Thanks to patients like Hope Davis and John Mahoney, In Treatment on HBO may be even better in season two than it was in season one. Some of the half-hour episodes are models of suspense — and models of what you can do to create suspense when you have nothing to work with but two people talking in a room.

The show this year is particularly good on the details. In one of the installments, a happy couple exits through the shrink’s waiting room while one of the show’s main characters is waiting to go in. The couple’s happiness seems a bit over the top, and that’s exactly the point. People often leave therapists’ offices with a false sense of security, like “everything’s going to be all right now.” (I found myself thinking, “Hmm, let’s give it a couple of days, and see how things are going for you then, shall we?“) And this short scene touched on another key therapeutic issue: the meaning a waiting patient can attach to the apparent happiness of an exiting one. We idealize the happiness of others, and think we are the only ones who suffer. So when we see someone leaving a therapist’s office apparently “cured,” we feel jealousy and deprivation; we ask, “If that’s happening for her, why isn’t it happening for me?” (And then we reassure ourselves by snarking, “If she’s so damned happy, why is she seeing a shrink?”) This particular form of psychic pain is one I haven’t seen dramatized before, which is just one of the breakthroughs In Treatment has to offer.


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