the doctor is in

Who’s In Treatment? A Character Guide

Photo: HBO

HBO’s excellent In Treatment returned on May 23, beginning another 24-episode season of intimate therapy sessions. Based on the Israeli series BeTipul (sometimes to the point of verbatim translations), the ambitious drama series was a critical hit for HBO from 2008 to 2010. 11 years later it was rebooted in a similar form with a new doctor, played this time by Emmy winner Uzo Aduba, but it’s worth remembering the characters who have been on this couch already and the impact they made on TV drama. From renowned veterans to brilliant newcomers, many of the alumni of In Treatment did their career-best work on this show. Here’s a guide to the players, old and new.

The Doctors

Photo: HBO

Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne)

The Miller’s Crossing star did some of his best acting ever as Paul Weston, the psychologist with a few personal issues of his own. A graduate of both Georgetown and Columbia University, Weston is a blindingly smart man who knows how to do his job well, even if his personal issues sometimes threaten to interfere. Based in Baltimore in season one and Brooklyn in seasons two and three, Weston sees patients out of his own home, sometimes running interference with his wife (Michelle Forbes), with whom he has an increasingly strained relationship in the first season and is divorced from at the start of the second. In Treatment doesn’t simply treat Weston as a sounding board, instead making him the true protagonist of the show, even digging into a malpractice lawsuit in the second season that emerges after one of his patients from the first season dies by suicide. It’s not just about therapy, but how these conversations and this profession impacts the therapist.

Photo: HBO

Gina Toll (Dianne Wiest)

At the end of the first week of sessions in season one, Paul goes to visit an old colleague, his former mentor whom he hasn’t seen in almost a decade. Their professional and personal relationship was destroyed when Toll expressed reservations in a letter of recommendation for Paul, but she basically becomes his therapist in the first season. She’s a doctor treating a doctor who is struggling with how to deal with some of his new clients while his personal life spirals out of control. Toll is just as smart as Weston, and she’s one of the few people who knows how manipulative and withholding he can be. She may be more of a sounding board than Byrne — allowing Paul to reveal his thoughts about his patients that he can’t tell them or his wife — but Wiest knows how to breathe life into the character to make her more than just a plot device.

Photo: HBO

Adele Brouse (Amy Ryan)

Wiest left the show for season three, turning the role of “therapist’s therapist” over to the great Amy Ryan. Adele is a young psychoanalyst whom Paul sees at first for nothing more than a sleep-medication prescription, but she quickly figures out that Paul needs more than just a bottle of pills to get to the root of his problems. Adele confronts Paul in a different way than Gina, getting him to reluctantly admit to his own issues and how they impact his profession.

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Brooke Lawrence (Uzo Aduba)

A former colleague of Byrne’s Dr. Weston, Dr. Lawrence moves the action of the show to the West Coast and into the age of COVID. As the fourth season opens, she’s grieving the recent loss of her father, which has sent her into a spiral regarding the son that her dad forced her to give up for adoption when she was only a teenager. Often feeling more attached to her patients than Dr. Weston, she’s also a recovering addict whose demons threaten to resurface both through the emotional conversations she has with her patients and the return of a boyfriend from her time in addiction, played by Joel Kinnaman.

Photo: HBO

Rita (Liza Colón-Zayas)

While she’s not an actual therapist, Rita fulfills a role similar to those of Gina Toll and Adele Brouse, serving as a sounding board for Dr. Lawrence at the end of each week in “sessions” of her own. An old friend and sponsor, she worries about the changes she sees in Brooke related to her grief and efforts to find her adopted child. She also expresses concern about what rekindling an affair with Adam could do to her stability.

