Friday, December 10, 2010

In Treatment

What do you mean they canceled my !@# show?
By an improbable sequence of events, I caught the final episode of In Treatment. Now I need treatment. How can I put this ...

In storytelling, there's always a conflict between logic-logic and dramatic logic. In real life, actions have consequences. If A, then B. If B, then C. There are no non sequiturs in reality. Nothing happens that can't happen. That doesn't apply to fiction.

Stories are only as logical as the writer wants them to be.

A writer can ignore a character's history. A writer can make a character do something COMPLETELY out of character. It's easy. Just type ...

Gandhi smiled, then picked up the machine gun. He began to fire, spraying a rain of death on the British troops. "How does it feel you bastards?" he screamed. "I have, most seriously, taken all the shit I can take!"

There's a term for this violation of logic. Bad writing.

But the term doesn't exactly apply to all illogical writing.

Like, say, the kind you see on HBO. The kind of writing that earns big checks.

When creating this kind of drama, a writer is in the position of the dude designing a carnival spook house ride. Every so often, a skeleton pops out with glowing red eyes and a buzzer goes EGNNNNNGHHH! Every so often, the cart suddenly dips down. The ride is punctuated with loud noises, blasts of airs, recorded screams ...

The creator of the ride doesn't ask, "What is the motivation of the skeleton?" He just makes the !!@# skeleton pop out. Writers who are very very good at creating rides like that in fiction get paid a lot money. They look at writers like me and say, "You !@#$$ asshole. @@##E$ logic! How much money did they pay you for your fiction?"

So, OK. I dig. Screw logic. It's all about the ride. Fine.

But I can't stand bad logic. I'm sorry. It's a thing with me.

Carnival house violations of causation and probability are easy to see in thrillers, Sci-fi and horror movies, not so easy to see in weepy, intelligent drama.

Like, say, "In Treatment."

There's a vast intelligence behind the show. And just a hint of dishonesty. As subtle as a fart in church. But you can smell it.

Paul, the tormented but brilliant therapist, says stuff his character just wouldn't say. In their zeal to push him to soap-opera story points, the writers ignore his history.

So, for example, in the first season, Paul ignores the suicidal tendencies of a fighter pilot who may or may not be in deep denial about his repressed homosexuality due to an overbearing father. The pilot crashes his plane in an improbable pilot error. The dead pilot's repressive father blames Paul for ignoring his son's intimations of self-destruction and sues Paul's ass in the second season. Paul escapes by the skin of his teeth.

In the third season, an Indian emigrant named Sunil (who's living in a humiliating situation with his son and daughter-in-law, Julia) tells Paul about his violent fantasies about bashing his Julia's head in with a cricket bat. Paul, taking the advice of his therapist, warns Julia. Sunil gets deported. It turns out, that's what he secretly wanted. He'd been manipulating Paul all the time.

The connection between the pilot (a threat Paul ignored that resulted in a tragic death) and Sunil (a threat he didn't ignore) is never made. Why not?

Because the writers wanted to push Paul to a soap opera-style romantic tease with Adele, his blonde, 30-something therapist. They wanted to end the final episode on a cliffhanger. Is Paul quitting therapy? Will Paul and the cute, blonde therapist get together? Tune in next season and find out!

Bringing up the dead pilot would have muddied that story point. So the writers ignored it.

They took the series to the place they wanted it to go.

And it's about as believable as Gandhi picking up a machine gun.

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