The Patient: The Patient
October 2, 2022 12:44 AM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

Therapist Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) is abducted by one of his patient's (Domhnall Gleeson) who wants help to stop being a serial killer.
posted by miss-lapin (24 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I gave this show a shot, and it's intense. One of the more unique parts of this show is how it utilizes Strauss's identity as a Jew. It's pretty clear his judaism plays a major role in his life as his deceased wife was a cantor at his synagogue. In the most recent episode, Strauss explains the importance of the kaddish to his captor. But Alan's judaism also plays a role in why his captor chose him. Sam says he saw three jewish therapists and picked Alan. So i'm curious to see how that plays out.

This last episode things got a bit weirder as Strauss disassociates and imagines a conversation with his deceased therapist (David Alan Grier) who questions if Strauss is doing everything he can to survive.It's a testament to Carell that he's far more fascinating than his captor.
posted by miss-lapin at 12:59 AM on October 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

The creators of this show also made The Americans.

I keep trying to figure out what the show is a metaphor for. The obvious 2 choices are the therapeutic relationship entrapping the therapist in something ugly, and the compassionate people trying to save a murderous world.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:18 AM on October 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

This is a really intense show!! I think it may have to do with the Jewish idea that to save one life is to save the whole world. After everything he's lost personally, wouldn't he like to save the world, as he's been directly offered the chance to do? He clearly has a metric crapton of survivor's guilt, his wife on a small scale and an entire swath of the Jewish people on a large scale.
posted by wellred at 8:03 AM on October 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

i'm enjoying this show a lot, although i wish i had waited to watch until it was finished. It's an interesting example in the ways television has replaced movies for a certain kind of small, intimate storytelling. Although, maybe not for the better! So far I think this story, with big ideas but a small cast, limited settings, and only so many things that can happen, would have been absolutely perfect as a 2 hour reflection on family and death, a showcase for cast's talents (the acting really is quite good in this). But those kinds of movies don't get made much anymore. Does it call for 10 episodes? I don't know, maybe we'll see!
posted by dis_integration at 9:03 AM on October 4, 2022

I found the first few episodes refreshingly short (a plus, given the intensity) and each ended with a new development that set the stage for the next episode. I guess the last couple episodes are still ending on new plot developments or possibilities, but I suppose I found the episodic aspect more fun when they were setting the stage versus playing out the story. Not sure if that makes sense. Anyhow, I think it’s very good so far, even if it isn’t an easy watch per se.
posted by snofoam at 2:16 PM on October 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don't at all think a 2 hour movie could do this justice.Thinking about how much of Alan's life would have to be removed to pair this down to 2 hours...and really his internal struggle is what I find the most compelling so cutting it down wouldn't work with what I'm enjoying so far.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:17 PM on October 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Just the noise and lights of the pickup truck arriving home has become chilling enough.
posted by artdrectr at 12:41 PM on October 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

That lunch was so painful. How on earth did this dude get anyone to marry him?
posted by miss-lapin at 5:30 PM on October 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Holy shit. Devastating. Wow. That is how you do a finale.
posted by ishmael at 9:48 PM on October 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Wow that was fucking AWFUL. I really, really hated this ending.

There were serious pacing issues throughout, and a baker's dozen of Chekhov's guns that never fired. But mainly for me the problem is, this show ended up fetishizing therapy and objectifying therapists as deities without humanity.

Let me explain.

The central conceit of the show was: can a therapist do good enough therapy to treat a patient successfully even under these insane and extreme circumstances? That conceit in itself was fine, it's a cool hook to hang a story on. The show was well on its way to a satisfying answer, too. In the first 8 episodes, the show takes pains to emphasize both the enormous healing power of therapy (illustrated by Sam's changing emotional capacities as a result of working with Alan, and by Alan's imagined conversations with his dead therapist which sustain him through a harrowing time) AND ALSO the limitations of therapy (illustrated by showing the ridiculousness of Sam's expectations that Alan can "fix him" with a snap of his fingers, and by showing how Alan's terror makes it impossible for him to do proper therapy work with Sam, etc.)

