In Treatment Season Three: Week One

In Treatment has been a longtime favourite of mine, ever since its first season aired during the winter cold of the Writer’s Strike back in 2008. Every year, Gabriel Byrne‘s Paul Weston sits down with an all-star cast and slowly draws me into the complex lives of his patients. Every year its been a longshot to be renewed, and yet here we are. My thoughts on the first four episodes of the season after the jump…

Sunil, Week One: Written by Adam Rapp (and story by Rapp with Jhumpra Lahiri), directed by Paris Barclay. The first episode introduces us not only to the titular Sunil, but to his son Aaron and daughter-in-law Julia. Sunil spends the first half of the episode silently watching the proceedings while Aaron and Julia describe their concerns, and this segment is where the episode drags most. Aaron and Julia are enjoyable enough, but Julia specifically is a reminder that this is the first season to be wholly written by the staff. In season one, for example, an image of Alex’s wife was drawn excellently without ever having seen her; what she was actually like had no real bearing on the proceedings, but merely Alex’s relationship with her. Julia, here, feels very one-dimensional and obvious, an all-American businesswoman who secretly has no patience for Sunil, his grief and culture shock, and his sudden dependence on them. She’s drawn with very little sympathy, which is frustrating when you consider the subtlety and power of Week One’s Amy, who was striking but still somewhat inscrutable in her first week. Here’s hoping the show paints in her details later with the care it does its central characters. Aaron himself is mild, merely a buffer between Julia’s frustration and Sunil’s moody silence. Neither character is particularly fascinating, so while their segment offers a lot of information about Sunil’s new life, it doesn’t engage immediately.

It isn’t until Sunil opens up that the episode really gets going. Sunil is an engaging, charming character with a cynical sense of humour that offers a fun interplay between he and Paul. His contempt for Julia is all-consuming, but lest all of his moodiness be traced to his new surroundings and his grief, it has to be noted that a specific ‘shift’ happened that made him less friendly and more withdrawn sometime after he moved to New York. Either way, Irrfhan Khan is wonderful, whether describing his mad former acquaintance in Calcutta, or predicting his next grandchild’s name to be ‘iPod’.  I enjoyed this episode very much; my real desire is to see some depth given to Julia, as this relationship seems very uncomplicated at the moment, and In Treatment always does well with complexity.

Frances, Week One: Written by Alison Tatlock and directed by Paris Barclay. Despite a good turn by Debra Winger as Frances, a former star looking to reignite her career amidst a number of personal crises, I found myself left a little cold by her story. The episode was definitely well-written, dropping a number of clues about her life and problems, but Frances herself wasn’t particularly interesting enough to earn my attention. As her issues with her dying sister progress, perhaps I’ll find myself more engaged. After all, last year’s Oliver stories took me a good three weeks until I found them pulling me in.

Jesse, Week One: Written by Sarah Treem and directed by Paris Barclay. While Alan Sepinwall likened the dynamic between Paul and Jesse as similar to his previous teen patients, I actually felt a lot of season one’s Laura in his dynamic with Jesse. He’s probing to understand why Jesse approaches the relationships and sex the way he does, and is (I expect) looking for secrets that Jesse doesn’t even know he’s hiding. That said, not crippled with the transference issues he and Laura had, and with the strength he usually has with his younger patients, Paul is much more capable at steering and exploring Jesse than he was with Laura, and that offers at least one night a week where Paul is at the top of his game.

As for Jesse himself, time will tell. His theatricality rubbed me the wrong way early in this premiere, but as he began to settle and it became clear that it was Jesse hamming it up and not Dane DeHaane, I began to get more comfortable with the character. I’m enjoying the dynamic between he and Paul, dropping into Jesse’s therapy after it’s already begun, and am intrigued by the story. Particularly the dynamic between Jesse and the two bar owners, whom it is implied have allowed him to be a third participant in their relationship on occasion, and the lie that hangs between them.

Adele, Week One: Written by new showrunners Anya Epstein and Dan Futterman and directed by Paris Barclay. Adele is played by the divine Amy Ryan, but I’m not sure that is the only reason she’s my favourite of the new crew. Adele is young, but she’s sharp and engaged, and catches a lot of Paul’s tricks very quickly, even inside of a session that both claim isn’t therapy. The dynamic between these two is also great; Adele is intrigued by Paul as a damaged man and potential patient, but its also very clear that she respects his stature as an analyst and wouldn’t mind hearing about her potential future. This is a relationship that the show could mine for a few years, resting on the foundation built by Dianne Wiest‘s Gina Toll while spinning it off into a completely new direction.

Paul is typically himself here. He’s gained a lot of perspective into his downright abusive treatment of Gina (“Give me another ten minutes and you’ll understand completely.”) during their sessions in previous seasons, and is regretful of that, but also ends up leaning too far in the direction of overpraising her in order to sell how well he is. That, of course, just leads Adele to question his wellness further; after all, would a truly alright person be so absolutely defensive of themselves as Paul is here?

And how well is Paul? He hates his life, with the only bright light a relationship in which he seems only half-interested; he’s estranged from his children; he’s lost faith in the thing he’s devoted his life to; and now he may be facing a life with Parkinson’s. He’s unable to sleep, haunted by a nightmare he’s convinced he’s defeated, but hasn’t. Perhaps talking to Adele will offer him a chance to seek out a new happiness, or at least some new ways to approach life that may be more rewarding.

Overall, I’d rank the new patients in the following order of enjoyment: Adele, Sunil, Jesse, Frances. I enjoyed them all, but am hoping Frances in particular begins to engage me more as her story continues. That said, I’m just very happy to have my favourite HBO show back for another year.

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