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Saturday, March 29, 2008

HBO's "In Treatment" Drama-Series: 2nd in a Series

“ Oh please, Armsley!  People were simply commenting on a fictional character. Since no one truly knows her motives and intentions yet, it's a topic of discussion. You chose to draw conclusions from that and insult real people, while attempting some moral high-ground? Please... Those who can't distinguish fiction from real life are much more disturbing, "  --- KD


Part One:
Fictional vs. Real Characters To Assess Our Emotionally Energized Responses To Them

KD:

I don’t agree with Armsley on any topic --- in effect, a prissy, nagging guy who attacked me with fatuous inanity within seconds of my first innocuous post in this HBO forum a few days ago . . . one of the several touch-testy gays who, along with a handful of women groupies, seem to monopolize about 75% of the posts in every thread, dozens of them.  (The other posters, a couple of hundred or so --- overwhelmingly women, it seems  --- are far more intelligent and thoughtful, just as they are much skillful at expressing their views in good clear writing.) 

Brief Clarification for Buggy Prof Visitors (Added March 29th, 2008)

Hard to say for sure what ailed these guys. Most likely, they couldn't’t stand a confident heterosexual guy horning in on their sputtering tete-a-tetes with the girls; bad bad hetero- boy, right?  Anyway, they quickly became good fodder for some amused teasing on my part. Couldn't help it, they were asking for it! What a riot!  What fun! 

Anyway --- or did I just say that? ---it’s their right, if they want, to struggle with raw identity issues and envisage themselves as women and go around parading their make-believe gender-change on the web for all to see and join in. Or as I was chastised by one of them to my mirth, “Armsley” ---whose avatar photo, please note, made him uncannily resemble a 60 year-old Gabby Hayes of Roy Rogers western-movie fame, stubbly beard and all and tobacco stains on its hairy edges near his toothless mouth --- “is a female, a lady, a dame; got it gordon?”  Similarly , like anyone else, they have a right to lead a life of their choosing and not suffer discrimination. 

Beyond that, though --- what?

Well, they got no free pass from me for their silly priggery and fussy passive-aggressivity that led, for a few days anyway, to my mirthful toying with their grumpy old-maid peevishness.

Apparently, I was seen as their worst nightmare.  Just imagine! . . . a manically fantasized he-man hetero-dumbo had the nerve to bust in on their exclusive girls-night-out yak-yak with one another and their tiny clutch of female groupies: with, to boot, their yacketing stuff full of gossipy tidbits about their personal lives and mutual condolences or congratulations, all depending on what spectacular quotidian trivialities struck them as worth narrating.     Small wonder they all began braying for the buggy prof’s instant cyberspace execution  . . . followed, I imagine, by his hoped for real execution if they could only get the hetero's dumb-ox woman-slurping head under a three-foot long guillotine blade. 

Or as 4 Bee, something apparently of a self-anointed spokesman, put it so effectively in his first post about bad bad buggy boy:

Solong, darling, what's going on in this thread?
I was away for couple of days, and by coming back I found
this freak gordongordo troll here jamming all the good posts.
Is there a way we can get rid of this nightmare?

Solong, I trust you will find a way! One disturbed gordon troll sinking
such a good
thread.

Love  4bee”

And again a few hours later, while I laughed in delight at his persnickety sarcasm, 4Bee followed up with this gem:

Gordon:

By reading your very first post, with the above quoted text, it became quite clear - you've been trolling here--- countless words and little substance.

That's the very nature of a troll. There was no need to bother reading the rest of them. Perhaps you are in a clinic as a recovering drug/alcohol/ sex or a mental breakdown or a psychopath with the access to computer, who knows or who cares.  [Buggy Addendum March 28th, 2008: Hilarious as this all seems, several of these  guy-girls soon got rushes of the heebie-jeebies, started looking into my background, and began posting frantic worries that I was indeed confined to a mental ward for the criminally insane and would presently break out and take horrible vengeance on each and every one . . . presumably in the company of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who (I wickedly hinted at in one of my joshing posts), was my chief attending psychiatrist and gourmet-instructor who explained to me the niceties of eating roasted gay-guy flesh.]

Perhaps it has been therapeutic for you to write the ??professor stuff?? and clever for your doctor to recommend creativity, employ your fantasy etc.; same as for some people it works well while playing with crayons.

