by Karina Wolf
In Treatment, HBO
weekdays at 9:30
It is as if Laura (Melissa George) has escaped Turista’s angry Brazilian eco-terrorists and headed straight to session. Wild haired and smoky eyed, she bursts into her psychotherapist’s office, lies kittenishly on the sofa and attempts to seduce the doctor.
With In Treatment, HBO enacts its own kind of pathological splitting.
The show purports to create the fly-on-the-wall verisimilitude that its producers have already achieved with Entourage (implying that Entourage is more than a Notting Hill fantasy for frat boys)—but its first ep offers the emotional insight of a telenovela and overlooks the challenge of its premise. Is a therapeutic session adequate material for drama or should it retain its usual function, as a useful tool for advancing narrative exposition?
Laura’s tousled hair is full of secrets. Not very compelling or original ones, unfortunately, when we deduce (in case we missed the HBO teaser) that our prototypical shifty narrator has been lusting after her doctor.
Client is upset, volatile and provocative. Therapist Paul (Gabriel Byrne) swaddles sobbing patient in chenille throw, and informs young Laura that if he acted upon her attraction and proposition, he would violate his professional ethical code.
In films, Byrne works best as a cipher: while he may be a genial raconteur on Letterman, he capitalizes on being remote and unknowable in his acting, ambivalent criminal, recalcitrant crime boss, exotic Other. Maybe this static start is just giving the Byrne character some place to go; maybe his withholding nature indicates an intriguing personality dysfunction.
But as an Irish friend says, “With Gabe, the awkward, inarticulate male thing is a little unbecoming when you’re pushing 70. It should be sexy but something icky is just holding you back.” I can uphold the premise that therapists pursue their vocation because they want to heal themselves; but frankly, the therapist mother on Six Feet Under yields more fascination, and is a more believable nut.
And what about as compassionate listener? Is Byrne your man for a talking cure? Let’s face it, the last Irish analyst I recall on big or small screens was Stephen Rea’s lamentable faux-Jew in Neil Jordan’s In Dreams.
Brendan Behan said that a conversation between two Irishmen is one in which two fellows meet; they neither say what they mean, nor mean what they say, but they both go away knowing exactly what the other one was talking about. So perhaps all stories are shaggy dog stories, we’re far from knowing where this session is leading, and Byrne is singularly equipped to understand the double talk of his as yet straightforward clients.
My dad, Dr. W, re-ordered HBO to watch the show. Not only because I asked for the analyst’s viewpoint but also because he knows tomorrow night’s client will solicit his thoughts in a therapeutic version of rock/paper/scissors (“What’d you think of the show?” “What did you think?” “I asked you first!” “I asked you second.”).
In fairness, In Treatment has led to the excavation of a couple of scabrous familial secrets: a) Dad thought Mansfield Park on PBS was more entertaining, and b) he also has been propositioned by several clients.
But unlike Gabriel Byrne, Pops did not cite an ethical code to evade the behavior. He turned the question back on himself: How could I do something like that?, he asked the client. Wouldn’t it be incredibly damaging to you?
One patient resolved the dilemma for herself. There’s a lot of love between us, she concluded, we just don’t act on it.
For my money, the best therapist/patient duo are Diving Bell’s Mathieu Amalric and Elsa Wolliaston in Rois et Reine. Maybe that’s because I’m a Lacanian; or maybe it’s because (I think) you want a therapist to join you in your story, not shut you down. We’ll see if other patients provoke a more engaged stance from Byrne’s analyst.
Tuesday’s Session: Blair Underwood fears mortality; and can you have therapy if the doctor won’t admit the existence of your eternal soul?
SONGS FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
“You Can Call Me Al” – Jens Lenkman (mp3)
“Make Your Mind” – Diefenbach (mp3)
“Favourite Friend (Simian Mobile Disco remix)” – Diefenbach (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
The bad feeling inside the palace.
Insight into Alex’s childhood.
Cynical bougie commentary about everything.