier that she can see things from his point of view.

And looking through other people's eyes is definitely not one of her problems. She understands her autistic brother better than she understands anyone else in the world, and you can see her starting to disconnect herself from the world in the same way that he does. And that's scary, and dangerous -- dangerous enough that, while Paul promises to not discuss her case outside this room, he starts taking notes for the first time in decades, hoping to prevent another Alex situation.

"So you are getting a divorce, because of me?" -Oliver
While Oliver's predicament isn't quite as dire as April's, it's still pretty brutal. And because he doesn't have April's prickly defenses yet -- which, frankly, is one of the reasons he's suffering so much now -- he's an even more sympathetic character. Aaron Shaw is so natural as the poor kid that it really hurts to see his parents be oblivious twits around him, and I want Paul to yell at them even more than I want him to grab April by the wrist and physically escort her to chemo.

The pre-credits scene neatly illustrated the family's larger problem: they're each listening to their iPods, lost in their own worlds, oblivious to each other's wants and needs, and then Oliver is gobsmacked to see a perfectly happy-looking couple emerge from Paul's office. You can see him asking himself, "Is that what a normal family looks like?"

Oliver shows off the baby turtle he got for a class project, and his fears of what he might do to it -- forgetting to feed it, leaving it behind (which he, in fact, does) -- sound very much like how Luke is treating him. Luke wants Oliver to be a man, but he's not a man yet, and in this time more than anything else -- as he's suffering not only from his parents' fighting, but from being mercilessly picked on at school and having no one he feels he can tell about it -- he needs to be a boy, and to let his father take care of him.

And then, just as I was imagining that awful story about hiding behind the bush at the party and getting urinated on, Oliver went and proved that he's more perceptive than either of his parents realize. When Luke tells Bess about his new girlfriend, and Bess explodes at him, Oliver recognizes that the only good move in that situation -- for Luke, for himself, and even for his mom -- is to step up and offer to stay at Luke's apartment after refusing to go for the last week. The offer undercut Bess' attempt to attack Luke for not having Oliver's best interests at heart, and if it hurt his mom to hear Oliver siding with his dad for once, it still shut her up. And for this family, the only time they seem truly at peace is when none of them are talking (ala the opening scene); they may not be hearing what the others are feeling, but they're also not making the situation any worse.

"Don't read too much into that." -Walter
As Paul notes, that's a hell of a thing to say to your therapist, isn't it? But that's Walter's big problem: he doesn't read too much into anything, and so he's spent most of his long life completely oblivious to the importance of his panic attacks, or their connection to the other terrible tragedies he's suffered. He doesn't understand that the attacks are tied to his brother's death, or that a recent one might have been triggered by news of the death of Bob the security guard.

He has no flippin' clue. And, as I asked last week, might he not be better off at this point without Paul trying to give him one? Walter's made it into his 60s, and to a prominent (albeit currently embattled) position in the business sector while managing to ignore the root causes of his pain. Is making him confront his feelings about his brother's death and the rest really going to help him at this late date, or just cause more pain?

This was another great episode for Gabriel Byrne reactions, particularly the look on his face as Walter relates the chilling line his father gave him after his brother died: "This is yours now. I just told your mother, now I know why we had you." What the hell do you say in response to that? Particularly to a man who shrugs it off like it's nothing?

After Walter pays in cash -- like a drinker giving an insightful bartender a particularly big tip -- we see, as we do at the end of the April episode, just how much all of this weighs on Paul. He's good at his job -- and better than he was last year -- but sharing other people's secret pain is a burden, particularly when you understand that pain so much better than your patients.

"Maybe that's something you could work on in therapy." -Gina
Just like last week, we get to see Gina the brilliant puppet-master, carefully leading Paul down the path she knows he needs to walk, no matter how angrily he denies that. They've moved past whatever grudges they had last year. Now she's just his doctor, and she's not going to indulge -- or even really acknowledge -- his tantrums. She's just going to keep nudging him in the right direction until he stops griping and starts self-examining.

With April having ordered Paul not to discuss her with anyone else, the bulk of the session deals with Paul's own past -- both the cases from last season and the bits of his childhood we already know a little about. Laura is still a presence in the room, thanks to her being deposed by Mr. Prince's lawyers, and for the first time, Paul seems to recognize that Alex wasn't sleeping with her to one-up Paul, but as an unspoken (probably unconscious) cry for help.

Like Walter, Paul tells his own painful childhood story, of the Christmas Eve party where he and Tammy Kent made out, followed by Paul returning home to find his mother after her first suicide attempt. Though Paul, like his patients, doesn't want to talk about his parents, it's clear that his savior complex came about precisely because he couldn't eventually stop his mom from killing herself. So Alex's apparent suicide, and April's attempt to do the same, are especially painful to him.