That's good. Perhaps it's quite healthy for you as well to squeeze out every bit of stored memories somewhere in your brain and exercise- exercise it, such as remembering Woody Allen films etc. Please, just try to keep it shorter and perhaps we will be entertained. Your doctor must see how hard you have tried, but then again this is what he has been paid for. On the other hand, why should your doctor be punishing us --- this lovely HBO forum crowd, being here for a long time, having had many wars and battles with troll invasions and other crazies.  Please, you tell him/her that  you need to keep it short, write haiku.

Get well, and remember, it's not good to dress up in your doctors white coat pretending to be one, while in treatment. You can get caught and as a consequence spend even more time behind the doors without a knob.

Back to KD's Claim 

Leave aside Armsley's and n1984’s and 4Bee’s silly shallow fluff.  On that score, you’re right.   Concentrate instead on what you said in reply to Lucas, and especially on your key point --- all that stuff about not taking fictional characters seriously ---

Nothing, when you get down to it, I regret to say, could be more wrongheaded . . . and for a couple of solid reasons.

You See, To Clarify Briefly . . .  

 . . . the reactions of people to emotionally wrenching fictive characters are no less revealing of your and their inner lives than in the ways you and they respond, consciously and otherwise, to real people. There’s no way to cleave our mental life into sealed-off compartments like that.  If anything, a good insight-oriented therapist --- when faced with a pathologically shy or just clammed-up client, maybe because they can’t handle all the raw crackling emotions churning inside them under the edgy pressures of the therapeutic situation --- will frequently try to start some self-revelatory talk by asking them about their favorite and least favorite TV shows or music groups or movies that they’ve experienced recently. 

Once those disclosures start flowing, the therapist will be able to stir the talk-therapy in any direction he or she wants . . . possibly probing more the now galvanized unconscious emotions, conflicts, and fantasies that motivate the client’s self-exposing moments or, alternatively --- all depending --- steering the clients to reflect on the similarities with the most important people in their lives, now and in the past.

Want Harder Evidence That “Fictional” Characters Can Evoke the Full Range of Human Emotions?

Then consider this follow-up: the present HBO In Treatment forum and the high-octane absorption of its posters in this artistically bursting drama wouldn't exist if what I just claimed is wrong. 

Everyone here, even the Lucas bad-boy/bad-girl gang, seem fully riveted by the behavior of its confused, bummed-out, and frazzled flesh-and-blood characters --- all of them (except Gina) demoralized and caught up in psychic conflicts they don’t understand; often, come to that, so frayed and well-torn inwardly that they’re distraught and even desperate. 

 Yes . . . no one less than the main character himself, Paul Weston --- a gifted psychoanalyst full of insight and in control of his therapy four evenings a week, but emotionally and intellectually clueless when it comes to his wife, Kate, and his crackling carnal infatuation with a walking male-entrapment device named Laura, a gorgeous 30-year old sex-kitten whom he has been seeing for a year when the series starts. 

 Small wonder that at the end of the first Thursday’s session, when he finds out that Kate has been having a prolonged fuckfest with another man, he decides to call Gina --- his former supervisor at the psychoanalytical institute where he was trained --- and enter treatment after a 10 year hiatus.  That's one reason for his decision.  There are others too.  Above all, vaguely aware that it’s not just his marriage that’s fraying apart, but his commitments to his profession and his weary growing disenchantment with his walled-in life at the age of 53, he senses that he desperately needs help.  

Enter Center-Stage the Character-Actors

Not surprisingly, everyone here seems fully fired-up by the startlingly talented actors playing Weston and the other characters . . . their ensemble acting so glittering and unqualifiedly believable that each and every one of of them deserves to be singled out by boxcar loads of awards and follow-up acting contracts, whether at HBO or elsewhere.

By the same token, the full-blown believability of the characters as recognizably human in every respect --- just like you and me, not least in our own inner conflicts and struggles (only uptight, uninformed, unenlightened dumbos think they’re different) --- rests, ultimately, on the crackling intensity and jolting insights of the remarkably dialogue as well as in the rushes of raw emotion that burst forth and dominate each episode that the script calls for . . . even if, in the end, it’s up to the individual actors and the two directors to dig deep into their own psyches to come up with the necessary high-coiled moods and feelings.

