Amid a cultural reckoning, pandemic, and declining mental health, it's quite felicitous that HBO revived its previously stalemated series, In Treatment, in which a therapist encourages sit-downs with clients to ask, well, how are they really doing -- with everything. But now in its fourth season -- more than 10 years after its third -- and helmed by new co-showrunners Jennifer Schuur and Joshua Allen, its most compelling self-confrontations are the ones its therapist is forced to have.
So, it makes sense that she lives in a glass house. Well, not literally. Though, the first striking image in the series is Dr. Brooke Taylor's (Uzo Aduba, essentially taking over for Gabriel Byrne's Dr. Paul Weston) gorgeous home where the sun seems to have a permanent seat in her living room that features sliding glass doors, and there's not so much as an electric cord or strand of hair out of place. Everything about her luscious setting, which doubles as an office under Covid-19 remote working restrictions, seems a little too perfect.
That creates an instant sense of hierarchy, as well as a barrier, between her and her clients as well as the audience similarly struggling to keep up appearances. The most pressing question, then, isn't what's up with the interior lives and inner turmoil of her clients. Rather, it becomes: who is this Dr. Taylor? And Aduba's cool and determinedly unflappable guise as the therapist plays extremely well against both our insecurity and curiosity.
Still, In Treatment paces itself by way of her interactions with clients, all of whom are struggling to navigate issues many of us recognize in the real world, a purposeful decision on behalf of the writers to draw us more deeply into their stories. It also validates why this series that ended its initial run in 2010 was restarted in the first place.
There's Eladio (Anthony Ramos), a Latinx American home health aide for a rich, conservative young white man. He's seeking guidance on how to maneuver around his conflicting feelings towards his employers as well as abandonment issues that may or may not be exacerbated by his conversations with Dr. Taylor. Colin (John Benjamin Hickey) is the quintessential rich white guy-turned-white-collar criminal with a chip on his shoulder about all the ways in which men like him are vilified these days. And Laila (Quintessa Swindell) is a teenage Black girl using every inch of power she has managed to eke out of her financially privileged yet rigid home life to escape the prison of gender, sexuality, and race to which she feels confined.
These are all moderately interesting subplots that graduate in tone throughout the series, propelled by superb actors. But they are much better when you think of them within the realm of identity, which is a recurring theme throughout the series. It's evident in each of their stories as they unfold. Who Eladio thinks he is versus who he actually is is constantly shifting, which is perhaps what unsettles him most. Colin is utterly delusional about admitting his accountability in his current circumstance and would rather create a story than face his own. Like many teenagers, Laila's varied attempts at provocation is a mask to hide her most profound anxieties in today's era of the Black Lives Matter movement and her own relationship and understanding of her Blackness.
But that's kind of what this season In Treatment is: an unflinching investigation of who we are, really, when we are forced to sit with ourselves. An introspective journey has always been necessary, but that is especially true for the real-world audience today.
That includes a woman like Dr. Taylor, or Brooke as she is referred to in later episodes when her slip starts to show, and she can no longer escape herself. Through several thoughtful conversations -- or in the case of her confidante Rita (Liza Colón-Zayas), heated encounters -- Brooke's façade drops to reveal a woman who herself feels the need to fight against who she really is and recreate her own narrative. That is perhaps for the sake of her job, the world in which we live, or both. Aduba, long proven to be a skilled actress who can oscillate between mania and clarity at the drop of a hat, soars in this role as a Black woman trying and sometimes failing to offset her clients' behaviors, and whatever instability, with a fascinating blend of empathy of aloofness. The former is of pertinence to her job and the latter is to keep her own feelings, biases and traumatic experiences beyond a mile reach.
Not even her lover (Joel Kinnaman) seems to be able to peer through that veneer. That creates a curious dynamic between Aduba and Kinnaman as sometimes it's hard to tell whether the characters have a really distant relationship, one that is even cold sexually, or if the actors just have very little chemistry. As revelatory as their dialogue is, especially when it comes to Brooke's familial desires and inability to be a romantic partner, Aduba is much more fascinating to watch in scenes with Colón-Zayas's Rita, who is like a mirror Brooke is unable to avoid.
But in the era of social media and identity politics, In Treatment seems to be in conversation with the lies we tell ourselves, no matter who's around, and the images we put forth of ourselves into the world. Even in its few missteps, it's a quiet yet critical examination of our own humanity.
TV Guide rating: 4/5
In Treatment Season 4 premieres Sunday, May 23 at 9/8c on HBO and HBO Max.