Afraid to Watch: In Treatment

I’ve been in therapy for the last year and a half. But I think all my life, since I knew what it was, I secretly always wanted to go. In high school I held conversations with therapists in my head constantly. I imagined myself on his couch, pouring over my deepest and darkest secrets and thoughts. He would point out certain things, I would point out others. Or sometimes just having a nonjudgmental ear was enough. Except I thought I didn’t have any substantial reason to go besides generalized teenage angst, so at the end of the fantasy I was always faced with the reality that I couldn’t get the help I wanted. It was kind of like how when I was a kid I desperately wanted glasses, and cried when the doctor told me my eyes were 20/30. It sucked not being damaged enough.

But like with my vision, I eventually got there with age. Toward the middle of my senior year at college I was having breakdowns daily, and felt a need, an almost physical need, to talk to a professional. I got lucky and found a good one I still go to, who helped explain a lot of things that have been unattended to in my life up to that point. It was strange, and not like it always went in my head. For one, she was female. So, markedly less scintillating sexual tension. And two, the revelations were not always so dreamily collaborative, often far from it; and the things she pointed out didn’t always leave me smelling like a rose (I’d even take a radish rose most weeks).

In In Treatment this dynamic is a big component of the drama. The difference between how Paul’s patients expect a session to go vs. how it actually does. The reaction they want vs. the reaction they get. And although it seems like he’d be the most willing and able, this is, for some reason, not more prevalent than in Paul’s own therapy sessions with Dr. Adele Brousse that end every week of In Treatment, and will so close the fascinating, yet precarious, third season.

Paul’s patients this season represented what I would guess would be an unholy trinity in therapy. A traditional, middle-aged Indian man, a narcissistic actress, and a raging 16-year old boy; and yet Paul has by far demonstrated being the most shut down, most resistant of them all. He comes in dutifully every week to essentially curse, question, and even woo the young, insightful Adele, while she sits there, as Paul described her last episode, like a sphinx. The slow adversarial burn between them, written by husband and wife team Anya Epstein and Dan Futterman, has been like something out of Pinter, absolutely breathtaking to watch. The show is all dialogue, and yet with its constant shifts I have barely seen a relationship so open to interpretation. We like Paul, his brogue and his grasp, but how much is he projecting on to Adele? How much is Adele leading him on?

Ever since Paul revealed his sexual fantasy about her it’s been game on, and with Adele’s abrupt pregnancy announcement last week, and his “visceral” reaction, it’s reached max crisis. It’s been a fun ride, and Gabriel Byrne and Amy Ryan have held and played their cards to perfection, but how this ends can not help but finally make a huge statement about both of their characters. And not only that, but as two therapists, it can’t help but make a statement on therapy as a whole. Last week teenage Jesse brought up the question, does this help anyone? Does their talking really have an effect, or is it all just masturbation? It’s to Paul and Adele we’re looking to for the answer.

My hope for Paul in tonight’s sessions is that something in Jesse’s session clicks with him, leading him to finally listen to Adele’s frustrations, and see his obstinacy for what it is. And not only that, but come up with some solid conclusions about why he’s acted in such a way, and what that hypocrisy means about him, his practice, and his views on his own profession. In last night’s session with Frances, he finally admitted to her that he did care deeply for (i.e. love) her sister, who he treated 20 years ago, like she always suspected, and it seems now more than ever that his confessed desire with Adele to discuss patients, help one another, love one another, similar to my own old therapist thoughts, is just as naïve a fantasy, and one he has for practically every strong woman he meets.

Because the truth is, like how I was, Dr. Paul Weston is just not damaged enough. Not only in mind, but in body. All season he has been worried about having Parkinson’s, but two specialists told him he doesn’t have enough symptoms to tell yet. And as glowery, teenage angsty and European as Paul is, it’s the same story with him mentally. With that, the healthiest and bravest thing he can do is shake Adele’s hand and walk out the door.

With Sunil last night, he was told he actually helped him, but it came out of an action he took that had consequences he didn’t expect. When he stopped desiring and anticipating and worrying about Sunil like he has all season, serving him tea, and letting him smoke in the office, and just did his job, he helped Sunil the most. It’s a tough lesson to take in for someone so worried about doing the right thing, and Paul’s face at the end of last episode isn’t the face of someone with acceptance, so it might be asking too much for him to come around in two sessions, but next season isn’t in the bag, so it’d be a nice au revoir.

Paul definitely has unattended issues, but if he is going to address them it should perhaps be at the right time, and when he can step out of the fantasy. And probably with a male, so, no scintillating sexual tension.

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