What I found interesting the first time I watched this episode was the expression on Dianne Wiest's face as Paul tells the Christmas Eve story, followed by Gina's suggestion that Paul call Tammy. What exactly does she know, if anything? Did Tammy -- her memory perhaps jogged by seeing Paul last week -- give her own version of that story in the previous session?

A few other thoughts:

• Lots of references, some more overt than others, to Paul's family. During the Oliver session, the camera lingers on his face for a long time as Luke and Bess fight, and it's clear he's thinking back to all the similar fights he and Kate had while facing Gina under similar circumstances a year ago. Then we see, briefly, Paul's daughter Rosie (played, again, by Mae Whitman, aka Ann from "Arrested Development") -- who, like Oliver, doesn't want to accept the reality of her parents' separation -- and Michelle Forbes as Kate, who still feels incredibly bitter towards Paul. (And, in bringing up how he neglects his younger son, she reminds us again that Paul's really only good with kids when they're patients.)

• I loved the shot of Oliver sitting in Paul's chair, his feet dangling way above the floor. Didn't Sophie try sitting in his chair a time or three last season?

• Hagai Levi, creator of the original Israeli "Be'Tipul," directed both the April and Walter episodes this week.

What did everybody else think?


Turtles Are GOOD said...

I feel cheated about my elementary school experience. I was never once given a free pet turtle.

Oaktown Girl said...

I think I was most moved by Paul's realization about why Alex did the things he did with Laura.

LA said...

I find myself reacting to Bess because I know a woman who coddles her son the same way. If only the boy I know in real life was as perceptive as Oliver, but in fact, he's turned into a sad case of arrested development.

And why do I feel like the turtle is Chekhov's gun?

Gregory Sarmz said...

I am hoping that the turtle is a recurring character throughout the remainder of season 2.

My favorite animal is a turtle and I think having a turtle as a recurring character adds an incredibly intriguing twist to an already compelling show.

What, for example, is symbolized by the fact that both young Oliver and Paul placed the turtle in an inadequate habitat? Oliver had the turtle in a tupperware container in his backpack, and Paul has placed it in a small bowl.

The turtle clearly requires a decent sized aquarium to be happy.

The turtle may also be a symbol, for example, what color is a turtle? A turtle is green. Isn't it true that some of the characters are "GREEN with envy"???? April is envious of her exes new girlfriend, Mia is envious of those with children, Walter is envious of his brother, Oliver is envious of those children who are skinny and popular, and Paul is no doubt envious of those with less complicated jobs.

Green is a color associated with envy and jealousy, so is it a coincidence that a turtle too is green? I doubt it.

Let us also remember that a turtle is a creature who can be afraid to come out of its shell. A turtle likes to hide from its problems. A turtle retreats within itself for protection. Is this not exactly what many of Paul's patients are doing, most notably April and Walter? Indeed, they are very similar to a turtle.

It seems that there are many layers of symbolism within the turtle character.

What does it mean that the turtle escaped from Oliver? What does it mean that the next day the turtle was attempting to escape from the bowl?

Is this foreshadowing? Will one of Paul's patients try to escape from him? Or does it simply mean that the patients are resisting Paul's efforts?

There are a lot of clues embodied in the turtle character, and I think we should follow his actions and developments closely for clues to potential character and plot developments in future episodes.

Dan said...

The turtle is adorable. I'm so glad they decided to add a turtle character into the storyline this season.

My favorite patient so far this season however happens to be April. I think this season could possibly be better than the first season. In the first season there was one day I had virtually no interest in: the Jake and Amy story. Just boring to me.

This season I think all of the characters are great, and they took it to an even higher level by adding a turtle character this week. The first season was brilliant but this season looks to be even better. I have a feeling this will be remembered as "The Turtle Season" when people discuss the series of In Treatment as a whole in future years.

I wonder how many seasons there are going to be. How long did the Israeli version last? I could see the show lasting quite awhile really. A psychologist always has new patients after all, or it'd even be interesting to bring back a patient from a previous season and see what they're up to.

I am really looking forward to the Oliver episode next week to see Paul give the turtle back, and I'm also interested to see if Mia or particularly April will have any scenes with the turtle. Presumably Paul is keeping the Turtle until his next session with Oliver and his parents, so the turtle should still be there when Mia and April have their next sessions.

My fear though is what will happen in the following weeks. How will the turtle remain an aspect of the story if Oliver takes it home? It's too early in the season to kill it off. Maybe Oliver will be upset that he'd forgot the turtle, and think he's not able to take care of it? Maybe he will leave it with Paul? Maybe in the finale episode for Oliver, he will take the turtle back, finally having the self-confidence to accept the responsibility? I hope something like this happens, then the turtle will have the potential to appear every week and have some kind of interaction with all of the characters.

Anonymous said...

Wow, who would've thought that with all the wonderful performances we're getting this season, the biggest raves and lengthiest discussion would be for a turtle.

