TV: The Patient

Watching The Patient, it was impossible not to speculate about how it might end. My early instinct was that its high-intensity escalations couldn’t possibly resolve in a satisfying way. On a character level, I was right—there was no way a show with this premise was going to end well for its people—but on an artistic level, I was wrong. This dark, urgent psychological thriller sustains itself impressively for the duration of its short run, and while the finale delivers the story to a predictable endpoint, it’s hard to imagine what else could have been done differently.

Steve Carell delivers a brilliant dramatic performance as Dr. Alan Strauss, a therapist who devotes his life to helping others—even as he often struggles to do the right thing in his own family life. One of Dr. Strauss’s more peculiar patients is Sam Fortner (a chilling Domhnall Gleeson), a health inspector with an inscrutable affect. Strauss learns why this is, finally, when Sam kidnaps him and chains him to the floor of his basement, revealing himself as a serial killer. In a desperate move to put an end to his homicidal impulses, Sam has taken Dr. Strauss captive, to keep as his personal therapist. With little other choice, Dr. Strauss does his best to provide therapy to Sam, but the conditions are impossible—and ultimately force him into performing inner therapy on himself.

Is The Patient yet another pandemic bottle production? Possibly, but if so, it’s nicely disguised, with the feel of a stage play that has been cinematically expanded. With taut half-hour running times, the episodes zip along briskly, relying on loaded dialogue to carry the narrative. At first, this makes for a tight focus on the remarkable performances of Carell and Gleeson, but later involves other characters, including a terrific Linda Emond and, in a clever flight of fancy, David Alan Grier as Dr. Strauss’s imaginary inner therapist. These scenes, as well as occasional field trips away from the basement, chilling dream sequences, and flashbacks to Strauss’s home life, frequently widen the canvas in a manner that accentuates the tension and claustrophobia of the real-time scenario. Overall, it’s an impressive construct, driven by the performances and eloquent, dark dialogue. If the ending isn’t exactly surprising, in general the writers make smart choices with it, and it provides a much-needed sense of narrative relief for an intense viewing experience.

Domhnall Gleeson and Steve Carrell in The Patient
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