Times have been tough for Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) on HBO’s therapy drama In Treatment. When we last saw him, his marriage was disintegrating, he was dangerously close to having an illicit affair with one patient, while another wound up dying under questionable circumstances.
Sunday night, the Emmy-winning series returns for a second season, jumping ahead one year to find Paul with a whole new crop of patients, including Mia (Hope Davis), a powerful lawyer with a mysterious past, Oliver (Aaron Grady Shaw), a 10-year-old boy whose parents just spit up, April (Alison Pill), a college student who discovers she has cancer, and Walter (John Mahoney), a workaholic CEO suffering from insomnia. And although his patients are new, his problems are still steeped in the past.
The first episode opens on present-day Paul, divorced, living in Brooklyn, and as we soon discover, buried under a nasty malpractice lawsuit for the alleged suicide of Alex (Blair Underwood), the aforementioned “questionable death” of season one.
In an interview last week, executive producer Warren Leight opened up about what’s in store for Paul this season, why everyone has a not-so-secret crush on Gabriel Byrne, and answered some other burning questions, like will we ever see Laura again?
Can you talk about the decision to jump ahead a year this season and why you decided to focus on Paul already settled in Brooklyn, and not the time it took to get him there?
Some of it is just logistical and tactical. We don’t have a show that allows for a lot of sets or shooting outdoors or stuff like that. It’s predicated on basically two locations: Paul’s office, wherever that is, and Gina’s office. Those two offices get set up in the studio space, and you shoot them. So you want to limit the amount of time you’re going out.
As for the move, the show was moving to New York and it seemed silly not to move Gabriel’s character there as well. In season two in Israel, the character has gone through a divorce, so as long as we knew the guy was going to be divorced, then it was an idea of where should we set the show. And all the writers were based in New York, and Gabriel lives in New York, and the show was moving to New York, so why make it hard on yourself and create some fictional suburban town that none of us really know?
Are we to assume that he’s just gotten settled? All of his patients this year are new, and just starting out with him, while last season we were introduced to established patients.
It’s a clean slate. These aren’t the first patients, though. He has other patients. These are the ones who are getting to him as the new year begins. We actually will occasionally see someone in the waiting room before or after a session, or someone in a session with Paul that gets interrupted.
Clearly he has a good practice, and its taken at least six or seven months to establish that. He has, say 35 or 40 patients. These are the four, luckily played by very good actors, who happen to be the characters that have issues in some way which most mirror his own.
In what ways do these patients’ issues mirror his own?
Every therapist has blind spots and sore spots that he or she brings to therapy. If the therapist has issues or problems that were never resolved, like in Paul’s case, his mother committed suicide, which is something we find more out about this year. So he’s got some work to do on letting go of that. His dad and he were estranged for most of his adult life, so we’ll have patients grappling with their separation from their father, or confronting questions of suicide.
We also have a 10-year-old boy whose family is going through a divorce and of course Paul is separated from his children and misses his kids. He sees them on weekends: he’s an Amtrak dad, we call him.
Here he is separated from his kids and he’s seeing this kid getting clobbered by his two parents who are not able to see the bigger picture and they go at it. So that kid’s storyline gives Paul a lot of anxiety and a lot of reasons to self criticize. Some of that gets put on the parents.
Mia, the Hope Davis character…they have a complicated past history but also she didn’t separate very well from her father and that’s an issue Paul will be dealing with for better or worse this season.
But not every character is 1:1, Allison this season is an architecture student struggling with a diagnosis of cancer and a decision about whether or not to get help. That’s not 1:1 but certainly Paul has a daughter who’s just a few years younger than Allison’s character and when the kid says “don’t tell my mother,” that puts Paul in a terrible position because he’s a parent himself.
I’m sure he has his share of bored housewives and college kids who aren’t getting their studying done, and I’m sure he treats them appropriately. But we’re not going to see a lot of their sessions.
What about Walter, John Mahoney’s character? That sort of fits the idea of the father who’s never available, like Paul.
