There was an interesting discussion in comments for yesterday's post that I'd like to look at before we get into tonight's episodes (which were both pretty great). RegisteredNickname believes that the problem with this season is that the stakes are too low. He points out that back in season one, one of the patients was trying to seduce Paul (Laura), another was responsible for the deaths of a bunch of civilians in a military setting (Alex), and another was suicidal and sexually abused (Sophie). All of this is, more or less, accurate. And if we expand to season two, we get yet another suicidal patient (Walter), a girl with cancer (April), and a child dealing with his parents splitting up (Oliver). This is all heavy stuff, and compared to this season, maybe it makes things seem a little lighter than they need to be.
But I also think it's misleading. For one thing, when we first met Sophie, we had no indication that she was suicidal. She was just a girl who'd fallen off her bike (albeit in a fairly ambiguous way) and wanted therapy for an unspecified trauma. Walter was just a guy who was trying to deal with his company falling apart, while Alex was just present because the military needed him to be. The true depths of their issues only became apparent over time, as the season went on (and you might remember how heavily the first season was criticized for being so slow moving). In Treatment is about slowly unraveling who people are, to get at their core, and wanting the show to be all high stakes all the time would hurt that central idea. To be fair, the April storyline came up right in the first episode, and it was obvious that Laura was trying to seduce Paul from the word go. But the Laura episodes were often very weak, while the April storyline, powerful as it was, rarely had anywhere to build to from the premiere. Sometimes, starting out with the stakes very high leaves no room to build.
And let me advance this as well: The stakes this season ARE very high. We have an older widower who suffers from a crippling depression and is stranded in a city he knows nothing about, living with his distant son and a daughter-in-law he has little use for. We have a woman who's about to lose a sibling she clearly has ambivalent feelings about and also stands to lose the skill that makes her capable of pulling off her livelihood, and that's without even mentioning the fact that she, too, may be sick. We've got a teenager who's coping with trying to figure out who he really is. And we're not just talking about his sexuality, as too many writers try to reduce Jesse to just another troubled, gay teenager. We're talking about the fact that he's adopted, trying to figure out his place in the world without knowing where all of his genetic code comes from. And then we have Paul, who may or may not have a life-shattering disease but definitely hasn't yet dealt with the fact that his marriage crumbled, and a new man is trying to be a new father to his kids.
This is all heavy, heavy stuff, and just because little of it lacks the threat of imminent death doesn't mean that it's low stakes. There's a reason, I think, that this show has never brought in a character who's in the immediate aftermath of a suicide attempt. The characters all either disguise their attempts (Sophie) or perform long-term suicide attempts (April) or try to commit suicide late in the process (Walter). In Treatment eschews heavy drama until the time is right. It's one of the things I love about it. (And if you're waiting for the stakes, I've read upcoming episode summaries. The stakes are definitely coming.)
Jesse: Now, I'm seeing a lot of people griping about how Jesse isn't up to the standards of some of the other "younger" characters on the show. I have to admit that I find this line of thought baffling, though I think critic Daniel T. Walters hits on a good point when he says on Twitter that Jesse wants you to hate him. He deliberately pushes people away, and he's kind of a dick to everyone who cares even the slightest bit about him. He brings his adoptive mother in to have Paul tell her about his birth mother contacting him, and when Paul won't do it, he lets her know in the worst way possible. He's a hard kid to "like" because he's such an asshole, but there's this sense of being wounded at his core that keeps me really invested in the character, in addition to the fascinating (and accurate) way the show is portraying the fallout that comes from being adopted and having to consider the idea of meeting your birth parents for the first time. (When I found mine, I was well into college, but I recently read an article about how Facebook has made finding the child you gave up far too easy, and this has created situations where teenagers, who are already pretty rebellious toward their parents, just aren't psychologically ready to meet a new set of parents, and heartache happens at every stage of the process.)
The best thing about this week's set of episodes was the presence of Jesse's mom, Marisa. She's trying her best to raise a son she doesn't understand on some fundamental level, a son who's of a sexuality the church she used to belong to condemns. What I like about Marisa and her portrayal by Dendrie Taylor is that both Paul's more charitable reading of her impulses and Jesse's more malicious reading of her actions can be seen as roughly the same. We don't see Marisa outside of Paul's office, but when she's waiting for her son at the end of the episode (a moment I knew had to be coming, but one that was, nonetheless, very powerful), it seems more likely that Jesse, unsure of how to deal with who he is on some level and smarting from the way his father has pushed him away, has just tried to write a woman who's loving him the best way she knows how out of his life.
I would quibble with some of the judgments Paul makes in this episode. Leaping to the conclusion that Marissa has stopped attending the church because it's an organization that wouldn't support her son's sexuality seems like a pretty big jump to me (though I loved Jesse's description of her sadness at no longer going to the church). Paul's trained to read people very quickly, but he's had so little time with Marisa that it's hard to think he'd have enough information to make this jump. Still, he brings up in the Adele session that he was subconsciously taking her side, so this isn't the worst development in the world. On the other hand, so much of the material here was so rich, particularly Jesse's monologue about the pictures he took of the two men in the waves when he was younger, that I'd say this is easily my favorite of the season so far, with only this week's Sunil episode to really compete with it.
Adele: Last week, I complained about how the Adele episodes sometimes seemed to be trying to solve the puzzle that is Paul, making him less an interesting human being and patient and more just some guy with a series of psychological failings that can be slotted into neat little boxes until Adele has a perfect idea of who he is and what drives him. I'm still a little worried that this is the direction these episodes are taking, but this episode was a big vindication of Adele's process. I love the way she's slowly wearing down Paul, the way she doesn't take his avoidance for an answer, and the way she forces him to confront some stuff he clearly would just rather not even think about. Her puzzle piece approach works, and it's helping her tear down some of the bad habits he had built after many years in therapy with Gina. I'm not sure it's as interesting as drama, but here, it made for a fine piece of writing and performing.
The central idea here is, again, about the relationship between Paul and Max, who discovers Paul's fears about his condition by reading the search history on Paul's computer before the two go to an Animal Collective concert. (Just pause for a moment and imagine Gabriel Byrne at an Animal Collective concert. Continue.) The scene of the two of them hanging out at the house, getting ready for the concert, is a genuinely sweet little scene between father and son. (I liked the little detail of Paul trying to familiarize himself with the music before the show, to Max's consternation.) And as Adele's session goes on and he tries to gain advice from her about how to proceed with Jesse, rather than talk about the situation with Max, she eventually pushes him to admit that he feels a great deal of anxiety about Steve coming into the family and acting as a kind of usurper, even wanting to pay for college for the kids. (Though, hey, at least in that case, Paul could retire, he admits.)
The great thing about the Gina episodes was that she and Paul were trapped in such a dysfunctional relationship that nearly every session between the two threatened to dissolve into some sort of vituperative argument. This isn't as much the case with Adele, who's able to keep her professional distance much more ably, which pushes Paul to be even angrier. The scene where he's on the edge of shouting and she calmly says, "You're speaking very loudly" is terrific, giving you a great sense of just how on the ball she is, just how capable she is of cutting very precisely to reveal who Paul really is at the core of everything. And the connections she drew between Max taking care of his father and Paul's first, restful sleep were elegantly constructed. I still quibble a bit with Adele's process and how it relates to good drama, but if the producers get more episodes like this one out of that process, then I'll happily admit I'm wrong.