This is great. This is exactly what we'd expect from a show that sets out to examine the potential and power of therapy.

Like, imagine if every time Alan needed strength and emotional sustenance, he had thought about talking to his dead wife instead of his dead therapist. That would be so out of place here! It would have been a totally different show if Alan's inner strength came from his experience of romantic love, not his experience of therapy.

Similarly, the show would suffer if there had been no hints of the limitations of therapy. As a trivial example, imagine if Sam really had gotten better and not killed his boss: that would really undercut the show, right? It would seem as if therapy really does work even if the therapist is a terrorized captive, because that's just how magical therapy is and that's just how godlike therapists are. For a subtler example, imagine if Alan had never manipulated Sam using therapy techniques, i.e. if we were allowed to believe (like Sam believes) that therapy is purely good and can only be used for healing, that would detract from the show. But Alan did put a note in that corpse's mouth and used therapy to try to manipulate Sam into leaving the body where it could be found. And Alan did use therapy to manipulate Sam into inviting his ex to brunch. These incidents allow us to see Alan as a human with his own agenda who can use therapy to hurt Sam, rather than just Sam's personal Beymax. And also, these incidents tell us that proper therapy really cannot occur in these insane circumstances because the therapist is a terrorized human being. A therapist who is sharpening a blade to slit your throat is doing the opposite of trying to heal you!

So here is a show that was asking, "Just how powerful is therapy?" And it seemed like it was heading towards the answer being: "Therapy is pretty goddamn powerful but beware, contrary to how the healing process might make you feel, therapists are actually human beings."

But instead, in the last couple of episodes, the answer we got was, "Therapy is all-powerful and therapists are literally Jesus."

In the end, Alan loses his own humanity: Alan's own personal agenda is set aside (he doesn't kill or even harm Sam's mom; he doesn't wait another day and attempt to manipulate Sam into inviting other people home or whatever; he just gives up, puts his affairs in order, and lays down his life). Alan doesn't express any personal reasons why he's going to risk near-certain death - like, he doesn't tell the therapist in his head that he's going crazy and he can't take it anymore, for example. And Alan's personal failings as a parent are miraculously erased and resolved with that letter. His humanity doesn't matter anymore to the plot, so it doesn't exist anymore.

In the end, Alan willingly becomes exactly what Sam wants him to be: fully and 100% Sam's therapist without any reservations - up to and including the decision to end therapy because that's what Sam needs; he becomes the transferential father whom Sam kills as the next big step in his healing journey; he's the Jesus-like saint who sacrifices his life to save Sam from his sins and the world from Sam's murderousness; he's the omnipotent healer who transforms Sam into someone who chooses to stop killing people, and he's the internalized eternally loving support person Sam turns to when he needs help.

In the end, therapy itself loses all its limitations and works perfectly to cure Sam to the full extent that he can be cured. Therapy has healed Sam. Therapy has led Sam to accurate self-knowledge as well as ethical self-responsibility. Sam's therapist has ascended into a higher plane and become Sam's internalized emotional support figure, completing the ♫ ♬ ciiiiircle of therapyyyyyy ♫ ♪ . Don't believe me? How about: Ezra starting therapy is the final act which is supposed to prove to us that Ezra has stopped running away from his father - the prodigal son has returned, Ezra has come to Jesus.

This show had a lot of promise, but it ends up fetishizes therapy and objectifies therapists as deities without humanity.
posted by MiraK at 8:45 AM on October 25, 2022 [5 favorites]

performances were great, but there were at least 3 or 4 episodes of pure filler in there, and i kept waiting for the auschwitz references to bear fruit. i struggled to see what the moral of the story was… men will literally do a holocaust instead of go to therapy? i expected a much different ending, one that suggested sometimes therapy isn’t enough, but instead we got self sacrifice as almost jesus like act of therapeutic breakthrough.
posted by dis_integration at 9:38 AM on October 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

In the end, Alan willingly becomes exactly what Sam wants him to be: fully and 100% Sam's therapist without any reservations - up to and including the decision to end therapy because that's what Sam needs; he becomes the transferential father whom Sam kills as the next big step in his healing journey

Ah, I can see where you are coming from, I didn't quite see it the same way.