Walter is a father who misses his daughter terribly and on some level, there are interesting similarities between Walter and Paul that Paul totally doesn’t want to think about. But Walter is all about taking care of other people and his company and is not too aware of his own needs, or he doesn’t think he’s allowed them. I think Paul feels most comfortable in the role of caretaker and least comfortable in the role of patient, as we’ve seen in his sessions with Gina. So there’s all kinds of tension between these two guys. And these two are the slowest relationship to acknowledge whats going on, because you know, guys are guys and they keep it all inside.
Who do you think viewers are going to bond with?
Every day some crew members would come up to me and say ‘you know, this one really got to me,’ or Gabriel would say ‘this one really got to me.’ If you’ve been involved in a divorce or have kids I think watching Oliver and his family disintegrate is heartbreaking. I think that a lot of people have that dad who they never got to know, that Mahoney is playing.
I have these 60 year old guys on the set who are weeping at the end of “Week 6 Walter” about the stuff they never got to say to their dad.
I think the idea this year was to try to adapt the characters more to the American cultural problems. It’s an Israeli show, but I wanted to make sure what people see are things that they can relate to.
So April has a brother who suffers from autism, we also see a drinking problem that the Israeli show has yet to have in two years.
So in a weird way I think we serve the original intention of the series better if the characters are going through things that are more culturally relatable.
These characters seem more accessible this season. A lot of people struggled with Jake and Amy last season.
To be honest, I wasn’t really sure about that. I think there were some cultural things that we didn’t quite understand with the “kibbutz cowboy” that Jake was. There were certain things that were translated, the fighter pilot certainly worked, but the meaning of a fighter pilot to Israelis is much different than the meaning of a fighter pilot to Americans. And so I just tried to, with the blessings of various people, I tried to think where is the dysfunction in America? The obvious one to me is how can you have a show about therapy for two years and nobody comes from a family of alcoholism?
I remember talking to the Israeli creator Hagai Levi about it and he said ‘but Warren, these people are in therapy, they’re middle class, upper middle class, surely they wouldn’t have a drinking problem.’ And I just laughed.
Who’s going to have a drinking problem?
I can’t say. In fact the interesting thing is that we don’t find out about that one until week 6. There are also references to Paul saying things like “I don’t drink alone.” Paul has a bit of a lonely life right now. It’s not easy being apart from your family and looking at your early 50s and wondering what the hell happened.
It could be anyone.
Or it could be the spouse of one of our characters. It’s not necessarily a star of our show but you know you don’t have to be an alcoholic to be affected by alcoholism.
What other big reveals are in store for this season?
There’s lots of things we tried to do. I tried to make sure that every week the storyline was redeeming, and the things you thought you knew reversed on you. Mia, Hope’s character, is very hard to get a grip on. In weeks 5 and 6, the stakes do really step up for a lot of these characters. Just when you think you’ve got their numbers, you don’t.
There is a very deep understanding of human behavior, pathologies, and relationships in these scripts. Last season you didn’t have a psych consultant. Did you bring one on this year?
I hired one this year. I got Dr. Justin Richardson, who I think made a profound difference on the show. He’s a professor of psychology at Columbia and he read every script and gave notes. Anyone writing for this show knows how to write a screwed up character with a complicated family history. That we can bring to the table. But what we were less aware of is what was going through the therapist’s mind as the patient is talking. He has to be pretty far ahead of a patient if he’s doing his job.
We also had a child psychologist look over the Oliver scripts. I came from the Law & Order world, and over there I had a medical examiner expert, a retired detective, and I had a legal expert. I think it’s silly to assume you can do a show about therapy – and in Israel they obviously used the experts, and last year we used a lot of the material that had already been embedded – but since we were deviating this year I thought it was crucial to have Justin.
So these deviations are what made you bring him in.
I think it’s just better. Why should we be winging this? This way when Paul makes a mistake we know he’s doing it because we want him to, as a character flaw. I think he needs to be more on his game this year. Last year he was obviously in a crisis the whole time, so he could blunder left and right. This year he’s a bit removed.
Obviously that stuff with Laura is the sign of a therapist really dancing on the edge. You know, it’s a great way to start a series but he can’t do that two years in a row.
He’s such an incredibly flawed protagonist who clearly toes the line of ethical behavior. And yet, he’s so endearing and lovable.
