“In Treatment”: Our time is almost up

Have you been watching In Treatment? HBO’s half-hour drama, which captures both the inner and outer lives of a therapist (Gabriel Byrne) and his patients, doesn’t have a huge audience. That’s probably because some viewers think five nights a week is way too much of a time commitment, and probably also because some people just don’t like therapy — or maybe they get enough of it in real life, which is certainly understandable.

But I’m completely addicted to In Treatment and will be sad to see it end this week. Here’s a look back at the first season, including the lessons I’ve learned from each patient’s sessions. (Each night, the show focuses on a different patient.)

[Warning: Slight spoilers]

Monday: Laura

As the linster noted back when the series first started, Laura (Melissa George, aka Lauren on Alias) is Jenny Schecter–esque and hard to like. (And she resembles Jenny in appearance as well as behavior — actually, I think Melissa George looks like a cross between Jenny and our own illustrious Sarah Warn. Here’s another pic that shows the resemblance more clearly.)

Anyway, Laura is (or thinks she is) in love with Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne), and he’s very fond of her, too. But she seems to be less and less attracted to him, the more he returns her affections. I hope he comes to his senses and realizes she’s not half the woman his wife is.

Take-home therapy: Selfish, oversexed women are to be avoided.

Tuesday: Alex

Blair Underwood has been terrific on the show. His character, a Navy fighter pilot, struggles with questions of duty and morality, as well as with notions of “manhood” and his own not-quite-straight sexuality. It’s difficult to take your eyes off Alex when he’s on the couch, and his story line took a shocking, completely unexpected turn last week.

Take-home therapy: Be yourself at all costs.

Wednesday: Sophie

Even if you have no interest in the rest of In Treatment, do yourself the favor of watching a few of Sophie’s episodes. I don’t know where Mia Wasikowska has been hiding, but she is divinely, overwhelmingly gifted. I know everyone’s been comparing Ellen Page to Jodie Foster, so I think I’ll compare Mia Wasikowska to Meryl Streep. Yes, she’s that good.

And Sophie’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. It even brings out the best in her therapist, which makes for some remarkably therapeutic TV. I often feel exhausted afterward — in a good way.

Take-home therapy: You deserve to be happy, even if some people in your life have done their best to make you think the opposite is true.

Thursday: Jake and Amy

This mismatched couple is frustrating and, if you ask me, completely doomed. Embeth Davidtz is good in the role, but her character is so messed up, it’s hard to sympathize with her. I think she has smiled about three times all season, and never with her eyes.

Take-home therapy: Emotional frigidity is much worse than physical coldness.

Friday: Paul and Gina

On Fridays, Paul sees his own therapist, Gina (Dianne Wiest). And that’s when the dramatic fireworks really begin. Byrne and Wiest offer a weekly master class, and often move me to tears. I’ve always liked Wiest, but I didn’t know she was this phenomenal.

Take-home therapy: Hold out hope that in your next life, you’ll be as awesome as Dianne Wiest.

And then there’s Paul’s family, including his lovely wife, Kate (Michelle Forbes).

It’s been fascinating to see how Paul deals with family issues that echo his patients’ struggles. He seems to recognize them as similar — sometimes even identical — problems, and yet he is also bewildered and stymied by them.

Paul’s daughter Rosie is played by Mae Whitman. For weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out why she looks familiar.

That’s right: She was Ann on Arrested Development. She’s totally different on In Treatment, though you still might feel like saying, “Really? Her?”

If you weren’t already drawn to the show, my praise for it probably won’t mean much. I guess I tend to be a fan of therapy on TV. I couldn’t stop watching Huff even when it repelled me. And I think TV can be a form of therapy in itself, or at least the good stuff can be. As Lisa Schwarzbaum puts it so eloquently in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly:

Newspaper headlines corroborate daily what we and the Doors have always known, that people are strange. We’re erratic, contradictory, each of us an individual bundle of urges, compulsions, and rationalizations, dressed in shoes.

The last three episodes of In Treatment (yes, just three) air this week, starting Wednesday. I hope I don’t go into withdrawal next week — I might need that real-life Gina sooner than I think.

Past episodes are available on HBO On Demand and on the HBO site. Don’t miss your appointment!

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