Sunday, March 9, 2008

"The Monkees weren't about music, Marge. They were about rebellion, about political and social upheaval!"

In Treatment Mid-Season Review: Bit of a light blogging week for me (mostly due to an assignment I'm working on for U.S. Con law with a word limit that's about half as long as it should be, and thus twice as hard), but I'm hoping to knock off "90s albums" and "90s books" next week, followed by a March Madness preview by the 19th, and--possibly--a drunken running diary for the first day of the tourney on the 20th. Anyway...

Based on the hit Israeli show (it ended up winning scores of Israeli Emmys, though, upon idle speculation careful examination, I've concluded that it's actually the only Israeli telivision program in existence), In Treatment tells the story of therapist Paul Weston (played by Gabriel Byrne). For those that don't know the conceit, In Treatment--like (but not really) a soap opera--five times a week. Paul sees Laura on Monday, Alex on Tuesday, Sophie on Wednesday, Jake and Amy on Thursday, then goes to see his own therapist (Gina, played by the increasingly whale-like but incredibly talented Dianne Wiest) on Friday. Each episode covers one session and occurs more or less in real time, with sessions occasionally ending early and Paul's wife Kate getting involved.

Pretty early on in the show, In Treatment "broke" with the stated format and started to introduce Paul's own issues into the sessions. Now, I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, it's a little irritating that the show got away (and rather quickly at that) from something truly novel--real time glimpses at "regular" people in therapy--in order to expose the viewer to Paul's admittedly pretty fundamentally fucked up life. I just can't shake the feeling that this was done because HBO didn't think viewers would respond to a straight therapy show. On the other hand, I also feel as though my own interest would wane if they didn't inject some personal drama into the series. Plus: it's compelling. So, did they abandon an arguably purer format to appeal to a broader audience? Absolutely...but I'm to blame, so I can't really object.

Sepinwall's blog, once again, is a great resource if you're new to the show, and I highly recommend.

Ranking the Storylines (best to worse):

Sophie:
16; A gifted gymnast; broke her arm in what might've been a suicide attempt; has daddy (and mommy!) issues (he's never around and may or may not have sexually abused her as a child); may have an eating disorder. Since this is arguably the only time that Paul actually shows off his therapeutic chops on a consistent basis, this is the best storyline in a walk. There's a lot going on in these sessions (in addition to what I've mentioned above, Sophie has an extraordinarily icky relationship with her coach) and it's interesting to see Sophie challenge Paul, and Paul, in turn, engineer some breakthroughs (of course, this does have a tendency to blow up in his face on occasion). Mia Wasikowska (who plays Sophie...and is actually Australian, I just discovered) is quite good and she and Byrne really riff nicely together (there's definitely a--non-dysfunctional--father/daughter dynamic between the two of them).

Alex: early 40s; fighter pilot; Type-A personality; fixated on having the best of everything; daddy issues (cold and occasionally physically abusive); possibly latently gay. These sessions are interesting because he can push Paul's buttons. I've always liked Blair Underwood (who plays Alex) and, once again, he's great here. What I like about these sessions is that if Paul tries something that is blatantly a therapeutic technique, Alex will call him on it, and then throw it back in Paul's face. Underwood is also a great storyteller, so his sessions are usually quite engaging.

Trying not to be too spoilery here so I'll be vague, but, at one point, Alex totally crosses a line during a session (it's not what you think), but then, one week later, Paul acts almost as if nothing has happened. That struck me as artificial.

Gina/Paul:
Paul--> early to mid-fifties; marriage is disintergrating; starting to hate his patients (except for the one he's in love with); was involved in some sort of work related (only?) feud with Gina in the past; has Daddy issues (his dad had an affair with a patient and left his mom--are you noticing a trend?). Gina--> mid-fifties; lost her husband in the past year; formerly Paul's mentor; somewhat confrontational as a therapist (or, at the very least: not afraid to say things that her patients might find uncomfortable). I have to say, it's fascinating to see Paul use the same tactics his patients do (accusing Gina of putting words in his mouth, of slavishly focusing on one theory at the expense of all other interpreations, threatening to never come back, etc.), not to mention his revisionist history. The addition of Kate, however, might be Friday's undoing, as Paul's no longer free to discuss his patients. In effect, the producers have short-circuited the most interesting aspect of the Paul-Gina dynamic, mainly: (I probably don't need to--but nonetheless will--point out that Gina and Paul both serve as proxies for we the viewers, allowing us to compare our opinions and theories about the Monday-to-Thursday crowd with those of the "trained" "professionals" [Clarification: quotation marks because I realize they're playing roles here, not because I think little of the profession. In a completely unrelated story, Jenn, our therapist friend, describes the show as "pretty representative of 'real' psychodynamic work," though sensationalized in places.] If you think about it too much, it kind of falls apart, but it's actually one of the more intriguing charms of the show, which--I'll hasten to point out--I truly love, criticisms aside.)

If the Kate-Paul-Gina sessions do continue--by no means a certainty at this point--one thing that is strangely riveting (and something to watch out for) is Paul objecting to how Gina is leading the sessions, followed by a lengthy explaination of what he would do in her place. For some reason, this is fascinating, if completely insulting to Kate, as she's talked about as if she's not even there.

Laura: early 30s; anesthesiologist; possible sex addict (not once in six appearances has she failed to tell Paul a sexually explicit anecdote); believes herself to be in love with Paul; has daddy issues (was basically a ghost after his wife died). I keep going back and forth on this one. Full disclosure: I kind of hate Melissa George (who plays Laura) mostly because she nearly single-handedly ruined Alias in S3 (by which--DANGLING MODIFIER ALERT--I mean the show was nearly ruined, not that it was ruined and she played a prominent role), so I was fully prepared to hate her character--and, truth be told, she is pretty awful. But, in fairness, she's supposed to be awful, and George acts the shit out of basically every scene she's in, so....

