In Treatment’s fourth week features just five exemplary episodes of television. Even the weakest of the lot (the Oliver episode) is heads and shoulders above the other Oliver half-hours so far this season. Broadly speaking, these episodes, structurally, are the big breakthrough episodes, where we see Paul finally making some serious headway with all of the patients (only Walter still seems somewhat reticent), even as Gina gets Paul to admit that his father is maybe more like him than he’d ever want to say. That sort of thing is perhaps easier to dramatize than the prickly getting-to-know-you sessions of week one, but the series never oversteps and goes too far. Even when April is openly weeping and yelling about how she’s going to die on Paul’s couch, you completely buy it.
Another issue this week is that of boundaries, the lines drawn between doctor and patient. Mia actually invades Paul’s space in a way he’s clearly a little uncomfortable with by entering his living quarters. Then she deliberately sets out to provoke him. April, meanwhile, causes Paul to realize he’s the only one she’ll trust to take her to get chemo treatments, so he oversteps the boundary between them in a way that is best for her short-term but won’t likely benefit her long-term. Paul actually invites Oliver into his living space, making the boy a sandwich because he’s so hungry, and prompting the kinds of questions about his own personal life Paul clearly tries to avoid much of the time. And finally, Paul crosses a boundary he’s set up for himself when he gives in and goes to visit his dying father and read him the newspaper. It’s these self-imposed boundaries that are often the most difficult to breach.
So now then.
Mia: I talk more about Mia than any other patient from week to week, and I want to highlight April and Walter a bit this week, so this may seem a bit of a short shrift, but it shouldn’t. I think a large reason why Mia’s able to drive so much discussion is because she so obviously has the most issues of any of the characters (April and Walter’s deeper issues are only starting to come out), but that also means that as she has breakthrough after breakthrough, she’s going to have a bit of a downhill ride from here on out (I assume). This was another typically wonderful episode of this little story, and it finally seemed to put to bed the fear that Mia’s father abused her (even Paul doesn’t think that’s the case), even as we learned that the way he screwed her up was essentially unintentional. The two of them were so close that it essentially warped all of her relationships with any other men for the rest of her life and made her unable to separate from him in a healthy way. Mia’s deliberate provocations of Paul (outlined above) provided one of those great “ah ha!” moments the series does so well, as Paul outlined just how her behavior at episodes outset seemed to him to highlight many of her deep-seated issues. Good stuff.
April: See, now I feel bad that I praised Alison Pill so much last week because this? This was like some sort of epic acting brawl between Pill and Gabriel Byrne. That moment when she faints (with a sorta weird cut in the middle there) and Paul suddenly turns all hyper-protective and paternal towards the girl, chewing her out about how she has to go to chemo is almost exactly what we’ve all been hoping he’d do from the first, but that she follows it up with that long monologue about how she’ll absolutely fall apart after she starts treatment and how he’ll eventually just wish “that fucking girl” would die is even better. It’s a hard episode to watch (and I’ve watched it three times), deeply, deeply sad and full of open wounds oozing blood and hurt. April seems preternaturally mature because she’s been the only person anyone in her family can rely on for most of her life. Her father turns to her as the “normal” child. Her mother relies on her to take care of her autistic brother. And her brother needs her to keep him from falling away completely, to keep him on task and on schedule. She’ll also need to be there for him when their parents die, something that she realizes she doesn’t want to do. An understated theme of the week is the ways that parents can hurt their children through the best of intentions, and April’s mother’s utter devotion to her son at the expense of all else (including being unable to see that her daughter is very clearly ill) has had a drastic toll on both her relationship with both of her children and her husband. She’s withdrawn completely, and it’s at a time when her daughter AND son need her most and can’t necessarily rely on each other. This was a deeply powerful 30 minutes of television. If anyone ever said, “Why should I be watching In Treatment?” I’d set ‘em down in front of this.
