Shackled to a bedframe in an isolated basement, Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) assesses his situation. With views out to a backyard, no means of communication and a plastic bedpan — his future looks bleak. So begins The Patient, a psychological thriller which premieres on Disney+ from November 30.
This limited series from Joel Fields and Joseph Weisberg (The Americans), is essentially a two-hander between Steve Carell (The Morning Show) and Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) in which both get explore unique characters in close proximity to one another. It demonstrates how underrated these actors are within the industry, and gives each one dramatic carte blanche to delve into some dark recesses.
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Recently widowed, obsessed by routine and dealing with grief through isolation, Alan Strauss is an interesting choice of roles for Steve Carell, who shines when he often ventures outside his comfort zone into serious drama. Hidden beneath some serious facial fur and glasses, it feels like he has taken a leaf from the Robin Williams playbook by dialling down this characterisation and internalising everything.
In an opening episode which employs flashbacks to establish relationships, Alan is shown to be a respected member of the local Jewish community, who is defined through his psychiatry. Switching back and forth between therapy sessions with numerous patients, audiences are welcomed into this world through a series of concise narrative choices.
One patient in particular features more than most in this opening montage sitting opposite Alan, cloaked behind dark glasses and being coy. Using an assumed name from the outset, Sam (Domhnall Gleeson) is evasive and withdrawn during their discussions, choosing to dodge open questions rather than embrace the process. Having made the decision that therapy in this calm environment is not necessarily the answer, Sam sets about changing 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 the first of many great things starts happening, as this show explores deeper narrative themes, retains audience interest and builds dramatic momentum. Firstly, through the negotiation of basic home comforts for anyone being held against their will, through to a discussion around reasons for Alan’s abduction and wilful incarceration by Sam.
Over the next three episodes Alan is increasingly fleshed out through flashbacks, which see him withdraw into old memories involving family. Likewise, Domhnall Gleeson continues adding additional layers to his serial killer stereotype, imbuing Sam with psychological insecurities designed to illicit sympathy. With occasional glimpses beyond these basement walls, which see Sam as a celebrated member of the local hygiene authority, The Patient taps into a number of universal themes.
What this series attempts to do is explore the idea that some people are pre-disposed to commit these crimes. That chemical imbalance, formative experience and social encounters might go some way to contributing towards those choices, but in the main they are driven by psychological compulsions which go beyond what modern medicines can treat.
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That is the debate which underpins this series, as Sam behaves in a conventional manner in every other aspect of his life save one. Where the dramatic element of this show takes hold is in seeing those compulsions play out, with an unwilling participant acting as mediator and hostage.
Alan has a ringside seat and first-person perspective, on a man who is actively fighting an innate desire to do harm. It is an on-going argument which rages between them throughout this Disney+ original, which proves to be a riveting watch. In terms of performance, 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) comes into play and Alan has a conversation, it becomes clear that there is no simple way out of this for him. Not only does she actively condone Sam’s behaviour, but also appears to find nothing wrong with chaining someone up in her basement. In terms of artistic licence this might seem like a step too far, but there are more than a few cases where serial killers have had complicit partners in crime.
People who are actively involved in helping their loved ones commit these crimes, for reasons even medical professionals struggle to fully understand. The Patient weaves just such a moral quandary into its narrative, while maintaining dramatic momentum between these two actors through to that final frame. A fact which should act as the strongest possible inducement to include this on watchlists everywhere come 30 November.
The Patient will premiere on Disney+ from 30 November. Watch a trailer below.