I didn't see Alan as sacrificing himself for Sam's sake, but more of being resigned to failure. Regardless of whatever progress was made, Sam was going to find another reason to keep him there. And whatever breakthroughs Sam might have, by not letting Alan go, he was proving that his selfishness would eventually redound to another crisis and probably more violence.

Alan, being human, was at his wits end. The prospect of being stuck in that basement for ten more years finally broke him, and he acted in a way to crater the whole thing. He was admitting the failure of therapy, at least in his eyes, and he wanted out.

I don't think Alan was planning for a healed relationship with his children, or that Sam would be reformed. I think that anything good that happened in the wake of his death was entirely at the whim of fate.

In my eyes, Alan was flinging a message in a bottle into the ocean for his kids, hoping that just on the off-chance that any thread decency left in Sam, or more probably Sam's need to see himself as a moral being, would somehow allow the message to get to them.

I didn't like that Sam got to have as cushy of an ending as he did, but he is fundamentally selfish; he was never going to turn himself in. He is however, obsessive, and I could see how his performative rigid morality would compel him to chain himself up as a gesture. I imagine that he is not going to stay chained in that basement, though.
posted by ishmael at 9:44 AM on October 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think Alan's drive to sacrifice himself comes from the realization that he was not the father, he wanted to be to Ezra so this was his chance. The problem is that being a father and being a therapist are very different things. Sacrificing himself for Sam instead of trying to survive and get out so he can repair his relationship with Ezra is just shitty. And what about his daughter? Doesn't she deserve to get her father back?

Yeah while I found the journey interesting, the ending is crappy. It's a shame.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:44 AM on October 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

In the end, Alan willingly becomes exactly what Sam wants him to be: fully and 100% Sam's therapist without any reservations - up to and including the decision to end therapy because that's what Sam needs; he becomes the transferential father whom Sam kills as the next big step in his healing journey

Oh, I didn't see it this way at all. I read it that all of Alan's therapy with Sam is just strategic to secure his survival and eventual escape. Only AFTER Sam's breakthrough with his father does Alan say (to the dead therapist), "this therapy thing might actually work."

But even then he ends the therapy because he thinks, just maybe, with Sam riding high on his breakthrough and really trusting Alan for the moment, that he will let Alan go. When Sam instead brings a sofa and a fridge, basically saying, get ready to live here forever, Alan realizes there is no good ending. In his internal therapy session he says "I'm not living here for ten years," and his internal therapist says, "no, you're not." It's not a sacrifice, it's the only way out. He lays it out for Sam: the only way out for you is to be institutionalized, the only way out for me is this.

It's a bit Hail Mary and a bit suicide mission--it's possible, of course, that Sam would have some additional breakthrough and let Alan go after Alan holds his mom hostage, but super unlikely.

I felt that it was a raw, sad, unsatisfying ending, which is pretty much the ending you get when you are abducted and held prisoner by a serial murderer.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:20 AM on October 25, 2022 [8 favorites]

> Oh, I didn't see it this way at all. I read it that all of Alan's therapy with Sam is just strategic to secure his survival and eventual escape. Only AFTER Sam's breakthrough with his father does Alan say (to the dead therapist), "this therapy thing might actually work."

Yeah that's exactly what I was remarking on. IN THE END, contrary to everything that has come before, Alan turns into Sam's genuine therapist. That to me felt like a betrayal. Alan ends his character arc by doing genuine therapy purely for Sam's benefit and (unbeknownst to him) succeeding to the greatest extent possible for Sam. In the last 2 episodes the show switches course to say "yep, therapy really is magic", while all along it seemed to be heading to a more reasonable place.

> pretty much the ending you get when you are abducted and held prisoner by a serial murderer.

