All that is necessary for the survival of the fittest

is an interest in life, good, bad or peculiar--Grace Paley

Juliet Waters

Juliet Waters
Montreal, Canada
August 01
Montreal based writer, book critic, single mom. Currently working on a book about a year learning computer programming. Visit me, or


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NOVEMBER 2, 2010 7:27AM

In Treatment recap: Sunil and Frances, week 2

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One of the major challenges of dramatizing therapy is that people typically start it with a dull, rigid little story they've been telling themselves for years (my mother was an over controlling hag, my father was perfect, except for his alcoholism, etc.) As a result the average patient, at least in the first month or so, tends to sound like a bad actor and/or writer in the story of his life.

The first two seasons of “In Treatment” dealt with this challenge by avoiding it.  Some patients (Laura and Mia) were already well into therapy thus more easily able to tap honest emotions. Some were brought in by a highly dramatic crisis that backgrounded the personal narrative reeking of denial. (Alex bombed a kindergarten of Iraqi children, April has just discovered she has cancer, Amy wants to abort the child she and Jake have worked so hard to conceive, and Walter’s company has killed children with tainted formula.) The rest of Paul's patients have been children (Sophie and Oliver) who haven't really lived long enough to get their speeches down pat.

"In Treatment" season three, however, not only opens with two patients who are just starting therapy, it ramps up the difficulty level, starting each week with Sunil, a character who comes from one of the most repressed, socially circumscribed cultures in human history, Bengali Brahmins.

Sunil's life has been scripted for him since he was born.  Marry the woman your parents choose for you, provide the best education you can afford for your children, pick good husbands and wives for them, enjoy your grandchildren, and then start dying, hopefully before your wife, so that you don't have to bury her in the same shade of red she wore to her wedding.

As we learn this week, Sunil's life has been an utter failure, according to that script. Just as he and his wife, Kamala, were supposed to begin enjoying the rewards of duty, Arun became engaged to Julia a self-absorbed, culturally insensitive American, who on their first meeting made Kamala, "so angry she could not speak for more than one hour." Imagine how little talking Kamala did after her only child moved to New York and had grandchildren that she would rarely see. No surprise she died early. Having spent everything he made on Arun's American education and Kamala’s medical bills, Sunil is now forced to live on the charity of Julia, the woman who has essentially ruined his life.

Obviously he's angry, but the simple admission of that anger is one that Paul has to extract from him like a dentist.

Sunil arrives at Paul's office wiping off Mountain Dew, pitched on him by a gang of teenagers in the subway. Sunil describes the incident with barely a hint of the rage this would provoke in normal people. This, right after he's taken his first shower in weeks. It's like life is telling him to just curl up and die. If it weren't for the musicality of Irrfan Kahn’s accent, almost everything coming out of his mouth would be a flatline.

Consider this snippet of Paul and Sunil's conversation, discussing an awkward encounter between Sunil and Julia after Sunil finally took that all important shower.

Paul "Can you say a bit more about how you felt when your daughter-in-law surprised you."
Sunil "I would say I felt surprised."
Paul: "Yes, but what else?"
Sunil: "I said to myself, see here is your daughter-in-law and she is wearing a towel."

Paul has more luck when he simply sits silently.  With nothing to passively respond to, Sunil fills the vacuum with the closest he comes to a rant, about how his son is not the master of his house, evident by the way he makes cappuccino for Julia in the morning and runs her bath for her in the evening.

This conversation would be unbearably dull if it weren't for Kahn’s phenomenal acting. His oceanic eyes hold the promise of about a million tightly guarded subplots behind the official story of his life.  How Paul is going to dig any of them out in seven weeks is the hovering mystery.  On the plus side, Sunil doesn't have much to live for, which also means he has less to protect.  

Around minute eighteen of "Frances Week 2" Debra Winger finally furrows her chronically static brow and I start to realize that she's probably doing a much better acting job than I've been giving her credit for. This is a very difficult role because Frances has obviously been repeating the same irritating line for the last four decades.  "You must think I'm awful." She's about two steps away from one of those pathetic divas played on Saturday Night Live by Kristen Wiig. Paul is not holding his brow steady and is uncharacteristically open with his irritation.  

It takes me a while to understand why Paul is so testy with Frances. At first I think it has something to do with what he may have discovered at the neurologist's office. Maybe he doesn't have the emotional energy right now to put up with France's annoyingly transparent tactics, her painfully obvious flirtations and self-justifications.  But it also has something to do with the knowledge he keeps from her until the end of the session.  He knows she lied to him about getting permission from her dying sister, Patricia, to see him.

Paul has dealt with this professionally, not revealing to Patricia that her sister has come to see him, assuring himself that Patricia is seeing another therapist, and insisting that Frances tell her before they can continue. The question is why Paul doesn't take this opportunity to immediately dump Frances.  Maybe he's hoping that now, forced to be open with Patricia about this betrayal, she'll just run away from therapy and emotional truth like she always has.

