Dr. Paul Weston will see you now. You know, that Dr. Weston, the therapist that all patients wish they had, played by Gabriel Byrne, the actor that all aspirants wish they were.
In Treatment returns for its third season on HBO with lighter patient load for Dr. Weston. In Seasons One and Two, the psychologist saw four patients a week, and on the fifth day he rested, or rather resisted, his own therapist, played by the beatific Dianne Wiest. This season, because the episodes are no longer based upon the Israeli series BeTipul, the show has been streamlined down to two hours a week, three patients and a new therapist for Paul whether he likes it or not.
Let’s take a look at who’s in the waiting room:
“I do not want to come across as the disgruntled daughter-in-law.”
Julia brings her husband (Samrat Chakrabarti as Arun) and his father, Sunil, to see Dr. Weston for treatment for the older man’s depression for an unconventional family therapy. Sunil is a recently bereaved math professor who has come from Calcutta to New York to live with his son and his daughter-in-law, a woman who seems to have no filter or consiousness of how she might sound to an outside party.
Actress Sonya Walger who once was Penny in that galaxy far away and a long time ago called ABC’s Lost is now Julia, the latest in a long line of unpleasant married women who come to see Dr. Weston: Embeth Davidtz as Amy in the doomed marriage of Season One, Sherri Saum as Bess in the doomed marriage of Season Two, and then of course, there is the ultimate unpleasant married woman, Paul’s ex-wife Kate (Michelle Forbes aka Battlestar Galactica’s Admiral Cain – salute, please.)
Sunil’s story, at its beginning, is full of the expected. Suffering from the loss of his wife and the dislocation from India. Sunil refuses to speak to Julia (who can blame him?), and in unsurprising turn of events, speaks perfect and open-hearted English to Paul once his son and daughter-in-law leave the room. It is also unsurprising to learn that the father has been hiding his Effexor in the houseplants.
Sunil seems too young to be the grandfather in a sandwich generation situation. His departed wife was 53 years old when she died according the storyline which makes Arun in his mid-thirties at most. Sunil can’t be much older than sixty. His retirement isn’t making much sense chronologically, India is not France, but maybe my math about the math professor is wrong. Wouldn’t that be ironic?
Suddenly speaking English, refusing to take medication – often In Treatment will give you the anticipated, but all is forgiven when watching the actors deal with these sometimes clunky stories and cliched lines. It is a master acting class to watch Gabriel Byrne and Irrfan Khan.
“So, do I look familiar?”
Speaking of cliches, Debra Winger’s back story as Frances is drowning in them. This is why the elusive actress, the subject of Rosanna Arquette’s Searching for Debra Winger, came to HBO? With Frances, the writers seem unsure of what to do with the distinguished actress and in a panic have thrown at her every disaster that could befall a middle-aged actress – unfaithful husband, overly rebellious daughter, dying sister, and the worst of all, forgetting her lines.
A self-awareness at writing about an archetypal actress using an archetypal actress is not enough. It’s hard to reconcile that by taking a role in a theatre production of Night of the Iguana that Frances is in someway betraying her role as a mother and caring sister. Doesn’t the woman have to work? At least to pay her therapist fees? Is this memory problem really going to be about menopause?
There are, however, glimpses of hope for the half-hour spent in the company of Frances and the icy brilliance of Debra Winger. Did you notice when Paul asks Frances if she had notified her sister, Patricia, a patient of his long ago, of having appointment with him, Frances is evasive: “She speaks very highly of you,” and Paul allows her to be: “Oh, she does?” and he sits a little higher in his therapist chair. This may be an indication that Frances, despite all her dramatic problems, will be a formidable opponent, and skillful and entertaining verbal sparring will result.
“I tried to friend you, but then I discovered you’re not on Facebook. Are you a libertarian or something?”
One thing that In Treatment has done very well all along is casting, especially for its teenage roles. In the first season, Mia Wasikowska played Sophie, an anorexic gymnast in a highlight of the premiere. Despite Mia looking neither anorexic nor gymnastically inclined, it was a breakout role for the actress who went on to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. In Season Two, Alison Pill was heartbreaking as the cancer-stricken college student in deep denial about her disease. Pill, a vastly talented theatre actor in New York, translated exceptionally well onto the television screen.
This season introduces nightmare young person #3, Jesse, a gay 16 year old who deals with his adoption issues by skipping school, staying out all night, selling his Adderall, and being generally a horrible kid. It is an uncomfortably pitch perfect performance to anyone who has encountered a situation such as this. Paul will get to test both his professional and paternal roles not only on Jesse but also on his own son Max who appears on his doorstep to come live with him.
“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned how young I am. Does my age bother you?”
The saintly Paul always turns ugly when it is his turn to sit on the couch, and this time it is no different. In search of a renewal prescription for Ambien to combat his sleeplessness, Paul temporarily reaches out to Adele, just for the script, mind you. Unaccountably rude and resistant for a person in his field of work, Paul will no doubt return to Adele for some talk therapy to go along with that insomnia because Adele is played by the sublime Amy Ryan. When your therapist has been nominated for an Academy Award, you return. That trumps a best-selling novel each time.
There is much more to discuss with the return of In Treatment for a new season: to begin with, there is the overarching realization (or non-realization) that Paul’s patients mostly mirror his own problems. Paul and Sunil stare at each over the coffee table in a parallelism of dislocation. Frances’ handling or mishandling a test for a genetically probable terminal illness is analogous to Paul’s fears that he may be suffering from the disease that killed his father. Although Gabriel is looking much older than in Season One, obviously HBO being an aging ordeal, he is too young, as is Sunil and Frances, to be coming to an end of a life as his knows it.
We can also discuss our relief at the apparent lack of a transference plot line this season.
Is it time? It must be time. I feel the need for an Ambien and a nap. Until next week, I look forward to your comments.