  

If, by contrast, In Treatment were just humdrum, hoked-up, or digitally driven entertainment in which, alas, most people are awash in these days --- from toddling childhood through every age-level of their individual psychological development --- then none of the hundreds of posters in this forum and the thousands of its readers would get as worked up as they do in arguing energetically and at times testily with one another any more than they would, oppositely, in the hot-wire enthusiasm they show for this or that episode and the character-actors.

Formula Driven Entertainment as Sources of Insight Too

That doesn’t mean, to say what I said earlier only in different terms, that formula-driven entertainment wouldn’t be of high-voltage interest to any insight-oriented psychotherapist --- as opposed to cognitive-behavioral therapists --- if you needed help. 

Anything is fair game for his or her coming to understand your raw emotionally-driven remarks as a clue to your underlying psychic syndrome (AKA, your unconscious mind)  . . . at any rate, as long as you expressed strong feelings that the therapist might have to coax out of you.  And so, please observe, none of what I’ve said so far hinges on some huge unbridgeable gap between high-art and mass-entertainment, at any rate from a psychological viewpoint. 

  

Note quickly though: it’s far different from an aesthetic angle.  Obviously.  If that weren’t the case, why would high-school or college students still read Shakespeare’s Hamlet hundreds of years later --- and why, for that matter, would films of that great tragedy still be made that draw large audiences?  Come to that, why do most of us who are educated also read at some point in our lives Oedipus Rex, written 2500 years ago by Sophocles.  Does anyone think that American Idol will be watched hundreds or thousands of years from now?  It might be astonishing if it’s old episodes are watched five years into the future.

The upshot? 

The fictional characters in a rare, artistically glittering TV-drama or film are bound to be far more complex and full of contradictory sentiments and behavior ---shot through with irony and ambiguity, exactly like complex people --- than ever happens in formula-driven stuff.  That’s one of the principal reasons why In Treatment and its 8 major characters are so fascinating and real-like, compared to your average TV-fare.

Part Two:
In Treatment’s Dramatic Challenges to the Actors, Directors, and the Viewing Audience

True enough, In Treatment doesn’t reach the heights of dramatic insight into the human condition as Hamlet or Oedipus-Rex does; but it’s a breakthrough artistic triumph all the same in televised drama- series . . . most likely the greatest in the 70 year history of TV, not just in the US but in the UK --- the two countries that consistently put out the world’s best TV drama (including laudable thrillers, mysteries, and historical ones). 

Recall Its Artistic Triumphs 

With its unique setting, action, and length  --- 95% shot entirely in two office settings, and 100% of the action confined strictly to high-strung talk, talk, talk; nothing else in 43 daily episodes spun out over 8 weeks --- In Treatment, as adapted from the original Israeli series, has very likely created a series of equally unique challenges to its gifted cast of actors.  That’s doubly true for Gabriel Byrne, playing a multifaceted hard-to-get-a-fix-on character like Paul Weston, who is unusually effective and full of insight in his role as a psychotherapist --- and yet simultaneously, in his private life, as confused and full of self-deception as any of his patients.  

A similar if less demanding challenge has clearly confronted all the other major character-actors, who appear once weekly . . . and not simply because their characters are also multisided and caught up in a confusion of raw rippling identity-issues and edgy unhappiness, but also --- as the series unfolds over the weeks --- because the brilliantly written script calls for so much ironic and totally unpredictable flip-flop behavior that catches all of us by surprise.

These are intricate high-pulsating challenges for any actors.  How have Byrne and his fellow actors handled them? 

With transfixing artistic flair, that’s how.  Only virtuoso actors --- armed with painfully acquired powers of candid introspection and openness to endless self-discovery --- could have done what they have done in the numerous episodes: one and all, manage to burrow very deep and way below their own skins and locate the emotion-pounding, self-exposing behavior within themselves that --- with no noticeable lapses --- they have brought to life in each of their characters. 


Back to Your View That It’s All Fictive Stuff, So Why Get Emotionally Aroused about This Character or That Episode

Well, KD,  if I may be so bold --- which I will be anyway --- you are clearly intelligent and express yourself with skill, all talents to admire . . . and if I can be a bugged-out pedant for a moment, way too rare in this forum . . . dominated as it is by crabbed ultra-fussy gay guys and a handful of groupie-women who seem to be struggling with volatile, touch-tetchy identity-issues and an inability to express themselves for more than a couple of dozen ready-made emotions.  Or as Lucas put it, immediately followed by n1984, they have “the attention-span of a gnat” (their words). 

