“The Patient” premiered on FX and Hulu in Aug. 2022 with heavy hitters Steve Carell and Domhnall Gleeson.
The show stars Gleeson as a serial killer named Sam (aka The John Doe Killer), who kidnaps his therapist, Dr. Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) in a last-ditch attempt to get him to stop killing. The show follows Dr. Strauss as he attempts to solve Sam’s unique compulsion while also trying to fix his own family life from the basement of a killer.
The strongest element of the show is no doubt the acting, particularly Gleeson’s. The veteran actor seamlessly steps into the shoes of Sam, delivering arguably one of his best performances in a show that most people probably won’t see.
Gleeson perfectly tows the line between playing a divorced and highly disturbed individual who considers himself to be smarter than most and a man with the emotional equivalence of a child, evidenced by his incredibly close relationship with his doting mother.
Carell also holds his own, turning in another solid dramatic performance at the behest of some questionable writing and despite the fact that he’s chained to the floor for much of the show.
As mentioned above, the main element that holds the show back from being a modern classic is the writing which is done by experienced TV writers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg. Both of them are former writers for “The Americans.”
A good chunk of the show takes place within Dr. Strauss’ head as he imagines himself talking to his former therapist, Charlie (David Allan Grier). This relationship is integral to the show and actually works despite how it sounds, however, the introduction of Charlie is sort of jarring and felt like it came out of nowhere.
Charlie first appears in the sixth episode titled, “Charlie,” where he is given essentially no introduction and becomes a main character from there on until the end of the show. This is the first time in the show where the writing really starts to falter, but it’s nowhere near as confusing as the ending, which strays away from the entire point of the show just for a cheap rendition of the “it was all a dream” cliche.
In the finale of the show, Dr. Strauss attempts to convince Sam to turn himself in and let him go, rather than just hitting him with the ceramic pitcher that has been referenced as a potential way out of the basement in virtually every episode up until now.
Sam disappears upstairs, and Dr. Strauss lures Sam’s mother into the basement where he grabs her and threatens Sam that he’ll kill her unless he turns himself in.
It then abruptly cuts to a scene presumably taking place after the events of the show, showing that Dr. Strauss has reunited with his estranged son, Ezra, and is at a family gathering at which they reference his time in Sam’s basement. So, the show’s over, right? Right?
Wrong. It immediately cuts back to the basement where Sam has actually overpowered and killed Dr. Strauss, much to the objection of his own mother. The show then ends with Sam chaining himself to the floor in place of Dr. Strauss, in order to physically restrain himself from hurting anyone ever again.
While it’s understandable that the writers wanted to end on a positive note, this ending essentially upends the entire mythos that has been constructed within the show.
The way this initially very powerful and intriguing show ends turns Dr. Strauss’ character into a dumbed-down version of the supposed genius that he is. Maybe in some way, that was what the writers wanted to show in the end, but it comes off as a half-baked, barely-thought-out idea that almost ruins the show, which had so much promise up until the last two episodes.
This isn’t even mentioning the rushed sequence of events in the penultimate episode which drives Sam to attempt to kill his father, whom he and Strauss believe is the cause of his violent tendencies. In the end, Sam isn’t able to kill him and we never see or hear from his father again, even though his own son came to his house and tried to kill him.
I would say that at least the first eight episodes are worth watching if only for Domhnall Gleeson’s performance as Sam in which he seamlessly switches from a terrifying psychopath to a frightened child who strives endlessly for his mother’s love.
In the end, “The Patient” is a strong concept with incredible performances all around that falls flat late in its runtime due to its shoddy writing by two experienced TV writers who came from established award-winning shows.