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In Treatment Watch: Like Father, Like Son

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Blair Underwood as Alex. / HBO photo: Claudette Barius

SPOILER ALERT: The three of you who are still watching In Treatment should make sure you’re caught up on the show before you start watching…

…unlike me. Because I don’t have a half-hour every night to give to In Treatment, and because HBO has sent me preview episodes in massive chunks, I’ve been watching the show in bursts, sometimes getting well ahead of the show, sometimes falling behind, as I did by the beginning of this week.

Ahem! Not exactly the best timing…


Man. In Treatment has been sometimes fascinating and sometimes a slog, but its long, slow build paid off stunningly, in the one-two punch of Alex’s death and Paul’s subsequent meeting with Alex’s father (played by The Wire’s Glynn Turman). The death was a shock, of course–if foreshadowed at the end of last week–but it was almost as shocking to see Paul out of the office, meeting and speaking with people we knew as characters from Alex’s sessions. Seeing his family and friends in person, and seeing Paul interact with them, was almost otherworldly, like visiting the afterlife: suddenly, the veil of Paul’s clotured office was opened, and we saw people who were memories and abstractions suddenly made flesh.

Paul’s brief exchange with Alex’s son, Roy, besides being heartbreaking, was a wonderfully written, without getting melodramatic (“Do you think swearing is better than crying?”). Here was Paul having a conversation with someone who was neither an adversarial parent nor a contentious family member, and his ability to connect with Roy on his level made me like Paul better as a person (rather than as a therapist) than I ever have.

But last night was In Treatment’s strongest session yet (with the possible exception of one or two Sophie scenes). Turman was outstanding, in a few minutes simultaneously creating his own character and drawing eerie parallels to Alex, not just in what he said but his manner of speaking. (The aggressiveness, the protesting-too-much bravado, the little scornful laughs he would inject into conversation.) And while it helped that we knew of him from Alex’s sessions, it’s Turman’s great work that made him both a monster and deeply sympathetic at the same time. (The episode wasn’t perfect; I thought the script had him come too quickly to self-awareness and confession at the end, suddenly opening up to Paul and asking if Paul thought he killed his son as he killed his father.)

But even while he was a kind of Alex 1.0, showing clearly where some of Alex’s traits and issues come up, he also inverted some things we knew, or thought we did, from Alex’s sessions in the way he retold them. (His story of Alex refusing to fight as a boy, for instance.) But maybe most chilling was how he talked about Roy, raising the question of whether the family’s pathology would be passed on to another generation, while at least allowing us to hope it might not be:

“[Alex] and Roy, they’d talk for hours. He once told Roy that he loved him. Boy [laughs], did I give him hell for that. What are you trying to do, make the kid some kind of sissy or something? It was bad enough that he didn’t want to best Alex at anything. He’d throw a chess game, just so he wouldn’t have to beat his father. Oh, no, come on”—now he sounds exactly like Alex—”That’s no way to raise a boy. You have to challenge him make him compete, teach him how to fight, take care of himself.”

Let’s hope that Grandpa doesn’t have too much influence on Roy going forward. And that if Roy needs therapy, he comes to Paul.

Your thoughts? And do you believe Alex was a suicide?

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