That’s not true of you, just the contrary.  Still, the point at issue here, is this: you might find it rewarding to work on gaining some ability for hard and candid introspection, painful as it might be to do so for anyone.  If you did, then --- most likely --- you eventually have a more sure-footed hold on life and stop finding In Treatment --- or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf or Glengarry Ross or The Iceman Cometh or the Wire --- mere entertainment, packed with fictive characters we shouldn’t take too seriously.

One good way to start: begin examining how and why you react favorably or indifferently or angrily --- in short, with any high-pounding emotions --- to the music you listen to, the books or other reading material you look at, the TV you view, the films you go to, the art you might see of all sorts, and so on.  Try to figure out what you like or dislike and the emotionally engaged reasons why.  Do this for a while, and you might just begin to surprise yourself that it isn't so easy to sharply distinguish between fictive characters and flesh-and-blood ones you interact with.

 Our Inevitable Subjective Views of Ourselves and Others
 

You see, we react to all of them, real or fictive, through a prism of thoroughly subjective notions and inseparably entangled emotions that are unique to each of us as individuals  . . . with each of these reactions influenced by a welter of unconsciously projected wishes, fears, hopes, anxieties, hate, rage, and the like that lurk in the dark underground areas of our minds.  The same is true of our more consciously aware fantasies that flit through our minds daily, and often several times.  They too express these powerfully charged feelings, however indirectly, that are hidden from our full conscious access.

And remember.  We can't help having such fantasies, any more than we can help relating to people close to us at present  in ways that reflect, to one degree or another --- and often with exaggerated intensity --- our early childhood and adolescent relations  On these scores, I'm no different from you, just as you are no different from me and everyone else.

Another thing to remember to: Any differences in frank self-examination on the part of some of us --- illusion-laded as much of it is bound to be --- has been gained only through long lost mental wanderings and uncoiled psychic pain.

Part Three:
Are the Characters in In Treatment Free of Self-Deception

In Particular, Which Ones Seem

. . . able to engage in frank introspection, however painful, and see themselves and others with a decent limit on their (and our) inevitable subjectivity and locked-in perspectives on life?

 Take Paul Weston, the anchor-man character who appears in all 43 episodes . . . a gifted psychoanalyst, to repeat what I said earlier, who strives to help his distraught patients four days a week, only on the 5th to seek help for his own bursting troubles on Friday from Gina, his former supervising analyst at the institute where he was trained?  And where, starting in the sixth week, he is joined in couple’s therapy by his younger wife, Kate --- a dark-haired beauty who is undergoing her own mid-life crisis after her only fuckfest affair in her 25 years of marriage and, more important as she learns in that therapy, after 41 years (her age now) of being a caretaker for first her parents, then Paul, then her kids and never having had a chance to be, as she puts it tearfully, in a brilliantly played episode, to just be Kate and feel strong that way.

To repeat the question: Is Paul --- played with full-blown persuasive powers by that great Irish actor, Gabriel Byrne --- free of self-deceit and able to see himself and others in his personal life with clearheaded realism?  Which means, you understand, that Paul is aware of his strengths and his shortcomings, doesn’t overdo the latter with excessive guilt or worry ---let alone deny them in stressful situations of relating to his wife and kids --- and is able to apply the sorts of insights to himself and them that he is clearly capable of doing in his practice as a laudably talented psychoanalyst. 

  

The answer that emerges by the end of the third week: no, clearly not . . . he’s definitely unable to see himself and his family that way.  At most, having gone through analysis himself for years at the psychoanalytical institute where he was trained and where Gina was his supervising analyst when he started his own practice, he knows his life is boiling over and needs help by seeking her out again.

He does that only after hearing Kate ask --- “When did you decide to become an asshole, Paul?” --- and learning, to his eruptive dismay, that she’s been sucking and screwing another man, angry as she’s been with his total disengagement, sexually and emotionally, from her life for a good year . . . remember, Kate doesn’t learn about Paul’s helpless eroticized counter-transference with Laura, the sex-hunting, sex-using seductress who is in spite of her high-coiled psychological problems a likeable and even admirable woman, a talented physician and far less afflicted with illusions about her personal life than Paul happens to be about himself.

