In to In Treatment.

by Meredith O’Brien


Since Mad Men concluded its fourth season a few weeks ago, there’s been a void in my Sunday evenings that used to be filled with delightfully deep, complicated and infuriating scenes set in the 1960s. One of the things has helped me fill the empty space left behind by Mad Men is the intensely claustrophobic yet equally rich HBO therapy drama In Treatment.


And during this, its third season -- where you watch the sessions of patients meeting with a therapist each week followed by the therapist’s own therapy session -- more than other season seems as though it’s put parental issues front and center, making the show as engrossing as ever. There’s a mother of a teenager who won’t talk to her. A father of a middle schooler and a teen who worries that he could have passed down to them the gene for Parkinson’s. A troubled teen is trying to push his adopted mother away from him and wonders what to do about the fact that his birth mother has left a mysterious voice mail on his cell phone for the first time ever. And an Indian widower has been moved into his son’s American home with his American daughter-in-law who’s raising his grandchildren in ways of which he doesn’t approve.


In Treatment features such a hodgepodge of issues covering a wide swath of the parenting experience -- with the exception of raising babies -- that it sometimes puts me, the mother of twins on the cusp of their teens, somewhat on edge.


Take Frances (Debra Winger) for example. She’s a fiftysomething actress who’s trying to reinvigorate her career by starring in a play but is, for some reason, forgetting her lines during rehearsals, plus she’s extraordinarily stressed out by the fact that her professor husband left her for a grad student and that their daughter Izzy has moved in with the ex and is spending a lot of time with Frances’ sister Patricia who’s dying from cancer, the same diseases that killed her mother. Frances is petrified that she carries the same breast cancer gene, and could’ve possibly given it to Izzy, and her sister won’t stop hounding her about taking the test to see if she has the gene.


Frances is in all kinds of desperation right now, particularly when it comes to the deteriorated state of her relationship with her daughter. She resorted to hacking into Izzy’s e-mail account because Izzy won’t talk to Frances and is angry that Frances won’t visit her sick sister more often.


Meanwhile, Frances’ therapist, Dr. Paul Weston, who’s the focal point of In Treatment, has parenting problems of his own. He too is divorced and his children have, like Frances’ daughter, been living with his ex-wife until his young son showed up, unannounced, on his doorstep looking sad and asking to live with him. The problem, other than the boy’s obvious melancholy, is the fact that Paul’s terrified because his hands have been shaking and he’s convinced himself that he has Parkinson’s just like his own father. Even though a neurologist told him there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that he has Parkinson’s, Paul can think of nothing else and frets constantly about what the disease would do to his children.