I think a lot of it is Gabriel. The empathy that Gabriel brings to Paul allows you to relate. First of all, he’s hard on himself. It’s not as if he thinks he’s perfect. There’s a fair amount of self-loathing. But secondly, despite his flaws, or maybe because of his flaws, he’s able to relate to people and not judge them too harshly, and he’s able to help them. I think people see his character doing that.
I saw Gabriel on set doing the same thing with the actors. There is a blurred line, a meta thing that seems to go on the set. When are we watching Paul and when are we watching Gabriel? He brings a tremendous amount of sensitivity to the character and to the patients that he’s dealing with and that comes across so we forgive. You know, the best characters I think the best characters are three dimensional and flawed and human and struggling to do the right thing in spite of their mistakes and their lapses in judgement.
Watching Gabriel day in and day out sit in that chair the way a therapist does, for twelve hours a day, just listening and taking all the information in, giving the actor all that he or she needs, I think at times he is doing the actor equivalent of therapy. Especially this year I think the character is, we see that he is helping his patients.
If it’d been two years in a row where his problems are getting in the way of his therapy I think people wouldn’t like it.
It seems like it was important to show consequences for his actions this season.
I thought that was very important. If he had been more present in his marriage it would have gone a different way. There are points when I think he wants to crawl back into the marriage, and it’s not likely that it’s going to happen. Like his patients, there are consequences to the choices he made, in the same way that Mahoney’s character got too involved in his business and has neglected other things, Paul got too involved with his patients. There’s an old joke that therapists kids are often among the most emotionally neglected kids around. He’s compassionate and that makes him watchable.
How much of a role will Kate and the kids be playing?
We see Kate twice, we see the daughter once or twice, we see one of the sons once, and we hear about them in his therapy sessions with Dianne Wiest. We sense their absence in his life every week. It’s weighing on him. Some weeks more overtly, but its by the absence of a family life that proves it. At the end of the day he’s alone, and he’s practicing therapy in the living room of his apartment.
Are we going to see what Kate has done with his old home office?
No, that space never got rebuilt!
Will we see any of the patients from last season?
We don’t see any of last seasons patients at all. We hear tell of Laura, we hear tell of Sophie. And we hear about Alex because there’s a lawsuit hanging over Paul’s head.
Is there a reason why we won’t see them?
It’s a new season, and clearly Alex is gone. Laura I think they ran that for about as long as they could. I think the show is so much about just the weekly sessions, that’s what you have to deal with in real life – you have a very intimate relationship with somebody and the therapy ends and you don’t get together for a lunch, you don’t keep in touch. Part of a successful therapy process is a successful separation when the patient or character starts to live his life without you. That’s tough for therapists and its tough on patients. There’s some nice dramatic value to the reality of that.
If you read all the message boards a lot of people would like to see Laura back.
Yeah, well too bad! People really develop enormous attachments to these characters, which is great, but then there’s a certain audience that really indulges in the erotic fan fiction. I admire that but I think it’s better left in the forums. If you actually wrote episodes like the ones fans say they want to see, they’d be appalled.
Anything in particular?
Well, everyone has a crush on Gabriel. There were questions about Mia’s character and what’s the nature of her relationship with Paul. Those questions are discussed between the two of them but it’s handled differently, Paul is in a different place. There are questions the audience has, and the writers have, and the actors have about what is the backstory of Gina and Paul. I think we play around a little with that. But they’ll never wind up in a hotel or anything.
Do we ever find out why it was inappropriate for Paul to not go to David’s funeral?
There’s reference to it.
Is Gabriel aware of the fact that everyone has a crush on him?
He handles it with utter self deprecation. He’s really quite good at making fun of himself. I find it annoying that everyone has that crush on him. He’s funny about it. It’s always annoying to have someone on the set, when you’re on the set working 12 hours a day and everyone looks like crap and he looks great, that’s annoying. Just on a petty immature level it’s annoying, not on a profound level. It’d be nice to wake up looking like that.
Will there be any big deaths this season?
I don’t want to give that away, but there are some weepy moments. I’ll put it that way. Every therapist has a box of tissues in his office and I think it’s good for the viewers to have a box as well.
The new season of In Treatment premieres Sunday, April 5 at 9 PM on HBO.