'In Treatment': Week six in review

The sessions get ugly in the season's penultimate week

<p>Sunil (Irrfan Khan)&nbsp;has a gift for Paul (Gabriel Byrne)&nbsp;on &quot;In Treatment.&quot;</p>

Sunil (Irrfan Khan) has a gift for Paul (Gabriel Byrne) on "In Treatment."

Credit: HBO

For the next to last time this season, we're going to tackle all four of this week's "In Treatment" episodes in a single review, coming up just as soon as I try to sell you a moldy carpet...

Though his patient's outside relatives, friends and/or loved ones occasionally enter Paul's office, for the most part all we know of their stories is what they tell us, and what we and Paul can deduce from the way they say things (and in some cases, from the details they clearly omit). So it's always a somewhat unreliable narrative, and can be complicated by an individual patients' pathology. (Jesse loves to tell lies about himself, and I was actually disappointed in season one when Alex's father turned up and didn't dispute the many tall tales Alex had told about him, because so many of those stories seemed the work of an adult version of Jesse.)

But in this season's penultimate week, it felt like we - both the audience, Paul and (in the case of Paul's session) Adele - were getting to see the patients far more clearly than they were seeing themselves. So while they told their shrink stories that fit their own (usually self-aggrandizing) worldview, it was pretty clear what had really happened, and who they really were - and in most cases, the view wasn't very pretty.

SUNIL

"Because I should not keep it." -Sunil

Sunil isn't Walter. He's Laura. Ha.

It took me until the Adele session this week to finally piece it together, but that's what this story is: Paul developing an unprofessionally close personal connection to a patient, and subconsciously using those feelings in an attempt to blow up the life he's come to hate.

James Poniewozik did a nice appreciation of the genius of Irrfan Khan earlier today, and I've written about him in the past, so here I want to focus on Gabriel Byrne as Paul, and his divergent reactions to Sunil here and then in the Adele session. You could ascribe that to the different writers (Adam Rapp has been responsible for the Sunil episodes, Anya Epstein and Dan Futterman for Adele), but of course Epstein and Futterman are in charge of the show this year, the writers all communicate, and Warren Leight made it clear in our conversations last year that Byrne has a better handle on Paul than anyone else who works on the show. So this is all planned, and part of one big tapestry. And in this episode, Paul is horrified by Sunil, and afraid for what he's going to do, and in the Adele episode he's blase and convinced he's getting through to a man who is plainly a ticking time bomb. (He even parrots the "pushed past her" garbage.)

And obviously much of that is the self-destructive thing. Paul has always seemed a much smarter, wiser, more likable man when treating patients than when he's the patient himself, and this week he's acting out against his discovery of Adele's pregnancy and how it shatters his transference fantasies. He's clinging to what Sunil said at the end of the session about coming back for one more week, and to his own identification with Sunil, but a part of him probably wouldn't mind Sunil doing something just bad enough to cost Paul his license without causing significant harm to Julia or the kids.

But I felt as relieved when he called Julia as I did when he finally got April to go to the doctor last season. This was very, very bad, and whatever sympathy I've had for Sunil in recent weeks dissipated in this one, from Julia's visit in the prologue (Sonya Walger did a good job of playing a character who probably embodies some of the unlikable qualities Sunil ascribes to her, but also isn't the monster he insists she is) through the discussion of his tantrum over "Finding Nemo," where the blanks he left in the story imply something that would have upset the kids well before Julia even came in the room.

Their final session ought to be really interesting. As with various actions Paul undertook with April last year, the call to Julia was something he absolutely had to do, but it will likely undo whatever bond they developed over the previous six weeks of therapy.

FRANCES

"My sister's dying, and I'm angry at her!" -Frances

This one was interesting in the perspective game, because for much of the episode, I found Frances to be every bit the insufferable drama queen that she said her daughter took her for, and then Izzy's 30 second cameo in the waiting room - where she paused from delivering grave news about Tricia's condition to make a bitchy comment about the futility of her mom's therapy - almost completely tipped the sympathy scales back in Frances' favor. I mean, I can see why Izzy might respond this way, but something about the way she did it, and the timing of it, was really off-putting - and deliberately so, I would think.

