I’ve promised to discuss things that interest me in the arts rather than just make this blog/website a self-promotional tool, and I’m keeping that promise by telling those who don’t already know about it what a transcendent and illuminating TV show HBO’s In Treatment is.
I’d been dimly aware of this show, but I recall that when I’d first heard about the concept I’d found it off-putting: a half-hour series about a psychotherapist who is visited by the same few patients week after week. I immediately envisioned thirty minutes of whining counterbalanced by Gabriel Byrne’s constant nodding and inquiring, “And how do you feel about that?” So I ignored the show. But after a friend highly recommended it, I decided to give it a try, and sat down in the chair across from Paul (Byrne’s character) and started undergoing treatment.
By the end of that first half hour I had a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, and a knot in my gut. The quiet, understated truth of that first episode had me in a death grip, and I felt as though I’d gladly pay Paul’s required $150 per half hour to continue treatment. I’m not feeling as emotional now, but that old feeling comes back often as I watch the therapy Paul’s patients undergo, and his attempts to deal with his own crumbling life as he tries to heal others.
At first I thought it would be a show I would watch with only one eye, listening while perhaps multitasking with my iPhone in my lap. But I quickly discovered that the emotional intensity of the show demands — and rewards — a similarly strong intensity in the viewer. The acting is brilliant, from Byrne’s pained and nuanced performance to Diane Wiest’s Buddha-like calm as Paul’s mentor to whom he has now returned for therapy of his own. As for the patients, most of you have known some or all of these people, or have been some yourself. And you dare not look away, for fear of missing that subtle movement at the corner of a mouth, that moment when the eyes drift away for just a split-second too long, that tell that something has been withheld, or that a truth is about to be revealed.
And you will think, I have felt that exact same way, or worse, I feel that way now. The truth is painful, and In Treatment reveals truths that are found in the best drama, the most cogent fiction, and in all of our lives. I cannot praise it too highly.