I'm enjoying the touches of humor this season, and not just with the turtle. The first thing I noticed when I saw Rosie was her hair, and not a split second later, we learn that she and Kate were discussing that very thing.

I'm sure there will be other thematic parallels with the turtle in the future, but I hope it doesn't become that loaded. The symbolism of the turtle's green color is a bit strained, in my opinion. I thought same thing about the "black and blue" symbolism Mia observed, but it was a throwaway comment, and it illustrated the excess meaning with which she infused her past experience with Paul.

I'm actually surprised at how much the events of last season are figuring in so far, and it's looking like it's only going to intensify as this season progresses.

TC said...

Is anyone else annoyed by the challenges to DVRing this show? By scheduling the episodes each night with weird start/end times, the last minutes/seconds of each episode gets cut off and "added" to the beginning of the next ep. Obviously, you only miss a few seconds, but that along with the choppiness of stopping then starting watching really takes away from the experience for me.

It's not a big deal, and I've changed to a manual recording of just the full time slots on each night, but you'd think HBO would be more in tune to this kind of thing. Or did they do that on purpose to undermine the DVRing?

S. Tarzan said...

I've taken to watching the April episodes twice (once on Sunday, and again before the new episodes on Monday), and I noticed this time that although she talks about how much she wanted to dissociate while having sex with Kevin that last time, when she describes the act itself, it's very much in that out-of-body tone. I don't know what that means, but I found it interesting.

dez said...

I am hoping that the turtle is a recurring character throughout the remainder of season 2.I think the turtle is this season's wave machine (which is now located in Paul's "waiting room").

Speaking of the turtle's symbolism: I thought it was interesting that when Paul discovers Oliver left it behind, the turtle is hiding in its shell, only poking its head out after Oliver & family have left.

As painful as it will be, Walter does need to confront his problems because he's been suffering too long and confronting his issues means he can live the rest of his life pain-free (or at least, panic-attack-free). He's so screwed up that he has panic attacks in his sleep. Poor guy needs a break.

I doubt Paul told Mia to have an abortion; she's just put the blame on him for her life not turning out how she thought it would. A good therapist guides a patient to her own revelations and doesn't make decisions for her (except in extreme cases, of course). I trust Paul's memory on this more than Mia's at this point.

The sessions with Gina and April rocked this week. Looking forward to more unraveling in those eps.

Finally: I like turtles. I'm glad no one stepped on the poor thing while they were storming around Paul's office :-)

Oded said...


Be'Tipul had two seasons, and so far, no third season has been announced. (Of courde, Hagai Levi is a little busy with the american version these days...)

kathy said...

I love this season. John Mahoney is my favorite new patient so far. The character is great and of course, John Mahoney playing him brings it to another level, he's tremendous. At some point this season, I imagine that everythngn he has been willing himself not to feel his entire life is going to start surfacing and that is going to be something to see...look out, Paul.

I watched all 5 episodes in a row last night -- I love this show but there was no way I wasn't going to watch the "Rock of Love Bus" finale on Sunday at 9pm -- and while 2.5 hours of TV is a lot in one sitting, it's definitely the best way to watch it.

I have had zero success talking anyone into watching this show, people I know would love it if they gave it a chance. The concept just turns them off, or I'm explaining it really poorly.

LA said...

Part of my loathing for Laura last season was Melissa George's portrayal. She wasn't convincing as a physician nor as someone Paul would love, and she had almost no control of her accent which came and went randomly throughout the season. It was distracting when all season I kept second-guessing the actor choice for Laura. This year, the cast is 100 percent top rate, and I'm loving it. I can't even pick a favorite story line this year because they're all equally good.

The Gregarious Misanthrope said...

What I so desperately want Mia to realize is that, if she had foregone law school to stay with Stevie and raise her child, no doubt she would resent the hell out of that life, too. She'd be railing about the brilliant law career she abandoned, how unfulfilled her life is, etc. What Mia doesn't seem to realize is that her life is screwed up because SHE made bad choices, and that her pregnancy left her stuck between two. Of course the road not traveled seems superior when you know where the road you chose leads. That does not mean the other path would have satisfied you either. There's no way for Paul to say that, of course, but that's the truth of Mia in my opinion.

Kentucky Fred said...

Does the turtle have a name?

I'm overjoyed they've added a turtle this season! Was NOT expecting that.

Alan Sepinwall said...

At this point, I really have no idea if all the turtle comments are satire or if there are a lot of you who are really, really into turtles.

Ostiose Vagrant said...

I don't know if we're allowed to speculate on this, but since this is In Treatment is it pretty much guaranteed that April also has parent (mostly father) issues? Like she was neglected by her parents because of her brother's condition and she resents it deep down even if she feels for her brother's illness. So she can't let herself be weak or let people help her that's what she resents about her home life because if she's getting cancer treatment and telling her folks then she becomes something like her brother.

