"In Treatment" recap: Sunil's suicidal threat

Week 4: Sunil gives us cause to worry about his longevity and Frances drops a bombshell at the end of her session

By Juliet Waters
Published November 16, 2010 1:30PM (EST)
Irrfan Khan in "In Treatment"
Irrfan Khan in "In Treatment"

Week Four opens with Paul helping Max with his homework. Patiently he explains the simple genius of Pythagorean theory (that the square of the hypotenuse is the sum of the square of each of the remaining two sides). Max gets it. Father and son connect. It would seem that the Weston family is making progress.

If only Paul could get Sunil to see the simple genius of Freud. Sunil is a math professor. Maybe Paul would have more success explaining it in Pythagorean terms? Like, when three adults live in a house and two of them are lovers, the third person's jealousy is always the sum of their passion multiplied by how directly they are related by blood.

There's an obvious germ of truth to Paul's repeated assertion that Sunil is jealous of Arun and Julia, but I must admit I find the clash between Paul's textbook psychology and Sunil's repressed cultural programming increasingly tedious. Finally in this episode, theory and story crash hard enough to allow a more nuanced and interesting narrative to emerge.

Sunil has discovered Julia's birth control pills while snooping around in Julia's office in search of evidence of her "affair" with The Pale Fox a.k.a. Ethan Barr. Sunil describes a dream he had on the night he discovered the pills about an animal, maybe a dog, maybe a goat, struggling for breath, having just fallen from a high place. Sunil "manipulates" the animal with a stick. 

After the dream, Sunil can't get back to sleep. He watches Arun and Julia sleep. "How long did you watch?" says Paul, eyes slitty and accusing. Paul thinks that the dog/goat is Arun/Julia, but he wants to get Sunil to say this. To Paul's frustration, instead Sunil begins a meditation on smoking.

Paul tries to get Sunil back to the Arun/Julia-dog/goat, but Sunil wants to talk about how he started smoking to impress his university sweetheart Melina. As the story progresses, however, it is clear that Sunil's university romance was something far deeper and darker than a crush. They were in love. But because they were in different castes, Melina called it off. Wearing Sunil's coat Melina jumped to her death off a local bridge.

Irrfan Khan's face, as he tells this story, is a master class in grief. Still, Paul doggedly holds onto his buried-desire-for-Julia-triangle bone. (If this were my dream, the dog/goat would be Paul.)  Obviously Julia must remind Sunil of Melina! At first this yields the expected anger a man would show when the woman who committed suicide for him is compared to the woman who keeps him on a $25 a week allowance. But Paul hounds Sunil into a reluctant "maybe." Great, but this doesn't change Sunil's most pressing problem: He detests his daughter-in-law and can no longer live under the same roof as her. One of them has to go.

After Sunil leaves, Paul picks up his notebook. Paul never used to be much of a note taker, until he was hit with a wrongful death suit over Alex, the suicidal fighter pilot. That he's suddenly note taking serves as a reminder that this is the second time Sunil has brought up suicide in his sessions with Paul. Television formula, of course, dictates that the season finale is a sum of subtextual plot points referred to in the opening and midpoint episodes; So, Paul is right to take notes.

Before his session with Frances, Paul has a conversation with is daughter Rosie. In case you didn't get that this week is all about triangles, they discuss Max and Steve, Max's soon-to-be stepfather. Turns out they get along better than Paul thought they did. Also Steve is an architect who has double drafting tables and no doubt knows his Pythagoras. Still, Paul seems significantly more relaxed around his kids in this episode, so perhaps Adele is having an influence.

 Hopefully some of that burgeoning happiness will rub off on Frances. She is wearing a vibrant red blouse that does little to disguise what an empty shell of a woman she has become.

I know I keep harping on this, but I don't think the therapeutic relationship Frances has set up with Paul is healthy. Last week she confessed her pain at seeing her mother's closeness with her sister Patricia. She seems bent on seeing Paul as some kind of parent/companion figure who will replace her family. But, of course, he can't. It's impossible for him to erase from his mind his former relationship with her sister, and as her therapist it would be inappropriate for him to attend the opening she invites him to. With crossed boundaries already place, how can Paul really give her the undivided loyalty she craves?

It's hard not to compare Sunil, with all his emerging anger, desire and genuine sadness, with Frances who seems practically catatonic. She is now remembering her lines, but where the hell did she lose her soul? This is not just an occasional problem. Her ex-husband's brilliant friends used to make her feel like a shallow cipher.

She comes across in this session as an extraordinarily weak woman who is incapable of getting satisfaction from her career, abandons her family in times of need, and can't seem to stop invading her daughter's privacy. She sees betrayal where it doesn't exist (Paul's keeping to protocol) and every week is another test of loyalty. This week's test: Will Paul change his schedule to protect her privacy? (She doesn't like running into other patients in the waiting room.) Soon after she leaves, she knocks on the door. Oh, BTW, she has the test results that will tell her if she needs a double pre-emptive mastectomy. But she's saving them for next week so they'll have something to talk about. Oy.

Debra Winger's performance has shifted from flat to subtle. But this is still a really difficult role, mostly because it's such a dull one. If there's any evidence that the writers are taking this character beyond her painfully obvious narcissism, I'm not seeing it. While her blankness does not make for riveting television, it does at least serve as a contrast to what seems to be Paul's emerging vitality. And tonight we have Jesse, whose maniacal energy may make some viewers long for Frances and her quiet, lonely depression. 

At any rate, whatever happens we will have Adele to bring that special half hour of sanity to everyone's life.  

Juliet Waters

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