Talk Therapy: Adele - Week 4: Ep 94

Though therapists have supervision (recall Paul's sessions with Gina), one thing they don't traditionally get to do is watch the "game tape" of a session. We've enlisted three experts (read their bios) to weigh in on select moments with Paul and his patients. What's said, implied, or deeply buried? Let's go to the videotape...

(The content in these discussions does not reflect the opinions of HBO.)

Joseph Shay, PhD

Paul, Paul, Paul.  Can't help yourself, can you? Is it those boots?

This is a compelling episode in its entirety, and the segment that might be the most juicy is the one in which Paul discloses that he was fantasizing about Adele while having sex with Wendy -- earlier that very day, the timing of which Adele has already gathered was not by accident. 

The clip I've selected, however, precedes this, and may help to explain why Adele gulps noticeably when Paul professes his desire for her.  (I remember a gulp like that only once before, in Season One, when Jake pressures Paul to vote on Amy having an abortion or not, and Paul does vote, and then gulps.) 

After expressing admiration for -- and envy of -- Adele for her many accomplishments, Paul reveals that he has checked up on Adele on-line.  "I just happened to type in your name" he says, another accident! Our clip begins with Paul asking Adele if her middle name means she is Dutch because Rembrandt's wife was named Saskia. 

Adele answers.  No gulp here but, to my eye, it's the same process. Patients can at times be so pressuring, or in this case, seductive -- and, if nothing else, Paul is seductive -- that we find ourselves behaving in ways that we normally don't behave.  Even Paul notices this lapse on Adele's part and seems uncomfortable with it. Paul raises the issue of lacking passion in his life but, when invited by Adele to recall prior instances of having felt it,  recalls the session with Sunil earlier in the week.   Paul mentions that they were talking over tea and Adele gulps, if you will, and interrupts, "you were talking over tea?" As therapists, we all try to avoid making judgments but sometimes they leak out.  Perhaps having sensed earlier in the session that Paul is thinking about her sexually -- she is a superb therapist and almost certainly wouldn't have missed that -- she may be unraveling just bit.  Paul comments that, despite her rejection of the role in a prior session, Adele is "silently supervising" him.

After Paul speaks enviously of Sunil's passion for an earlier love in his life, Adele asks Paul, "have you ever felt that passion, romantic passion?"  Given the way all three seasons have been written, we have to wonder if Adele is asking Paul a question she has actually been struggling with herself. Paul then offers this remarkable insight about himself: "I'm beginning to realize I've got this pattern. I seek out people who have themselves a passion for life and I feed off them instead. I allow them to feel for both of us."  Remember the session with Frances this week? Paul is expressing his version of "there is no there there." We do have to wonder, since we viewers have known this about Paul for two seasons now, why Paul never explored this when with Gina?

Adele then helps Paul realize how he holds himself back, which she has experienced personally within the session.  Adele -- the woman with the clipboard on her lap only inches above those black boots -- asks Paul, "Do you find you have persistent or excited impulses but stop yourself from expressing them?"  Again, we wonder, in her own words to Paul earlier in the session, "Are you talking about him or you?"

This reminded me of the very first session with Adele in which Paul, sensing that Adele was judging his prior relationship with Gina when she said, "I see," asked her what she was implying. Adele said she wasn't implying anything but was "just trying to understand the methods of one of the best analysts on the east coast."  So, Paul was correct. Adele was implying something, but, in the moment, she denied this.  This was perhaps the first gulp.  Like Paul, she is, to my eye, making superb interventions as a therapist, but is beginning to demonstrate that she has flaws as well.  As do we all.

Rachel Seidel, MD   

In the teaser opening of this episode, we dimly see Paul, hair and clothes disheveled, putting his office couch back together. The light in his office is low; we observe him finding a garment on the floor -- sex is in the air. He picks up the bra and looks off into space; his look is one of wistfulness rather than of post-coital contentment. We -- remembering previous seasons and especially his sexual relationship with a patient -- begin to wonder, who's been lying with Paul on the couch this time? About what or whom is he thinking? Why does he seem troubled?

The camera lands on Adele's sunny white office, sparsely and symmetrically decorated with beige couches and bright accents. Adele is wearing her (by now expected) short skirt (it is hard not to think of another HBO shrink, Dr. Melfi) and her signature, toughly sexy, tall black boots.

Paul is restless, agitated, jealous of Max's relationship with Steve. Steve is showing 12 year-old Max how to use a pencil, they share a "passion" for drawing and art, Max is "in love with the guy," exclaims Paul, adding, "I really wish Rosie hadn't told me about their fucking twin drafting tables!" We, along with Adele, hear Paul's language: passion, in love, fucking, and (humorously) the line about pubescent Max being taught how to use his "pencil." Adele repeats, "He's in love with...?" -- confirmation that sex is in the air.