Oliver: The bifurcated nature of the Oliver episodes (one half with the boy and one half with his parents) got a minor shake-up this week when the first half showed Paul talking with Oliver’s mother, Bess, about all of the dreams she put on hold when she got pregnant with her son in her last year of college and all of the ways she’s both excited and frightened by the prospect of a life where she needn’t define herself solely as a mother. Bess is oddly … off this episode, from her sorta-creepy joke about how she and Oliver had been kicked out of their apartment (not really!) to the way she insists Oliver is all better to the way she keeps reading everything Paul says as antagonistic. I realize she’s not supposed to be the focus of these episodes, but putting her under a microscope without her husband around helped define even better the situation that has led to the pain Oliver is feeling. Oliver’s turn toward an eating disorder is a tad predictable (though I think HBO actually spoiled that in one of their early press releases on this season, so that may be why it was predictable), but the final scene with Paul giving the poor boy a sandwich was another lovely little moment in a week full of them. Hopefully, the series will give Luke, Oliver’s father, a similar standout episode, as defining Oliver’s parents as individuals will allow these episodes a little room to get away from the old “My parents are always fighting, and it’s hurting meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” clichés.
Walter: The Walter episodes have mostly snuck up on me over the weeks. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to see someone be so blatantly antagonistic with Paul after season one did such a nice job with Alex doing the exact same thing. But Walter has not been quite as bristly, and his fights with Paul have always sorted themselves out rather readily. Walter belongs to an older generation, one that prides itself on dealing with what needs to be done, and once he became convinced that therapy was something he needed to do, he dove in as well as he could (some of his reticence to share may also be generational). Walter has lost his job, this week, and he’s dealing, ultimately, with the realization that he’s going to die, that his life without work doesn’t have as much meaning to him as it did with work. (Notice how the episode ties together Paul’s dying father with the newspaper article about Walter stepping down. Paul’s dad has been identified, similarly, as a workaholic, as has April’s father, and Walter, most of all, defines himself through his work. Hell, in this episode, we find out that he feels almost a familial connection to the Donaldson family that owns the company he just left.) Walter’s storyline is interesting for just how much substitution is involved. The Donaldsons lose their son, so Walter has to step in. His older brother dies, so his parents force him to fill those shoes. In the world Walter moves in, people are often just tiny pieces that fit into different parts of a machine, and when those pieces start malfunctioning, you can always just replace them. This neglects, of course, that the people being replaced are still people, and you can’t toss them away as casually as you might like. Walter, who has often been the beneficiary of filling in for those who have died or are no longer needed, now finds himself on the other end of this equation, and he’s falling apart. Paul’s attempts to force Walter to confront all of the ways that he’s been aware of the crisis but trying to avoid it finally make some headway this week, but that may be only because Walter has absolutely nothing else to think about anymore. He just sits at home and stews.
Gina: This week’s Gina episode features a trio of scenes of Paul in crisis, plus a short preamble featuring his deposition by the lawyers in the lawsuit he’s embroiled in. Obviously, the scene set at his therapy session with Gina is the longest of these three, but we get to see Paul dealing with his pseudo-girlfriend (Tammy, whom he suddenly seems less enthralled with) and his sick father, whom he visits in the hospital in a scene lit like it’s set in a confessional. Even as he seems to be zeroing in on just what’s wrong with his patients, Paul is falling apart personally. The way he treats Tammy is really unnecessarily harsh, and he often seems really lonely. His admission that he’s somewhat attracted to Mia, even if he’d never let himself fall in love with her, is well done, as is Gina’s pleased chuckle when he says he’ll never fall in love with another patient. But this episode is perfect for the way it ends the week with a huge dose of calm and peace, the way Byrne’s voice rumbles in the empty hospital room as he reads about soccer standings (which I took as an indication that Paul’s father probably hailed from the UK or something, signifying where Paul’s slight accent comes from), the way Gina talks about how bears need someone else in their dens. It’s appropriate, I think, that this episode and Walter’s feature the falling snow, just as the prior episodes featured the sky getting greyer and greyer. Things have finally come to the surface and begun to erupt, but it’s a peaceful eruption.
Week 4 average: A
- I like the way Oliver treats Paul like he’s at a Subway when placing his sandwich order. Maybe Oliver is subconsciously trying to save Chuck?
- Still no word on a third season, but HBO announced the second season DVDs, so you can go and pre-order those to voice your support for the show continuing.
- On a more prosaic note, these were the last episodes I had screeners for, so we’re going to have to deal with these being up a little later in the season’s final three weeks. That said, it seems like people are watching this throughout the week, if the way the comments trickle in as the week goes on is any indication, so maybe that’s not such a big deal after all.