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'In Treatment' Features Stellar Writing, Directing & Performances

MatthewJ Swanson MatthewJ Swanson
March 21st, 2008 9:06am EDT
In TreatmentIn Treatment, the powerful HBO series, stars Gabriel Byrne as Dr. Paul Westin, a middle-aged therapist who runs a practice out of his home, and it's probably the best thing on television. Although the series is nearing the end of its first season, it's something you should watch on demand, next season, or if and when there is a DVD release.

There are no car chases. There are no scenes at the 'Bing with strippers on poles perved on by older, Italian Americans. There are no sex scenes or ones with Sharon Stone crossing her legs with the guy who played Newman on Seinfeld squirming in his seat. There are no well-choreographed fight scenes with Jackie Chan whacking people on their domes with garbage can lids or violence of any kind, really. Every other word isn't the "F" word, and the language is only excessive when it needs to be.

Although I'm grateful that HBO has given us some of the best programs in the history of television, it is a network that, with the exception of Flight of the Conchords, often falls into the pitfalls of using sex, violence, and swearing simply because, being a pay channel, it can. "In Treatment" could utilize all of these naughty little tricks that are still relatively new to the world of a television series, but instead almost the entire show takes place during therapy sessions, much like a play with one set, which means the show relies solely on its writing, directing, and performances, all of which are nothing short of stellar.

In Treatment

Each weekday a different patient sits down on the couch for a half hour, and every Friday Dr. Westin sees his own therapist to process the week's events regarding his clients and his own life and how they're sometimes intertwined:

Monday: Laura
She's an attractive, successful doctor with a fiancé who loves her, but she's in love with her therapist. Laura, played by the gifted Melissa George, has a gift of story telling and likeability, which makes men falling for her all the more believable.

Tuesday: Alex
Alex is a well-decorated Navy fighter pilot who is played by Blair Underwood, an actor who one may have never guessed would have the chops for a show with this format. Alex seeks out therapy to deal with the guilt of killing civilians in Iraq, but he learns that he has a number of other issues he's been bottling up, such as the pressure and expectations his father put on him, his crumbling marriage, and overall, how he can't be at peace in his life on the ground like he can in the air.

Wednesday: Sophie
She's a 16-year-old Olympic Gymnast hopeful, played by Mia Wasikowska, who initially is sent to counseling because an accident is interpreted by some to be a suicide attempt. We then learn she idealizes her father, who is all but absent from her life, and runs all over her mom, who does try to her credit, but is bowled over by Sophie's strong will. Sessions with Sophie are where Dr. Westin does some of his best work, in that he comes across completely engaged, caring, and in the moment. There's an unmistakable bond between the two.

Thursday: Jake and Amy
Here is a couple that has arguments, a dynamic, a climate, and an overall relationship that is simply one of the most real things you'll ever see on television. While they have nothing in common, she being a successful business type and him a working class, struggling song writer, they fell in love fast, in a relationship based on lust, and now they're struggling to get along while raising their son. Amy (Embeth Davidtz) is a woman who seems impossible to please, which we later learn is deeply rooted in her past. Jake (Josh Charles) is a guy who, while bordering on controlling, is an intelligent guy who can pick anyone apart in an argument. They come to Paul to figure out if they should keep the second baby that Amy is expecting. The beauty of the show is that the viewer can see the love between the two in some scenes and just moments later see that there's no way they should be together, which makes us empathize with the position Dr. Westin is in when he takes on the role of dealing with the two of them.

Friday: Paul and Gina
Paul calls upon his former mentor, Gina, played superbly by Diane Wiest, to process what he's going through with his patients and his private life. Gina shows incredible patience with Paul, who not only vents everything, which he understandably needs to do somewhere, but he also, perhaps as a defense mechanism, attacks Gina's judgments, style and even her private life. What's particularly effective about these sessions is that Paul echoes to Gina what we're thinking about his patients throughout the week, things that, given his confidentiality agreement, he can't tell anyone else. These things would be too judgmental to tell the patients and telling anyone in his personal life would make him look uncaring and unprofessional. Indeed Dr. Westin is in a state of crisis, having a caseload of some of the most difficult clients he's ever had coinciding with crisis in his personal life.

It's a powerful show that can sometimes, in just a half hour, leave the viewer emotionally drained yet wanting to watch another and another on demand. Once you start watching, it may not be uncommon for you to shoot through a week's worth in one sitting. I recommend sitting in on some sessions with Dr. Westin and his clients. With all the issues that come out of them, you may even find yourself getting some head shrinking of your own.

Hey readers, if you watch, who's your favorite character and why? If you don't watch, do you think you'll give it a crack after reading this?

Story by Matthew Swanson
Starpulse contributing writer


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