People are rarely true monsters. Case in point: Every single Pixar and Marvel movie works very hard to elicit sympathy for the devil before the good guys inevitably win. Unlike the wide world of Disney, however, The Shrink Next Door isn’t often concerned with providing overt context for Ike’s often reprehensible behavior. The series seems to be walking a tightrope between wanting to paint Ike as a total monster — see: coolly denying his wife’s request for child care for their twins — and helping us understand his actions. Office hours are open, my friends.
The cold open sees Phyllis gearing up for her birthday by telling literally everyone she sees about her situation with Marty. They’re not talking, but she’s certain that her big bro won’t forget her on her birthday. In a very effective scene, Phyllis finds a birthday card in the mail, addressed to her in Marty’s distinctive handwriting. Her face lights up with true excitement and hope … only to be absolutely confused and crushed when face confetti falls out of the envelope. Hundreds of Phyllis heads, presumably cut out of old family photos, cover her floor. This is the last time we see her in this episode.
Ike made Katherine Hahn go away, which is just a cardinal sin in any context, but we’re trying to be at least somewhat sympathetic here, so let’s move on.
Meanwhile, Ike is adding people to his family circle. Surprise! It’s twins! But since this is America, Ike goes back to work as Bonnie stays at home with the kiddos. So when Ike falls asleep during a session with Marty, Marty understands. Ike turns this into a teachable moment when he asks if Marty ever wanted to be a father. Marty says no, but he says he loves being an uncle. Oh, wait, no. Loved. Those kids are out of his life now, along with Phyllis.
Somehow the conversation gets twisted into a discussion of legacy and philanthropy. Ike is thinking about how he will make his mark on the world and make his children proud of him, but his goal here is to collaborate with Marty, who he is starting to treat more like a friend and less like a patient. Marty and Ike talk about their dreams and quickly make them into reality, starting the Yaron Foundation with initial investments of $165,000 and $2,500, respectively.
Ike’s too busy spending his money on giant deli spreads for nonexistent brises to contribute more money to the foundation at the moment. Yet he is a founding member of the organization, and so he immediately begins to think of ways to spend the dough that will bring him attention and acclaim, such as attending the illustrious Pen Gala.
Marty has other things on his mind. Other than being estranged from his entire family, Marty seems to be doing quite well under Ike’s tutelage. He’s got more confidence and more spring in his step. So when he meets a woman named Hannah at the frame shop, he’s ready with some awkwardly sweet banter. Hannah seems to be picking up what Marty’s putting down, giggling at his weird compliments about her “ocular spheres” and showing a genuine interest in his fun fact about Thursday being “Thors-day.” Ike looks on at this exchange with a bemused smile on his face. He seems genuinely pleased; his patient is growing.
Marty is psyched that Hannah has agreed to go on a walk with him, but Ike has other plans. He pushes the idea of the Pen Gala, and Marty finally gives in.
Hannah obviously doesn’t need all these bells and whistles, but when she arrives at the gala, she looks simply gorg in her mint-green gown, and she seems genuinely excited just to be spending time with Marty. Marty feels the same, and he presents her with the gift of a frame. Hannah gives frames all the time but never gets them. It’s thoughtful and nerdy in all the right ways. However, for Marty, the night is all downhill from there. Hannah strongly hints that she’d like to dance. Marty finally gets the hint, but then the song ends. The two sit a bit awkwardly as Ike circulates around the gala.
At one point, Ike grabs a program and scans it for his name. The camera lingers on the section thanking “Major Contributors,” and we see that Marty’s name is conspicuously absent. But we do get a sense that Ike is really proud of himself here. He’s pleased that he’s been recognized by such a respected organization, and this type of proximity to the elites is clearly something that drives him.
At the table, Hannah and Marty’s conversation eventually meanders to how Ike and Marty know one another. Marty tells all and even indicates some self-awareness that Ike is deep into his pockets. Hannah is kind of appalled, but it’s not a deal-breaker for her. It’s not even a deal-breaker when Ike and Marty win the auction for the baseball.
Oh, the baseball. Oh, Marty. As soon as the item is announced for bid, Ike’s eyes light up and his patented “gimmie” look flits over his face. As famous faces such as Reggie Jackson and Mayor Ed Koch start upping the ante, Ike rattles off a HUGE number: $20,000. Hey, it’s not his money, so!
Nope. It’s Marty’s money. Frantic, he tries to backpedal on Ike’s bid, hilariously offering 10 and then $12,000 to the auctioneer. Unfortunately, that’s not how auctions work. Ike gets showered with accolades in the aftermath while Marty is left to have a complete freak out. This freak out ends up with him wandering out on the street in the middle of a heart attack. Somehow, Ike finds him there, diagnoses him, and quickly shuttles him to the hospital.
Ike is working with such a low bar here that it’s genuinely sweet to see him swoop in and rescue Marty, even if his impulsive actions were the catalyst for said heart attack. But any goodwill that Ike accumulated when he saved Marty immediately disappears when he gets home to Bonnie. She asks him how they’ll afford to get their twinsies into a very expensive private school, and Ike responds, “Relax. I used my own money.” (Throw away the whole man, Bonnie. Damn.)
Our time is up for now, but I’ll see you at our next session.
• Joe Nocera check-in: Joe Nocera, the OG host of Wondery’s The Shrink Next Door podcast, has generously provided me with a bit of extra insight into both Ike and Marty’s real-world counterparts. I’ll be using that info over the next few recaps to give the check-ins a bit more color and depth. Thanks, Joe!
• Marty check-in: My guess has been that Marty had a fraught relationship with his dad. Many family-therapy theorists posit that if we don’t resolve the core conflicts from our childhood relationships, we’re doomed to repeat them in our relationships over and over again. (Whaddup, Murray Bowen?! That’s for my LMFT nerds.) Nocera confirmed that Marty’s father was emotionally withholding. For example, the real Marty claims that his father never once said “I love you” to him. So it’s no wonder he was drawn to Ike. In the show, Ike is controlling in ways that Marty’s father may or may not have been, but he’s also effusive in doling out positive reinforcements like praise and affection, two things that Marty is certainly starved for.
• Ike and Marty check-in: As Marty flounders in the street outside of the gala, he seems both horrified and grateful that Ike is the only one in his life. For all of Marty’s awareness that Ike is bad for him, the codependent pull of the relationship is already too strong, and neither of them can independently break away. Ike is gaining access to vast sums of money and satisfaction out of “helping” Marty, while Marty believes he is gaining the father figure he always wanted.
• Shout out to Cathy (Robin Bartlett) and Bruce (Cornell Womack), who are truly great as Marty’s harried employees. Issac Stevens’s presence frustrates and concerns them, but they don’t get paid enough to really push back against Marty’s wishes.
• Can we make “Happy Thorsday” a thing? It’s the sweetest.
• I legit only know what the Pen Gala is thanks to the Curtis Hanson film Wonder Boys. In it, Michael Douglas plays a stoner professor who once won a PEN Award. Also starring Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr., Katie Holmes, and Tobey Maguire, it might just be the best movie you’ve never seen.