One of the perils of a monologue-driven, therapy-based show like In Treatment is that the temptation for clumsy symbolism must always be present. For the most part, the show avoids this, but in tonight's Sunil episode, there's a moment so gratuitous it rather made me cringe. Sunil has been out in the park in the middle of the night, and he's found an old cricket bat on the ground in the midst of a field. The bat's slightly broken, but it's nothing that couldn't be repaired, if need be, and he's brought it to his therapy session to show to Paul (and for other reasons, which we'll get into). While he's cradling the cricket bat, Sunil talks about how it's not really that broken down, that all it needs is someone to take a chance on it, etc., like he's Linus, talking about the Christmas tree Charlie Brown picked out. It's so obvious that Sunil is talking about himself, is equating himself with this bat that it becomes a moment worthy of an eye roll in a storyline that hasn't prompted many of these. Maybe Sunil hasn't consciously invested himself in the cricket bat, but the writers obviously have, and the moment clangs in a way that the show rarely does.
It's for that reason that this was the first week where I really preferred the Frances episode to the Sunil episode. Frances has been steadily growing in interest and emotion, while Sunil has had a hugely evocative set of plot points from the first. But I'm starting to wonder if too much hasn't been crammed into the Sunil storyline, resulting in something that might crumble under its own weight. Irrfan Khan is still astounding, and Gabriel Byrne is making Paul's desperate hope to save Sunil before Sunil does anything harmful (in a way that, honestly, is perhaps a little irresponsible) beautifully recognizable. But there are so many story elements piling on top of each other that the story's starting to feel a little crowded. I think the seven-week schedule is probably better for In Treatment overall than the nine-week schedule, but this is one storyline where having the extra two weeks would probably help. Everything feels like it's being forced toward a false catharsis.
The Frances storyline, meanwhile, has finally reached a point where Frances has had a breakthrough significant enough to really push toward something like closure with the fact that her sister is dying. It's obvious that she's still struggling with her relationship with Tricia, but by going to her sister, finally, she's beginning the hard process of sending a loved one toward death and finding space to grieve about it. Week six of In Treatment will often provide a chance to move toward catharsis without really reaching it, and while Sunil's path toward an answer feels a bit cluttered at present, Frances' storyline is resolving into something real and beautiful, even as it's deeply sad. This is not to say that I appreciate Sunil any less; his storyline is still probably the most compelling this season overall (perhaps because of how much has been crammed into it), but it's become much more dependent on the ending being solid than any of the other three.
Sunil: Both episodes tonight open with a short scene where Paul talks to or hears from someone other than his patient. Julia accompanies Sunil to his therapy to tell Paul that the sessions will be over after this one, that she'll pay for an extra session because of the late cancellation (a session she doesn't expect Sunil to take) but Paul simply hasn't helped. Her arm's been injured after an altercation with Sunil, and it almost seems as though she wants to blame Paul for what's happened. (Though, honestly, could you blame her? Sunil's behavior seems to have gotten more erratic since he began therapy.) From there, the episode plows through a remarkable amount of stuff for a half hour, from the true cause of Malini's death (please don't let it be Sunil, show; it's too easy) to Sunil's creepily and increasingly-less-veiled threats against his daughter in law.
See, Sunil's brought the cricket bat in to give to Paul so he'll hang on to it, the better to make sure Sunil doesn't assault Julia with it while Arun's in Chicago for a weekend conference. To Sunil's credit, he recognizes the violent impulse in himself and takes pains to make sure it doesn't overwhelm him. But, uh, he still tells Paul that whole thing about how he could creep up behind Julia while she's working in her office and do … something. Honestly, the fact that Paul isn't going to the authorities at this point makes me feel like he's being rather irresponsible, no matter how strong he feels his connection with Sunil is, or how much he thinks he understands the guy. He's got leeway because Sunil hasn't made an explicit threat, but it feels like we're just a few inches away from that anyway.
And yet there's still so much richness to be gleaned here, even if it sometimes feels like the show is slotting Sunil more and more into the role of the villain from an incredibly disturbing erotic thriller (albeit one who's deeply sympathetic to us). The scenes where Paul and Sunil try to haggle over Sunil continuing treatment for free or for a pittance nicely portray just how much Paul thinks ending therapy would be a mistake for Sunil, who's clearly in the midst of something he can't grab hold of and understand. I'm deeply nervous about how all of this will play out in next week's finale, particularly in regards to Paul's growing fear that something terrible Sunil hasn't yet confessed to happened to Malini, but the central idea here, the idea of Sunil calling out to help to Paul and hoping Paul hears it, is so strong that it overcomes any number of cluttered plots or messy symbols.
Frances: Tricia's been dying all season, but now, it's really up against the wall. When Frances comes in to her session, she's exhausted. She ditched curtain call on opening night of her show the night before to take care of Tricia, then finally brought her to the hospital. The session ends with her daughter interrupting to tell her that Tricia is back in the ICU. The doctors suggest she has, at best, just six weeks to live. Quite naturally, Frances doesn't know what to do with that. In a lot of ways, Tricia is all she has left, even if she hasn't done the best job of being a sister in these last few months. The feelings of loneliness and guilt she's burdened with are only going to grow stronger, Paul says, and it's probably not a good idea that she quit her play to move in with Tricia, though it's ultimately her decision. Frances is so poorly defined as an individual, rather than an extension of others, that withdrawing so much to just become another extension could set her crashing after Tricia's death.
One of the problems with the Frances storyline up until this point, one that I only realized in this episode, is that it's been a storyline about a woman trapped in one place and struggling with a choice between action and inaction. By default, action is more dramatically satisfying than inaction, so spending six weeks waiting for Frances to make the choice to re-engage has been frustrating, no matter how well written or beautifully acted. Debra Winger has been giving her all at defining this woman who finds herself stuck by choices she's made in her past, but there's always a sense that this is more academic than the other three half hours, where the conflict is raging. But tonight, where Frances finally takes action and, indeed, seems as if she might plunge too far in the opposite direction, is the most interesting episode featuring the character yet. Not everything works. The intrusion of Izzy feels a little problematic (particularly regarding the actress, who makes the too-easy choice of playing Izzy as kind of a brat), and a couple of the lines clang (I'm kind of tired of Frances trying to push Paul's boundaries). But for the most part, this is the episode Frances needed, and it's just a pity it came too late.
But wait. Frances isn't the only character mired in by indecision and inaction. Paul also is struggling with his own forms of this, resisting the good observations and pointed questions tossed at him by Adele, whom the show reminds us of in the opening scene, where she calls Paul to try to schedule an extra appointment for the week. We've caught tiny glimpses of the lives of the other people in Paul's life over the past few seasons, but this is the first time we really dip into the life of another wholesale like this, following Adele's morning routine as she gets out of bed, then picks up the phone to call Paul. The hours working on this show have apparently been very difficult for Gabriel Byrne to work with, and while this little snippet is barely a glimpse into Adele's life, it makes me think a fourth season with Amy Ryan as the lead and Byrne as one of the patients could be very good indeed. At the least, I'm much more interested to see what happens in the two's session tomorrow night.