Mental health is a significant issue in the Western World. Whether the diminishment in human resilience is based upon a lack of narrative lesson through one's childhood or due to the barrage of image and sound from the mass media which dilutes one's own sense of self is not certain, however, what is known is that for many it is debilitating and potentially fraught with significant dangers. William Styron noted in his small biography, Darkness Visible, of the seeming meaninglessness of the term depression but what he did not note as meaningless was the depths to which one can be dragged downwards. It's without certainty too what the best or most definitive course of action is to cater for depression, which makes it all the more difficult to understand and comprehend.
What is known though is that it can affect people in a multitude of ways and through a multitude of causes. The HBO series In Treatment takes a look at one of the methods of treatment for mental health issues in that of counselling given by a trained professional. In this case the professional is the psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne). Season 1 of the series follows his sessions with five patients over a period of nine weeks as he helps them deal with a gamut of circumstances from erotic transference to suicide to marriage problems to the weight of expectation. Originally shown throughout the week the structure of the show could be seen as gimmicky, however, when viewed in its DVD format the structure more or less becomes irrelevant. The only significance given the timing of the piece, noted in each episode's title, is the fact that they help identify Paul's state of mind as his week progresses.
The first patient of Paul's week, for the most part, is always Laura (Melissa George). About to turn thirty, Laura is a doctor in a hospital. Recalling a series of sexual exploits, she confronts Paul very early on in her sessions with a secret that may potentially have significant impact upon Paul's life. Laura is an annoyance of a character. She seems contrived, however, it's the very nature of her as a person which makes the viewer feel that. In essence that is what she is. She is a contrivance. Attention-seeking in the worst form she's an intelligent woman seemingly lacking the control of her body or her emotions as she battles the scars from a childhood in no way close to being balanced. The brilliance of this particular storyline lies within the casting of George. The Australian redhead is usually a loose cannon on screen. She's really done nothing of significant merit that would suggest she'd be capable of the depth she presents here. It's a telling performance that suggests, perhaps she truly understood the goings on within Laura's head.
Laura's Monday sessions bring forth Paul's Tuesday sessions with Alex (Blair Underwood). A returned navy pilot, he is dealing with the burden of parental and familial pressure all whilst trying to come to terms with the fact that he is finding it very hard to feel anything with regard to the innocents he killed in a mistaken bombing in Iraq. Alex too is a contrivance of sorts. He's a character of arrogance waiting to be broken down to allow Paul exactly where he needs to be to get to the truth of the matter. Hints are given to Alex's true motives but what emerges as the season progresses are a few twists and turns that suggest therapy doesn't always end up where one might initially expect.
As is the case for Paul's Wednesday sessions with a sixteen-year-old Olympic hopeful in gymnast, Sophie (Mia Wasikowska). Another Australiana mongst the cast Wasikowska presents Sophie as a both fiercely intellectual and feebly childlike emotional mess. Attending therapy at the insistence of her mother and an insurance company battling claims over the authenticity of the 'accident' that has left her significantly injured, Sophie must come to terms with the pressures of her sport and the breakdown of her parents' marriage. Hers is a telling tale amidst the five being told throughout the week for Sophie is a contradiction. She is at times both on the verge of breakdown and breakthrough. She argues and yet she falls apart. Wasikowska is perhaps the true revelation of the piece. She gets completely under the skin of Sophie mimicking the essence of a teen whilst truly understanding what it is that has got her to this place she is in. It's a wonderful, lived-in performance.
Paul's counselling relationship with Sophie is followed up by his continued difficulties to get anywhere close to both Jake (Josh Charles) and Amy (Embeth Davidtz). A married couple on the verge of separation, they present again a relationship formed with the concept of what it is that makes one happy and committed crashing heads with the reality of the situation. Questions not asked prior to the matrimony now bear their ugly heads and in so doing present both of them with dilemmas neither are equipped to handle. This is perhaps where the first fault in the piece arises as Charles struggles in the early stages to convince of the authenticity of Jake as a character. He is borderline caricature as the incessantly trustless Jake in their first session. Nuance gives way to obviousness so much so that one wonders what on earth Amy would see in him in the first place. This shifts about midway through their sessions as if it were either a change in the direction of Jake as a character or that Charles finally clicked into what it was that got Jake so close to delivering on his anger-filled exhaltations.
Anger too is what in the end forces Paul into a conversational liaison with former colleague Gina (Dianne Wiest). Also a psychiatrist, Gina acts as mentor and therapist to Paul as he is faced with his humanity as he struggles to deal with the goings-on of his current patient workload. The relationship that exists between Paul and Gina is made all the more real by the chemistry between Byrne and Wiest. Both are formidable actors but onscreen, together, they are a complete dynamo. Their sessions are uniformly the strongest and as they progress to include Paul's wife, Kate (Michelle Forbes), and discussions of his three children, Ian (Jake Richardson), Rosie (Mae Whitman - very good) and Max (Max Burkholder), one begins to understand how personal history impacts upon those trained to listen and question as much as those who seek those skills.
In the end In Treatment is a masterclass in television drama. It envelops and engages all whilst shedding light on what it is to be human. It may not all work as some of the episodes, particularly those early on, seem a little in the vein of Psych 101, however, by midway through, the beginnings of a season of fantastic drama unfold and firmly take hold. In treatment? Yes, this viewer certainly has his place on that psychiatrist's couch.