Season 2: A little "pat" in the overall sweep of it, but a well-written script is well acted to make each journey engaging
Although I really did enjoy the first season of In Treatment, it still took me a minute to get around to starting the second season. The reason for this was probably the reason that the show isn't as well know as other HBO output in that it is a hard sell, it is a commitment from the viewer and it does have a structure that means that it takes longer than a few episodes to get into – really it takes a couple of episodes from each patient, so about 10 episodes, or 5 hours. So I do continue to understand those who just don't get into it, because it can be a little hard to sell, even to those who already know how good it can be.
As with the first season we have the same structure of a patient each day for 4 days and then an episode with Paul on the final one. Keeping a mix of people and experiences this time we have middle-aged women, a divorcing family with a son, a young woman diagnosed with cancer and a CEO of a large corporation in his late 60's. In the background of this is Paul being sued and having had his own marriage end in divorce. Each segment is a journey for each character and for Paul himself and, to summarise them in terms of where they start and where they end cannot help but sound a little pat and obvious because, in fairness, they are. It is not that they are "obvious" in a tired way, but more than the characters make sense, they feel real so therefore the emotions and motivations for who they are will be recognisable to the viewer. So yes, to put them in one line they will seem a little "duh – of course that was the outcome". However, as the length of the season will attest, none of them have to be put into one sentence! Instead they are put into thousands of sentences so that things come slowly and do not just come out in an obvious way, the fights, the sessions, the discussions are all very natural. During them Paul does come off as almost Saintly in his ability to help his patients and say the right thing at the right time, so it does help to have his struggles laid out in the final episode of the week, as this adds context and meaning to the sessions beyond just the character he is talking with. This season there were a few moments or a few aspects that I didn't think worked particularly well but these are in the minority considering how many words are spoken each episode in a show that is really just people in a room talking. For the vast majority the writing is great – subtle, natural and engaging; the viewer does feel spoon-fed but at the same time the show doesn't go out of its way to be difficult or to make viewers feel like they are being excluded.
As before Byrne is great. He is in pretty much every scene from start to finish and he delivers on the promise of the writing with a character than is consistent and engaging. He works well with Wiest, although again I did feel like she didn't get the chance to impress because their sessions were mostly about Paul and not her. The supporting cast are strong again – which is key really. My personal favourite were the family with Saum and Hornsby producing real performances warts and all. Stuck between them was Shaw who is very impressive even before you factor in how young he is. Pill is engaging and her character is fascinating to watch. Hope Davis has a harder job because Mia is pretty hard to like and is very closed off, it makes it harder to care but her performance is strong and I found his thread as good as others even if at first it took me a minute to get past her. Mahoney has a similar problem since he is playing an initially disinterested character. Although we have some names and faces here that you know and will expect good turns from, the show yet again gets great performances from people yo have never heard of – this season Shaw's Oliver being the standout.
In Treatment remains a hard sell to the point that even HBO are struggling to make the format work in terms of viewers (they have announced the 3rd season is the last being done this way, if they do more) and it can be intimidating to start a show like this when there is so much more "easier" television shows out there. However it is rewarding and engaging thanks to the great writing and the great performances. It is adult and requires attention but it never feels exclusive, clunky or pretentious – the balance is just right. Season 2 is another great chunk of television from HBO.
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