"In Treatment" recap: Have Sunil's sessions come to an end?

Week 6: His daughter-in-law claims he isn't responding to Paul's treatment and Debra becomes a caretaker

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

Paul is surprised to see Julia in the waiting room. "You obviously weren't expecting to see the wicked, insensitive daughter-in-law," she says bitterly. Paul notices she has a bandage on her arm. This, says Julia, is from an argument in which Sunil pushed her, she lost her balance and fell into a bookshelf that had a loose nail in it. When Paul asks how the argument began Julia refuses to answer.  

She informs him that she's ending Sunil's treatment. It's obviously not working, and she thinks it would just be better for Arun, the osteopath, to subdue him with something stronger than Effexor. Obviously she is unaware of what this might do to the plant Sunil's been dumping it in. She gives Paul a check for this session, and an extra one as courtesy pay. Paul tries to talk her out of this decision, but when he refuses to tell her what Sunil's been saying about her, she gets angry. When he offers to give her a referral so that she can deal with her "issues" she leaves, accusing him of being under Sunil's "spell." Interesting. Are there other people under "his spell?" Like, Julia? Before she leaves, she mention something about him being "an attractive man." She wonders why he hasn't moved on. Uh, maybe because you're keeping him on a $25 allowance? 

One thing that I've always found a bit strange about Paul's strategy with Sunil is that he's encouraged Sunil to express his anger, but contrary to what Julia imagines, I can't remember a single time he's ever sympathized with it. In fact, usually he's too quick to see Julia's side. We can see that in this session, when Sunil starts to tell his side of the argument. The hostilities began when he couldn't bear seeing his grandchildren watch "Finding Nemo" for the 18th time, and decided to teach them a Bengali folksong. According to Sunil, Julia came into the room furious. Paul immediately interjects with, "Well, as I remember, she had asked you not to teach them Bengali." Sunil points out the obvious. "It's a song." No less dangerous to their language  development than 18 viewings of the same movie. Finally, six weeks into his treatment, Paul grants Sunil the dignity of having a reason to feel insulted. But soon enough we're back to  pathologising Sunil's anger whenever it come up. 

Did Sunil accidentally push her into the bookcase, as he was rushing to get out of the room, as he claims? Or was there some intentionality behind it? Sunil tells Paul that this Bengali "Goodbye Song" was one he used to sing to Arun. But now Arun has sided with Julia and they have told Sunil that he's going to have to live in the basement and can't be around the children anymore.

Sunil looks lost, hopeless, humiliated and at the point of complete despair. He asks Paul to keep a broken cricket bat he's found in the Park "to remember him by" (suddenly I hear Adele in my head, "You even brought a prop.") But instead of focusing, even just a bit, on Sunil's sadness and shame we're back to Julia's safety.

Finally Sunil says that he wants Paul to keep the cricket bat because he's afraid he might hit Julia with it. Great. Sunil has admitted to violent thoughts. Now we can institutionalize him and take away his $25 allowance, the unhealthy candy, and what tiny little scrap of dignity he has left. If nothing else, he's handed Paul a reason to ensure that he will continue therapy.

Maybe I'm wrong and he'll kill Julia. But Julia doesn't strike me as the kind of woman who would hesitate to call the police if she really believed she was in danger. Paul begs Sunil to return next week. Sunil leaves with an ominous prophecy: "You will have one more chance to help me. I assure you."

Next week: Sunil hurts himself or Julia. Or hopefully, Sunil and Paul figure out that the final check can be split into a bunch of sliding scale payments that would allow Sunil a few more months of treatment until he eventually finds himself a cricket team.

Before the session with Frances, we get a glimpse into Adele's private life. Damn, there goes my fantasy that she's living with Julianne Moore and raising sperm donor babies. Wouldn't that make Paul look silly!  But the first thing Adele thinks about when she rolls out of the sunny bed, in which she seems to sleep in alone, is Paul. At the breakfast table she phones him and leaves a message that she suddenly has an extra appointment free if he wants it. She punctuates this with one "okay" too many. Then she girlishly draws up her knees, and looks like she's going to sit there and wait for him to call.

Finally this week I realize what a great acting job Debra Winger is doing. I still don't like Frances, but there are enough human moments here to make it very clear that Winger has been giving a very unselfish performance. It must be hard to play such an unflattering narcissist. But she's committed.

The narcissism is finally a topic raised directly in Paul's office. Daughter Izzy has been reading Alice Miller's "The Drama of the Gifted Child" (which Frances calls "The Gift of the Dramatic Child") and has decided that her mother perfectly fits the role of self-absorbed, emotionally empty drama queen. Of course no woman who has ever read that book didn't end up thinking her mother was a narcissist but, still.

Also, Patricia is in the hospital. You'd think this might be information Frances would lead with, but Paul has to prod it out of her. Frances has been to see her. In fact Frances even missed curtain call of opening night after Patricia left a phone message. "I'm sorry, Franny. I think this is it. I need help. " Frances rushed over to her apartment, lifted her out of a puddle of urine, bathed her and tended to her until it was clear she needed to call an ambulance. The sisters share a moment of genuine affection, and Patricia tells Frances she loves her. Paul gets choked up. Makes you wonder if he's thinking about the dying father he avoided last year until it was too late. But there's something suspicious about France's sudden decision to quit the play and move in with Patricia full time. Almost like caregiver is a new role she never expected to get.

Paul gently suggests that this may be more about her own needs than her sister's. Frances returns to a discussion of her relationship with Izzy who thinks Frances is wasting her time in therapy because true narcissists can never get better.

Frances asks Paul flat out whether he thinks that's true. Paul says: "Well I think that it's…" and then there's a knock on the door. It's Izzy. Patricia has gone into I.C.U. after a seizure. Izzy, though a little snarky, seems suspiciously solicitous of her mother. This gives me hope that Frances is not an incurable narcissist. With some work Paul may be able dial her down to a merely annoying narcissist. 

Another reason to watch tonight: Dane DeHaan (Jesse) recently tweeted that he'll be on next season of "True Blood."  

Juliet Waters

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