Email Roundtable #47 – Summer Television Secret Santa, In Treatment

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This week on the roundtable, we continue our TV Secret Santa. Jane gifted Kerri the show In Treatment

Here’s a recap, from the other week’s roundtable, and the reasons Jane made this choice:

1. What name did you pick? Kerri

2. What show did you pick for Kerri to watch? In Treatment Season 1

3. Why did you make that choice? Kerri is a tough customer to choose for because she’s seen everything! I was torn between two shows that I know she hasn’t seen, Queer as Folk and In Treatment. I settled on In Treatment because it’s been years since I’ve seen Queer as Folk and I wasn’t positive it would hold up to my nostalgic love of it. Our mutual friend, George, recommended In Treatment to me and i think it is the perfect choice for Kerri, too.

4. What do you think Kerri will like about the show? I think there is A LOT Kerri will like about this show. First of all the acting is tremendous! It’s subtle but if you pay attention (as I know Kerri will) the character interactions will hack your guts out. A character merely brushing their hair off their face can have you on the edge of your seat.The show has a splash of soapy-ness which I think Kerri will appreciate while also being incredibly smart. It stays with you long after you click off the television set.

5. What do you think Kerri might not like so much? Honestly, I don’t think there is much Kerri will not like. I personally had a difficult time getting into the show at first because I didn’t immediately connect with the characters. They aren’t always the nicest people. Once I got on board, though I was hooked. Dr. Weston (the incredible Gabriel Byrne) draws out their humanity in surprising ways. Some situations are a little squirmy but in that wonderful Tom Noonan way that I know Kerri will love.

Each episode of In Treatment focuses on one patient of psychiatrist Paul Weston. There are four patients in total and Paul is himself a patient of his psychiatrist, Gina. It’s a structure that I found hard to invest in at first. Just when I got involved with a character the show switches over to someone else in the next episode. My troubles were sorted out in the next cycle of patients where we get to revisit in each patient a week later.


Jane: How did the show’s structure impact your viewing experience/enjoyment?

Kerri: In Treatment has a very unusual structure and because of that the show takes some getting used to. For me, it was quite easy to get into the rhythm of the show. I will say that, because each episode focuses on a specific character’s weekly session with Paul, the flow of the show doesn’t really establish itself until week two, where you can see progress in the characters you have just met in week one. And I don’t mean progress in an emotional sense or that the characters are necessarily making progress in their sessions (though they certainly are but it’s harder to see that early on). I’m talking about story progress and character progress in terms of what we know of them. The story of the show is kind of this interrupted, jumping thing. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It feels very real in terms of time and in terms of the way people come in and out of Paul’s life during these sessions. But it can also feel claustrophobic. We are rarely out of the confines of Paul’s room and the show is focused, very specifically, on what people say. It’s not a show of action. At the end of the season, we move away from the sessions a little bit, we go into other spaces a bit more and that is fun too.

The thing that interested me most about the construction of the show is the way that it began alerting me to clues, to patterns in what people were talking about, in what I think is a very strange way. I began noticing that in almost every episode you hear the phone ring in the other room, maybe upstairs, and then the sounds of feet walking to answer it. These feet, likely, belong to Paul’s wife, Kate. And then I started noticing other patterns. Like the ticking of the clock, that very obvious wave machine, Paul’s boats. And what became clear to me is that we are supposed to be looking for these patterns in Paul’s patients, too. Like, the water/sea-life allusions that Sophie makes. Always look for patterns. Paul even talks about this later on in the season when he’s talking to Gina. He looks for these patterns in what his patients say. You become very attuned to the things Paul keys in on.

Jane: Which story line affected you the most?

Kerri: By far the story line that affected me most was the Sophie story. I’ve talked before about how at ease I feel with shows about high school and I guess it’s the same way with teenage characters. I’m predisposed to like them. And Sophie is such a weird character and so delightfully weirdly played by Mia Wasikowska. Her patterns of speech alone were a joy. Sophie is a deeply messed up kid, she’s dealing with a lot of stuff and she’s just so fascinating. What I appreciated about Sophie is that she’s not always very nice but she’s easy to like. And it’s clear that Paul finds her enjoyable as well. I felt closer to Sophie’s story than anyone else and, by the end of the season, it left me a blubbering mess. Part of it, I think, is that she opens up so completely to Paul, like only a teenager can, and the other part is that she had the most satisfying breakthrough of any of Paul’s patients.

I will say, there was a character that surprised me from the start of the season to the end. Amy is so emotionally closed-off and so difficult to get a handle on but very slowly, I’d say the slowest of all of the characters, she became so fully there for me. Her story doesn’t have the satisfying conclusion of Sophie’s but it was satisfying to learn her.