The Patients — Season 1

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Laura Hill (Melissa George)

The series premiere of In Treatment introduced Laura, an anesthesiologist who has been in a long-term relationship with another of Paul’s patients that seems to be progressing toward marriage. The problem is that she’s overwhelmed by her attraction to Paul, telling him in her first session how much she wants to sleep with him and in their second meeting that she loves him, even after announcing her engagement. Paul knows that “erotic transference” is an issue in therapy around the world, but his own marital problems — including a lack of a sex life and concerns his wife is cheating — cause him to consider the possibility more than he professionally should.

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Alex Prince (Blair Underwood)

The underrated LA Law star plays a fighter pilot in a relationship with Laura, Paul’s Monday patient. Alex is a fallen hero, someone who has earned national attention because he was a part of a mission in Iraq that led to the bombing of a school and the deaths of children. Alex just wants Paul to declare that he’s fine, but, of course, he’s not. He’s lashing out against himself, including recently becoming so exhausted that he had a heart attack. When Alex announces that he’s heading back to Iraq, Paul correctly guesses that this young man is punishing himself, but he ultimately can’t stop him from going. When he dies during a training exercise and evidence suggests that it was a suicide, his father (Glynn Turman) sues Paul for malpractice to start season two.

Photo: HBO

Sophie (Mia Wasikowska)

The young Wasikowska burst onto the scene with this stunning performance as Paul’s Wednesday patient, a former classmate of his daughter’s. Sophie is a successful gymnast, but Wasikowska imbues her with such sadness that one can tell there are secrets and trauma in her past even at such a young age — and not only because a recent accident could have been a suicide attempt. Paul also discovers that Sophie had a sexual relationship with her gymnastics coach. He arguably gets further with her than any of his other patients, helping her to realize how this relationship impacted her and to come to better terms with her divorced parents.

Photo: HBO

Amy & Jake (Embeth Davidtz & Josh Charles)

One of the most emotionally volatile sequences of sessions over In Treatment’s three-season run belongs to Amy and Jake, a married couple who have been trying to conceive a child for ages and now argue over whether or not to keep it. Some of the best writing and acting in HBO history comes out of this arc, which captures what happens when two people have clearly fallen out of love while trying to bring a life into this world. When Amy has a miscarriage, the tension is only amplified between the two, and Paul arguably merely serves as a mediator in the dissolution of a marriage through weekly therapy sessions.

The Patients  — Season 2

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Mia Nesky (Hope Davis)

Now a high-powered attorney, Mia is introduced as counsel for Paul in his malpractice case involving the death of Alex from season one. However, she was once Paul’s patient, and that dynamic shapes their relationship as much as any current legal issues. In fact, as their meetings grow more and more contentious, it’s revealed that Mia blames Paul for a lot of her issues — including being an unmarried workaholic — in part because Paul cut off contact with her so completely (a character trait of Paul’s, as a similar expulsion is key to his dynamic with Gina in season one). Davis captures the duality of Nesky: She doesn’t believe that Paul should pay a price for the suicide of one of his patients, but she thinks he should perhaps look inward to understand his decisions have shaped the lives of people he’s known, including Mia.

Photo: HBO

April (Alison Pill)

Before she starred on The Newsroom and in your favorite indie film, Alison Pill broke through with an incredible performance on In Treatment’s 2009 season. Graduating from child roles to something more mature, she’s breathtakingly vulnerable as an architecture student who has recently been diagnosed with lymphoma. Denying the severity of her illness, she has decided to keep the diagnosis secret from everyone but Paul. As he gets her to discuss what this means and how she’s going to deal with it, Pill perfectly captures a young woman who has put up walls against the reality that now faces her.

Photo: HBO

Oliver, Bess, & Luke (Aaron Shaw, Sherri Saum, & Russell Hornsby)

Oliver is an expressive, confident 12-year-old child who’s in a bit of denial over the fact that his parents are getting divorced. Paul starts therapy with Oliver when his parents are running late and discovers that he doesn’t even know his mom and dad are splitting. Luke claims that Bess isn’t clear with their son; Bess blames Luke for being too casual about the whole thing. They both clearly still love their son despite how much they’ve fallen out of love with each other, and Paul talks them through how to help a child who blames himself for what is happening to his parents. These sessions are heartbreakingly true.

