By the TIME Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) sits down for a session with his own therapist, Gina (Dianne Wiest), he has had a long week. He's been served with a subpoena in a lawsuit stemming from a former patient. On top of that, he's going through a divorce and has uprooted himself from suburban Maryland to Brooklyn, N.Y., where he's started a new practice. "Oh," Gina says cheerfully, "some new problems to listen to." Wearily, Paul answers, "There are no new problems."
In one sense, he is absolutely right. Season 2 of HBO's In Treatment remains TV's most satisfyingly cerebral drama simply by talking, over and over, about age-old woes: family, regret, sex, mortality. And Paul's patients echo the four he treated last season: a woman with whom he has a personal history, a confrontational control freak, a troubled student with a secret and a bitterly fighting married couple. But like a successful patient, the show has learned and grown, becoming more reliably compelling.
In Treatment (based closely on the Israeli Be'Tipul) sounds like a lot of talk and no action. Each of the five weekly installments is almost entirely dialogue between Paul and his patients or Paul and Gina. (Two sessions air Sundays at 9 p.m. E.T., three on Mondays at 9 p.m. E.T.) But the talk is the action. There are slashes and parries and feints within feints; the patients circle to guard secrets or act out to test Paul's boundaries.
In a timely story line, a scandal-plagued CEO (Frasier's John Mahoney) pays Paul in cash and offers him "bonuses" as a way to exercise control. "One thing I learned from my father: pay as you go," he says. "It's cleaner that way." (Dad turns out not to have been such a good role model.) And Hope Davis is edgily mesmerizing as a self-destructive lawyer.
Meanwhile, Paul is dealing with his own traumas. Byrne is terrific in what may be the toughest role on TV today, and not just in terms of sheer verbiage. Paul is both sounding board and active agent, constantly thinking and teasing out his patients' agendas and issues while betraying, in his slightest inflections, the personal feelings that come pouring out in his sessions with Gina.
Season 1 was gripping, but it raised the question of whether In Treatment could start again from scratch. That doesn't seem to be a problem. It's like a police procedural of the mind; if there are a million ways for CSI to solve murders, surely there are dozens of ways for Paul to follow dark tunnels in search of life's imponderables. It's a crazy world out there. It could keep Paul Weston busy for a long, long time.