Saturday, February 2, 2013

In Treatment: Week One (2.1 - 2.5)

I'm assuming luring in new viewers wasn't one of HBO's major priorities while opening up the second season of In Treatment, one of the most absorbing and frustratingly subtle series around. While it's fine getting thrown into several of the series' new patients, the opening week spends a lot of time exploring the aftermath of season one. Notably, this involves Alex's bitter father, who has launched a malpractice suit against Paul. It's an interesting angle to start up the year, and lends the series an unexpected feeling of a dark cloud hanging over everything.

Paul - Monday 9:00am

There's an inherently contrived quality to Paul's interaction with his lawyer Mia, if only because they have one of those trademark In Treatment histories full of past regret and subtlety. But what does succeed here is that it's Mia who is suddenly in the power position in their relationship, unlike their previous time as patient and therapist. Hope Davis gives Mia a brittle quality full of angst and depth, exuding deep regret over not having a family and putting her career ahead of her personal life, as well as demonstrating some latent hostility towards Paul, who she holds responsible for her seemingly empty life. It's heavy, but ripe with potential.

April - Tuesday 12:00pm

April is immediately confrontational, something familiar with characters last year. It's interesting to see somebody approaching cancer like this, and there's obviously an additional element of sadness to the fact that she's visited so many therapists and expected a different kind of result each time. Additionally, one of the reasons I liked April is that it feels like a race against time to help her. She's a ticking clock, and Paul will need to work more aggressively in order to save her life. It's a horrible situation for both of them, obviously the tragedy of a young life threatened by cancer, as well as with Paul being lumbered with something so huge.

Oliver - Wednesday 4:00pm

Oliver and his parents seem so far to be the most transparent patients this season, since it's clear where the problems lie. I'm expecting some additional depth somewhere down the line, but right now things seem a little overt. You wonder how on earth Bess and Luke got together in the first place, though, considering how radical their respective approaches to parenting are. Like Jake and Amy last season, it's so sad to see a couple become so antagonistic towards each other. What's interesting is that we can actually see the child caught in the crossfire this time. Jake and Amy's son remained off-screen, but here we have a boy who is already being somewhat manipulated into thinking certain things, his mother's harsh opinions on his dad bleeding through unexpectedly.

Walter - Thursday 5:00pm

The least subtle episode, but by far the most arresting. It's easy to forget that John Mahoney is a wonderful dramatic actor, and he's at his fiery best here. Walter is a man on the verge, so consumed with latent anger and bitterness that its threatening his own life. He's somebody who half-heartedly believes that his wealth can buy emotional help, while simultaneously appearing disappointed with the life his wealth has bought for him. Discussion of his children reeks of patriarchal resentment over their exciting and adventurous lives, until he brings up his bright spark daughter Natalie, who he views as his one success story. In general Walter is a saddening individual, somebody untrustworthy of others yet eager for guidance from other people. It's a rollercoaster of an episode with definite shades of Alex last season, and it's Mahoney who is walking away with the show so far.

Gina - Friday 6:00pm

It's ironic to see Paul exhibit the behaviors of some of his more aggressive patients. Just like the clients that demand an immediate fix, Paul is desperate for immediate guidance from Gina, wanting her to be somebody who can automatically bounce back with suggestions and advice like a robot. Once again we're seeing a very combative relationship here, despite the deeper feelings between both of them. There's also a deeper melancholy to Paul this year, likely amplified by Alex's death. He's not only questioning whether he can help people anymore, but is also wondering whether he deserves the lawsuit. 'Surely as a doctor he could have saved Alex -- isn't that what he's trained to do?' It's a mode of thinking that is fraught with danger, and it seems to have entirely enraptured him this season.

The one weak element from this week was Paul's encounter with his ex in Gina's office. It reminded me of some of my concerns last season, and the contrivance that is sometimes necessary in order to break down the restrictions of a series like this. But when everything is played so real, that contrivance (which is pretty routine in traditional television) seems even more distracting and annoying. Generally, however, this was a strong opener to season two. It's already clear that April and Walter are likely to be the most fascinating characters, but it's also likely that my opinion of the whole ensemble could be radically altered in a couple of weeks' time. But that's what's so rewarding about this show -- its ability to change your perspective just like you do in real life. And that's pretty remarkable. B

Paul Teleplay Warren Leight, Jacquelyn Reingold Director Paris Barclay
April Teleplay Warren Leight, Sarah Treem Director Paris Barclay
Oliver Teleplay Warren Leight, Keith Bunin Director Ryan Fleck
Walter Teleplay Warren Leight, Pat Healy Director Paris Barclay
Gina Teleplay Warren Leight, Marsha Norman Director Terry George

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