Is The Patient on Disney+ worth watching?
Chained to a bed frame in an isolated basement, Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) assesses his situation. With a view out onto a backyard, no means of communication and a plastic basin – his future looks bleak. So it begins The patienta psychological thriller premiering 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) where both get to explore unique characters in close proximity to each other. It demonstrates how underrated these actors are in the industry, giving each a dramatic carte blanche to delve into some dark recesses.
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Recently widowed, obsessed with 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 under serious facial fur and glasses, it feels like he’s taken a leaf out of Robin Williams’ playbook by dialing down this characterization and internalizing it all.
In an opening episode that uses flashbacks to establish relationships, Alan is shown to be a respected member of the local Jewish community, which is defined through his psychiatry. Switching back and forth between therapy sessions with many patients, the audience is welcomed into this world through a series of concise narrative choices.
One patient in particular has more than most in this opening montage sitting opposite Alan, covered behind dark glasses and handsome. Using an assumed name from the beginning, Sam (Domhnall Gleeson) is evasive and withdrawn during his discussions, choosing to avoid open-ended questions rather than embrace the process. After deciding that therapy in this quiet environment isn’t necessarily the answer, Sam sets out 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, the first of many great things begin to happen, as this show explores deeper narrative themes, maintains audience interest, and builds dramatic momentum. Firstly, through the negotiation of basic home comforts for anyone held against their will, to a discussion of the reasons for Alan’s abduction and deliberate imprisonment of Sam.
Over the course of the next three episodes, Alan is increasingly fleshed out through flashbacks, which see him regress to old memories involving his family. Similarly, Domhnall Gleeson continues to add 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 famous member of the local sanitation authority, The patient makes use of a number of universal themes.
What this series is trying to do is explore the idea that some people are predisposed to commit these crimes. The chemical imbalance, formative experience and social encounters may contribute to these choices, but in the main they are driven by psychological compulsions that go beyond what modern medicine can treat.
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That’s the debate that underlies this series, as Sam behaves in a conventional manner in all but one aspect of his life. Where the dramatic element of this performance takes hold is watching these forced acts unfold, with an unwilling participant acting as mediator and hostage.
Alan has an adjacent seat and first-person perspective, of a man actively fighting an innate desire to do harm. There’s an ongoing feud that rages between them throughout this Disney+ original, which proves to be a riveting watch. Performance-wise, this makes it difficult to decide who comes out the best, as both actors match each other blow for blow.
When Sam’s mother Candace (Linda Emond) tapes in and Alan has a conversation, it becomes clear that there is no easy way out for him. Not only does she actively condone Sam’s behavior, but also seems to find nothing wrong with chaining someone in her basement. In terms of artistic license, this may seem like a step too far, but there are more than a few cases where serial killers have had accomplices 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 dilemma into its narrative, while maintaining dramatic momentum between these two actors until the final frame. A fact that should act as the strongest possible encouragement to include this on watch lists everywhere on November 30th.
The Patient premieres on Disney+ from 30 November. Watch a trailer below.