If last week’s episodes of In Treatment showed just how the boundaries between Paul and his patients could be blurred by a variety of circumstances, this week was all about the ways that the blurring of those boundaries could hurt both Paul and the people who come to him for help. In short, this week was all about just how reliant on Paul his patients can be, and since he had to take a week off between last week’s episode and this week’s to deal with the death of his father, we saw how that could drive many of them to act out in different ways. Mia became proactive and found out why Paul had to cancel, while April became convinced that he had abandoned her. Luke resented Paul for leaving him alone with a son he was afraid he’d end up being a jerk to, and Walter tried to commit suicide. All of these people, left suspended in moments of crisis, just can’t cope when Paul has to step away to have his own moment of crisis.
The week also deals with how all of these people – even normally implacable Gina – try to deal with their feelings about their own fathers, reflected in how Paul is trying to cope with letting his father back into his life at the last possible moment. This came out particularly well in the Oliver episode, which may have been the week’s best, where Paul and Luke both dealt with memories of their difficult fathers that echoed back in the ways they held their own sons at arm’s length in an attempt to not turn into their fathers, in ways that made them more like the older men than they might want to admit. Similarly, Mia is still trying to deal with the ramifications of her close relationship to her own father, April is trying to turn Paul into an ersatz father figure, and Walter is dealing with his own daughter, whom we finally get to meet.
The episodes are full of this kind of mirroring – Walter’s daughter, Natalie, might as well be April in five or ten years time; Luke’s dad and Paul’s dad might as well be the same man – and that brings up something that came up in comments last week: All of these patients mirror aspects of Paul’s life that he’s trying to keep from flying off the rails. Mia offers up both the specter of Laura and Paul’s wife. April is Paul’s daughter, Rosie, in a few years, while Oliver brings to mind his sons. And Walter is both the hotheaded Alex, whose death still has Paul embroiled in a lawsuit, as well as Paul’s dad. In Treatment, yeah, is like a really good short story collection, but it’s one of those ones with a single character at its center that eventually reveals so much about that character that you suspect you might know them better than if they had first appeared in a novel.
Slightly briefer than usual episode-by-episode thoughts follow:
Mia: The big shocker this week comes from Mia, who reveals to Paul that she’s pregnant, thanks to her drunken weekend of sex and debauchery a while back. Mia’s recent sessions have focused more on her relationship with her parents, and while that comes up this week, the story finally circles back around to the reason she came to Paul in the first place: the fact that she blames him for her having an abortion 20 years ago. Now that she has another shot at having a child (which she admits is likely her LAST shot), she’s beginning to wonder if she shouldn’t have another abortion, which finally gets her to take responsibility for being the person who made that choice 20 years ago and stop blaming Paul for it. But she’s also treading a little too much over the line between doctor and patient, as in last week’s episode, when she all but admits that she wants Paul to be the baby’s father figure. What with Paul’s issues with his own children and his admission last week that he finds the KIND of woman Mia is a bit attractive last week, there must be SOME temptation in this offer for him, and seeing how he deals with that will likely drive the rest of the Mia storyline this season.
April: This one’s a slight step back from last week’s cataclysmic events (though I don’t know if anyone could have taken a step up from that), as April, now looking decidedly haggard from the chemotherapy treatment, comes to the session all smiles and delusions, now seeing Paul as her knight in shining armor. Even as she admits that she has let her best friend, Leah, in on her diagnosis, April still can’t see that there are people in her life that she can rely on other than Paul, whom she’s begun to fantasize about in a weird blend of a schoolgirl crush and a desire for a warm, parental figure. She imagines whole conversations they have, as a matter of fact, and she still carries around that fear that he will eventually find her impossible to deal with and that his leaving last week was a function of this, to the point where he finally has to admit that he was at his father’s funeral, something he seemed loathe to talk about with Mia when she found out that information through separate channels. This was probably the least of the April episodes so far, but it also featured that great moment when April sits up too quickly and clutches at her heart, then crumples in tearful pain. I don’t care that this material is a little melodramatic because it’s just generally so fantastic.
Oliver: Oliver runs away from school and interrupts one of Paul’s sessions with another patient, one he seems like he couldn’t care less about. The poor kid’s dealing with the fact that bully Eric put dog shit in his locker at school, and even though the teacher got the janitor to clean it up, all the other kids knew about it and could snicker about it. These are the sorts of things that are so traumatizing to a 12-year-old, and when Oliver tells Paul about what happened, you can see just how angry it makes the therapist, who’d likely love to give Eric a piece of his own mind. As it turns out, Oliver’s mom has decided to be on vacation for an extra week, clearly enjoying her me time, and that’s putting Oliver and his dad into close proximity in a way that’s causing plenty of fights, including a blow-up between Luke and his new girlfriend, Nina. Just as I hoped, the series gives us more of a bead on where Luke is coming from in this whole storyline with this episode, and that finally makes the Oliver storyline as compelling as the other stories. Luke, like Paul, is trying to deal with the fact that he doesn’t want to turn into his father and punish his kid in the same way his dad did. The final moments, when Luke tells Oliver they can go out for pizza and a movie because he’s dealt with enough today, creating a tentative peace between the two, are genuinely touching. Here’s hoping that Luke, who seems more self-aware than Bess, whose forgotten who she is outside of being a mother, can find a way to build a better life for his son.
Walter: Walter has the other big revelation of the week, though it takes some coaxing to get it out of him. He’s in the hospital for what he says is food poisoning but is revealed, soon enough, to be a suicide attempt. Much as I like Hope Davis and Alison Pill, John Mahoney is this week’s acting MVP (outside of Gabriel Byrne, of course) with his heartbreaking speech about how he tried to set up the situation in his bedroom to look like he was just an old man trying to sleep when he’d really overdosed on pills. He wanted to die. He figured it would be easier for everyone involved, and when he fails to realize that his wife and kids will never forgive themselves for not seeing the warning signs, as Paul points out, Paul refuses to let him leave the hospital, even though he threatens to sue the doctor. It’s as though Walter, who was making so much progress, is so rocked by his suicide attempt that he has to go back to fighting with Paul, as though he subconsciously blames him for all that has happened. Walter’s always been a prickly one, but this episode gives a better portrayal of his relationship to everyone else in his life and how little he wants to burden them when all they want is to be burdened. It also adds another revelation, when Natalie tells Paul that her mother has been in and out of rehab for some time. What else is Walter keeping from his therapist?
Gina: The Gina episode is a beautiful piece of writing and acting all around. Even as we probably wish Paul would talk more about his patients (who are all hitting their bottom ebb), Gina forces him to stay on task in talking about how little he knew his father, who liked to sing, apparently, and owned half of a brewing company in Minnesota (which he leaves to Paul in what clearly seems like a spinoff waiting to happen). Paul needs her this week, even if he seems a bit irritated that she didn’t attend the funeral. Alex, Sr. is meeting him to ask him to write a letter of apology accepting responsibility for Alex, Jr.’s death in exchange for taking the settlement Paul’s insurance company is offering, and Paul has mistaken the sympathy ex-wife Kate showed him at the funeral for a desire to get back together when she’s already seeing someone else. Paul, increasingly, is lonely and cut off from everyone, and Gina is essentially his only tether to his old life. Here’s hoping he doesn’t cut her loose. His admission that he didn’t want to hear that his father loved him and thus waited until he couldn’t to visit was just perfectly pitched and let you know exactly where Paul is in his life right now. He's as alone and heartbroken as Walter or April and, somehow, he's even less willing to admit it.
Week 5 average: A-
- This is the first week where I pretty easily preferred the Monday episodes to the Sunday episodes. That said, despite the fact that I always ended up watching all five episodes on Fridays anyway, I kind of miss season one’s one-episode-per-night scheduling.
- I liked the time skips in the Mia episode, as Paul tried to deal with the loss of his father and tried to be a good therapist for Mia, who can sense his attention sliding, even though she’s the one prompting him to think about other things (when she says something that makes him think of his dad, for example, he looks at his father’s watch). I also liked the little prelude, scored to classical piano, as Paul went through his father’s effects.
- I kind of liked dropping in on that nerdy kid who prematurely ejaculated and told Paul all about it. I’d like to see more of Paul’s other patients and see how non-dramatic they are, just to give us some context on Paul’s work.
- No new episodes next week, as HBO airs its Alzheimer’s specials. The final two weeks will air the week of May 17 and May 24. It’s too bad HBO couldn’t take this week of the show off, as then we would have felt Paul’s absence as acutely as his patients did, but, oh well.