Analyzing the killer | Free Letters

Gene (Domhnall Gleeson) arrives at the office of Dr. Alan Strauss (Steve Carell). Shy and insecure, he is barely over 30, always wears a cap, hides behind dark glasses and tells Strauss that he has read his books and that he is there because he knows he can help him. Gene has serious problems and wants to solve them once and for all. Dr. Strauss has not been his first choice: in fact, he is the fourth “Jewish psychologist” he has consulted with, but the disturbed man believes that this time he will be different. Rather, he is sure that he will be different, as he has carefully planned everything so that Strauss has no choice but to help him.

From the first chapter of The patient (EU, 2022), a miniseries available on Star+, we already know what Gene’s plans are to improve his mental and emotional health, to get rid of a certain compulsion that hurts him so much: to kidnap his prestigious analyst to see him daily, to all hours and exclusively. The premise has an inevitable comedic streak, but although this miniseries is not without its humorous moments, the reality is that The patient is far from being a new version of analyze me (Ramis, 1999).

The problem that Dr. Strauss has to face is not only that the always kind and restrained Gene – or rather, Sam, because that is his real name – has kidnapped him, taken him to an isolated house on the outskirts of the city and has chained him to a bed, but the aforementioned patient has a very particular psychological condition: he is a serial killer, he has strangled an unknown number of victims and he wants the respected doctor Strauss to cure him. Of course, from the beginning the idea of ​​what will be the result if Strauss does not achieve his mission remains floating. After all, why would Sam want to have his therapist chained up if the sessions end in failure? Strauss is there not only to help Sam but, ultimately, to help himself as well. To stay alive.

Written and created by Joel Fields and Joseph Weisberg – co-writer and creator of The Americans (2013-2018), respectively–, The patient advances, throughout its ten episodes, on a tightrope. On one hand, we have the thriller more or less conventional, focused on the serial killer of the week, in this case, Sam masterfully interpreted by Domhnall Gleeson, a sinister poor devil who cannot forget the constant abuse suffered at the hands of his violent father for which, I suppose, he became a murderer. On the other hand, we are also looking at a solid family melodrama about a judicious and rational psychologist who has lost all relationship with his eldest son Ezra (Andrew Leeds) after he abandoned the liberal Jewish culture in which he was raised to become a a devout Orthodox Jew. Trapped the two characters, one in his incurable? murderous compulsion and the other literally a prisoner and chained between four walls, during these ten chapters they will analyze their respective lives, their complex family relationships and even their questionable future prospects.

Fields and Weisberg have created a risky miniseries full of contradictions that sinks and rises with each episode and even with each change of tone within each episode. Since one of the protagonists is a serial murderer, we cannot miss the scenes in which we see Sam strangle some of his victims, although later that same criminal tries to deconstruct rationally – and genuinely? – why he does what what he does Thus, after a murder we can move on, in direct cut, to the therapy sessions between Sam and the very professional Dr. Strauss, in an endless psychological give and take that will work, in the end, as a self-analysis of Strauss himself. Is he really trying to save his patient and his future victims, or is he just trying to survive? Does he really empathize with that soulless serial killer? And if so, how is it possible that he is willing to understand this psychopath more than his alienated religious son?

Not all contradictions in The patient are resolved in the best way. Just one example: those recurring dreams in which Strauss sees himself as a prisoner in the extermination camp at Auschwitz are, at best, in very bad taste, no matter how hard they try to justify themselves with the appointment and the presence, in one of the dreams, of the influential philosopher and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl (1905-1997). Come on, I don’t want to imagine what Claude Lanzmann would say about the exploitation of the Holocaust as another way of entertaining and moving the public.

However, alongside this flagrant plot and even ethical blunder, we also have a serious and in-depth analysis of the wounds we inflict on ourselves by being part of a family and what we do with the scars we all carry for the rest of our lives. In the inevitable and, at the same time, unexpected outcome of The patient, Fields and Weisberg present us with a provocative question not only about the limits of psychotherapy but also about the limits of empathy. I cannot tell how this miniseries ends: suffice it to say that it states that, despite everything, there will always be hope at the bottom of the abyss. If not to change, at least to live and die trying. Something is something, Dr. Strauss would say.

Analyzing the killer | Free Letters