In one chair is Gabriel Bryne as Dr. Paul Weston. On the couch—not lying down—is one of his patients. Every episode he meets with one of them for a half hour and they just talk. Almost 30 minutes of dialog hoping for emotional truths and progress. It is an actor and writer’s dream to focus intently on the nuances required to make this experiment work.
More than having a gangster as a protagonist or funding an epic fantasy show, this is HBO’s riskiest decision. Season One had 43 episodes with (almost) an episode airing every weekday. Season Two shorted to 35 episodes and bundled the episodes to two nights. Season Three was further shorted to 28 episodes and he lost a patient.
This season felt a lot different during its first week. In previous seasons, I immediately responded to the new patients. Some of it was the help of amazing actors like Blair Underwood, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Charles, Embeth Davidtz, Hope Davis, Allison Pill, John Mahoney, and in a different role Diane Wiest. The arcs for the first two seasons allowed for more time to get to know the characters, but now it needs to be crunched.
In the first three episodes nothing was clicking for me. The first patient is Sunil, an older Indian man who has become a social hermit in the house of his son. He is out of place in America after the death of his wife and his daughter-in-law (“LOST’s” Sonya Walger) pretends to be supporting. Walger has done great stuff in the past, but she was terrible in an episode that already felt false. The same applied for Debra Winger’s character as an established actress feeling insecure about family relationships and Dane DeHaan as an angry gay teen.
The strength of “In Treatment” is how the show builds into something comfortable. The length of their show allows actors to grow comfortably into a performance that is never written as one-note. DeHaan’s character is insufferable for the first couple of weeks as he dares Paul to hate him. Then it pays off in his last few episodes. In previous seasons I was looking forward to every episode, but now I’m only enjoying half of them.
Each episode contributes to an overall arch of Paul. His struggles have higher stakes this season as he fears he has developed Parkinson’s, which killed his father last year. The chance for him to be real is during the final episode of every week, where he talks to his own therapist. In the past he would argue powerfully with Wiest because the characters had a complex past relationship outside of her office. Now he is meeting with Adele played by the brilliant Amy Ryan (“The Wire”, “Gone Baby Gone”)
Throughout the series Paul is a conflicted and flawed therapist. In certain episodes, his decisions can easily be questioned. His personal life is not as dire as it was in the past so his focus on patients is more sympathetic. It feels like he’s making progress with Adele instead of using that time to complain about his patients.
Will there be a Season Four? HBO has mumbled about trying to change the format again to finally find a way to get ratings from this. The schedule is too intense, especially for Byrne who is in every other frame. If this is the end, it’s a solid conclusion but I wouldn’t mind a return in five years to see where he is. I’ve always liked Byrne in the past, but this was something special. It was a character dense enough for him to explore for an unprecedented number of hours. He never became boring or predictable.
This was one of the shows that was too daunting for anyone to start. Yet it allowed everyone involved to shine in a way that is usually only reserved for theatre. Even though I didn’t race through this season like I did the previous two, it remained a fascinating oasis. The greatest TV performances are still dictated by how the characters respond to the plot; the only goal here is for these characters to find peace in their lives. That quest can cause for some surprisingly cinematic moments even if it just appears to be people sitting and talking. Like the patients, it’s always a surprise to hear “Your time is up.”
There aren’t any bonus features, because HBO doesn’t play that game. That said, I hate this DVD. If I have to look up on Wikipedia what is episode two, the discs failed me. The first two seasons had a week per disc of episodes. This has two weeks per episodes. Instead of putting them in order, they group them by patient. Even though it should go Sunil, Frances, Jesse, Adele, Sunil, etc it goes Sunil, Sunil, Frances, Frances, Jesse, Jesse, Adele, Adele. That would be fine, but since Paul goes to Adele to talk about his week, it’ll help to have seen his week! Then there is the annoying Play All which only applies to one person at a time and is in the place where the Menu button should be so I keep pressing the wrong button! Therapy shouldn’t make me this frustrated!!!!
Season Three: 4 Yaps
Bonus Features: N/A
Disc Format: 1 Yap
Season One: 5 Yaps
Season Two: 4.75 Yaps