Because all of this week’s episodes were so similar (all involving Paul and his patients moving to a point of closure, even if their stories aren’t necessarily over – a nice way for the show to have it both ways) and because the episodes play very well as what might be forced to be a series finale week, let’s talk less about this week of In Treatment on an episode-by-episode basis (which we’ll still do a bit of) and more about how the season wraps itself up on a thematic basis. When considering the show in that fashion, I think what the show is trying to say at first seems a little trite: Life goes on. But the undercurrent of that message is more interesting and moving, and it cements In Treatment’s second season as a great, great piece of TV: Life goes on, but so does the work that you have to do.
That work takes many forms. It may be a job you have to do (in the case of Paul, who seemed on the brink of giving it all up last week and has now had enough of an epiphany to again at least trust in his own skill). It may be issues you need to confront (as in the case of April, who does her best, in the face of discovering she’s going to live to run away from those issues). It may be the work of just getting up every day and going about your life (as in the case of Walter, who is trying to find ways to give his malnourished inner child something to feed on). We’re all doing the work we need to do to survive, and sometimes, doing that work gets very, very hard. Which is when we need to call on someone like Paul, to walk with us for a little while (as Paul suggests in a lovely monologue during his session with Gina).
It’s that image of life as an unending process of becoming that makes In Treatment so compelling to watch. The easy thing to do with this show would be to have Paul fix everyone he sees. Indeed, that is likely what would happen if this show were on any other network. While Paul helps these patients confront their issues and, indeed, reach some sort of turning point, he doesn’t help them miraculously realize the ways they can fix their lives and start living the lives they’ve always wanted to. So many shows about therapy treat the process as something akin to rebirth – purging what was no longer needed in the soul and then bringing out a new soul – when the real process is a long, painful evolution. Even when we get a brief mention of just what happened to Sophie (season one’s most compelling patient) in April’s episode this week, we get the sense that while Paul helped her realize new ways of living her life, she’s still struggling to become who she’s meant to be – she’s in college after all. But, hell, even Walter is struggling to become who he’s meant to be, and he’s in his 60s. We’re, all of us, looking for ways to balance who we are and who we were with who we want to be. And, again, that’s where Paul comes in.
Narratively, where the show chose to end all of these storylines was interesting. Clearly, none of these stories are over, but we’ve also reached a point where for us to continue to watch would bring diminishing returns. Mia has realized just how much of her problems stem from the fact that her father was not the saint she imagined him to be. April is going to physically get better and at least has been told by Paul that she has underlying issues she needs to address, though she’s not going to be doing so with him (and doesn’t want him to refer anyone to her). Oliver is moving away, possibly into a new kind of hell, but he’s going to have a lifeline to Paul. Walter has finally realized that he has, in a way, always been depressed and he’s just finally unhurried enough to realize it.
And Paul and Gina have come to a point where their relationship, while cordial, is proving unhelpful to Paul’s progression as a person and a therapist. When he decides to stop therapy with her and she makes it clear that her door won’t be open to him in the future, it feels like a definitive ending that could still be backed out of if the show returned and both Gabriel Byrne and Dianne Wiest wanted in. This episode, while surprisingly calm, was heartbreaking at the same time. While Paul perhaps isn’t getting everything he could out of the therapy and it is, in a lot of ways, a broken process between the two, Gina and Paul seem to need each other, Gina proving the sober yin to Paul’s incorrigible yang.
That said, before the (hopefully) brief discussion of the patients both this week and this season, HBO will apparently make a decision on whether to continue with the show in the next few weeks, according to Alan Sepinwall’s interview with showrunner (and Tony-winning playwright) Warren Leight. Byrne apparently finds the workload exhausting, as does Leight (and as did season one showrunner Rodrigo Garcia), so the question is this: Do you want this show to come back? And if so, would you be willing to watch the show with another therapist (possibly Gina) in the chair? Or is Paul the only one for you?
Onwards, for the last time this season …
Mia: I think Mia has been a little underrated this season, even by me. This is probably because her issues are simultaneously the least hyper-dramatic and the most offputting. She seems like your stereotypical ball-busting crazy career woman who just wants a BAY-BEE in week one, but by the end of the season and in Hope Davis’ hands, she’s become something else: a sensual woman capable of love but hampered by false ideals of what that love should be. Her final session we will get to see with Paul, when she said she was leaving therapy and he talked her into staying, was a surprisingly moving end for a character who could be so prickly.
April: April ended up being the Internet’s favorite character (even Entertainment Weekly commented on it for whatever reason), and while a large portion of that stems from April having the most obvious life-or-death stakes and the fact that she’s in the Internet’s demographic, just as much comes from the way Alison Pill honed in on everything that made this girl tick. This April episode seemed to be the least closure-filled episode of the week (she pretty much just leaves with none of the underlying problems in her life even confronted; Paul just got her to chemo and let her know she had some serious issues), but it also seems oddly necessary in the character’s arc. April has a long way to go, and the most important part of that journey was just ensuring that she would get to go there.
Oliver: I still don’t know if the Oliver storyline ever quite transcended the fact that it felt like something that’s been done over and over before on two fronts (the story of a bullied kid and the story of a kid ripped in half by divorce), but the way In Treatment humanized all three parties in the dispute while also making it obvious that Bess and Luke, by being selfish, were doing absolutely the wrong thing by their son was particularly deft. When rewatching the season on DVD, it will likely be tempting to skip some of the Oliver episodes, but the storyline was ultimately worth it for the small moments when Paul tried to preserve the kid’s life one way or another.
Walter: Walter ended up being the biggest grower for me. In the first week, he seemed too obviously a retread of season one’s Alex, but as the season wore on, it became apparent that this was just a man throwing up as many obstacles to confronting himself as he possibly could. In the sixth and seventh weeks, when Paul finally managed to lay him bare and actually begin the work of what good therapy would entail, the show managed to say much about both the character specifically and the way that his generation tried to seal itself off from serious consideration of its own psyche. It helps, of course, that John Mahoney is just a monstrously good actor (he was the only Frasier cast member to never coast even during that show’s awful seasons), but because of where these sessions left off, Walter is the only character that might make for an interesting subject for a third season, though I suspect it would be dramatically less interesting than watching him do battle with Paul week after week.
Gina: While Gina got less to do this season than she did last season (if only because last season she got to try to keep Paul from running off to Laura week after week), her sessions with Paul were more interesting than last season because of how they forced him to confront his mistaken ideas about his childhood (something he got a lot of mileage out of with other patients) and deal with much of his professional anxiety. Again, Wiest is such a versatile actor (you can tell exactly what she thinks about the letter Paul wrote to take blame for the death of Alex from the way she HOLDS it) that we still got a few flashes of who Gina must be when she’s not holding herself at such a professional distance, but the calm that comes across her face also seems imperturbable. Just what shakes Gina? If there’s a third season, I hope we find out (and I hope it’s more than just Paul treating her like an asshole).
Week seven: A-
- While a few of the storylines took a while to get going, the season quickly found a nice groove that kept it humming along from week to week. That the stories take a while to get going (when there’s nothing so immediately dramatic as April’s cancer admission in the first week of a storyline) is probably just something built into the show’s format, however.
- I liked the brief glimpses we get of Paul’s other patients, just so we can see how he is with them. In many ways, he seems as undisturbed as Gina, which suggests that if the show wanted to, it could show her with a handful of patients that really get under her skin and cause her to reveal her character.
- As far as whether or not I want a season three, of course I want a season three. I’m not sure I’d want to watch a season three involving some completely new character, but if Byrne wants a break, I think Wiest would be a pretty good substitute.
- And on that note, thanks for reading week to week. There weren’t a lot of us talking about this show, but we had some really strong, intelligent discussions that forced at least me to reconsider some of the things I thought about the show. Here’s hoping that the show both comes back and that we’ll all return to discuss it whenever it does.