Therapy, at some level, is performance art. It's a deliberately created space where people come together to engage in an artificial construct meant to get at deeper truths but not really guaranteed to do so. Therapy only works if all of the players agree to the artifice. The second anyone realizes that it is, to some degree, bullshit, the whole edifice falls apart. That's not to say that the idea of therapy is bullshit or that real insight can't be gained from going into therapy. But therapy as we understand it is a construct built by therapists and patients over the course of a century, and the "roles" played by both parties are as firmly entrenched as actors on a stage performing to an audience. Deeper truths can be found within that construct, but both parties have to be willing to agree to the artifice. And that's not always the case.
Two therapeutic relationships end tonight on In Treatment, and the show gives the heavy suggestion that Paul Weston will be ending his practice permanently. Naturally, if there's a season four and that season is devoted to Paul, then his practice won't have been shuttered (though he may have taken a reduced case load). But if these episodes are meant to function as a series finale, as they very well may be, then they work just as well in that regard. Both are designed to point out the flaws in some of the things Paul does (as last night's Sunil episode was). Both are designed to explode the artifice of two people sitting in a room and talking about one person's problems. And both suggest a man who's reached the end of the road in terms of what he can do to help his patients. He wants to be more to Jesse. He wants to be more to Sunil. He wants to be more to Adele. But the construct he operates within will allow none of these things.
It's interesting that the second half-hour tonight ends with Paul telling Adele that he longs to be out of the room and back in "reality." The episode ends with Paul leaving her office, closing the door he suggests can remain shut behind him, and stepping out onto a busy New York City street, getting lost in the wave of humanity. Though he's conceded that Adele has made some good points, we're uncertain as to whether he'll close his practice or not. He knows he has work to do, but like Jesse, he's almost too eager to go down the path that will allow him to bury all of the issues Adele has raised. Season three of In Treatment was incredibly hard on Paul Weston, as hard as a major drama of this level of quality has ever been on its main character. It's not immediately clear that the show's writers or Gabriel Byrne have as much affection for the character as they used to, but that creates an interesting dynamic for the show to pursue.
And yet maybe there's something to what he says. Maybe there IS more to be gained by going out into the world and just existing in reality. Certainly the vast majority of people don't bother at all with the therapeutic process, and many of them, even people in Western society who have easy access to such services, do very well for themselves. I said when the season started that therapy is, to a degree, a luxury, something that is really only available to people who have the time and inclination to pursue it to its logical ends. So maybe Paul will learn something that he can't get locked up in a room out there on that street. I certainly hope he does. There are more truths than can be found just by sitting around and talking in a way designed to find those truths, ultimately, and if this is the last we ever see the guy, here's hoping that his new journey brings him closer to some of the solace he's so clearly seeking, to closing up the hole that exists in his heart as easily as Roberto D'Amato closed up the hole in his heart when first he held his son.
Jesse: Because I rambled on a bit up there, let's keep these short, but I thought this Jesse episode was pretty stunningly effective. Since the show began, Paul has mostly gotten through to his patients, and when he hasn't, it's generally been largely his patients' fault. But Jesse was different. Paul was clearly giving it his all with Jesse, yet his lack of detachment ended up hurting him as often as it did helping him. When he took Jesse in after hours a couple of weeks ago, the show viewed this, I think, as a good thing, as a way for Paul to help another human being truly in need. But when he refuses to shut up tonight, it's clear that he's hurting his case more than he is helping it, even if much of what he says is correct. Sometimes, it's easier to not face all of the issues therapy can dredge up, and now that Roberto has tossed Jesse a lifeline, Jesse's eager to hang onto it, even if it means burying thoughts of his birth parents (as he markedly doesn't take the letter he wrote them or the letter they wrote him back from Paul) and buying in to what his father is trying to sell about much of Jesse's problems being his mother's fault.
We talked a little in the Frances episode about how good the show is at creating characters that we never get to see, and the Jesse episodes have done a very good job of that, too, as the Roberto we meet tonight perfectly fit everything Jesse had said about his dad while simultaneously suggesting a man who's got much more to him than his son would ever bother to see. This season of In Treatment has had a lot of business about the relationships between parents and their children, and it was nice to see Jesse and Roberto rebuild a relationship that had been floundering for far too long. At the same time, Roberto's clear desire to cast as much of the blame as possible onto Jesse's mom suggests that none of this is going to go away, not really. Jesse's found the temporary reprieve of a good relationship with his dad, but that's not a solution so much as it is a panacea.
The final moments of this episode, with Jesse finally shouting at Paul that he's not his "fucking father," then being interrupted by Roberto demanding he apologize to Paul, are among my favorite things this series has ever done. The suggestion that for all of his work, for all of the good he did, Paul was simply unable to reach Jesse on some very core stuff was very realistic, and I liked the show acknowledging that sometimes therapy "works" without really working. Jesse and his father have a good relationship again. That's a good thing. But all of the other things the kid needs to deal with won't get dealt with for years, now. Paul had a chance, but that chance has slipped away from him. It's easy to see why he's so crushed.
Adele: About halfway through tonight's Adele episode, my wife remarked about how good Amy Ryan is in this role. She never, ever, ever lets you know what Adele's truly feeling. Everything about her is a mystery, except for what her particular take on Paul's problems is. Does she have feelings for Paul? Doesn't she? You could make at least a half-dozen arguments in either direction. She's a complete enigma, yet it's easy to see why Paul is so taken with her, even if his feelings can be written off as fairly textbook transference (which, yeah, they are, but the way he lays it all on the line tonight is fairly high-risk for him). She's a fascinating mystery, and I love the show's choice to not even let us in on what her life is like. We get to see the inside of her apartment but not a lot else. Boyfriend? Husband? Girlfriend? Paul doesn't know, and neither do we. As it should be.
Really, the difference between Paul and Adele has been about how involved a therapist should get. Adele does everything she can to keep the wall between the two of them up all of the way, while Paul is consistently trying to tear it down. When Adele suggests that Paul's reaction to having both Sunil and Jesse taken away from him is because he substitutes his distance from the people in his life out in the real world for the false intimacy of the therapist's office, it rings true, given what we know about the guy, but it still feels cruel of her to say it. This is Paul! He goes in and gets the job done where other therapists might pull back! And while that makes for better TV, almost certainly, it's easy to see where Adele is coming from.
So did Paul get anything from Adele? Was therapy, ultimately, a benefit to Paul or anyone else he treated this year? I think that all three of Paul's patients got something from him, even if both Sunil and Jesse chose to keep some of those things buried. And Paul, ultimately, will come to see that much of what Adele was saying was right, that he does need to make the choice of what to do with his life. Will he close down his practice? I suspect, at the end of the day, he won't, but at this point, we may never know. Adele has been such a satisfyingly ambiguous character all season long that to gain any real clarity on who she is might have felt just a bit disappointing. Instead, we're left with a man, lost at sea but starting to swim for shore, just not sure what direction it's in.