Or maybe he sees something of himself in her. There are a number of striking parallels between Paul and Frances, especially if it turns out that Paul's Parkinson's tremors are psychosomatic.  They've both abandoned dying parents. They both divorced around the same time (which I suspect Frances knows, since she is clearly entering therapy with the fantasy that Paul will become captive to the wonderfully expressive lower half of her face.) And, perhaps, they are both struggling with weird symptoms that won't go away until they more honestly face their respective pasts.  

The mirror starts to crack towards the end of the episode, as Frances becomes increasingly deflated by the revelation that Paul sees right through her. There's a moment where it looks like Paul will abandon her.  She holds out her hand, demanding Paul pull her up from the couch. He could leave her there forcing her to realize that the mutual attraction she has invented between them is mostly illusory.  But he can't.  This is what Paul does, and what he's been doing since he was a teenager taking care of his bi-polar mother. As Frances puts it crassly, but with uncharacteristic insight, he gets all of the crazy with none of the sex.

Fortunately, emotionally repressed story time is now officially over.  Tonight we get back into full throttle psychodrama with Boy Interrupted, Jesse, who according the preview threatens to throw Max's bronzed baby shoes across the room. (If Paul doesn't want patients to ask him questions about his life, why is his office so cluttered with personal mementos?)  And later Adele cuts through Paul's crap in the sunny Spartan office she uses to maintain her  mystery.

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You're making me miss this show. I watched the first couple of seasons off and on and finished each episode feeling like I needed to enter therapy because it made me so depressed. But if you appreciate good acting there is no better show on TV.
Great recap. This is a show that I've recently become a fan of. Sunil is by far my favorite character. My husband even enjoys him, which is saying something because he usually hates dramas. Sunil is so expertly played that I feel like a fly on the wall in a real therapists office. Can't wait for next week.
Sunil is painfully real. His reaction to being "dismissed" from Paul's office made me wonder if he was going to commit suicide on his way "home." It took me a few minutes to recognize Debra Winger although the voice was so familiar. She is also excellent. I'd forgotten what a good actress she can be.
Knighwriter, yes watch.

Rei momo and Emma, I love Sunil. And Kahn is blowing me away. I too wondered if there wasn't some scary irony to him walking over Prospect Park. The name just seemed like more cruel irony. I'm more worried that he's going to get mugged, or get pneumonia in those sandals. But I was listening to the writers talking about the show on NPR and it sounds like there's some pretty interesting stuff about to happen with him.

I think next week we're going to get more to core of what's happening with Debra Winger .
Saw Episode 2 for both Sunil and Frances last night. I have difficulty understanding Sunil's accent occasionally. But I like how he and Dr. Weston have begun to form a kind of friendship or mutuality. It is nice to see two mature characters engaged in such intimacy, without the unsettling, misleading sexual tensions one intuits in his relationships to Frances, Jesse and Adele.

What with Frances being both beautiful and an actress, I keep waiting for her to reveal a malevolent/manipulative side, like we saw in Season 1's Laura Hill (Melissa George). But we seem to be going somewhere else with her. I liked Dr. Weston's insight that she is undergoing a period of great loss: her husband (divorce), her daughter (disaffection) and her sister (illness). And now she is facing the possibility of losing her breasts as well. Wow - that's what I call a tough chapter in a person's life.
M. I thought it was a very lovely and very kind speech. But, personally, if she threw that "you must think I'm awful" line at might, I'd be tempted to say yes. I guess I find the act of going to your dying sister's much loved therapist without discussing it with her a really significant betrayal. And something tells me that her sister's not going to be fine with it. There seems to be a pretty long history of sibling rivalry. In fact I'm still kind of shocked that Paul didn't boot her out, pronto. He has a responsibility to his former patient, and he's blurring a lot of boundaries there. She's obviously quite manipulative. That little pull me up out of the couch thing was just weird. At the same time, I'm longing to find out just how awful she really is.
Good stuff. I am on board with three of the four. Not so much the one around Jesse. Love his new shrink. Was about to drop the Winger portion until the obvious manipulation in her ways revealed around her manufactured reality around her sister as well as the emotional shutdown around the divorce.
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Khan (with Lahiri's writing behind him) and Amy Ryan are running away with this season. Khan's brief mention of Julia "curling [Arun's] hair back" was breathtaking acting. That understated, mimicking gesture, the loaded look at Paul, and a small "uh?" It was an exquisite bird painted on cloisonne, intricate but not ornate.
I agree. I think Khan is a superb actor. And of course Ryan. But I also think DeHaan has a lot of natural talent. I'm very interested to see how his career unfolds.
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