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.
Jesse -- a teen who has been contacted by his birth mother and is trying to test his adoptive mother’s dedication to him -- is demonstrating more than the garden variety level of teen angst as he also pushes therapist Paul as far as he thinks he can go just short of Paul banning him from therapy. The aggressive Jesse seems to be struggling with his sexuality and with how he fits into his own life. And he’s making it insanely difficult for his mother as he lies to her and stays out all hours.
The parental problems for Sunil, who lost his wife six months ago, are of the grandparent variety. He’s emotionally estranged from his adult son with whom he now lives in America, having recently left Calcutta. He doesn’t like his daughter-in-law, who looks upon him with a mixture of suspicion and loathing, and he worries that his grandchildren are being raised all wrong. He’s also severely depressed.
Sure, this all sounds very dour, very down. But instead of making me feel disheartened, it fascinates me, draws me into the drama of everyday, mundane life, although I can only hope that once my twin 12-year-olds are teens I won’t be reduced to having to hack into their e-mail accounts because they won’t talk to me. And frankly, the stories about teens pulling away scare the crap out of me.