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TV Tonight: Back In Treatment

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DeHaan as Jesse. / HBO

If I had unlimited time and it weren’t a dereliction of my duty as a TV critic, sometime I’d like to try taking in an entire season of In Treatment with the picture turned off: just sound, like a radio drama, or a podcast. It wouldn’t be the same, of course; In Treatment is a visual production just like any TV show (or stage play, which it often more closely resembles). There are facial expressions and postures and reactions to take in, body language and setting.

And yet I wonder if in some ways the show wouldn’t be even more powerful. More than any series on TV, the action of In Treatment takes place in its dialogue, in the exchange of language and in listening, and the act of listening—only listening—to it would force you to experience the drama’s action where it takes place for the characters: in your head.

The therapy drama, starring Gabriel Byrne as Paul Weston, returns to HBO tonight and tomorrow for its third season, with some changes. There is a new crew of producers, and this season is the first to contain entirely original storylines, rather than ones drawn from the Israeli series it is based on. (The show has also reconfigured its airing again somewhat, with two episodes each Monday and Tuesday nights, each focusing on a different patient-analyst session.)

The structure, however, remains much the same, as do the show’s strengths. On Mondays, Paul treats Sunil (Irrfan Khan), a depressed Indian immigrant living with his son and daughter-in-law in New York City, and  Frances (Debra Winger), a stage actress (and sister of a former patient of Paul’s) who is experiencing debilitating memory loss. On Tuesdays, he sees Jesse (Dane DeHaan), an adopted, gay high school student who has been selling drugs and acing out sexually, and has been further destabilized by his birth mother’s sudden attempts to contact him. He also has sessions with his own therapist, Adele (Amy Ryan)—replacing his former analyst/friend/rival Gina (Dianne Wiest)—about a sleep problem that, it turns out, masks a deeper health concern.

Although you need to watch each episode to get the totality of the season (especially Paul’s own therapy visits), some viewers like to pick and choose their In Treatment sessions; if you do, I’d first recommend Sunil and Jesse’s sessions. Khan is mesmerizing as a brilliant, self-aware but despondent widower ambling on without purpose. In Treatment has always been strong dealing with child patients, and Jesse’s storyline is no exception; DeHaan plays him like an exposed nerve, raw, angry and lashing out at Paul to get revenge and attention.

That kind of adolescent behavior, though, is not reserved for the adolescents on In Treatment. With each patient—and even, or especially, Paul himself—seeing an analyst is a kind of battle, in which the patient often tries to goad Paul, deceive or mislead him, and the action of the story takes place in the parrying between them as Paul patiently tries to work past their defenses. (A patience he then later betrays in his often petulant sessions with his own therapist.) Through it all, Byrne maintains a kind of magnetic focus in a very actorly role that requires him to listen to the patient and guide the viewer, absorbing but probing like he’s half priest hearing confessions, half agent conducting interrogations.

I’ve seen two weeks of the season, and so far I’m rapt. In Treatment may be in uncharted ground with its new, original stories, but it remains a show that rewards patience, and patients.