Paul is passionately angry that everyone else, and notably his patient Sunil, has had some passion or passionate interest in their lives. And not you? asks Adele. This is the beginning of an extended interpretation that Adele is building about how Paul has passionate or excited impulses, but then stops himself from expressing them, holds himself back. Paul alternately defends against and confirms Adele's idea; he acknowledges that he was excited with his ex-wife Kate and more recently with Wendy early in those relationships, but now, today, he has had lunch-time sex with Wendy on his couch while he was thinking of something, someone else; this explains his wistful glance while holding Wendy's bra in the opening shot. As we later discover, that someone else he is thinking of is Adele, Adele Saskia Browse.

Early in the episode, we are struck by the camera framing a profile, almost a portrait, of Adele: her blond head, her distinctive nose, a pretty picture. At home, Paul has been googling her (in session, he is ogling her) -- he nearly sings her name, Adele Saskia Browse, noting that Saskia was the name of Rembrandt's wife, a Dutch name. The momentary portrait of a stunningly beautiful, even Dutch-looking, Adele paired with the reference to Saskia is not without meaning. Saskia served as Rembrandt's model for a portrait that is thought by some to show a twinkle in her eye and possibly a large man's hand holding her. She also appears with Rembrandt in a picture of the prodigal son in the tavern, in which the man is carousing and has his hand suggestively around the woman's waist. Saskia, it seems, was sexy. And not you, Adele? we may wish to ask.

Whatever else happens during Paul's session with Adele -- and there is some interesting and very compelling psychotherapy taking place -- this episode teases us with the introduction of Paul's erotic feelings for Adele and leaves us wondering what Adele feels and thinks about Paul and what will happen on the couch.

Cherchez la femme.

Randy Paulsen, MD   

This segment begins with Paul asking about Adele's Dutch middle name and ends with Adele's talking about his having passionate, excited impulses that he stops himself from fully experiencing or pursuing.  Paul is surprised when she answers his question that her mother's father was from Holland.  In a small way, he has had an impulse, looking her up on the internet, asking about her middle name, being curious about her real personhood.  His pursuit of that impulse has been rewarded with a personal answer, a fact from Adele's life.  He continues to talk about what he saw on the internet, her publications, travels, conferences, and then says that he no longer shares that drive, that the last paper he wrote was many years ago. The mini-cycle is complete: his impulse in the personal question, her direct, personal answer, then Paul's "I no longer share your passion," as it were.  Paul says that he does feel it with his patients at times, that he felt it with Sunil earlier that week.

He recounts the session with Sunil, and I felt a curious letdown as I listened to Paul describe it. My memory of the session was full of the transformation of Sunil's ghosts into lived memories, a clearing of psychological miasma from darkly traumatic secret in his life.  But Paul's version of Sunil's session by week's end, in Adele's office, albeit in his therapy session, has much more to do with Paul than Sunil. Yes, he talks about Sunil's coming to life, being transformed.  He also identifies with Sunil's status as an outsider whom he welcomes into a new culture by offering tea in his office. Don't get me wrong. I love the way Paul adapts to Sunil, even though this unorthodox tea ceremony causes Adele to raise an eyebrow. But when he says, "he had felt passion at one point in his life.  Why couldn't he have that again?" he is not talking about Sunil, but about Paul. It's distressing, I suppose, to see how a therapist could be such an elegant instrument of a patient's transformation, and then in carrying that experience forward as he tells it to Adele, the recounting is mired in Paul's own stuckness. It is one of the brilliant touches of the show, this way that Paul can be a very good therapist, and still have far to go himself. This was a moment when, for me, it was a little painful to watch.

 When Adele asks Paul if he holds himself back, at first he fends it off in various ways. "The sex with Wendy on my couch today doesn't count as passion?" "Not according to you," Adele says. Paul then says, "I've got this pattern.  I pick patients with passion and then feed off them, allowing them to feel for both of us."  It is an insight into himself, although at first a seemingly intellectual, affectless insight. Adele then does two things that bring affect, or feeling, more into the room. She notes how excited Paul was, sitting forward in his chair, talking about Sunil. And she connects this excitement to Paul's dream of running outside the wrought iron fence. Remembering how angry Paul got with her, she ties that outburst with her assertion that he was "holding himself back," when Paul seemed so invested in maintaining that it was his father who was holding him back. She is working to interiorize, bring within, Paul's conflict.  In therapy it's often when the conflict can be owned, no longer blamed or projected, that some change can occur.  Paul suddenly remembers that the wrought iron fence was at his boarding school in England, a brand-new piece of psychic territory for him.

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