“In Treatment” has always been a bit like work.
The HBO therapy series drops several episodes a week. (In his first two seasons, starring Gabriel Byrne as central therapist, that number was five; Byrne’s final season and the new Uzo Aduba-led installment keep him at a relatively reasonable four.) swallow language, a reminder that the therapeutic process is one in which the patient struggles towards the truth, and that said struggle can be painfully laborious. And it requires the viewer to do something complicated – extrapolate nuanced truths about a doctor from his interactions with his patients – with very simple tools. Aduba’s Dr. Brooke Taylor sees three people, each of broad personality types built around fairly crude “twists”. They present themselves in a way, and it is quickly and easily seen that they are really something else. They are often, in fact, the opposite of what they appear to be!
And yet, there is something fundamentally satisfying about the show. “In Treatment”, in its fourth season (the first since 2010), falls short of the heights of understanding human nature it is aiming for; this does not justify the broadcast of four episodes per week. But he asserts his own existence thanks in large part to the performance of Aduba, who turns out to be one of the staple players of the 21st century. For the first time in a leading TV role after Emmy won for “Orange Is the New Black” and “Mrs. America”, Aduba made “In Treatment” a sheer success.
HBO made it clear that they viewed a fundamental fact about Brooke’s character as a spoiler; this fact is so central to her character that it is difficult to write about her or Aduba’s performance otherwise. Suffice it to say, Brooke is a die-hard pro who, following a loss, tries to deal with various unresolved relationships in her life – including with a casual boyfriend played by Joel Kinnaman and, enigmatically, with Byrne’s character from the first three seasons. The show serves the cliché that therapists are the ones who need to heal so zealously that it’s hard to be annoyed: Aduba’s own therapeutic process, which she undergoes in the fourth episode every week with a character played by an extremely strong Liza Colón -Zayas, is defined by Brooke’s thorny defenses and her ability to lie to herself.
In her own sessions, however, Aduba is the spectacle: her performance is an event, a work of opera that fearlessly follows every lurch in the life of a defeating woman. Unlike the more recessive Byrne, Aduba doesn’t always feel like a therapist, which is the point: her willingness to confront her patients is a sign of her professional resourcefulness, unless she shows us that she is completely. overwhelmed by professionalism.
I have never been constrained by the idea that the “In Treatment” format is even necessary. In order to keep the show’s real-time vanity but keep it from dragging on or slowing down, all sorts of reality-pushing cheats come into play. A weekly hour-long series in which a therapist meets several patients reunited during of an episode could accomplish much the same without testing the patience of the audience. And, here, Brooke’s life’s growing foray into her work is welcome to us at home, as the therapy she conducts varies in interest. A character played by John Benjamin Hickey appears to be an attempt to cram into every scorching issue the moment it was written – he’s a white-collar criminal in the tech world with complicated views on race and gender who sees himself as a victim of the culture of cancellation. Hickey does his best, but he’s playing a provocation, not a person. These sessions hardly exist next to more carefully written episodes about Anthony Ramos’ home help character, who either exhibits drug-seeking behavior or is caught up in the mental health system. Somewhere in between is the teenager played by Quintessa Swindell, escaping the pressures of school and home in a fantasy life.
Swindell has appeared on “Euphoria”, and at times her issues, and the way she describes them, can seem carried over to the creative universe of this show. Like Hickey, he’s given a lot of weighty dialogue about the stressful life of the 2020s, all of which serve the overall idea of the show: that it’s been a rough year. Many shows have commented on the COVID era, but “In Treatment” seems oddly built for it – it is responding to a period of intense trauma in a way that resolves some of the uselessness of its previous seasons. The show’s awkwardness, viewed generously, tends to understand how many viewers may have lost their social graces during a period of isolation. All the concerns of this moment seem to overlap at the same time, hence the character of Hickey; the novelty of living in pandemic conditions made conversation difficult, hence the straightforward explanations of how and why in-person therapy can take place at Brooke’s home.
That’s the most intriguing detail of this flawed, worthwhile show: that Brooke works from home, not because that’s where the work traditionally happens for her, as it was in “In Treatment ”of Byrne, but because she is not ready for the outside world. Her enclave, an architectural wonder bathed in golden Los Angeles light, is a quintessential safe space – and with every episode she lets the world in, with all its possibilities and perils. The fact that her patients are often ridiculously blind to the defense mechanisms that she and we can easily decode is both irritating and gratifying; it also turns Brooke’s safest space into a platform. (His startling irritation when Swindell’s character’s grandmother tries to see the private areas of the house is an early sign of Brooke’s siege.)
Brooke Can’t Escape: Often crudely, every problem a visitor presents comes down to Brooke’s own problems. Likewise, the series’ missteps – the fundamental and alienating fact of its too many episodes, the obviousness of a writing solicited to do a subtle thing – ultimately serve the story of a woman who suddenly doesn’t ‘can no longer put the right foot. In the 16th episode of the series, the last given to critics, Brooke is in a state of catatonic weariness, having exceeded her own limits. Aduba sells that, and this time the series helps her: To what ultimately and narrowly is the show’s merit, if Brooke is exhausted, we’re here with her.
“In Process” will premiere on May 23 at 9 p.m. ET.