The Patient

4 out of 5

Created by: Joel Fields and Joe Weisburg

If you get me talking about something, that’s important. Debate over a show is valuable; and not necessarily What’s Gonna Happen Next? – although that has its place as well – rather discussing what has happened, and what it may or may not mean. The Patient has many flaws, from pacing and tone issues to some questionably applied themes, but it never left me without the desire to talk about it, or to read / listen to others’ opinions on it. And sometimes, yes, that would be about a particular cliffhanger, but often it was more about dissecting what was seen: is the show an accurate representation of therapy? What would you do in Alan’s (Steve Carrell) position, kept under lock and key by the violent Sam (Domhnall Gleeson) and forced to be his therapist?

The show’s answers to these questions only spur more conversation, as we search for meaning in what we’ve seen.

And if there is no meaning… then again, just the fact that we’re talking has value.

I’ve already said more than I necessarily want to about the show’s premise. I’m sure as much has been ruined by ads, but I went in based on the actors – Carrell in a serious role; Gleeson is an interesting premise – and the pedigree of FX, which has a ridiculously high quantity of quality original programming at this point, and found myself utterly hooked by the first episode; I’d like to allow others to experience the same. But the show is basically a two-hander, and almost always on a single set, with some cheats as the captive Alan has conversations in his head, or some flashbacks; it’s a psychological thriller that achieves a lot of thrills with very little, though some of the debate is how effective those thrills become when the story is – arguably – stretched over 10 episodes.

Alan’s situation is also given an historical parallel: Alan is Jewish, and nightmarish Holocaust imagery floats through his thoughts. While he struggles to understand what his relationship with Sam is going to be – is he really going to try to help Sam while being held prisoner, or will he try to escape – he also is concerned for struggles within his own family: the loss of his wife; an emotional wall between him and his son.

On the one hand, the way these threads bump into one another is very human, in that it’s not “clean:” not everything comes across as having a concise point. On the other hand, the show seems to be trying awfully hard to Say Something at various points – whether via dialogue, visual metaphor, or even direct cues – and it’s a mixed bag of whether or not you consider these things on the nose, or of deeper meaning. The pacing can be odd, squeezed into half-hour segments; some escalations feel forced. Are these flaws necessities in order to maintain a theme? Or should it be following more traditional thriller rules?

Personally, I was captivated throughout the show, impressed by its patience with many aspects – no pun intended – while also acknowledging what I felt were flaws, and perhaps a failure at better massaging its themes to be smoother, and – to me – more effective. Both Carrell and Gleeson are astounding… about 90% of the time. Every now and then a moment feels a bit confused as to what the actors were aiming for; did it need another take, or slightly different direction, who knows. On the surface, this might lead me to say that, yeah, the show’s okay. Except for how much discourse it encouraged, and how I can write several paragraphs about it without – hopefully – saying too much about what actually happens.

Watch it for yourself – one episode, or however many you care to watch – then come and tell me about it.