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'In Treatment' season premiere review: Gabriel Byrne, Debra Winger, Amy Ryan, secrets, anger, and lies

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In Treatment has begun its third season, with Gabriel Byrne listening intently to three new patients in three separate half-hours, before having his own head shrunk in a weekly fourth session with his new therapist, played by Amy Ryan.

On Monday night we met Sunil (Irrfan Khan), a retired math professor from Calcutta who is dragged to his initial session by his son (Samrat Chakrabarti) and his daughter-in-law (Sonya Walger, whom you know from Lost and FlashForward but whom I and about eight other Americans know from HBO’s highly entertaining, fleshy flop Tell Me You Love Me, another counseling-session drama). Sunil is in mourning for his dead wife and is as uncomfortable in his new American living arrangement as his son and daughter-in-law are with him. It’s a measure of the swift economy of In Treatment‘s storytelling — and the skill of Byrne’s Dr. Paul Weston — that by the end of he half-hour, Sunil sharing wry confidences with Weston.

The other new patient is Frances, a vain, rattled middle-aged actress played with an impressive lack of vanity by Debra Winger. She comes to Dr. Paul because she’s having trouble remembering her lines in a production of Night of the Iguana; you can almost hear the click in Weston’s mind as he jots a mental note not to attend that theatrical nightmare. Like most of In Treatment‘s patients, Frances arrives for one stated reason and ends up disclosing the real one: She’s locked in battles with both aging and a sibling rivalry with her older sister, a former patient of Weston’s.

How pleasurable it is to settle in across from Weston once again, to have the show’s trademark camera pans across his Brooklyn office, taking in the slightest change in his expression or gesture. And gestures become important this season, as the show picks up a thread from last season, with Paul exhibiting signs that he may have inherited his father’s Parkinson’s disease. Byrne’s performance this season is more active: Weston is allowing himself to show a wider range of reactions to his patients’ more florid outbursts or admissions, out of some combination of worry, fatigue, and it’s-harder-to-give-a-damn middle-age moodiness. At the same time, Byrne is maintaining a rigorous command of these actorly decisions: He never confuses the choices he’s making for Paul’s evolution by giving a looser, “livelier” performance. In interviews Byrne has alluded to how exhausting the role is, but he is too much of an artist not to decisively separate Paul’s weariness from his own.

(By the way, Sunil — portrayed wonderfully by Khan with woeful rue — immediately won my devotion by being the first patient in my memory to remark upon the fact that Weston speaks with an Irish accent. This is no small matter; it’s always struck me as exceedingly odd that you could go to a therapist for weeks, months, and not ask a single question about one’s therapist’s brogue. At the very least, I’d want to make sure Weston hadn’t just come off the boat, that he’d “get” all my arcane references to My Mother The Car and Bugs Bunny quotations — “Whatta maroon!” — when they bubbled up from the ol’ subconscious. Therapy is all about perspective and trust, isn’t it?)

Tomorrow night, you’ll meet Jesse (Dane DeHaan), an explosive whenever he’s not being sullen teen who tries to shock the good doc with his explicit tales of wanton gay sex, but who’s just bragging through the pain. With Jesse, In Treatment continues its tradition of illuminating the agonies of adolescence with a rare three-dimensionality few TV shows or movies ever capture.

And you’ll also meet Dr. Weston’s own new therapist, played by Amy Ryan. I won’t say much about this encounter right now, other than to entice you with this: Paul is a complete little s— to her, and Ryan meets Byrne’s full-force acting challenge head-on, literally without blinking. And yes, while we all miss Dianne Wiest as Paul’s therapist/mentor, you’ll get an update on her as well.

HBO is doling out new episodes of In Treatment with two new episodes every Monday and Tuesday nights, with reruns throughout the week.

Did you watch? Which patient intrigued you the most? Will you keep watching?

Follow: @kentucker