HBO’s ‘In Treatment’ Returns With Uzo Aduba Leading the Therapy Sessions

One of the most valuable features of therapy is the essence of having someone to talk to. HBO’s “In Treatment” is all about that process and how so much can be discovered about someone when given the space to share. This fourth season arrives a decade after the show was last seen on the cable giant. Originally it starred Gabriel Byrne as the series’ psychiatrist, who would sit down with different characters every week opening up to him and to us. Now in the wake of a year of pandemic and lockdowns, as well as a greater public emphasis on mental health, HBO is refreshing the show. 

Now treating patients via Zoom is Dr. Brooke Lawrence (Uzo Aduba). Poised and friendly, Lawrence defines the contemporary psychologist now operating in a socially distanced reality. For the first episode of the season, “Eladio,” we meet patient Eladio (Anthony Ramos). A Latino caretaker, Eladio has been suffering from a terrible insomnia and has been calling Brooke in the middle of the night. He describes strange, vivid nightmares and dreams. The format of the show then takes on a very simple structure that makes it perfect for a quick anthology format. For 30 minutes we watch Brooke communicate with Eladio, who is currently in lockdown with the family he cares for. He feels proud about doing such a good job they now trust him to this extent, but why can’t he sleep? What does he truly mean to the family he cares for?

What ensues is a rich interaction where two fantastic actors breathe real life into the writing. This is Aduba’s second anthology series this month after also acting in a wonderfully paranoid episode of Amazon’s “Solos.” But she carries the entire show here, giving off a focused, keen presence. She has that sense of patience a real listener always requires. The drama unfolds in layers as Eladio first hesitates in revealing too much about himself, almost as if he prefers some kind of quick solution. He almost begs for medication, but as Brooke eases him into a real dialogue, the real personality emerges. We learn about his bipolar diagnoses, and his love for literature, including Latin American greats like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Roberto Bolano. As in any true psychiatric session Brooke doesn’t “cure” Eladio or pretends to have answers to all of his queries. She can only hint at what’s obvious, like when he describes a Pakistani lover who left him emotionally marked. “You’re haunted,” Brooke tells Eladio. Anthony Ramos is full of uncertainty hiding great energy in this segment.

This is merely the first in what will be a season of quick sessions for viewers. It’s a minimalist experience where much depends on the strength of the performances and richness of the writing. Other episodes in the season will deal with sexual identity and race, and at one point Brooke will also sit on the couch. She is just as human as her patients, with her own inner journeys to take, no doubt. Guest actors will include Michelle MacLaren, Julian Farino, and Janicza Bravo. “Eladio,” written by playwright Chris Gabo, who is also working on HBO’s upcoming “Parasite” series, ends with a warm moment that shows how Brookes’ sessions can provide their own sense of personal discovery. After saying goodbye to her patient she goes online and seeks a book by the great Chilean author Bolano, inspired by a passage cited by Eladio. She buys the book, and so hopefully her life will be as enriched by the patient as his will be by talking with her. “In Treatment” airs and streams weekly with back-to-back episodes on Sundays and Mondays, but it might prove to be a nice binging experience. It’s a show that’s good for the mind.

In Treatment” season four premieres May 23 and airs Sundays and Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.