A fine episode of The Patient interrogates ideas of faith as Alan begins to further unravel, and any potential salvation seems like fantasy.
This recap of The Patient season 1, episode 7, “Kaddish”, contains spoilers.
Not to point out the obvious or anything, but Steve Carell is known primarily for being funny. He’s had serious roles in stuff like Foxcatcher, but he’s one of those unfortunate actors who seems to have been designed for a certain genre. It might be the other way around, admittedly – maybe working in comedy so long contorted his features and expressions. Either way, Carell even looks funny.
That’s not intended as an insult, even though it probably reads as one, but I’m building up to a compliment, so stay with me here. In the aforementioned Foxcatcher, Carell looking funny was kind of the point. He was wearing a fake nose that seemed to exist independently of him. It was a serious part, but he didn’t look remotely serious in it, which after a while made him quietly terrifying. In The Patient, Carell looks normal – even handsome in a kind of unassuming older-dude way. I’ve enjoyed him in this role all throughout the season, but “Kaddish” is the first time I’ve noticed that he doesn’t look funny anymore. Tired, sure. Defeated, possibly. But certainly not funny at all.
The Patient season 1, episode 7 recap
And that’s weird since Alan cracks a couple of jokes in this episode, continuing his therapy sessions with the imagined specter of his former mentor, Charlie. You’ll recall that in The Patient episode 6, Alan made his boldest move yet in stuffing a hastily-written and almost completely illegible note down the gullet of Sam’s latest undeserving victim, Elias, after having convinced – or so he thought – Sam to dump the body where the authorities would find it. It’s an empathy issue, see, the logic being that if Alan can engender a sense of sympathy and feeling in Sam, he might not kill him when his usefulness expires.
As of this episode, the deadline on Alan’s usefulness seems to be getting nearer, and the experiment in empathy seems to have failed.
The crushing blow is that Sam didn’t go through with dumping Elias’s body somewhere obvious – he got too worried about a passing motorist perhaps putting two and two together, and instead left Elias’s corpse somewhere that, he assures Alan, nobody will ever find it. This news leaves Alan bereft and increasingly untethered. His “sessions” with Charlie become antsier and focused on all the stuff that Alan has been trying to avoid talking about, such as the loss of his wife, Beth, and his frayed relationship with his orthodox son, Ezra.
This was the point, it’s worth noting, when I noticed how unfunny Steve Carell was looking. When he recalls Beth’s final hours coinciding with one of Ezra’s tantrums, it’s hissed through clenched teeth. Despite The Patient having repeatedly hinted at it, there doesn’t seem to be any deeper mystery in Alan’s familial situation. It’s more about how lingering resentment – especially for Ezra – has deeply impacted Alan’s ability to grieve his late wife and find solace in his religion.
Judaism has come up frequently in the show before now, but it’s the fittingly titled “Kaddish” that really interrogates faith in various forms, from a coping mechanism to a tool of radicalization to a context within which to consider the wider world. Alan’s rational mind must have interpreted Ezra’s embrace of orthodoxy – at one point he snarls that his rigid personality was always well suited to it – as typical teenage rebellion, the accusation that he and Beth had an inauthentic relationship with God just one of countless, creative ways in which children lash out against their parents. But rebellion is a phase, typically. For Ezra, it never ended. When Beth was dying and wanted to be surrounded by her family at the end, he deemed the whole thing insufficiently Jewish and declared he wanted no part in it. Alan has visibly never been able to reconcile that with what he knew – or thought he knew – about his son and his religion, which is probably why he has since dreamed of being in the barracks of Auschwitz.
And yet it’s within his religion that he retreats, finding comfort in reciting the Kaddish for Beth even at his lowest ebb, as he seems to perhaps be resigning himself to death. When he can’t recall it, Sam coming home with a new printer so he can read the words aloud from a piece of paper seems like empathy. However, when Alan tells Sam that the Kaddish is private and he nonetheless listens to the recital through the door – something the audience is privy to but Alan is not – it seems very much like Sam hasn’t embraced empathy at all.
But something is happening with Sam. In fact, he actively seeks out a replacement therapist in the form of his old high school counselor, who clearly sees him as a bit odd but also seems at least a little excited at the opportunity to analyze him. (There’s a similar discussion elsewhere in the episode between Alan and Charlie about Sam being the former’s most interesting patient, and it’s difficult to argue with the accuracy of that claim, for better and for worse.) Why Sam feels he needs another therapist is left unclear for now, but it probably doesn’t bode well for Alan. The irony, of course, is that Sam even contemplating these things – his actions, the possibility of change, the inevitability of becoming what he eventually became — means that his therapy with Alan is working.
You can stream The Patient season 1, episode 7, “Kaddish”, exclusively on Hulu.