In Treatment Returns for Season Two
In Treatment(HBO) Season Two. Executive Producer Rodgrigo Garcia. Starring Gabriel Byrne; Diane Wiest; Hope Davis; John Mahoney; Alison Pil; Laira robins; Aaron Grady Shaw; Michelle Forbes; Sherri Saum; Russell Hornsby
HBOs critically acclaimed In Treatmenthas returned for a second season, but while lead Gabriel Byrne is back as pychologist Paul Weston; as is Diane Wiest as his mentor/therapist/friend Gina Toll, we are treated to an entirely new roster of patients. With season one’s Alex (Blair Underwood) having committed suicide; Paul’s messy relationship with Laura (Melissa George) failing to materialize; and his marriage to Kate (Michelle Forbes) kaput, Paul has moved to Brooklyn, NY and started up a new practice, although he still takes the Friday train home to Maryland for the weekend to see his kids, and have a session of his own with Gina
One thing that hasn’t changed is the instability in Paul’s personal life. A lawsuit has been initiated by Alex’s family (Alex Sr is played by veteran actor Glynn Turman), charging Paul with malpractice for allowing Alex, a military pilot, to fly again. The firm representing Paul and his insurance company turns out to employ a person from Paul’s past, ex-patient Mia (Hope Davis), an attorney who, it is revealed, harbors a longtime resentment toward Paul for moving away twenty years earlier and leaving her without a therapist.
Conflict of interest is a major theme running through In Treatment, and the soap opera-like drama involving Paul-Alex-Laura-Gina and another new character from Paul’s past, Tammy (Laira Robins) is the weakest element of the show. The drama truly lives and breathes in the smaller moments in the room, many of them played out in something akin to real time. Verbal interchanges taking place between patient and therapist that, while certainly stylized and accelerated for entertainment purposes, nonetheless do justice to the spirit of the process. It’s as if when the writers step away from the confines of the room and get into Paul’s non-professional life they feel the need to ratchet up the stakes, adorning the plot with the kind of embellishments that take the show away from the realm of the special. These moments, and several over-the-top (and also questionably plausible) incidents from season one (i.e. the details surrounding Sophie’s suicide attempt) represent the shows lowest points, although this is also a series filled with many deeply emotional and highly nuanced moments that are easily on par with the best found in most feature films.
Schedule-wise, the show is broken up in much the same way as Season 1. HBO plays two half-hour episodes (the first four devoted to a particular day of the week and the individual patients; the last - Friday, to Paul’s visits to Gina) on Sunday Nights and then three more on Mondays. Of course, in the age of the DVR, the episodes are also available in the HBO saved program section in blocks of two weeks worth of shows. It’s a strange format perhaps, although more and more we see programs running on multiple nights (ala American Idol) and non-network cable stations running blocks of programs together so that one can always catch them or catch up.
In addition to Mia, who Paul, in fact, begins to see as a patient once again, we have April (Alison Pil; Milk), a young architectural student with cancer and serious denial issues; Oliver (Aaron Grady Shaw), an African American child who is confused by the separation and impending divorce of his combative parents, Bess (Sherri Saum) and Luke (Russell Hornsby), who attend the sessions with him; and Walter (John Mahoney), a controlling corporate executive suffering panic attacks.
As the sessions continue we learn more about the lives of these people, their layers revealing themselves to us as they relay their stories to Paul. If the sessions themselves are a bit uneven in terms of the patients behavior (call it dramatic license) the truth of the interaction itself is never anything less than solid. Byrne exudes the kind of measured calm of a professional, consistently volleying and deflecting, gently prodding and provoking, but endeavoring to allow his patients to get to their truths on their own, to experience whatever breakthroughs there are to be had in an organic way.
HBO is seemingly enamored with the proverbial couch. Dr. Melfi’s relationship with Tony played a huge role in The Sopranos, and there was the one season of Tell Me You Love Me, with the center of the show being Jane Alexander’s therapist character. Creator, Colombian native Rodrigo Garcia (Nine Lives; Ten Tiny Love Stories; Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her), comes from a background in film, and like fellow Latin director and friend Alejandro Gonzales Inirrutu, relishes stories with multiple interwoven narratives. As Executive producer, Garcia utilizes a group of talented writers and directors who are obviously dedicated to character and dialogue. It is a testament to Garcia and his cohorts that a show with so little physical movement and so few locations continues to be as compelling as it does.
For the past decade HBO has been on the cutting edge of television, giving us much of the best that the medium has to offer. When In Treatment keeps things small, and focuses on the interaction between therapist and patient, it’s as good as anything out there.