And that’s another thing that I want to say, I love that Paul says that he has to love each of his patients in order to treat them. It is a great lesson in empathy and a great lesson in how to learn people. And it’s also a great lesson in how to watch TV (or really any art with characters) – how these characters are lives we learn and grow to love. That we have to love them to know them.

What story line did you like the most?

Jane: I have to agree with you about Sophie for many of the same reasons. You’re right she is such a weird, messed up character but I love the way that Paul looks at her with amusement and admiration. He has a tenderness with her that he doesn’t have (or I haven’t detected) in his other patients. He buys her balloons when she wins her gymnastics match and when she abandons them to run after her father, we see in the next scene that he has tied them to the chair so they don’t float away. He knows they are important to her. She also has some of my favourite lines of the show, “It’s crazy how quickly people get used to things,” or “just this tiny little movement is enough” or my very favourite when Paul refers to Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz Sophie notices, “You said Dorothy like she was a friend of yours.”

I was also blubbering at the end of her story. I think you are right, she’s grown more than the other characters (arguably even Paul himself). I think my favourite moment in the whole season is the silence before she goes in to hug him on their last visit. She transforms into a little girl and throws herself in his arms. The show uses silences brilliantly.

Kerri: I’m so glad that you brought up silent moments in relation to Sophie. My favourite silent Sophie moment happens at the end of a session. She’s sitting on the couch in Paul’s office and realizes that her time with him is up and says so aloud. She just sits there for half a minute more, lingering and almost smiling. Knowing that, like Paul says, this is a safe place, a place where she can be as great as she is on the beam – maybe greater.

And your point about Paul’s treatment of Sophie is spot on. It is a lot easier for me to believe that he loves Sophie than it is for me to believe he loves any of his other patients – and, yes, that goes for Laura, too.

Jane: I had forgotten when I had assigned In Treatment  to Kerri that Season 1 has a whopping 43 episodes. Kerri being the TV monster that she is managed to watch all 43. She also wisely suggested we concentrate on one episode for each story line. What lead you to make these specific episode choices?

Kerri: Well, some of the choices were arbitrary (meaning, I chose them having not seen the entire season) but I think that in all of the episodes they include a pretty big plot point or breakthrough with each of the patients and with Paul himself. I should say, too, that part of the reason that I never started In Treatment was the absolutely daunting amount of episodes. Thanks for giving me that extra push.

Jane: I think you made amazing choices. Each of the episodes deviates from the shows structure. Episode 18: Sophie, we see her all dolled up and without her casts for the first time. Episode 27, Alex: (OK this might be a stretch) he’s drinking water and it’s the episode after Paul has thrown his coffee in his face. He also opens up to the possibility that he may be gay. Episode 30: Gina where Paul and Kate are temporarily united over their worry of their daughter, Rosie. Episode 42 Laura, here is an episode where the two characters share a space that is foreign to both of them. Paul has never been there before (I love the shot where he has trouble finding the doorbell) and Laura’s space has been completely designed by her ex boyfriend David.

My favourite example of this deviation in structure is Episode 9, Week 2, Jake and Amy. The first example is that we see the couple outside Paul’s office, alone and happy, it looks like like things are getting brighter in their marriage. This happiness continues when they come inside the office. They’ve decided that they will have the baby. As Paul presses on with questions Jake becomes his usual threatened self. It’s as if he is afraid that the questions Paul is asking are hiding inside his own head. Then abruptly the couple leave because Amy is experiencing pains. When he is alone in the room Paul notices a circle of blood staining his couch. He immediately calls for his wife Kate to clean it up. This stain is an interruption to his space and as Kate cleans up he looks on at her with admiration. She’s now the expert in this space and he is momentarily dazzled by her. However, as soon as the stain is clean, she becomes the interruption in the space and Paul is agitated by her presence. Kate claims that he’s ‘energetic in his office and tired at home’. She admits that the space makes her jealous. The room has become such a familiar space for the viewer, that to now see it through Paul’s families eyes is jarring. When Kate admits that she is having an affair I find it hard to determine (despite his angry words) whether Paul is hurt or happy to have a way out of the marriage. Their marriage fascinates me and I love the glimpses we get into it. In Episode 30: Gina we get the privilege of Paul and Kate for a whole episode. What are your thoughts on the extended time we get to spend with them?

Kerri: Remind me if Kate ever interacts in any way with Alex throughout the season. Is he the only one of Paul’s patients that she never has any kind of connection to? (She sees Laura outside the house/office one day, she changes Sophie’s clothes, she cleans up the bloodstain left during Amy and Jake’s session). At the beginning of the season I was terribly curious about Kate because I wasn’t sure how much we would get to see of her throughout. I felt this way about Paul and Kate’s children, too. In the end, Kate is a critical character and plays a huge role in the way that Paul interacts with his patients on a weekly basis. As his marriage begins to unravel you can see him becoming more frustrated and short with his patients.

