The second week of any season of In Treatment is often the hardest week to get through. It's the week when the characters aren't new, yet the show can't yet realistically begin to delve into their true issues. It's another week of "getting to know you" between Paul and the patients, and these episodes inevitably feel a little more formulaic than the ones we'll get later in the season. (If this is your first time with In Treatment, I'd advise you not to give up based on this week. It tends to get much, much better.) Introductions are fun, but the process of beginning the hard work of therapy often isn't. That's not to say tonight's episodes aren't without value or anything like that, but they do feel like very basic glosses over the stuff we're going to be dealing with in the weeks to come.
I sort of wonder if the central idea uniting the Monday night episodes isn't going to be loss. Both Sunil and Frances are dealing with major changes in their lives, changes that have taken or will take people they care deeply about away from them. But loss doesn't need to be of a person, either, it can be as basic as losing something that's very essential to your being, like Sunil's relationship to the city of Calcutta or Frances' ability to remember long stretches of dialogue for her work. It's possible to miss a possession or a place or something like that. In a way, tonight's episode is about Paul stepping up to the edge of a giant chasm of grief with Sunil and Frances and seeing just what it will take to help them begin to cross it.
But those two aren't the only ones dealing with loss. Paul continues to have a troubled personal life (and this is the most the show has ever delved into his own private life this early in a season before, as I recall), and now, he's going to the doctor, fearful that he's begun the process of losing even his most basic motor skills. The "Paul's life parallels his patients' lives!" stuff can be a little cloying when the show deploys it artlessly, but loss is such a big idea, such a gigantic topic that every single human being ever will have to deal with, that I don't mind this as much. Plus, Frances has a connection to Paul's past. She, to a real degree, knows him more as a recollection of who he was (at least in her sister's eyes), rather than who he is now. When she talks about how when Paul's daughter was born, he had pink roses in his office, it's hard not to look at his sad face and think, "That was a long time ago."
But what about the actual content of the episodes?
Sunil: One of the things it's easy to forget about therapy is that it's very much a Western sort of concern. Sure, we get to see a large cross-section of races and creeds in Paul's office, but they're all members of American society, which is (and I don't know if you've heard this) the most affluent on Earth. Louis C.K. has a great routine (collected in his movie Hilarious) about how Americans are so angry but they don't have any real problems. Barring some sort of catastrophic collapse or the apocalypse, none of us are going to have to worry about being beheaded or stoned for our beliefs or anything like that. This gives us room to be angry about piddly little shit, but it also gives us room to think about how maybe the lives we're leading aren't the ones we wish we were.
My grandfather only went to school until he was 14, had to work as a farmer in the middle of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, and then served in the Navy in World War II. After that, questions like "Do I really want to be a farmer?" probably paled in comparison to being able to provide a good living for his wife and children and being able to send those children off to college to get the education he never did. But I'm fat and lazy, and I get PAID TO WATCH TELEVISION, an invention my grandfather probably wouldn't have even thought possible as a child. When I'm asked whether it sucks to watch Shit My Dad Says or Outsourced or something, whether I drew the "short straw" in covering those shows, I usually say that I volunteered to watch them. No matter how painful the show, it's not trying to eke a living out of a fatally dry prairie and wondering if you'll have enough to eat that night. At the same time, this gives me more time to wonder about stuff like whether my life is what it could be and where any deeply set rage issues might come from. In short, it gives me time to think about the stuff that might cause me to enter therapy.
There are heavy echoes of this in the story of Sunil. Arun and Julia want him to go into therapy because they want him to deal with what they see as a crippling depression. (His grandkids come up to ask him to shower. Ouch.) He, at the end of his life and living in an unfamiliar city, is now bumping up against the fact that, yeah, maybe his life hasn't been the one he would have chosen for himself, and he doesn't really know what to DO with that thought. To a degree, In Treatment does a variation on this story every season - the man who's gone a long time in his life while hiding essential aspects of himself from the world - but I like that Sunil's story brings an element of culture clash to add to the generational divide. Sunil grew up in a world where marriages were arranged and there were certain expectations of everyone in the family. Now, he lives in a world where those rules break down, and it's forcing him to confront how he felt about the rules in the first place. Had he stayed in Calcutta, he never would have confronted his feelings in this regard (not to mention that he wouldn't have gone into therapy). Is it necessarily better that he's now doing so? The show leaves this ambiguous, but I imagine it will be some of what we look at in the next few weeks.
Frances: I dunno. I always have such trouble connecting with any given season's middle-aged woman forced to confront all of the ways her life has disappointed her. Embeth Davidtz never made any sort of impression on me in season one, and while I came to like Hope Davis' character last season, it took a while to warm to her. In that regard, Frances feels a little too much like a retread of those characters, with not a lot to differentiate her. She even asks Paul if he would find her attractive at one point in tonight's episode. This is not to say that Frances is uninteresting, but she's operating against some pre-built biases I have AND the fact that Davis did such a good job with this basic framework last season that it will be enormously difficult to play these themes with a new set of nuances. Then again, Debra Winger is already crafting a fascinating character, and Paul seems invested in what's up with Frances, so I'll reserve judgment for too much longer.
And there were some very nice moments tonight. I liked Frances recalling the long story of her marriage, how Russell was a man who appealed to her on a level other than the physical and yet a man who would be attracted to her at any given moment, like after she'd given birth and saw herself as incredibly unattractive and overweight. And then he slipped away from her and into the arms of a student, when she'd spent years as an actress, going out of town, never succumbing to temptation. There's such a tone of regret to Frances' story (and Sunil's as well), and that sense seems to be poisoning her just a bit toward some of the people who she should be more open to. Sure, her rejection of her daughter's junior class suitor is spurred by motherly protectiveness, but how much of it is spurred by the fact that she, herself, regrets some of the choices she made, perhaps even the choice of fidelity in her marriage? Again, I'm sure the show will dig into this more (as well as her complicated relationship with her sister) as the weeks go by, but this is the episode this week that most made me feel like we were re-covering material the show has already covered enormously well in the past.