Upon first reflection, my memory of Week 1 of In Treatment is really inaccurate. I vividly remember the details of a sexual encounter in a bathroom stall, the bombing of a school in Baghdad, the late-night shouting between a married couple about the possibility of an abortion, a young gymnast’s allegedly accidental incident with a flying motorcycle, etc. — but none of this actually happened on In Treatment. The show is structurally nothing more than Dr. Paul Weston talking to his patients in his office. There are no flashbacks, only narration, but the storytelling is so vivid and emotionally intense that the stories seem in hindsight like they were presented as flashbacks.
I think that the absence of flashbacks allows for a number of things that make In Treatment stand alone in its complex seriality. First of all, the patients’ stories are complicated by Dr. Weston’s frequent questioning, and many of the details of these stories are either altered, recontextualized, or proven to be fabricated, allowing character to supersede plot. Secondly, because the audience is accustomed to the formulaic use of flashbacks in traditional television, the complete lack of that device (at least in Week One) is noticeable enough to produce some appreciation for the writers’ talents. Finally, and most importantly, the absence of flashbacks allows the viewers to see Dr. Weston’s reactions to and interactions with his patients, presenting a long arc of characterization for him. Each session reveals some small aspect of Dr. Weston’s personality or history and leads up to his own sessions with Dr. Gina Toll, during which he reveals that he is much more affected by and invested in those sessions than he typically lets on. For example, the observation in the episode “Paul and Gina: Week One” that “we don’t have an audience” and the subsequent revelation that Gina’s idea of audience is supervision, while Paul’s idea of audience is praise, sheds new light on the moments of both reservation (in “Laura: Week One”) and outburst (in “Jake and Amy: Week One”) during the previous week. Paul’s opinions about his patients, his insistence that he’s “losing patience with my patients,” the moments he chooses to intervene or not, etc., all help to create a more complete portrait of the psychotherapist as a flawed and compelling character.