Thursday, April 11, 2013

In Treatment: Week Three (3.9 - 3.12)

They say first impressions matter the most, and that it takes a lot to have those perceptions change. It's probably different with television characters, since it's rare to have a ton of literal attachment to a bunch of people moving around on your TV set. But, three weeks in, those perceptions you have about Paul's patients are rapidly changed, characters that seemed troubled but generally pleasant suddenly ugly, all exhibiting nastier qualities. Even Sunil, arguably the nicest new character, received added depth this week that made you question what you thought you knew about him, his actions now creepy and less guided by his supposed naivety.

Sunil - Monday 3:00pm

Of course, 'creepy' is probably a little extreme, but this episode at least granted deeper understanding to Julia's problems with her father-in-law as expressed back in Sunil's first session. Whether he denies it or not, Sunil seems obsessively distracted by her, judging her on her appearance, her sexuality, and what he perceives to be her flirtation with other men. He spends so long watching her that it's understandable she'd feel uncomfortable.

But it's obviously important to point out that there's always a sadder layer to all of this, Paul getting Sunil to open up about the woman he abandoned in college in favor of the woman he married, and his regrets about that decision. There's also the issue of a clash of cultures, Sunil mystified by how Americans trade their dignity for a cash prize on reality TV, and why Julia is so desperate to exercise herself to fit a certain body type. So, yeah, Sunil can be inappropriate and judgmental, but the show at least grants him a form of reasoning -- everything new in his life still so alien and strange.

Frances - Tuesday 10:00am

While Sunil became flawed and dysfunctional this week, Frances alternatively just became annoying. It's never been hard to dislike certain patients over the years on this show, but everything Frances does is somehow motivated by selfishness or desire to hurt, while she frequently reacts to confrontation with this stormy, melodramatic insanity that leaves you asking why you bothered.

As we learn more about her, it's hard to find anything particular likable about her, nor any explanation for her behavior. So she's proud of being an actress, and hated that her sister was also talented and wanted to pursue it for real, so she calmly advised her not to even try. And she's still resentful, creating wild theories about Tricia and her daughter and refusing to even consider that her mother is a suppressive presence when it comes to all of her life decisions. Despite the fact that Tricia is slowly dying, Frances is still intently focused on distrusting those around her. There's an obviously absorbing tension in these episodes, but Frances is becoming so aggressive and obnoxious that it's easy to lose interest in her.

Jesse - Wednesday 4:00pm

Jesse aspires to repulse and alienate, because it's the only way he can function as a result. His description of a violent incident with his on-again/off-again boyfriend is filled with graphic sexual commentary and elaborate shock tactics, designed to throw off anybody who happens to be listening. It's transparent, obnoxious, and desperate. And it's easy to write the guy off as a complete dick. He's certainly become unlikable. But there's a real sense of anguish there, too, which is making him the most absorbing patient right now.

The presence of his mother also adds an element of sadness. As much as he tries to deny it, Jesse is surrounded by people trying their best to help and support him, yet he goes out of his way to hurt them. Jesse's mom doesn't know about the recent contact initiated by his birth mother, yet he reveals it in the most gloriously callous way possible. Both characters are trying to work through things, and I'm not entirely sure that his mother was about to say something homophobic before she abruptly stopped her dialogue, but right now I'm invested in it all, despite Jesse's antagonism.

Adele - Friday 5:00pm

I love that Adele is such a different beast for this show. While Gina's presence was always so absorbing, there was almost too much familiarity there between her and Paul for any of their sessions to be particularly useful. Based on Paul's circumstances this year, if anything they've made him worse. But Adele is very much a silent observer at the best of times, failing to take the bait and instead slowly easing Paul into comfort.

Paul's mind is still distracted by his self-diagnosed Parkinson's, and Max finding out about it by accident has thrown Paul off even further. Once again he's finding himself out of control of his own destiny, other people engineering his decision making. While Paul attempts to mend relations with his son, it's interesting that the questions he imagines Max asking work so cleverly as an insight into his own introspection -- "Are you dying?", "Are you fit to be a father?" These may be hypothetical questions asked by a son to his dad, but they say more about Paul's perpetual mid-life crisis and how he has been viewing himself than anything else.

It's easy to consider everybody on In Treatment as unlikable people, but what makes the show so absorbing is the writers' dedication to characterization, exploring the anxieties and traumas of the players instead of merely depicting their very worst qualities. You can understand why it's easy to get so wrapped up in it. B

Sunil Writer Adam Rapp Director Ali Selim
Frances Writer Alison Tatlock Director Patricia Rozema
Jesse Writer Sarah Treem Director Courtney Hunt
Adele Writers Anya Epstein, Dan Futterman Director Jim McKay

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