This was one where Gabriel Byrne was particularly superb. We still don't know very much about his therapeutic relationship with Patricia, but his reaction to all this grim news about her prognosis told us all we need to know: Paul cares deeply for this woman he hasn't seen in nearly 20 years, and it hurts to hear that she's about to die.

JESSE

"Why don't they want me in their lives? What is so wrong with me? I don't understand. Am I that awful?" -Jesse

Where Sunil and Frances both come off as far less sympathetic than they believe themselves to be, Jesse's self-delusions are a bit more innocent. He can't clearly see the way the visit with his birth parents went the way Paul can, nor can he imagine why his adoptive parents, or Nate, or anyone else might love him, but he's not actively harming anyone (physically or emotionally) for once. (Well, except the bulimic girl in the waiting room, who immediately feels fat the second Jesse drops the "beautiful just the way you are" line.) He's just in a lot of pain.

The two previous episodes were in some ways about the limits of therapy - Paul can only do so much about the living situation that fuels Sunil's anger, and Tricia's going to die soon no matter what - but where Jesse here also tries to suggest this is all pointless, he seems the most capable of being helped. He looks at his additional 63 years on this earth as a curse, but those years give him a lot of time to figure out that he's not that awful, that he can be loved, and that he just needs to get out of his own way sometimes.

It's also interesting that, as with Sunil, Paul is willing to break some barriers for Jesse. He tells him that Max went back to his mother, and he tries to tell him what to do "as someone who cares for you," even though he views it outside his purview as a therapist. Paul does tend to go the extra mile with his younger patients, of course, but it's still worth noting.

PAUL/ADELE

"It's all a crock of shit, anyway. It's all designed to give powers and thrills to the sphinx-like doctor at the expense of the humiliated patient."  -Paul

Hoo boy.

Paul had a few sessions like this with Gina - I remember the one last season where she complained about how he came in and spewed bullshit and felt sorry for himself - but this was by far the ugliest, most uncomfortable one he's had thus far with Adele, and their relationship hasn't been particularly warm to begin with.

Paul enters still fantasizing about a relationship with Adele - a fantasy fueled by her poorly-timed call at the start of the Frances episode - then has that fantasy wrecked when he sees her clutching her swollen belly in profile.(*) He starts off in the evasive, smug Sunil mode and then shifts to the angry Sunil mode. And while I never feared for Adele's safety the way I do Julia's, this is about the most disgusted I've ever been with Paul, who at various points takes on the worst traits of all his patients. He's also narcissistic like Frances (while accusing Adele of being the narcissist), and he makes sweeping assumptions about Adele the same way Jesse constantly does with his birth parents, his adoptive parents and the rest of the world.

(*) Question for the eagle-eyed viewers: have they been gradually padding Amy Ryan over the last few episodes and just drew attention to it here, or is this the first of it?

As happened a few weeks ago, Paris Barclay handled the direction on both the Sunil and Adele episodes, and the intensity of both - and the mirrored emotions of both - was palpable.

The season's final episode of each story doesn't bring with it a cure, but it usually provides some level of closure to a problem: in season one, Paul confronts Laura, while in season two, he and Gina decide to sever their relationship. Even more than Sunil or Jesse, it feels like Paul's problems are so myriad and so deep this year that I have no idea how Epstein and Futterman are going to achieve a measure of closure on any of them next week. But I look forward to seeing them try.

And speaking of which, HBO isn't sending out the last week of episodes in advance, so don't expect that review to turn up any earlier than Wednesday morning - and considering this is a show I like to think about for a while before I write, maybe later than that.

What did everybody else think?

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Alan Sepinwall
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Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "The Revolution Was Televised," about the last 15 years of TV drama, is for sale at Amazon. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com
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