But that's such a cop out - we don't watch actual serial murderers for entertainment on TV! Any TV show owes us a satisfying ending, that's the implicit promise of a TV show. I don't mind raw or sad! I do mind unsatisfying and muddled.

I was thinking about what might have made the ending better and you know, I wouldn't have these complaints if Alan had either killed or severely wounded Sam's mom. Then he would really have made his best effort to escape for his own sake. It would remove all doubt that he was hesitating out of concern for Sam's or his mother's wellbeing. It would be an act purely for himself.

Or, if it was somehow important to show that Sam is right and Alan is really incapable of hurting anyone, then at the bare minimum I needed to see Alan completely lose his cool, lose his self control. Throw out that cowardly cut in the scene where we leave reality and only flash back to it when Alan is almost unconscious. SHOW US how Alan failed to hurt Sam's mom, how Sam overpowered an out-of-control madman who was fighting for his life, how Alan abandoned all dignity in that fight. Show us Alan begging, show us Alan lashing out at Sam, show us Alan attempting desperate and unworthy pleas or bargains, show us Alan making guttural sounds, show us the reality of a therapist who has fully abandoned their professional garb.

Because to me, this is the crucial thing that was missing: Alan's humanity. We never even saw a single hair out of place on Alan's head. Till the end we did not see Alan using the toilet (or his chamber pot), you know? Contrast that with Sam's peeing scenes. It's not that the show was unconcerned with bodily functions, but that Alan - or rather, the show - worked extremely hard to preserve the illusion that a therapist, no matter how extreme the circumstances, is somehow above it all, beyond the indignities of flesh, unsusceptible to the mere-mortal habit of totally losing their shit, or becoming a blubbering mess, or (heaven forbid) seriously trying to kill one of their captors.
posted by MiraK at 11:21 AM on October 25, 2022 [6 favorites]

In the last 2 episodes the show switches course to say "yep, therapy really is magic", while all along it seemed to be heading to a more reasonable place.

I felt like the show was saying that therapy doesn't work the way we want it to. That even if there is a breakthrough, that it's not enough sometimes.
posted by ishmael at 11:38 AM on October 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

For a moment, when Sam brought the sofa in, I thought he was just gonna go out and nab Ezra and have the two of them hash it out for his entertainment. Kind of glad that's not what happened. Also glad it didn't turn into an episode of Law & Order. I didn't expect Alan to die, though I felt right away that the dinner with the whole family wasn't real.

I think ending it with Ezra is also a very Jewish move. For millennia the Jewish people have been struggling to survive, and we talk about everything in terms of the next generation, next year, whatever comes next for the people who remain alive. Ezra (and Shoshana, but this show is about men) is alive and must persevere. He knows he must and that the only way he will keep his family healthy and moving forward is to heal himself. He learned that from his father, but also from Judaism.

I don't think this show is trying to say therapy is magical at all. I think it's saying we all cope and heal in different ways, but we gotta cope and heal. Religion, therapy, murder. We get through the day.
posted by wellred at 1:10 PM on October 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

Oof, that sofa. For a second I thought Sam had brought in Alan's own sofa from his home office. Brr.
posted by MiraK at 3:32 PM on October 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

I just hope Same doesn't try therapy with his hs guidance counselor. No way is that dude prepared for this.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:56 PM on October 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Well, I dunno, I don't actually feel like TV shows promise me anything, and the level of unsatisfying and muddled here felt correct to me, because ultimately the show is depicting an awful thing that is happening to a regular innocent person, and people don't generally get through that unscathed. Basically we just don't see television the same way though so there's no point arguing.

I will quibble with this though: Alan's reactions didn't seem actually very unrealistic or inhuman? Shutting down is an absolutely real and human reaction to profound danger and trauma, not some Jesus shit. He is falling back on his therapist persona as a survival mechanism and a therapist is calm, nonreactive, professional, detached. It's not a bad survival mechanism.