Drifting, Drifting with No Self-Insight Why

In short, Paul’s blinkered illusions and overly intellectualized approach dominate and drive each and every emotionally charged engagement he has with his wife, with his three kids, and eventually with Laura --- a patient of his when the series starts of one year: a young, stunningly beautiful physician who is caught up in the midst of an eroticized transference and looks up to him and desires him with explicit sexual offerings.  That kind of adoration from a beautiful young woman was what attracted Paul originally to Kate years earlier in their marriage --- that, and his desire to nurture her and, in turn, get the nurturing he never had himself as a child.  Only . . . well, soon after their marriage, Paul's overwrought intellectuality and psychoanalytical training began clashing with with his need and love for Kate, who he always wanted there for support . . . but only at arms' length lest she abandon and traumatize him anew, exactly what had happened to him in his adolescence when his ego-maniacal father deserted him and his mother for a strikingly pretty young woman of his own --- followed by a complete nervous breakdown of his mother, whom he was left to take care of without any parental nurturing available in his family for him.

Exactly the same thing  --- his intellectualizing everything, plus his own crackling but buried fears --- will interfere and gum up his kinetically charged romantic passion for Laura. 

The upshot?

In his life of 53 years --- after more than two decades of being married to Kate (who is 41) and the mother of their three children, and probably a similar time-span of practicing psychoanalysis with a justifiably laudable reputation --- Paul turns out, ironically, to be as helplessly self-deceived as any of his patients when it comes to making sense of his life and his troubled intimate relationships and the reasons for being swept up in a emotion-battering existential crisis: AKA, mid-life crisis.

None of this makes him a bad person.  On the contrary, he’s a very decent person and a talented psychotherapist, who, though, without realizing it fully --- let alone understanding its causes --- finds his life is boiling over, simmering with a professional burn-out, an unraveling marriage, a loss of emotional vigor, and no less haunting, and maybe the worst of all, a relentlessly growing awareness that life's once bursting possibilities are rapidly fading away beyond respite . . . at any rate until we all reach the grave.

So What Does Paul Do?

He fantasizes a new life, without being able to commit to it --- above all, an escape with a patient he has fallen in love with, a gorgeous 30-year old sex-kitten who is herself a decent talented person, a 30 year old physician, but who is simultaneously a neurotic, self-loathing woman whose own life has been mangled since early childhood by irrational guilt. 

He dreams again and again, obsessively --- as he tells Gina in their second session --- about running away from all his oppressive family and professional burdens: escape with Laura to the Caribbean, scuba dive in the morning, start a fresh limited therapy practice in the afternoon, walk with Laura on the beach at sunset, then, after a few drinks together, fuck and suck her good and plenty, and vice versa all night long and again in the morning.  With, remember, Laura herself having insisted for several months of therapy with Paul that she isn’t just in the grip of the standard-model erotic transference in her amorously charged sentiments toward him.  Rather, as he repeatedly entices him --- bolstered with lavishly lewd details about her lurid sex life --- that she is maddeningly in love with him and would follow him anywhere . . . maybe, who knows? to the faraway home of E.T.

   

Agreed: it sounds like a tantalizing life for anyone.  It’s a feverish fantasy all the same; but not just make-believe of a shallow sort . . . the stuff of melodrama and soap operas and sit-com entertainment.  Rather, the kind of obsessive wishful thinking that seems to jolt and hold in bond most of us, men or women, beyond a certain age . . . with only the specific details changeable.

Only Gina, with whom Paul is back in analysis after 10 years of no communication between them --- Paul nursing grudges about her for far longer than that --- seems to have fully come to terms with herself and her life and in her sixties and in retirement. 

One Final Question and I’m Through

In general terms not confined to In Treatment, are Paul’s blinkered views of himself and others in his intimate personal --- those views involving withdrawn, detached, over-analytical rationalizations and a failure to see what his wife and his kids are driving at in their interactions with him --- so unusual in the lives of real psychotherapists?

Hard to say for sure.  All we have are anecdotal studies put out by a handful of psychotherapists based on their knowledge of at most a few other therapists --- hardly hard evidence.  Still, what is fairly clear --- and brought out with emotion-hammering intensity in In Treatment --- is that their training and their pride in their insights into human behavior make many of them the most self-deceived people of all in their intimate relationships . . . and  not least because of their abilities to rationalize away their problems and worst of all, their self-made responsibilities for them.