Tuesday, August 30, 2022

REVIEW: 'The Patient' - Alan Grows Frustrated by His New Client's Inability to Open Up After Several Sessions in 'Intake'

FX's The Patient - Episode 1.01 "Intake"

Dr. Alan Strauss, a therapist mourning the death of his wife, takes on an enigmatic new client. As the two men wrestle with very different, individual problems, their professional relationship is transformed by a choice that binds them deeply together.

"Intake" was written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg and directed by Chris Long

People are desperate to understand the psychology of serial killers. Plenty of shows have detailed the ways in which their depraved minds work. It's a subject of fascination. A collection of people behave in ways atypical to the rest of society. It follows no linear path or easy explanation. And yet, that depravity continues to exist. Dangerous choices are made. Lives are lost and forever altered. In the pursuit of helpful understanding, even more could go awry. Those are the stakes of examining this particular mindset. For Dr. Alan Strauss, he's capable at his job. It's the thing that keeps him grounded. It's also something he does to remain busy throughout the day. He's at home with sessions all the time. That's how he fills his world. That's how he copes following the death of his wife. All of these details are inferred. He yearns for the missing person in the bed next to him. He wakes up and suddenly remembers this tragedy. Nothing is out of the ordinary until he realizes he is literally chained to the bed. That's the disarming opening sequence. Through instinct, Alan wakes up and reaches for his glasses. He makes his way out of bed to start his routine. And yet, his life has been disrupted in a major way. His comforts have been brought to this environment as well. He's simply imprisoned in a strange, foreign world. It's bland without much distinction. No one responds to his screams for help. Once again, those are his instincts kicking in. He has to believe someone can hear him and save him from whatever this danger is. It's all an extension of one of his patients believing this is the only way he can be honest. He believes in the therapist's ability to help him. This extreme destroys any sense of trust and safety whatsoever. Sam connected with Alan though. He saw this therapist as the one person who refused to give up on him. Anyone who attends therapy with an open mind can be helped. Their sessions had become frustrating because Sam refused to open up with any specific details. He hoped the vague aspects of his life could be enough to ease his mind of these compulsions to kill. That wasn't working. Alan called it out. That's evidence of him being good at his job. The sessions hit a wall. Alan wasn't giving up on his patient. He was simply showing some tough love. Some people are willing and able to hear that. Their acceptance can allow growth to happen. Sam isn't Alan's only client. Those other sessions are only briefly seen. He has the expertise to help anyone who enters his home. That's the environment where he feels comfortable. And now, he's ripped from it in service of someone else's desires and agency. That's alienating long before Sam reveals his identity and what he has already done. He wants to present a new face to the serial killer identity. He wants to be understood. That still may not be enough.

All of this is so fascinating because the show is slow to reveal itself. Even by the end of this premiere, it's hard to understand how the creative team will mine 10 episodes out of this premise. It's all about the ways in which Sam and Alan inform each other. However, so much of those early interactions were a lie. Sam was living another life. He thought it would be easier to open up and be vulnerable that way. The lie was the barrier preventing any progress from happening. Sam literally wanted to conceal his identity. He has no problem with his vision. And yet, he would wear sunglasses and a hat in every session. He didn't want his therapist to be able to recognize him. That indicates some level of shame and unwillingness to engage with the process. Sam wants to understand himself. He wants someone to provide him with the tools to silence these urges. Alan is the closest person to accomplishing that task. It's still arduous. Moreover, Alan didn't even know if he was doing anything beneficial for his client. The turmoil in his personal life is just as traumatic. His wife has died and he can't connect with his son. He has vanished with Sam being the only one who knows where he is. Sam needs Alan to be consumed by these sessions. He has to be the only client he can work with. His needs take a priority over everyone else. His issues are more extreme and dangerous. If Alan doesn't act now, Sam will kill again. He essentially lords that over the head of his prisoner. Alan only wants to escape. That's all he can think about. He needs his patient to act rationally. Sam needs to acknowledge that this plan is insane and stop it before it escalates any further. However, Sam has already put plenty of thought into his confinement for Alan. He believes he's acting rationally. He has to be extreme in order to get the treatment he truly deserves. His therapist is at his mercy. Alan may ultimately say whatever he needs to say in order to survive. He pivots the conversation around needing to be let go. That's the line Sam won't cross. He sees that as the acknowledgement that he can't be helped. The help provided to him doesn't come from a balanced and concise professional. Instead, Alan is someone who has to accept this horrifying thing. His world has shrunken. He already felt empty. He can now only focus on Sam. That's what this killer demands of him. Anything could set him off and change the situation dramatically. He already takes the leftovers that were presented to Alan to start the morning off right. That was a gesture of good faith. It also showcases how the tables have turned in this situation. Things have changed. That may force more introspection. But it's also just the grand thesis statement for what this show aspires to be while pairing itself in character designs that sound appealing to the general audience.