WOMAN ON THE VERGE
Uzo Aduba makes In Treatment's return a striking story of undoing
In Treatment has always felt a bit like work.
The HBO series about therapy drops multiple episodes per week. It features chunky, occasionally hard-to-swallow language, a reminder that the therapeutic process is one in which the patient grapples toward the truth, and that said grappling can be painfully laborious. And it asks the viewer to do something complicated — draw nuanced truths about a doctor from their interactions with their patients — with some very simple tools.
Uzo Aduba's Dr. Brooke Lawrence sees three people, each broadly drawn personalities built around rudimentary “twists.” They present one way, and we quickly and easily see that they're really something else — often the opposite of how they seem.
And yet there's something fundamentally satisfying about the series. In Treatment, in its fourth season (its first since 2010), does not hit the heights of insight into human nature for which it aims, does not justify airing four episodes a week. But it makes the case for its own existence thanks in substantial part to the performance of Aduba, who is proving to be one of the essential performers of the 21st century. For the first time in a TV lead role after Emmy wins for Orange Is the New Black and Mrs. America, Aduba makes In Treatment a success by force of will.
Its producers have made clear they consider a fundamental fact about the character of Brooke to be a spoiler. This fact is so central to her character that it's hard to write about her, or Aduba's performance, otherwise. Suffice it to say that Brooke is a hard-driving pro who, in the wake of a loss, attempts to deal with various unresolved relationships in her life — including with an on-andoff boyfriend (Joel Kinnaman) and, enigmatically, with Gabriel Byrne's therapist character from the first three seasons.
The show serves up the cliché that therapists are the ones in need of healing with so much zeal that it's hard to be annoyed: Aduba's own therapeutic process, which she undergoes in the fourth episode each week with a character played by an extremely strong Liza Colón-Zayas, is one defined by Brooke's prickly defences and her skill at lying to herself.
In her own sessions, though, Aduba is the show: Her performance is an event, an operatic piece of work that fearlessly tracks each swerve in the life of a woman coming undone. Unlike the more recessive Byrne, Aduba doesn't consistently feel like a therapist, which is the point: Her willingness to confront her patients is a sign of her professional resourcefulness, unless it shows us that she's stepped beyond professionalism entirely.
The most intriguing detail in this flawed, ultimately worthwhile show is that Brooke is working out of her home not because that is where work traditionally happens for her, but because — especially in the time of the COVID pandemic — she is unready to face the outside. And if Brooke is exhausted, we're right there with her.