I watched the last 4 episodes of this season last week. I had really looked forward to this show. I wanted to like it and be as interested as I was in the first 3 seasons. It hasn’t turned out that way. I have not even felt moved to write about the episodes in the way I did originally. So today I will offer my impressions of the season as a whole and talk about what bothered me about it.
I have said before that I very much like the actors. They do heroic work with what they have been given. But the whole thing lacks the verisimilitude that marked the first 3 seasons. It’s not the acting but the scripts, I think. In Treatment in its original form was notable for being the best representation of psychotherapy in a drama that we have seen. Compare it with Couples Therapy on Showtime and of course, the differences are glaring. Couples Therapy is a documentary series with a real therapist so does not operate in the confines of drama. In a way, comparing the two series is unfair. In Treatment took risks and experimented with format in ways that made it more compelling than it would have been as a normal drama. And it might even be that it paved the way for CouplesTherapy by demonstrating there is an audience for such a series. All of that is to the good. So what didn’t I like this season?
As I have said before the “patients” this season all feel to me like types and not so much like real people. The dialogue too often felt academic and a bit stilted. The stories just don’t ring true for the characters. I WANTED to care for the patients and the therapist, but I couldn’t muster the empathy. The dialogue just lacks believability. I found myself rolling my eyes at the screen and expressing my annoyance out loud, which I guess shows I was engaged at least at the negative level.
No therapist is perfect. Jungians speak of the “wounded healer” — that we are drawn in part to our work because of our own wounds. We deal with those wounds in our personal therapy and analysis so as not to act them out with patients but to have our experiences serve as a source of deep understanding. Brooke like most if not all of us is wounded. That doesn’t bother me. But she, through the course of the season, is an actively drinking alcoholic and is not in treatment herself, not actively, which means she is impaired. The problems this creates actually to my mind dominate just about everything she does. While we learn that Paul is her supervisor, they do not talk regularly and she does dodge him. In this way, she echoes Paul’s dual relationship with Gina. Brooke’s friend/sponsor, Rita, cannot provide all of what Brooke needs. Just as Paul did not get a firm handle on what he needed and wanted until he enters therapy himself with Adele, so Brooke is not getting what she needs though in the closing scene of the season she does call Rita and say she is ready to stop drinking. And that is great but only part of what she needs to do.
One of if not the best episode of the season came in week 5 when Brooke was to meet with Paul. Paul cancels at the last minute which leads to the device of Brooke, the therapist, meeting with Brooke, the patient—a little gimmicky but overall it works. We learn the most about her in this episode as she confronts herself. For me, it pulled together a bunch of things. In a sense, the three patients can, as in a dream, be seen as aspects of Brooke herself. Eladio and Laila both suffer, as indeed Brooke does, from mothers who cannot give what they need. Brooke’s mother was an alcoholic and just didn’t see her really. Like Colin, Brooke contorted herself in an effort to get her mother to like and want her.
Mother — mother absence, mother problems — is the dominant theme of the entire season. Brooke, who is motherless, gave up her only child at birth and those became absent to her own son.
Eladio wants Brooke to be his mother, the mother his own could be. He wants unconditional love, which Brooke cannot give him. She can see and feel his transference but every time the emotions become strong and he evokes a big feeling from her, she bolts — literally leaving the room, referring him to a psychiatrist, then to another therapist. She is correct when she tells him she is failing him, but it is not at all clear that she can see it is her own unresolved mother complex and her drinking which underlie her failure.
With Colin, there is a massive boundary violation which she tacitly accepts. He shows up at her house unannounced and proceeds to act as if they should have a session. And, she does not make him leave. The next week, when he returns, they spar and he then attempts to engage her sexually. She doesn’t acceded to his desire but she does not make him leave either. To me, that was mind-boggling. There is no way to remain neutral and objective once that boundary has been crossed. That she agreed to continue to see him is a problem. This is a situation in which I believe the better course of action is to refer him elsewhere and end work with him. Brooke seemed unable to see how deep manipulative Colin is, imagining somehow that she could penetrate his thick defenses. He would momentarily look like she had found her mark but it never lasts. Colin isn’t motivated to do the work of therapy, was only there because the court ordered it. What this case did was provide a platform for some heavy handed talk about privilege and race that entirely missed the real issues with Colin.
More than once Brooke launched into mini-lectures about theory and technique or ethics. She does this with Eladio, Colin and Laila. With Laila, instead of saying she, Brooke, is concerned that Laila might be having suicidal thoughts, she says the law requires her to ask. That feels clumsy to me and a bit impersonal. When Colin tries to engage her sexually she talks with him about erotic transference!
These things are problems with the writing. As I said before, the actors, especially Uzo Aduba as Brooke, are superb.
Reboots often fail to live up to the original. This is no exception.
So, what did you think?