HBO // 2008 // 1290 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 13th, 2009
"How do you feel about that?"
Paul (Gabriel Byrne, Miller's Crossing) is a respected therapist who has been successfully treating troubled patients for many years. He's just taken on several new cases that are all proving to be exceptionally challenging. On Mondays, he meets with Laura (Melissa George, 30 Days of Night), a physician who is currently allowing self-destructive tendencies to ruin her relationships. On Tuesdays, he meets with Alex (Blair Underwood, Dirty Sexy Money), a Navy pilot attempting to cope with the knowledge of having killed 16 Iraqi children during a bombing mission. On Wednesdays, he meets with a teenage girl named Sophie (Mia Wasikowska, Defiance). On Thursdays, he meets with Jake (Josh Charles, Sports Night) and Amy (Embeth Davidtz, Junebug), a married couple debating whether or not Amy should have an abortion. While Paul attempts to help these individuals work out their problems, he has a few to solve of his own. His wife Kate (Michelle Forbes, 24) has been cheating on him, and he hasn't been able to devote much time to his children. He decides to re-enter therapy himself, turning to his old supervisor Gina (Dianne Wiest, Synecdoche, New York) despite some lingering bitterness toward her. How many of these wounded people will be able to find healing?
HBO and therapy seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. Therapy has played a significant role in programs like The Sopranos and Tell Me You Love Me, and it's played a somewhat smaller role in other HBO shows such as Six Feet Under. Now, at long last, it feels like the premium cable network is finally achieving some sort of cathartic release with In Treatment, a show that is all therapy and nothing but therapy. Not only does the show stay within the limited confines of a therapist's office, it offered a daily rather than weekly dose of drama. Five days a week for nine weeks in a row, viewers were treated to 30-minute doses of intimate personal psychiatric drama. It's a concept that could have been agonizingly dull, but thanks to some smart writing and absolutely superb performances, it proves to be a thoroughly absorbing and intelligent drama that is well worth a look.
In some ways, In Treatment feels like five brief seasons of a television show sewn together into an epic tapestry. Each episode has its own unique emotional vibe generated by Byrne and whoever his co-star happens to be. One might assume that this would lead to a drastically varying level of interest/quality in the program depending on who the primary players happened to be, but there is a surprising measure of consistency here. The episodes on each disc follow the exact same order: Laura on Monday, Alex on Tuesday, Sophie on Wednesday, Jake & Amy on Thursday, and finally Paul's Friday night session with Gina. There isn't a single day of the week that seems to stand out as "the dud" or as the definitive highlight of the program. There are certainly specific elements here and there that I find exceptional, but I sincerely doubt that those who are generally engaged by the program will be particularly disappointed by any of the specific installments here.
The Laura episodes begin in a deceptively lackluster manner. Here is a woman moaning about her various problems and obviously engaging in foolish behavior in an attempt to generate...what, exactly? When Laura's true intentions begin to come into focus (involving her deeply-rooted passion for Paul), things become particularly intense. Paul recognizes the situation as a textbook case of erotic transference, but to his own surprise he isn't able to keep his own feelings in check as well as usual. If his encounters with Laura are full of vague ramblings that beat around the bush, his encounters with Alex are anything but. Blair Underwood's take on the role of Alex is immediately involving. He's a dynamic alpha male who seems intent on turning every session into some sort of macho competition with Paul. He makes an attempt to prove himself the dominant figure in every conversation, and dismisses many of Paul's questions as nonsense that he shouldn't have to put up with. He does not feel remorse for having killed innocent children, surprisingly. This isn't a predictably story of a haunted war vet. This man shrugs it off. "It was just part of the mission," he declares confidently.
Paul's encounters with young Sophie are the most tender and delicate episodes of the season. Wasikowska nails the role with a perfect blend of tender innocence and teenage bitterness; and Paul grants her more warmth and patience than he does the rest of his patients. Though Sophie is occasionally prone to push the envelope in an attempt to discover just how much she can get away with, she's a genuinely good-hearted young girl attempting to cope with a world of hurt. The interactions feel more fragile here, a feeling that any moment could generate a significant breakthrough or a notable problem. Even so, Sophie comes nowhere close to approaching the volatility of Jake and Amy, a couple who easily veer between menacing rage and intense passion. Davidtz and Charles create two of the least likable characters in the program, though every once in a while their humanity will shine through just enough to prevent us from seeing them as complete tools.
Throughout all of these sessions, Byrne is mostly very low-key, laid-back and content to allow his co-stars to take the lead. A large part of this comes from the role he is playing. As a therapist, his approach is to try to ask the right questions and then listen intently. He spends most of his time reacting to what others are saying, listening, making every slight facial movement an event of considerable importance. All of that understated subtlety goes out the window when Paul goes to see Gina. In these sessions, Paul becomes everything that he despises in his patients: whiny, argumentative, hostile, irrational and petty. Wiest takes a less emotionally involved approach than Paul, frequently refusing to recognize his not-terribly-subtle demands for acknowledgement. She is kind and compassionate, but empathy is not the name of her game. The dynamic becomes even more interesting during the episodes in which Paul decides to turn the session into couples therapy for himself and his wife.
From a visual standpoint, In Treatment is very simple...after all, 99% of the scenes here take place in two simple rooms (the offices of Paul and Gina). The transfer is quite effective, offering fairly strong facial detail during the many close-ups. Flesh tones are mostly solid, though there are moments where they seem a little greenish. Other than that, there's not really any other opportunity for the show to impress from a visual standpoint. Audio is similarly simplistic: dialogue scenes, very minimal sound design, and gentle music by Richard Harvey during the opening and closing credits. It gets the job done. Sadly, there are no extras of any sort included.
This is something of an odd and abstract complaint, but every once in a while I began to feel that the show became...trivial. This isn't something that happened frequently, because the writing and acting is generally very strong and fully capable of sustaining interest. Still, every now and then the fact that the problems of these individuals are somewhat minor in comparison to the problems of less affluent individuals in the real world would come into focus. Most of the characters here live inside a comfortable financial bubble that makes them immune to some of the everyday struggles affecting those who don't make six figures a year. These individuals are certainly dealing with complex and challenging emotional issues in therapy, but at least they're actually able to afford a therapist. Like I said, it's an unusual sort of complaint that doesn't really reflect on the quality of the program. In fact, the program offers a perfectly honest reflection of the real world of therapy. It's just that some viewers may feel the show veers into the upper-class semi-irrelevancy of Tell Me You Love Me (though I feel this program is vastly superior to that one).
This is a fascinating and superbly crafted program that deserves recognition. While I would recommend taking it slow (I absorbed this entire 20+ hour beast over the course of 5 days), it's a very rewarding watch that requires less patience than you might expect.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 1290 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated