With Sam Fortner about to switch therapists, I’m sad to say this will be the penultimate round of therapy notes from The Patient. At the end of last week’s episode of the hit FX drama, Dr. Alan Strauss was effectively told his time is almost up and was even asked how he would like to be killed if it comes to that. Alan responded with a grim joke about an English man, a French man, and a Jewish man. What follows is a recap of episode 9, titled “Auschwitz.”
It’s nighttime at Auschwitz as Dr. Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) walks through a camp of sleeping prisoners and approaches the bedside of Viktor Frankl (Robert Arce), who is having a nightmare. Alan wakes him up. “Didn’t you read my book?”, the famous psychiatrist asks. “I said not to wake the person up!”
Alan jolts awake from his own nightmare. The sun has risen and he sits up, grabbing the empty aluminum ointment tube from his nightstand and scraping the flat edge some more against the metal bedframe in an effort to sharpen it. Alan’s mind returns to his therapist Charlie (David Alan Grier), whose office now appears to be at Auschwitz, with grey brick walls surrounding the chairs. Alan tells Charlie that the ointment tube is sharper than it looks. “Good,” Charlie affirms, “And it’s perfectly normal to imagine killing a patient trying to leave therapy prematurely.” This makes Alan snicker as Alan brings up the dream he just had, asking Charley if he remembers what Viktor Frankl wrote. “Reality is worse than a nightmare when you’re in Auschwitz,” Charlie quotes, “Don’t wake him up.” Alan shakes his head, admitting that he woke him up. Charlie suggests the dream is reminding him to keep persisting, but Alan interprets it as a reminder not to die like a sheep.
Mentally back in the basement, Alan calls for Sam Fortner (Domhnall Gleeson) to wake up, saying he’d like to talk to him before he goes to work. “I don’t think that you should go to see a new therapist,” Alan says as Sam stands with his mouth agape in the doorway. Alan tells Sam that, in spite of an increase in his desire to murder, he has made a lot of progress. Alan reaffirms that he cares for Sam and just wants to help him get better. Sam stays firm in his decision to see Mr. Boccella. “That still gives us a week,” Alan calmly responds. “Let’s see what we can accomplish. Let’s send you to him in the best shape we can.” Sam tells Alan he knows what he’s doing. “Of course, I’m a human being,” he responds. “I don’t want you to get another therapist and then kill me.” This makes Sam smirk and, his guard softened, he takes a seat in the La-Z-Boy.
Alan tells Sam about Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps and wrote a famous book called Man’s Search for Meaning. “His main point is people need meaning in their lives probably more than anything else, and I think that is a way for you to take your next step,” he announces. He wants Sam to find a relationship that can give his life renewed meaning. Sam is defensive, saying that he’s not good with talking to women, so Alan asks how he met Mary. She was his mom’s physical therapist and she introduced them. Alan tells Sam that he must be better with women than he thinks since he was able to fall in love and get married to Mary. When Alan asks Sam what about Mary he was attracted to, Sam clams up and shuts down the conversation. “She didn’t want the marriage to end, but she didn’t know if I loved her.” He brings up one of Mary’s coping mechanisms during their marriage, imagining that their sponsored daughter in Bangladesh was in the room with them to try and get Sam to open up more. “Did I tell you she complained all the time?”, Sam asks, without giving any specifics. “Maybe she didn’t have enough meaning in her life,” Sam deflects. Alan says he’d like to meet Mary, adding that if he could observe them interacting, he might be better able to give Sam feedback. Alan suggests that Sam invite Mary over for a meal, setting up a nanny cam so that Alan can observe. Sam yells for his mother and after a few scurrying footsteps upstairs, Candace (Linda Emond) comes down. “I’m inviting Mary over for brunch,” Sam tells his mother. “Dr. Strauss wants to meet her. He’s gonna watch on a nanny cam.” Candace is clearly nervous about this idea and starts to object, but before she can say much, Sam gets a text back from Candace agreeing to come over for brunch tomorrow at 10:00 am.
Left alone, Alan continues to sharpen the ointment tube while having another imaginary session with Charlie. His therapist warns Alan that while he can’t be held responsible for the death of Elias, if Sam murders Mary, her blood will be on his hands. Alan talks over his plan, saying that while his ointment tube is sharp, it probably only has one good jab in it. He thanks his luck that Sam even agreed to have Mary over to the house as he tells him that when Sam comes downstairs to ask for advice during the meal, he plans to stab Sam, getting him to scream and hoping that causes Mary to call 9-1-1. Charlie warns Alan that a flaw in the plan could be Candace, who seems ready to do anything to protect her son, even hurt Mary.
Jumping forward to the next day, Sam has set up the nanny cam and checks to make sure Alan can both see and hear what happens at the dining table. Alan mentions that they didn’t have this kind of technology when his kids were babies. Sam reveals that he has had second thoughts, warning Alan that while he cares about Mary and doesn’t want to hurt her, if Alan does something stupid, he would be left with no choice. Alan smiles and tells him his only goal is for Sam’s brunch date to go well. Alan asks about the food (Indian) and if Mary likes that (she doesn’t). “Sam, I would encourage you to think about what she might like to eat.” Sam anxiously nods his head and agrees that’s a good plan. Alan asks Sam what he’s planning to say to her and he hasn’t thought about their conversation. Alan asks to roleplay with him as Mary, which goes so poorly that Sam asks if he can play Mary instead. Alan asks the usual pleasantries (“How are you?”, “How’s Work?”) and all Sam says is “Pretty good” in response. He gets up to leave but then stops. “Dr. Strauss, if Mary and I had a baby, would it be like me?” Alan says “Nobody knows how their kids are going to turn out, Sam.” Sam goes upstairs.