Many have pointed out that Laura (for reasons I won't go into) is essentially Sophie fifteen years later, and that it's hypocritical of fans to like Sophie (a message board favorite) and hate Laura (which they do). I'm going to reserve judgment here until I see how the rest of the season plays out, but, suffice to say, Byrne and George have loads of chemistry, it's just a little unfortunate that it's directed towards a Friends-like will-they-or-won't-they? scenario where you can't help shouting at the screen "don't do it, Paul! Don't do it!"

Jake and Amy: Jake--> mid-thirties; blue collar; angry; insecure. Amy--> mid-thirties; some sort of high-powered executive; possible compulsive liar; has daddy issues (I can't remember the specifics). My main issue here is that Jake (Josh Charles) and Amy (Embeth Davidtz) pretty clear hate each other and should just get fucking divorced already! I'm not really sure if their sessions are going anywhere...or, perhaps more importantly, if there's really anywhere to go. But the other factor at play is that they're both profoundly unlikeable (this is especially disappointing for me as I'm a big fan of Josh Charles from his Sports Night days--in fairness, he is kind of trenchantly funny here), thus I don't find their plight terribly compelling.

One entertaining aspect of the show is that, if Jake and Amy get in an especially nasty row, Carrie has taken to singing "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" a la Tammy Wynette, which is always good for a laugh...

By the time this is posted, 30 episodes will have aired, with 13 to go (no word--and HBO has been pretty tight-lipped--as to why it ends on a Wednesday). That's more than two-thirds of the season, yet many, many questions remain unanswered. To that end, I've listed ten below (with my speculation in parenthesis). Read on at your own peril, as salient plot points are discussed. If you haven't watched yet: what the hell? Start already!

Unanswered Questions (my best guess on the outcome)

**SPOILER ALERT: Vital plot points are discussed below. Do not highlight unless you're just dying to know.**

1. Does Laura actually like Paul, or this is just erotic transference? (Tough one. I think we're supposed to think that Laura will lose all interest if Paul gives in--her reaction to his admission in episode 26 is telling on this front--but I think that, if only to throw the viewers for a loop, she will actually remain interested, assuming he relents. Just a hunch. The only problem with this is that it creates some logistical problems for a potential second season--would Paul continue to treat someone he is sleeping with? Presumably not.)
2. Previous question aside: will they hook up? (Hook up might be too strong. But I predict the season will end with a kiss. Perhaps at the end of a Sophie session, hence the Wednesday ending? Their chemistry is undeniable.)
3. Is Alex secretly gay? (The whole "macho military is actually a closeted homosexual" is a little too trite for me to endorse, but, as many have observed, some things are cliched for a reason. If you think about, a lot about this makes sense: he enjoys living with his gay friend; he admits to going to a gay bar and watching gay porn with them; his lousy performance in bed with Laura (the first time); assuming that his heart attack is no longer an issue, it would explain why he's not on active duty at the moment--i.e. some sort of "don't ask, don't tell" violation, which...don't even get me started on how that can still be an actual policy in 2008. Nevertheless, I'm going to say that he isn't gay, only because it might be too obvious at this stage.)
4. Is Alex a pathological liar? (Lots--OK: some--internet chatter that Alex is making all of this up. This stems from the fact that, after Laura slept with him, she mentioned that he was "like a fighter pilot," but in a way that suggested that Alex hadn't told her that he was a fighter pilot. I'm not sure if there's much more to this theory than that--though it does fit with Alex's impressive storytelling. I'm inclined to think that Laura's line is just a red herring and that Alex is telling the truth for the most part.)
5. How did Alex find out all that information about Paul? (internet speculation has Alex placing a bug in the coffee machine he gave Paul and, the more I think about it, the more I think that this is the only possible explanation. I don't buy for a second that Alex got all that dirt on Paul from other therapists, especially since some of the info--his feelings for Laura--couldn't realistically be known to them.)
6. Was Sophie sexually abused by her father? (Almost certainly. I think we're building towards that being the an end-of-season reveal, though it, too, has been fairly telegraphed.)
7. Will Jake and Amy be together at the end of the season? (Yes...but just barely...and Amy will have slept with someone else.)
8. What really happened with Paul and Gina? (Still not sure. For a while, I thought they'd slept together. Now? Probably not, but something tells me we haven't heard the last of the Institute.)
9. Will Paul and Kate save their marriage? (I don't think so. Better question: should they bother?)
10. Are all of these patients merely hallucinations from an institutionalized Paul? Think about it: is it a coincidence that they're so similar? (Um...no.)

1 comment:

maritimexpat said...

Just finished watching episode 30, and finally was able to read behind the spoilers.

One thing that's really heady about the show is that it presumably takes place in 'real time' yet sessions have been described as taking 50 minutes. Also, we've seen at least 2, maybe 3 other patients that Paul is currently tending to, yet they never come up... which admittedly fits with TV screenwriting economy, but seems a little narratively 'off' when matched with the loopy timeflow.

Also, Laura has this thing where she never shuts her lips completely when she's not talking and sits there like a dang chipmunk.

Lastly, I had a confusing moment a while back- does Paul have a 'waiting room' through the side entrance to his house, or just a deck? I seem to recall a patient or two waiting in an inside chamber and there's only 3 doors in the office (bathroom, outside, house) right?