Welcome to your next session of The Patient, the new psychological thriller series from FX. We’ve already done “Intake” in the season premiere where we met Dr. Alan Strauss and his captor, serial killer Sam Fortner. Let’s tackle another breakthrough in “Alan Learns to Meditate,” the second of ten episodes in this limited series.
Sam Fortner (Domhnall Gleeson) returns to the basement with bags of food. “Good luck not eating this,” he tells Dr. Alan Strauss (Steve Carell), who is chained to the floor and lays in bed, having refused to eat since being abducted. Sam has brought pork buns, but all Alan does is sigh. “Are you giving me the silent treatment?”, he asks. “That doesn’t seem very sophisticated for a therapist.” Dr. Strauss tells Sam he’s his prisoner, not his therapist. Sam goes to his bedroom and returns with a white box, sitting on a chair at the edge of Alan’s bed and taking the lid off the box.
“You ever heard of the John Doe killer?”, Sam asks. He explains how he tried to make all of his murders seem like robberies by taking valuables from his victims. Inside the box, we see a collection of wallets and watches. “Next thing I know, they’re calling me the John Doe killer,” he says, saying that because the bodies had no identification on them, they sometimes went unidentified for days after being found. Sam offers Alan one of the wristwatches so he has a way of telling time. Alan refuses.
In a flashback, we see Alan and his wife Beth (Laura Niemi) sitting on the floor meditating. It’s not going well for Alan and Beth tells him it’s not easy for someone like him who's always in his head. He makes a joke that inside his head is where he lives and they both laugh.
Alan’s memory is interrupted by Sam setting a few books on his nightstand as he rushes out the door to go to work. “I’ll be home by 5,” he says. Alan gets up and sees that he was left a plate of scrambled eggs and toast with a coffee. After finally eating something, Alan uses the plastic fork to try and pick the lock on his ankle. However, one of the prongs breaks off inside the lock, and he has to work hard to shake it loose.
Sam returns from work with takeout from a different Thai restaurant. He notices the broken fork when clearing Alan’s breakfast tray. “I don’t think you can open that with a plastic fork,” he says, sitting down and starting a session and describing how dead he feels inside after he murders. Alan gets out of bed and sits in the chair at the foot of his bed. “Successful therapy requires a safe environment,” he tells Sam. “The patient and the therapist have to be able to dig into complicated emotional territory without anything like fear hanging over every session. I don’t know what to do about that.” Alan makes Sam promise not to commit any acts of violence towards anyone, including him, without talking to him about it first. Sam agrees to do his best.
The next morning, Alan tries meditating on the floor, taking deep breaths. He has a flashback to a family dinner with Beth, his son Ezra (Andrew Leeds), Ezra’s wife Chava (Amy Handelman), and their Rebbe (Jake Broder). Beth tries to cut a loaf of bread with a plastic knife, which breaks. Chava apologizes for not bringing a real knife. The memory jumps forward and everyone has left. Beth is angry, throwing the loaf at the wall. Alan tells her that their son is just rebelling and that it’s normal.
Sam sits across from Alan with a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in his hand. “There’s this guy, and I can’t stop thinking about him,” Sam shares. He’s a food inspector and he had to fail a Greek restaurant he used to go to with his ex-wife because they had undated food in a fridge and a seal needed to be replaced. The manager acted like this was no big deal and told him to come back in a week, but Sam told him that it takes about 7 months to get another inspection. The manager accused Sam of asking for a bribe and Sam perceived a smug attitude that made him feel small. A few weeks later, his supervisor, Kyle, made him go back for a re-inspection. “I get there and everything is fixed and the guy barely looks at me; Smug.” Alan asks when this was and Sam tells him it’s been four months. “I haven’t stopped thinking about him. Every single day. I’m trying not to… I usually can’t stop, but…” Dr. Strauss tells Sam that people sometimes become obsessed with bad interactions they’ve had. “I went back to the restaurant the same night, and I parked across the street and I waited until they closed. I’ve never done anything that they could trace back to me, but that night I was like… I didn’t do it.” Sam seems almost tearful as he describes his mania. Alan asks how he managed to pull himself away. “I don’t know. I didn’t want to get caught. I guess that helped.” Alan realizes that four months ago is around when Sam first contacted him for therapy under the alias “Jean Bollinger.” He asks Sam for a pen and paper to take notes and Sam seems upset about that. Alan says Sam can pick a pen that doesn’t feel threatening to him and reminds him that a piece of paper can’t hurt him.“The restaurant guy, the more time that passes, the less anyone would connect me with that place,” Sam rationalizes out loud. “I think it’s important to note that you did not hurt him,” Alan reminds Sam. “But I want to,” Sam says, standing up. “I want to right now. You asked me to talk to you first. I am talking to you. It’s not really helping.” Alan tries to talk Sam back, saying “You’ve been holding this in for four months, Sam. I get why it’s hard.”
Later, Alan lies in bed as Sam prepares to leave for work. Sam says they will have a session after dinner when he returns. Alan hears Sam’s truck drive away and shortly after, he hears the floorboards creak upstairs. “Hello?”, he calls, repeatedly trying to make contact with whoever is home, asking if they’re okay. The door at the top of the stairs opens. We see that somebody is on their way down. It looks like they have a cane. The camera gets tight on Alan’s face, we don’t see what he sees. “Hello,” Alan says to whoever else is in the house.
FX’s The Patient will return with Episode 3 on Tuesday, September 6th on Hulu. The next episode is titled “Issues,” and I leave you with the official episode description.
Sam’s desire to find a therapeutic solution grows as his inner struggle intensifies. Dr. Strauss brings a new variable into their sessions.