Episode 30, where we see the two in a session with Gina for an entire episode, is interesting for a number of reasons but it also includes what might be the one thing that I didn’t quite buy about the show. Through the course of the session with Gina we find out that Kate feels like Paul was always the more important one in the relationship – important to the outside world, I mean. Kate doesn’t feel a sense of purpose or a sense of self. Kate says that Paul could have had any number of women. Now, I know that Gabriel Byrne had, at one point, some sex appeal (I know this because my mother-in-law tells me so) and maybe he still does but, if Michelle Forbes isn’t JUST AS sexy if not more so then I don’t know which way is up. I don’t think I want to live in a world where she’s not “the hot one” in the relationship. Anyway, I still think the relationship is fascinating and I understand the way that Kate feels like second fiddle to the great Dr. Paul Weston. And, even though we get a lot of Kate – more than I initially thought we would – it’s difficult to know what is real in their relationship. What I think is great about the show is that, for the most part, we only get the words that people say.

Like with Sophie, for instance. If we were to take her word as gospel her mom would be the Wicked Witch of the West (to bring Dorothy back into this) and her dad would be a saint. When we finally meet them, we find that her mom is exasperated but kind and that her dad is well-meaning but self-centred and oblivious. They are just people. No one is as bad or as good as they are described by others. The same thing goes for when we meet Alex’s dad.

Here’s a loaded question for you, do you think Paul is good at his job?

Jane: That is a tough one!!!!!!!!!!

I think there are times when Paul is exceptional at his job. With Sophie and Jake and Amy, for example. It’s hard to judge Alex due to circumstances that I don’t want to spoil. I think when Paul is on to something he fingers the arms of his glasses. To me it’s a signal that he is zoning in on a problem. He doesn’t always vocalize it but it’s a clue to the viewer. Where I think he’s terrible are in his sessions with Gina and Kate. When he is over-explaining to his wife what Gina is saying it makes me cringe. I will say that Gina has a stronger finger on the pulse of Kate and Paul’s relationship than Paul. When Gina is narrowing in on the patient-therapist dynamic of Kate and Paul’s relationship, Paul throws the session into chaos causing Kate to leave while he stays behind. He and Gina share a very uncomfortable but strangely understanding silence before the episode ends.

What do you think? What are your thoughts on his sessions with Laura?

Kerri: I think you’re right. Paul is often good at what he does but he’s certainly not perfect. Obviously he is crossing ethical and professional lines with Laura and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t get the benefits of therapy that the others might. You get the sense that she has been seeing him for a long time but how long I’m not so sure (maybe this is stated at some point but I don’t remember). The funny thing is that, from the start, Laura is so confident with her statements about there being “something” between her and Paul that I believed her almost from the very beginning. I believed that she had this innate ability to read Paul and knew exactly what he felt. Of course, there were other times when I just thought she was mentally unstable. And it’s so hard to know if Paul “loves” Laura because he really truly loves her or if he loves her because she has convinced him of this love. Laura is this high-wire act, walking the line between what’s really real and what is just her imagination. By the end of the season, has Laura made any real progress? I’m inclined to say no.

Jane: I agree. He also wants to scream their relationship from the rooftops. He tells his wife and Gina about his possible love for her multiple times and when he finally makes the decision to go over and “do the deed” he first stares at his wife (sleeping on the sofa) until she wakes up. At first she is flattered asking, “were you watching me sleep?” but he squashes that answering, “no I’m going to see Laura”. I’m still confused what the point of that interaction was for him.

Kerri: I’m confused about it as well. I found it all very odd, the whole relationship with Laura I mean, but I imagine we are meant to feel this way. What does he see in Laura and why is he willing to give up what he has (he could possibly lose his job and his family) to be with her? In the end, though, maybe he isn’t.

Jane: The Laura/Paul dynamic baffles me too (in a good way). I mostly feel that she is challenging him, which I feel he would realize if he were happy in his marriage/life.

Any final shout outs?

Kerri: I’d like to give a final shout out to Paul’s bathroom, which sort of functions as an entirely separate location, and the squeaky white gate outside his office door, that signals someone has arrived to or left a session. I’d also like to give a shout out to you, Jane. Thanks for the fantastic pick.

Jane: My shout out goes to Michelle Forbes who plays Paul’s wife Kate. A whole lifetime of pain, happiness and uncertainty can be read through her remarkable eyes. The thanks should go to George who introduced me to this show. I’m so glad you loved it as much as I did.

Kerri: Thanks to George, too!

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