Photo: HBO

Walter Barnett (John Mahoney)

The late, great Frasier star did some of the best work of his career in 2009 as a CEO who seems to have all of his shit together but projects the kind of confidence that clearly hides something else. When he starts having panic attacks, Walter comes to see Paul, and the two men get to the bottom of why life has become so complicated for a person who seems to have so much to be happy about. They learn about masculine vulnerability from one another, really, and Mahoney’s work stands out among the performances across all three seasons.

The Patients — Season 3

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Sunil (Irrfan Khan)

The first season of In Treatment that’s not based directly on episodes of BeTipul (the Israeli show only ran for two years) starts with the introduction of the heartbreaking Sunil, played by the legendary Irrfan Khan, a phenomenal actor who died last year at age 53. (The format was also changed in season three, shifting from a nightly offering with a full roster to a Monday/Tuesday broadcast schedule with only three patients). Sunil is a widower who has moved from Calcutta to New York after losing his wife. He now lives with his son, his daughter-in-law, and their two kids, struggling to deal with both culture shock and grief.

Photo: HBO

Frances (Debra Winger)

The legendary actress had a great comeback role here as Paul’s second patient, riffing on something she knows about very well: the life of an actress returning to the spotlight. Winger puts so much of herself into this role as a woman who is having more difficulty remembering her lines than she did when she was younger. Is it just aging, or is it the many problems she brings up in therapy, including a broken marriage, a near-estrangement from her daughter, and her sister’s diagnosis of breast cancer, the same thing that killed their mother? Mortality and aging concerns are as well captured in these sessions as any modern TV drama.

Photo: HBO

Jesse (Dane DeHaan)

Like Wasikowska and Pill in the previous two seasons, Dane DeHaan was the breakout young star of year three. He plays a gay teenager living with adoptive parents whom he hates because he believes they’ve dismissed him because of his sexuality (even if he has a number of other behavioral issues that could explain it). DeHaan portrays that kind of teenage rebellion that comes from not really having a safe space for expressing emotions as Jesse reveals that he’s been sleeping with older men and selling prescription drugs. It’s a riveting performance from a young actor whose work here suggests that he should be getting better parts a decade-plus later.

The Patients — Season 4

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Eladia (Anthony Ramos)

The future star who headlines the delayed adaptation of In the Heights this summer steals the fourth season of In Treatment as the first patient of the week, a home health-care worker who starts to see his doctor as the mother figure he so desperately needs. The wealthy family whose son, Eladio, cares for are paying for his therapy, and the fast talker alternates vibrant expression with emotional shutdowns. Ramos embodies someone whose passion often disguises his insecurity, opening up to his doctor (via Zoom because of COVID) more with each passing session.

Photo: HBO

Colin (John Benjamin Hickey)

A white-collar criminal, Colin was recently released from prison and has to attend court-ordered therapy as a condition of his probation. Anger issues that surfaced behind bars persist even outside of prison and are especially directed at the people he thinks ruined his life and sent him away in the first place. Colin is a portrait of a toxic alpha male, someone who knows all of the right things to say about issues like BLM and cancel culture but doesn’t really understand any of it. He’s a defensive monster at times, someone always trying to get the upper hand, but it typically reveals his own weakness more than presents him as a person of strength.

Photo: HBO

Laila (Quintessa Swindell)

An expressive teenager, Laila is dropped off for her first session by her grandmother, a woman who claims to not want conversion therapy for her lesbian relative but clearly disapproves. Laila has many elements of an archetypal rebellious teenager but through a modern lens that understands how sexuality and race are perceived differently in the 2020s than they have ever been before. While she first seems to just want to shock the doctor that she doesn’t really think she even needs to see, she forms an interesting dynamic with Brooke.

Who’s In Treatment? A Character Guide