Chained to a bed frame in an isolated basement, Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) assesses his situation. With a view of a courtyard, no means of communication and a plastic frying pan: his future looks bleak. So it begins The patienta psychological thriller premiering on Disney+ from November 30.
This limited series by Joel Fields and Joseph Weisberg (The Americans), is essentially a two-handed between Steve Carell (The morning show) and Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) in which both explore unique characters close to each other. It demonstrates how underrated these players are within the industry and gives each dramatic carte blanche to delve into some dark recesses.
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Recently widowed, obsessed with routine and coping with grief through isolation, Alan Strauss is an interesting choice of roles for Steve Carell, who shines when he often ventures out of his comfort zone in serious drama. Tucked away under serious facial fur and glasses, it looks like he’s taken a leaf out of the Robin Williams playbook by dialing in this characterization and internalizing it all.
In an opening episode that uses flashbacks to establish relationships, Alan is shown as a respected member of the local Jewish community, defined through his psychiatry. Switching back and forth between therapy sessions with numerous patients, the audience is welcomed into this world through a series of terse narrative choices.
One patient in particular appears more than most in this opening montage sitting across from Alan, hidden behind dark glasses and shy. Using an assumed name early on, Sam (Domhnall Gleeson) is evasive and withdrawn during their discussions, choosing to dodge open-ended questions rather than embrace process. After deciding that therapy in this calm environment isn’t necessarily the answer, Sam decides to change their dynamic permanently.
After less than fifteen minutes battle lines are drawn between these actors, allowing them to explore the inherent drama of this deeply personal premise. Here begins the first of many great things, as this show explores deeper narrative themes, holds audience interest, and builds dramatic momentum. First, through the negotiation of basic home comforts for anyone being held against their will, to a discussion of the motives for Alan’s abduction and Sam’s voluntary incarceration.
Over the next three episodes Alan is enriched more and more with flashbacks, which see him retreat into old memories involving the family. Likewise, Domhnall Gleeson keeps adding more layers to his serial killer stereotype, imbuing Sam with psychological insecurities engineered out of illicit sympathy. With occasional glimpses beyond these basement walls, seeing Sam as a celebrated member of the local sanitation authority, The patient draws on a number of universal themes.
What this series attempts to do is explore the idea that some people are predisposed to commit these crimes. That chemical imbalance, educational experience, and social encounters might go some way toward contributing to those choices, but mostly they’re driven by psychological compulsions that are beyond what modern medicines can cure.
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That’s the debate underpinning this series, as Sam behaves conventionally in every other aspect of his life but one. Where the dramatic element of this show kicks in is in seeing those compulsions play out, with a reluctant participant serving as mediator and hostage.
Alan has a ringside seat, and a first-person perspective, on a man who is actively battling an innate desire to do harm. It’s an ongoing discussion that rages between them throughout this Disney+ original, which proves to be a compelling watch. In terms of performances, this makes it difficult to determine who comes out on top, as both actors match each other beat for beat.
When Sam’s mother Candace (Linda Emond) steps in and Alan has a conversation, it becomes clear there’s no easy way out for him. Not only does he actively condone Sam’s behavior, but he also seems to see nothing wrong with chaining someone up in his basement. In terms of artistic license this might seem like a step too far, but there are more than a few cases where serial killers have had accomplice partners in crime.
People who are actively involved in helping their loved ones commit these crimes, for reasons that even medical professionals struggle to fully understand. The patient weaves just such a moral dilemma into its narrative while maintaining the dramatic momentum between these two actors up until that final frame. A fact that should serve as the strongest possible incentive to include him on watchlists anywhere from November 30th.
The Patient will premiere on Disney+ on November 30. Watch a trailer below.