I don't think he ever becomes a genuine therapist to Sam but he does behave as a genuine therapist, and why wouldn't he? It's his whole mode.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:35 AM on October 26, 2022 [6 favorites]

(also, given the continual references to Auschwitz I think there's probably some nod in Alan's behavior to how people maintain their dignity and humanity in undignified and inhumane conditions--you comb your hair, you button your sweater neatly, you keep up your traditions, you try to carve out a little privacy where you can...etc. You find exactly that sort of thing in survivor recountings as well.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:03 PM on October 26, 2022 [6 favorites]

Therapy works, if and when it does, because of the relationship and there's no way a relationship with a therapist in bondage can be a good one. There was little actual therapy done unless you count advice from an authority figure ( I don't). What I'm saying is that this show was not really about literal therapy but about how a sensitive person best deals with selfishness and brutality. That we call the latter a disease rather than a moral failing reflects our cultural change from the past. A disease is like a sin, from some distant time when sin was error or separation from God instead of a crime to be punished. It's the best an atheistic culture can come to forgiveness.

Sam learned to deal with the brutality of his father by becoming brutal himself. His mother learned to deal with it by submission and by making herself feel bad about it. Alan tries to avoid being brutalized but at the end he fails, with deadly consequences.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:37 PM on October 26, 2022

Just finished this on Tuesday. I think my wife is still mad at me for suggesting we watch it... she did not love the ending, to say the least. (Probably doesn't help that she is, in fact, a therapist. Score one for telehealth, though...)

Unlike other shows about serial killers, (ahem, Dexter) I think this ended the only way it could end. He was never going to be released, Sam was never going to be cured.

I found this less to be a commentary on therapy itself and more about Alan's journey. Alan got to where he needed to be before the end. Pity he wasn't able to practice what he learned in the end. Life, I keep learning, is like that. You get the lessons after you need them. Maybe if you're lucky you get to practice what you've learned, but all too often you just have the knowledge.

He could've tried to kill Sam, but didn't. It wasn't about his being old, I don't think – he couldn't take a life, not even to save his own. His "attempt" with Candace was really about getting it over with. Another person might've gone for a wound that would force Sam to call 911 or leave her to bleed out. He didn't do that.

I don't think I'd get much out of therapy with Alan, but I wish I could book some time with Charlie. Never been able to find a therapist that really pushes me the way Charlie does with Alan. Granted, that's a fictional therapist in Alan's head, but still.

Extremely well done, well-acted, kept me on the edge of my seat and anxious as hell the last two episodes. Not what I expected, but glad I watched it in a "once was enough" way.
posted by jzb at 7:37 AM on November 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

I thought Alan was actually sometimes trying to do his job. Mostly trying to manipulate Sam but also occasionally trying to be a therapist. Sometimes the Kleenex handoff is just a Kleenex handoff, in other words.

Speaking of which, I loved that whole lovely Kleenexbox set-up. Also the damn athletesfootcreamtube sharpening build-up (that sound under the dialogue in his fantasized therapy session!), how he built escape fantasies that let him keep some sanity and dragged me into them along with him, then dispassionately dismantled the fantasies when it became clear they were not going to lead to actual escape and dragged me right back out of them and into dread and despair again. All the way to the bitter end with that happy Seder. The scene opens, he's talking to his grandkid who mentions when "you were away" [instantly: OH GOD OH NO IT'S OWL CREEK BRIDGE] [then right into bargaining: maybenot? maybenotsomehow?] and then there's the happy family dinner and everybody's singing [except the orthodox women are not singing because DETAILS] and here's the slow, glowing, happyhappy inexorable pan around the table ending in...
...Oh, hi, is that you, Elijah?
Oh, haaay, it's David Alan Grier!

Honestly, this thing was so good.

So I thought most of the time Alan was trying to manipulate Sam but some of the time, when there was no obvious exploitable angle, he might have been trying to help Sam, and I thought this was, pretty much, exactly how it would go. Like, "Well? I'm here. Might as well try to do some good." And I figure you would, naturally, outside of your Stockholm syndrome, as a father and in the course of sometimes fleetingly doing your old job as a counselor, probably come to feel sympathy, however fleeting, however occasional, for the weird, compulsed murderkid.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:26 AM on November 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

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