Paul is reading the NY review of books. He sees an ad for Gina’s book. Then a knock on the door. He opens the door to a flash going off as his patient enters.
Jesse, a teenager, sits slumped a bit on the couch, his knees jiggling. Tension is his body is evident. He tells Paul he took a lot of good photos that week and put some on Facebook. He tried to friend Paul but discovered he isn’t on FB for which he admonishes him.
Jesse says he likes the word bifurcated and then they spar a little about the way Merriam (of Merriam-Webster) is pronounced and Paul reveals a bit of dictionary trivia he knows.
Jesse is gay. He talks in a dramatic and slightly pressured way.Swinging quickly from anger to a quieter state. He says he loves his camera and when Paul asks who gave it to him, he says he doesn’t remember, which is odd. Then he shows Paul pictures in the camera. Among them are photos in a bar. Paul asks when that was, to which Jesse vaguely says Friday though Paul says the date stamp says Tuesday. Paul asks if it was at Josh and Rafe’s bar and was it last night? Jesse reluctantly confesses. Paul asks if he went to school that day. He says no. Paul reminds Jesse that he had said he wouldn’t go back to see them because he felt used by them, because they think he is a student at NYU. Paul says he is a minor and it is illegal for them to be with him. And Jesse says he will soon be 17, that they are safe and they always use condoms. His movements become more agitated. Paul asks if Jesse is taking his Adderall. Jesse says he means is he selling it. Jesse then says he found an app that allows him to see who is looking for a hookup. Paul told him to put the phone away.
His mother, whom he refers to as Marissa, sent him a text early in the morning because he didn’t go home. Paul asks if he thinks his mother finds him a burden and then he says he hates talking about his parents as he lies down. His father is grooming another young man to take over the business, D’amato and Sons. Paul asks if that feels like a rejection. Jesse says it is a metaphor which means D’amato and people he wish were his sons.
After another angry retort, Jesse says this sucks and that he feels like a fuck up today. Paul observes that whenever he talks about his birth parents, he assigns different professions to his father but his mother he always refers to as a crack whore. Jesse tries to slough that off. He takes out his iPhone again and when Paul asks him to put it away he refuses, and angrily says he like holding it. Then he takes it out again and plays a message on the phone — and we hear a woman saying she thinks she is his birth mother.
Paul asks when he got the message. He says yesterday after school. He gets angry and defensive again and mocks Paul. Then he says he felt nothing when she called and how did she get his number anyway. Paul tries to support him and asks what he wants to do. How he feels. Jesse says there is nothing going on inside, all he hears is static and really faint voices he can’t make out. Jesse says he’s sorry and he pulls his legs up. Paul asks what he did after he got the message. He says he went for a walk, to the bridge. Paul asks if he was heading anyplace in particular. Jesse says Josh and Rafe’s. Paul asks if he has noticed when he is emotionally upset he seeks out sex. They didn’t have sex, Jesse angrily says, that Rafe went with him back to their apartment. He attacks Paul for asking about his sex life. Paul firmly tells him not to talk to him that way — Jesse apologizes. Paul also apologizes for not realizing how emotionally important Josh and Rafe are to him. Jesse says they are really good guys.
Jesse says the call came from Westchester. And the exchange tells him she is wealthy. The hour is over. Paul asks where he is going. Jesse doesn’t want to go home because what can he say — that he got a message from his birth mother? Paul asks again where he is going and he says maybe for another walk. Jesse leaves.
Paul is at his best dealing with adolescents, giving them room for their conflicting emotions and mood changes while setting limits as needed. We this again with Jesse who is angry, confused, struggling with issues of abandonment and acting out sexually. Paul handles him deftly, confronting Jesse then making space for him to take it in and respond. Notice that each time, Jesse first responds defensively and then comes round and responds. It’s a dance and one that Paul has to be able to see and understand in order to do it. And Jesse responds to Paul’s care, even though he pokes fun at him, by being willing to play for him the message that he got from his mother. And when he does, the cause of Jesse’s agitation becomes clear to us and to Paul, even as Jesse tries to push it away. At the end, he unwittingly reveals the big wound when he says he knows from where she called that she has money — though not said, we can hear in that the question “Why didn’t she keep me?” So long as he imagined her to be a crack whore, he could keep that at a distance, as he also keeps his adoptive parents at a distance with contempt — a typical ploy by adolescents. But now there is a voice and a telephone number and fantasy threatens to move into reality.
Recall that with Sophie in season 1, Paul was also dealing with a teenager in a sexual relationship with an adult. It takes a deft hand to both communicate support for the teen while also voicing concern for issues of being a minor and possibly being exploited. If Paul were to press too hard on this, Jesse would likely bolt. Paul’s recognition that Jesse gains emotional support from Josh and Rafe even as he has said he feels “fucked by them when they fuck” him is important. It is important that Paul not become the protective parent here but that he carefully thread his way through Jesse’s need for support from adult males and the real threat of sexual exploitation.
We see also in this session the difference between a first session, which we saw with Sunil and Frances, and therapy which is more established. Paul has a better sense of when he can push Jesse and when to back off. In other words, he knows the dance that works with Jesse whereas with Sunil and Frances it is still to be discovered.