A lot of therapy boils down to relationships between parents and their children. The classic gag about psychoanalysis is that you lay down on a couch and the man with the thick, German accent says, "Tell me about your mother." But, really, so much of who are stems from our parents, and so much of what we do with our adult lives is about how we raise our children (assuming we have one or two of the adorable little scamps). In Treatment has always engaged with these sorts of issues. Obviously, it would have to. But in tonight's two episodes, we get a look at how two very different men (well, one is almost a man) are dealing with their upbringing. Jesse's a troubled kid, sure, but he's also struggling with the fact that being adopted has left him with parents, sure, but not the clear, parental figures he so obviously wants. He has his adoptive parents, his biological parents, his social worker, and Paul. (Perhaps tellingly, he suggests hooking up Paul and his social worker.)
Meanwhile, Paul is dealing with the legacies of his own father, the man who haunts his every move in some ways and has for all of the seasons of this show. Even though his father is dead, the man continues to haunt Paul's dreams. The dream Adele was so curious about last week? It turns out to be about Paul turning to confront his father, lurching toward him like something out of a bad horror film. Paul interprets this to be about the fact that he's been manifesting some symptoms of the Parkinson's his father saw (even though the doctor doesn't seem to agree with Paul's self-diagnosis), but it seems just as clear that Paul, troubled by his relationship with his own kids, could be having these dreams because he fears turning into his father not in a physical sense, necessarily, but also in a mental and emotional sense. He sees his father as an unfeeling monster, but his work with Gina caused him to be able to glimpse other sides of the man. Yet he's not ready to identify with dad (another man who had a strained relationship with his children) beyond seeing him as a human being.
The point is that today's episodes delve deeply into these ideas. Come to think of it, so do the Sunil episodes, which are more explicitly about the relationship between the older generation and the younger one. With Paul's own son as a sort of half-there presence in tonight's episodes (Jesse talking about Max more than Max is seen), it reinforces this idea that we are all flawed machines, doomed to pass along our flaws to each new iteration of ourselves, no matter how aware we may be of those flaws. Paul's the most self-aware man on television (well, some of the time), but he can't help but pass Parkinson's on to his children if he has it, nor can he help passing on what Jesse, Adele, and the absent Gina all see as a tendency toward depression.
But what of the episodes themselves?
Jesse: Look, I am basically going to be unable to be objective about the Jesse storyline at all. As an adopted person who realized in his teens that he really loved his family yet still didn't quite feel a part OF his family (though I'll caution you this is not as dramatic as it sounds), Jesse's quest to figure out who he really is (or, Paul theorizes, his quest to avoid the answer to who the "real Jesse" is) resonates deeply with me, and I may end up incapable of talking about it in objective terms. That said, it seems like most of the Internet has rallied to Jesse as the most compelling of Paul's new patients, though that seems to happen every season with the teenager/young twentysomething Paul treats. (The love for April got downright deafening among the very small In Treatment fan base.)
Anyway, Jesse continues to push the edges of just what might be seen as acceptable. He complains about his adoptive mother, Marissa, endlessly, yet it seems as if he often lives just to make trouble for her. This may stem from his adoptive parents not accepting his sexual identity, though we don't really have much to go on either way with this, just a few stray comments from Jesse that may indicate there's some tension around this issue. The point is that Jesse himself sees his parents as not exactly approving of who he is and the fact that he's attracted to men. Good enough. Add on to that, though, the fact that he's far from eager to reconnect with his birth parents, who've recently found him, and it seems like you've got a recipe for something beyond the normal teenage rebellion. When Jesse wants to be, he can be quite a nice kid (notice how he seems almost sweet when he cracks the joke about Paul being his social worker's type), but Paul's diagnosis that Jesse's scared of finding out the truth about who he really is, of learning his origin story, in other words, strikes me as a step down the right path toward the "answer," whatever that is.
That said, I really do think the acting in this episode was the best it's been so far this season. Gabriel Byrne is always at his best when he can portray a kind of warm benevolence that he seems to extend solely to kids and teens who've gotten a raw deal. Dane DeHaan, meanwhile, does terrific work when playing Jesse's angrier sides, the parts of him that don't get much chance to express themselves in his day to day life. All of us, as teens, threatened to break something just to make a scene, even though an adult kindly asked us not to (the kindness driving us EVEN MORE INSANE), then didn't follow through on it. DeHaan nails that in one scene tonight, then actually makes a tearful scene feel earned, not forced. (His line about how when his mother looks at him she just sees two strangers having sex was tremendously sad.)
Adele: I'm liking Adele quite a bit, but if there's one thing I don't like about these segments, it's the way they seem to apply a puzzle-solving approach to therapy. Adele tries to find little places where Paul slips into similar cadences or symbols in his dreams or all of the sorts of things that promise a superficial, easy answer to life's problems, and I think the show mistakes those moments for insight. It doesn't make the episodes any less powerful, but it does feel a little more like a garden-variety crime procedural or something when Adele quiets Paul to tell him that he speaks of two different things in a similar way. I think Amy Ryan plays these moments well, making them part of a young therapist's quest to understand an older therapist, but I do worry the show is relying on them a bit too much.
But all that aside, this is once again a tremendous acting showcase. Byrne rarely gets a chance to go overtly emotional on this show, since it so often leaves him sitting in a chair and quietly listening or remarking on something, but in this episode, he got to match some of his most intense moments with Gina in the past few seasons. What's most interesting to me is that Paul clearly thinks that Gina wrote him into her new book as a character, not to mention a very depressed one. ("Like the demon spawn of Bartleby and Shylock!" he says, which would make a good pull-quote.) It's an interesting story to play out, but I don't see how it could reach any sort of catharsis without Dianne Wiest returning.
Meanwhile, Ryan is very good at pushing Paul toward places he doesn't want to go. Adele is a different creature from Gina, less willing to take Paul's long-windedness but also more willing to let him go toward unexplored places. She doesn't know the man, after all, and she's trying to figure out the best way to help him. The abruptness of Adele's approach doesn't make her wildly different from Gina, but it makes her just different enough that these sessions have a new and interesting energy, where the Gina sessions flagged just a bit toward the end of season two. Will Adele succeed in unlocking whether Paul's Parkinson's is psychosomatic (as I think it must be)? Only time will tell, but Ryan is giving Paul a worthy adversary.
- Fun facts: The actor who's appeared in the third-most episodes of In Treatment after Gabriel Byrne and Dianne Wiest is ... Michelle Forbes. It makes sense now that I think about it, but I wouldn't have guessed that.
- It's a little distracting to not have Max Burkholder playing Paul's son anymore. I guess I hadn't realized I'd gotten used to him, even though he was only ever in a handful of episodes. The new kid isn't bad or anything, but recasting like this is often hard to get over. (And isn't it weird that BOTH of Paul's kids ended up on Parenthood?)
- Is In Treatment trying to start its own, Lost-esque reading club? I'd never heard of The Memory of Running, but now it sounds like the kind of thing I might want to check out. Also, one of the writers should get on cranking out a serviceable edition of Gina's novel, post-haste. Amy Bloom would love it, and Showtime came up with a Hank Moody novel to promote Californication. Chop, chop!