The May 24 and 25 episodes.
Mia: Bedding Down, by Any Means Necessary
Paul’s week of self-evaluation starts out roughly as Mia announces she’s stopping therapy because it just makes her feel worse. Paul plays along. After their last session, she asked her father if it was his idea to sell the piano when she was a kid. Perfect Dad turned on her: She wouldn’t be alive without him, she’s been difficult since the day she was born, it’s her fault her mother went crazy, no wonder she can’t find a man. She blames Paul for losing her father. He counters that her father’s still in her life, she’s just lost her idealized image of him — selectively ignoring that when Dad stormed out he said he never wanted to see her again. Depressed, Mia spends the week in bed. Paul pokes around for a suicidal impulse, then points out that her father wasn’t there for her, just as he couldn’t support her mother in her postpartum depression. He warns that she needs to work through this if she’s going to find a partner, to break this habit of picking men likely to let her down and pushing them away. Backed into a corner, Mia tries to seduce Paul. He manages to ignore all the attendant leg crossing and to show her that her job as a malpractice attorney is all about defending her father — and to convince her that what she needs to feel fulfilled is not necessarily a husband or a child, but a sense of connection. She can get that through therapy. Time’s up, but this one resolves easily enough: She’ll see him next week.
April: The Wrong Kid Died
A voice mail from April introduces the episode: She got the test results and wants to come in for one last session. Between her itchy hat and news of her autistic brother, it takes forever for us to get the results once she’s there, but the chemo is working. When she recounts dinner with her ex, who still has feelings for her, she announces it’s too late — and we’re momentarily convinced it’s going to turn out that she’s been lying and is dying. No, but the girl she was has died, transformed by the struggle with cancer. She’s disgusted now by the possibility of sex, by the idea of getting close to anyone, and daunted by the task of mustering the energy to love again. Paul wants her to stay in therapy, to learn to stop pushing people away. He tries to show her how much work she’s done, but she just wants to thank him. And she saw from the comments section on Paul’s website that she’s not the only one: Sophie, last season’s suicidal abused gymnast, says he saved her, too. April has a better sense of therapeutic boundaries than Paul. She may accept a referral to another therapist later, but, because Paul saved her life, she can’t return to him. He gives her his father’s non-itchy aviator cap, and that’s it. Two happy but painfully realistic endings down, two to go.
Oliver: Sent Up the River
It’s most blatant in the Oliver episodes that this season is about unprotected children, and it’s here that Paul can’t distance himself. He could set up a plan for ongoing family therapy to blunt the damages inflicted by these selfish, bickering parents; he could help Oliver learn the skills that could help him become the popular fat kid in his new school rather than the bullied fat kid; instead, Paul focuses his own pain on trying to convince Luke and Bess not to ship the kid up the Hudson. Bess insists she has to put her oxygen mask on in order to help her son with his, but Paul sees this not as launching a career that will allow her to financially and emotionally support Oliver, but — just like the selfish disinterest Luke displays — simply evidence of not wanting the kid around. Bess and Luke are getting along swimmingly now that they admit the marriage was a mistake, but this poor kid seems fucked, with or without the promised phone calls with Paul.
Walter: Golden Years
After a couple of high-intensity episodes from Walter, this one’s just a recap. Without crises to manage, Walter is learning introspection. That means he’s found a new irritation in his wife’s voice, and that his surprised daughter has taken to spying on him in his Shelter Island “shack,” but he’s making progress, reluctant as he is to deal with his internal lost boy. When he dreams that the Donaldsons offer him his job back, he realizes maybe he doesn’t want it — but also that he’s 68 and hasn’t lived a moment of his life for himself. Paul offers him two options: Behavioral and pharmaceutical therapy can put him back in control, or he can learn how to live. When Walter picks the latter, it’s clear that this is also about Paul and his future. Our old worries are assuaged: It turns out Paul does have a full roster of patients, and that drinking problem never crystallized, so we’re optimistic for them both.
Paul and Gina: The Breakup
Paul tells Gina he didn’t send the letter accepting blame to Alex’s father; his daughter convinced him that he had to stand up in this trial. A call from his lawyer interrupts their session: The judge laughed the case out of court. With that drama brushed aside, there’s a lot to be settled between Paul and Gina. He prods her about whether she’s dressed up for a date and with whom, talks distantly and on behalf of his grad-school class about her beauty and brilliance. She evades the questions and his unfriendly flirting and finally extracts the truth: He isn’t going to see her anymore. She casts around: Two patients abandoned him so he’s abandoning her? He’s questioned himself as a therapist and now questions her? No, he’s been trying to get the mothering from her that he didn’t get in his own life, and it’s time to move on. And she agrees: “This is the part where I’m supposed to say my door is always open, but I’m not going to say that. Our time is up. Good luck.”
If the show sees a third season, this episode suggested we might see Paul working in a group practice, or doing supervisory work like Gina. But the Israeli version hasn’t had a third season and HBO hasn’t signed one, either, and it’s unlikely the show could again match this tightly constructed, fully realized season. We’re left knowing that lonely Paul wants to expand his horizons, to — like April — stop analyzing for a little while and start living.