Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Treatment - Goodbye, Sophie

The last "Sophie" episode of HBO's In Treatment has just concluded, so it's time to say goodbye to Mia Wasikowska. The young Australian actress was not only the show's most appealing character, but also gave the best performance on TV so far this year.
In Treatment is insanely watchable; who doesn't love hearing about the hidden neuroses and melodrama of other people's lives? At the same time, I think the show has been somewhat overrated. I've never been in therapy but I suspect (as others have pointed out) that each session is much more awkward than what In Treatment depicts. Every 50-minute hour doesn't have the arc of a well-constructed one-act play. But hey, it's TV. A bigger problem for me is that the patients (with one exception) exist only to draw out the issues of Paul, the moody therapist played by Gabriel Byrne.

In the very first episode Paul is confronted with Laura (Melissa George), a crying young woman who announces she has just gotten engaged, describes a sexual encounter with a stranger in a nightclub, and tells Paul she's in love with him. Paul (we find out later) has feelings for Laura, although they may be merely a function of his stagnant relationship with his wife Kate (Michelle Forbes, very good). Laura is the main topic at Paul's weekly sessions with HIS therapist/rival Gina (Dianne Wiest). Things get complicated when Laura meets and beds another patient - fighter pilot Alex (Blair Underwood). Alex's backstory is loaded: he was responsible for the deaths of innocent children during a bombing run in Iraq, he's unhappy in his marriage, and he may be gay. Underwood strips away his usual glossy sheen and does great work here, but there's not enough time to unravel all this and Alex's plot ends abruptly when he dies in an (apparent) accident during a training mission. Alex's final episode (after the funeral) is devoted to a bravura performance by Glynn Turman as Alex's bitter and angry father; but this strand of the show seemed merely to inflame Paul's jealousy. Alex made progress, but seemed to regress in his last session and we never found out why.

Don't get me started on the terminally boring Jake and Amy (Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz), who come to Paul while deciding to abort the pregnancy they've been waiting years for (huh?). After Amy has a miscarriage in the second episode their sessions turn into a by-the-numbers workout of infidelity and bitterness. I'd prefer to remember Sophie, the only one of Paul's patients who brings him out of himself and lets the audience know he's really capable of helping another person.

Sophie enters with casts on both arms, the result of an accident that some believe was a suicide attempt. She's a gymnast in training for the Olympics and doesn't warm up to Paul right away; the first session is devoted to Sophie seeking an evaluation from Paul for a lawsuit against an insurance company. (Though even then she's crying out for help; she wants Paul to ask "shrink-like questions") It isn't until Paul unravels Sophie's inappropriate relationship with her coach and her anger at her absent father (who appears tonight played by Peter Horton) that Wasikowska's raw performance really gets going. Sophie is a mass of self-loathing and guilt for things that aren't her fault; and while I think trying to come up with adjectives to describe great acting Wasikowska's work here is entirely alive and real, and ultimately heartbreaking. I won't give tonight's episode away for those who haven't seen it, but it delivers the long anticipated confrontation with Sophie's father and an inconclusive but optimistic resolution. I'll give Sophie the highest compliment one can pay to a character on an ensemble show - she (and Mia Wasikowska) deserves a show of her own.

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