The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Television Collision: All Viewers Should Be In Treatment

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageWhen I round up some of my favorite TV shows of recent years in my head, three letters are closely associated with almost all of them. This fact alone warrants an entirely separate article on the glory that is HBO (look for it on this site in a few weeks’ time). But for now I want to talk about a show that has gone unnoticed by many and this needs to change. The strangely cathartic and utterly brilliant “medical show” In Treatment.

I call it a “medical show”, because at the end of the day it is about a doctor and his patients, though not a world class neurosurgeon or diagnostician, but a psychologist and his complicated branch of medicine. Gabriel Byrne stars as Dr. Paul Weston and it’s a crying shame he hasn’t received an Emmy for his work yet (though he did win a Golden Globe). There is time to fix this error yet, but it would have to be this year, as a third season of In Treatment may not happen for various reasons relating to money (of course!), but also the lack of more source material.

Source material, you say? Yes, to be fair one has to mention that not all the glory of this achievement of a show belongs to HBO or the anglophone names in the credits, because In Treatment is based on the two seasons of the Israeli show BeTipul and based very closely at that. Sure, some of the story lines had to be “Americanized” a bit, but the core problems stay the same, heck, even lines the characters say in cases stay exactly the same. It’s all just a matter of translation, though to be fair, sometimes translating across cultural borders is a lot harder than it might seem (trust me on this, I’m a German writing for an American site).

And still the American version has merits all on its own, especially if you have never concerned yourself with the original show. Dr. Paul Weston is by no means a great therapist. He is not meant to be as special and genius as Dr. House or even Dr. McDreamy. He is just your average therapist, the therapist you, dear reader, may encounter, should you ever seek treatment. Yes, he helps some of his patients, but that is the least you can expect from a therapist. If he was unable to help anyone, he might as well be an emergency doctor unable to do sutures. Yet Paul doesn’t grasp all the roots of the problems his patients have, and that is largely also because he has his own demons to fight.


Paul and Walter

Here comes the best twist of the show, the therapist is in treatment himself. Initially, he is hesitant to call it that, he wants to see it more as professional mirroring with his old mentor and teacher Gina, but eventually Paul realizes that what he is actually seeking from Gina is treatment. With a complicated childhood, filled with abandonment, responsibility and pain, it’s no wonder Paul seeks acknowledgment and praise for his work beyond what his patients can give him. He even admits himself that sometimes he wishes there were an audience at his sessions to applaud him when he solves a patient’s problems. He wants to be loved, especially by his father, and so he allows his patient Laura to sit across from him week after week and profess her love for him, without ever doing what a therapist is supposed to do in this situation. Namely call a colleague and transfer the patient to them.

The beauty of In Treatment is the fact that it is not a representative show. It doesn’t try to give the one and only realistic example of how therapy works. Every therapy is different, because every patient is different and every therapist is different. Yet the combinations that happen in the office of therapist Paul Weston are intriguing, endearing and heartbreaking to watch. He forms a bond with his patients over the weeks, and so does the audience. I didn’t really like the installments with Walter this season at first, but the longer the season went on, the more I felt for the man and the more I wanted him to get better, I wanted Paul to help him as much as Paul wanted to help.

ImageIn two seasons there have been so many memorable moments in the show and so many of the actors deserve a lot of praise for their honest portrayal of normal people with problems. Who could forget Mia Wasikowska as Sophie? She was brilliant before the world knew her as Alice in Tim Burton’s newest movie. Who would have thought the scrawny kid with love troubles from Dead Poets Society would grow up to portray a character so conflicted yet relatable as Jake? And whose heart didn’t break seeing Walter, played by the wonderful John Mahoney (of Frasier fame), in his hospital bed, desperately trying to deny the truth?

The story lines alone are enough to make In Treatment a roaring success, but the technical execution elevates it above other shows in similar genres. In Treatment is quiet, the camera moves slowly, there are fewer cuts than our eyes have become accustomed to in times of The Bourne Ultimatum and several CSIs. Most of the sound of In Treatment is diegetic, although the show diverged from this a bit in Season Two, much to my dismay. The very absence of sappy background music when a sad story is told made the words spoken hit so much closer to home, because the viewer didn’t feel manipulated into caring. Nevertheless, In Treatment always takes its time to get to the secrets, the core and the darkness. The episodes consist largely of just two people sitting and talking, but over the course of a few weeks the person you thought appeared to be just like your next-door-neighbor, not really in need of any therapy, will have told you things you never would have guessed about them and you will see them in a different light.

What contributes to the strong draw In Treatment presents is also HBO’s airing schedule, particularly in Season One. Every episode is about a certain patient, who has an appointment with Paul at a certain time. Laura would come in Mondays, Alex on Tuesdays and so on. HBO aired the episodes exactly like that. Five nights a week you would get to spend half an hour with one of the patients, and it would be exactly a week until you saw them again. Just the way Paul experienced it himself.

Season Two had a slightly different schedule that wasn’t quite as natural and fascinating, airing two episodes on Sundays and three on Mondays. But the effect was still intense, because over the course of a few shorts weeks, lives were laid out in front of you, which I for one would find the most overwhelming part in being a therapist: that these people put their life in your hands and rely on you to make sense of it all.

In Treatment shouldn’t make anyone go out and seek treatment themselves in the belief that it will play out exactly like it does in Paul Weston’s office. In Treatment may not even strike you as very revelatory if you are a happy, well-adjusted person. But this being the 21st Century and all, chances are you will find some traits in some of the characters you recognize in yourself and that alone will get you thinking. And thinking people are increasingly becoming a rare breed.




Recommended Collisions with your Television

(combine at will, all times EST, only new programming listed)


Tuesday, July 7th
 8 p.m.
 The Superstars (ABC)
 9 p.m.  Hawthorne (TNT)
 10 p.m.
 The Cleaner (A&E)
   Warehouse 13 (SciFi)
   Rescue Me (FX)
   Saving Grace (TNT)
Wednesday, July 8th  
 8 p.m.
 So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
 9 p.m.
 10 p.m.
 The Philanthropist (NBC)
Thursday, July 9th  
 8 p.m.
 Samantha Who? (ABC)
 8:30 p.m.
 Samantha Who? (ABC)
 9 p.m.
 So You Think You Can Dance – Results (Fox)
   Burn Notice (USA)
 10 p.m.
 The Listener (NBC)
   Royal Pains (USA)
Friday, July 10th  
 8 p.m.
 Surviving Suburbia (ABC)
 9 p.m.
 Mental (Fox)
Saturday, July 11th
 8 p.m.
 Kings (NBC)
 9 p.m.
 10 p.m.
 Eli Stone (ABC)
Sunday, July 12th
 8 p.m.
 Merlin (NBC)
 9 p.m.
 True Blood (HBO)
   Law & Order: Criminal Intent (USA)
   Drop Dead Diva (Lifetime)
 10 p.m.
 Army Wives (Lifetime)
   Hung (HBO)
   In Plain Sight (USA)
 10:30 p.m.  Entourage (HBO)
Monday, July 13th
 8 p.m.
 9 p.m.
 The Closer (TNT)
   Law & Order: Criminal Intent (NBC)
 10 p.m.
 Weeds (Showtime)
   Raising the Bar (TNT)
 10: 30 p.m.
 Nurse Jackie (Showtime)