Here in week six of the second season of In Treatment, we see just how compressed the season has been. In Treatment has never been as realistic as it could be about the glacial pace of therapy (though who would want it to be), but this season has felt like it moved like a rocket compared to last season. And, what's more, we're at roughly the same place we were in week six of season one of In Treatment, but it also feels like the show has no real way to put tidy resolution on these storylines. If that's the case, that's rather perfect. Real therapy has no tidy resolutions. Neither does real life. If, somehow, the show forces all of these characters to exit Paul's office happily next week, it will be lesser for it, but it's easy to see this week that that won't be happening.
There's a potent image that closes this week's Walter episode, one that sums up the entire series, really. Walter sits, weeping, on the couch, breaking down utterly and completely. Paul, finally realizing just how much the old man has lied to himself and how much he needs the comfort of someone, crosses to him, putting a hand on him, then letting him clutch at his leg, almost child-like. He faces away from the camera, his head not even in-frame, a constant presence that we can never quite draw a bead on as we see the man under his care reveal his innermost self to us.
The parallels in this season of In Treatment have been layered on perhaps a bit thick (Walter's daughter Natalie might as well be April but also might as well be Lil' Paul), but the shot encapsulates so much of what makes Walter a good and a bad therapist. He tries to remain distant and removed from his patients, like Gina is able to remain, but he is ultimately unable, though he always seems slightly ill-suited and uncomfortable to be inserted into his patients' lives thusly. If In Treatment is a show that moves in increments, a short story collection with one man as a central figure, this is the moment when it all crystallizes as a story about a man at war with himself, trying to do what's professional but also trying to do what he believes to be right. Fortunately, this week, he's had enough experience with these patients to finally draw some conclusions and offer up some professional thoughts.
This, overall, was an incredibly solid batch of TV, with no episodes obviously better or worse than any other episodes. All of the moments of catharsis felt earned, and Paul's squabbling with his patients continues to have a realistic feel of one step forward, two steps back.
Mia: Mia, who often seems to be playing a game that Paul needs to break down, is reduced utterly this week to a shell of herself. At first, she says her pregnancy has ended in a miscarriage (an old TV cliche I'd rather see go away; it even turned up in this show's first season), but as Paul picks and picks at her defenses, she eventually reveals that she was never pregnant, that she was just sure she was and inflated that into an actual pregnancy in her mind. It's a potentially devastating conceit, and in Hope Davis' nimble hands, every emotion gets its full force. This could have seemed ridiculous, too TV, but it shows just how sensitively In Treatment takes its acting, writing and directing that the whole thing feels like the center of a big ball of misery and extracting it takes time. (The episode, similar to a few others this season, was directed by Ryan Fleck, the co-director of the film Half Nelson.) The rest of the episode was equally good, as Paul forced Mia to confront the fact that many of her memories about her mother and father were wrong, as the mind of her child self tried to reconcile her strong bond with her father with some of the reality of living with him. Paul's clearly been taking notes in his sessions with Gina, because she used much the same trick to get him to confront just what his father's role in his life was earlier this season.
April: Watching the opening moments of the April episode reminds one of just how well In Treatment gets necessary exposition out of the way fairly painlessly. Typically, it sets up a mystery (here, we wonder just why April is so mad at Paul), hints at the answer (she's away from the hospital? for why?) and then gives us the full scoop (she was there because of a fever, and since Paul was her emergency contact, he made the call to let her mother know she has cancer). Mia and April's episodes often subtly circle around the same themes and motifs, but this was particularly pronounced tonight, as both were forced to come into contact with mothers they didn't terribly want so fully in their lives due to tragic circumstances. April, weakened and tormented by the treatment for her disease, sets Paul up as her fall guy (saying he broke her heart), even as he's able to point out that the way she manipulates people around her is all to give herself space to keep her emotions properly repressed and to create a situation where her mother will see her as strong and tough, something she clearly craves. I do hope we'll meet April's mother before the season is out, but that seems unlikely, since April's apparently going to find out whether the treatment is working or not in a few days. Zero hour.
Oliver: Oliver, whose sessions I was initially so skeptical of, may have proved to be the highlight of this week, as we see how Paul tries to cope with a situation beyond his control and a kid who blames him for not being able to stop it, for not letting him move in with him. Bess has found a job at Bard, meaning she's moving away from the city, and Luke doesn't want to cut back on hours at work to take Oliver into his place. The two, clearly not wanting to cut back on their freedom, don't even attempt to honestly find a compromise that will give Oliver the few bits of stability he needs to just get by as his life is thrown into upheaval. Paul, who's managed to remain fairly calm when faced with Luke and Bess' sheer self-absorption, finally explodes, when they decide that moving Oliver away from the city so abruptly won't be such a big deal, and Byrne perfectly plays the regret and hurt in Paul's voice when he can't do more to help a boy who will clearly keep reaching out for a lifeline in the playground scene (which was beautifully shot, lens flares be damned). Oliver asks if Paul will take him in, and there's obviously a part of Paul that wants to, but he also knows he can't and, furthermore, that he might end up disappointing Oliver as much as he's disappointed his own son. When Paul blows up in Gina's office later in the week, it's clearly as much about all of this as anything else.
Walter: There's, honestly, not a lot to say about Walter's episode that I didn't say above when analyzing that final shot. Walter, who's been putting up defenses against Paul's intrusions as hastily as Paul wears them down, finally finds himself completely at the mercy of his own feelings, of the existence of the small voice inside of him that keeps trying to return him to the days before his brother died, before his life became one long, unending crisis. Walter doesn't have multiple personalities or anything so overdone as that (In Treatment is never that gauche). What he has, put simply, is a piece of him that he has been denying any sort of sustenance for a long, long time. But now, it's crying out to be heard, before the Walter who's been in command all this time obliterates it.
Gina: Gina's been such a placid surface in the two seasons of this show to date (which made Dianne Wiest - awesome as she is - such an odd choice for an Emmy, since that award typically prefers big, showy performances) that Paul's attempts to disturb that calm have always seemed a little Sisyphean. He pushes and pushes her, trying to get a reaction, but he never quite manages to get under her skin. She's so prickly and perfectly poised (note the way she tosses off the line "A life coach? What's that?" as though it's both a natural question and a bit of a goofy suggestion Paul's making). We know Gina's endured tragedy (which she briefly revisits tonight), but she doesn't let it get to her, so far as we can tell. Still, that huge scene between Byrne and Wiest, when he finally gets the reaction he wants after several minutes of ranting at her and we see just a little bit of the unprofessional Gina, was terrific, the perfect capper to another great week of this show and a suggestion that even if Paul manages to bring all of his patients to some sense of closure next week, he, himself, has a long way to go.
Week 6 Average: A
- I swore I'd never give all A's in a week, but here we are. This was a thoroughly enjoyable week of this show.
- On a similar note, I'll see if I can't get a screener of the final week of the show. Doing this on a West Coast timetable is getting it up much, much too late.
- Sadly, there's still no news on a third season. This show more than deserves one, so here's hoping HBO figures out a way to make it work.