Cut to Mary (Emily Davis) seated at the table with Candace as Sam dishes up a Waldorf Salad he ordered especially for her. She thanks him, saying that he didn’t have to order anything special for her. ““You get gas when you eat Indian food,” Sam announces, which fills Mary with embarrassment in front of Candace. Alan watches on the monitor as they eat in silence, fidgeting with the sharpened ointment tube he has under his thigh. Out of the silence, Sam tries to repeat Alan’s joke about the English, French, and Jewish men being asked how they would like to die, but he rearranges the facts and leaves out key details. The joke bombs and, after leaving Mary and Candace in stunned silence, Sam drops his silverware on his plate and says “I’ll be right back.”
“It’s going really bad, I don’t know what to say,” Sam tells Alan, having rushed downstairs to talk. Alan suggests that Sam ask Mary questions about work and her family. Sam crouches down next to Alan on his right side, watching Mary and Candace on the camera. He seems suddenly very vulnerable, asking Alan why this is so hard for him. Alan’s left hand holds the sharpened ointment tube and, if he wanted to, he has a clear path to Sam’s jugular. He seems to be psyching himself up to stab Sam when Charlie’s voice enters his mind, reminding him not to get Mary killed. He suddenly sees Elias’ kicking feet go still. “I should get back up,” Sam says, standing up to his full height and moving towards the stairs. Alan’s moment of hesitation has cost him his chance to strike while Mary was present. Sam stops, noticing that Alan hasn’t touched the plate of bagels and lox he ordered and asking if anything is wrong with it. “I’d rather have Indian,” Alan blurts out, his face riddled with anxiety as he concentrates his eyes on the monitor. He tucks the ointment tube back under his thigh as he lets out a sigh that seems to convey a mixture of both relief and regret.
Back at the table, Sam asks Mary about work and she tells him that she’s doing the work of two people right now after one of her colleagues quit. Making small talk, she mentions that she missed the La-Z-Boy. Sam offers to bring it back to her place, but she says she has plenty of good chairs. “That chair was his father's,” Candace adds. Sam turns to Mary and announces that his father beat him up a lot as a child and that it’s why he’s in therapy. Mary changes the topic to her parents, who got a new cat, but when Candace gets up to put dishes away, Mary gets up and says she should get going. Sam offers to walk her out. Alan, watching this all on the nanny cam, is screaming for Mary to call the police… inside his mind. In real life, he just stares out the sliding glass doors to the backyard, his best chance at escape walking out the door.
Sam comes back in looking confused. “Mary left,” he states the obvious. “She said she thinks it’s good for exes to have a friendly relationship and she thinks that we should do this once per year.” Alan asks what Sam is feeling. “Mary’s not going to get back together with me,” Sam replies, announcing that this was a mistake. “Why did you have me do that?”, he asks, shaking with swelling anger. Alan says it wasn’t a mistake, that taking risks and getting your feelings hurt is a process that everyone goes through in their quest to find meaningful relationships. He tells Sam that he will need to take another risk and get his feelings hurt like this a few more times before he finds someone he connects with, but reiterates that this was a step in the right direction. “It doesn’t matter, I’m going to see Mr. Boccella next week.” Alan encourages Sam to be more open with his next therapist, saying that while Sam told Alan that he had been abused by his father as a child, that he didn’t give him enough specifics to work with. Alan speculates that Sam may have suppressed some of these bad memories, causing his patient to shake with anger as he says he has no problem accessing these memories, he remembers everything and thinks about it all the time.
Alan shares another hypothesis with Sam – that the root of his anger is his father and he misdirects it at the people he murders. “So you think that I kill people because of him?”, Sam asks. “Almost instead of him,” Alan corrects. Sam nods his head. “I get it,” Sam nods his head, rushing to his bedroom and returning with his laptop. He pulls up a video interview of Edmund Kemper, aka “The Co-ed Killer,” who murdered and sexually abused the bodies of young women, blaming it on a bad relationship with his mother. His reign of terror ended when he repeated the same gruesome acts against his mother and her friend, turning himself in after. In the video, Edmund explains that his desire to kill girls ended when he murdered his mother and that in taking her out of this world, he was saving countless potential victims. Sam looks at this as a newfound source of inspiration. “Sam, you can not and must not kill your father,” Alan warns as Sam rushes to grab his jacket, putting it on. “I feel like I finally know what I have to do,” Sam says as he slides the glass doors open. Alan begs him not to go, but Sam walks out into the darkness, sliding the glass door behind him.
That’s it for this week. With Dr. Alan Strauss effectively fired, we will find out what becomes of him in Episode 10, “The Cantor’s Husband,” streaming October 25th on Hulu. I’ll be back with one final recap of therapy notes after this concluding session. Here’s the agenda.
For Sam, an unexpected decision shows progress towards his goals, but Dr. Strauss demands even more. Written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg; Directed by Chris Long.
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