Stella said...

I would suggest that the week's theme was "disappearance."

Paul asks April not to disappear. The turtle does disappear. Paul makes the crackling smart observation connecting Walter's anxiety for his daughter, his brother's death, and the guard Bob's disappearance. And then Paul tries to remember the past, which has disappeared on him, much like his mother. Where does Mia fit in all this disappearing? One could argue her non-existent child and the future she always wanted are a no-show. That might be pushing it, though. The others are real and could be capped off with Rosie's hug of her now disappeared dad.

Oh, and sometimes a turtle is just a turtle. Although in this case, it IS probably more, darn it.

AvgAmerican said...

It's great to read other viewer's comments about the episodes. You always point out perspectives that I had not considered and nuanced actor reactions that I hadn't paid enough attention to. Thanks, y'all.

This season, for me, is a joy to watch. Gabriel Byrne has Paul down pat and together with the camera work they have mastered the ability to communicate to the viewers what is being kept from the patients. The dialogue drags a bit with all the reflective listening, but if anything it puts a realistic touch on the sessions.

As for Walter, he is choosing to come to therapy which means it is his choice to reconcile his blissful ignorance with reality. Those two have been clashing for him for a while and his decision to work with Paul means for him it is time. I don't see his story having a happy ending though - he has much to wade through and it requires strength beyond appearances.

It was interesting to me that Rosie told Paul something to the effect that he wasn't going to get any more hugs. I wondered if Paul's efforts to heal her pain were heavy on the affection and light on the communication which is the opposite of what he does in the chair. At least she came to visit him.

Maybe Paul's lack of connection to Max reflects the lack of connection Paul has to his own childhood.

There were enough references to the turtle, for example the shot at the end of the Oliver episode when he came out of his shell, and Rosie's discovery of the little guy, that I think we are being asked to have our attention drawn to him. Isn't the little turtle the most defenseless and pathetic of all? He is completely dependent on others for his life and livelihood. I have no idea what will happen to him but I'm interested in the welfare of the helpless little creature.

I guess all we can do at this point is see what happens...

dez said...

I wasn't being satirical when I mentioned the turtle being this season's wave machine. I suspect the symbolism will grow as the season progresses.

Also, I was discussing the show with a friend at lunch and he noted that the whereabouts of the turtle heightened his anxiety during the episode (I had the same reaction), which I'm sure was deliberate on the part of the writer.

tabernacle said...

>>Ann from "Arrested Development") -- who

Of *course* the first word after the reference to Ann is "who"--awesome.

Mike F said...

Turtles are actually a great metaphor for therapy. Most patients have a shell and Paul's job is to get them to come out of it long enough through therapy to see what's underneath.

Therapy is a slow process, much like the speed at which a turtle moves.

You might characterize a turtle as "shrinking" into his shell.

Long live the turtle!!!

Turtle Scholar said...

It's interesting to me that some turtles are snapping could be said that some of Paul's patients "snap" at him.

Do you think this is an accident?

Hoof Hearted said...

What a great week of performances on TV. First we got the epic turtle appearance on In Treatment, then the amazing tortoise cameo on Breaking Bad. I'm left breathless.

erin said...

@Spiral Jacobs--that is EXACTLY what I thought watching Mia. If Paul had "convinced" her to have the baby (which I doubt he'd do anything of the sort) she'd blame him for the miserable life she had "stuck" in a crappy marriage with a man with no ambition and kids she hated. At any point before 43 she could've decided to adopt or foster, and with her income she'd be a likely candidate. The idea that she's sleeping with the boss that she so clearly hates is just one piece of obvious evidence at how much she hates herself and wants someone else to blame for her situation in life. Paul's a reasonable stand-in.

I'm also enjoying the season more than the 1st (which I loved) because the characters are less...antagonistic than the first set (snappish Sophie, ridiculous Laura, frosty Amy, Alex). Well, except April, but she just seems in denial. She and Sophie are the most alike to me. But the others just seem so...lost and confused. And more obviously sad. I even enjoy the Gina sessions because Paul was such a jerk last year, and this year he seems to admit he needs guidance. And I LAUGHED when Gina played him like she was leaving and he was being such a petulant baby. Oh, grow up and get therapy already. Take your medicine!

I still find it hard to understand his attentiveness with his daughter and not with his youngest son. That just doesn't make sense to me. Does that jive with the Paul character?

After each episode ends I just want to see the next with that character--that's good writing. And they're all about equal for me. And I love the turtle as an extra character. I too was worried about the little guy...I kept thinking he would pop up and surprise Bess, or get stepped on. I think the turtle motif works.

I only intend to watch an episode, and then I hammer out all 5. It's an excellent problem to have, but at this point I should know better! Better to watch them by week than a 40-episode long marathon!!