Sep 11

“Big Little Lies” Season Two: Therapist Loses Cred

In a previous post I commented on the competence of the therapist—and how refreshing this was considering how little of this we see on TV and film—in Season One of Big Little Lies. Unfortunately, my opinion has changed after watching the most recent shows. Although Big Little Lies Season Two features the same therapist, she’s different now. I’ll try to explain. Spoilers ahead.

Big Little Lies Season One therapy: In a nutshell, Celeste (Nicole Kidman) addressed being the victim of domestic violence in her therapy with a helpful Dr. Amanda Reisman (Robin Weigert). But Celeste didn’t have to decide to leave her abusive husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) after all. As of the finale he’s dead.

Big Little Lies Season Two therapy: Each therapy scene is jarringly confrontational and off-putting, but the worst offense occurs when Dr. Reisman asks Celeste not only to focus on remembering her abuse but also to imagine her best friend, Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) being abused in the same way. Sure, Reisman probably wants to turn Celeste’s empathy for others inward. But, as Julia Naftulin, Insider, points out, her approach leads to unnecessarily retraumatizing Celeste.

Indeed, one of the goals of a trauma-sensitive therapist involves trying not to trigger the painful memories and flashbacks. Purposely probing for a reenactment of the past is likely to further embed aspects of the trauma into a client’s brain.

Another problem is Reisman’s judgmental attitudes. She pushes Celeste, for instance, to see her marriage in more black-and-white terms, i.e., Perry is bad—someone to get over already. The reality is that Celeste had been in a complicated relationship with a man who yes, did awful things to her—but who was loved as well.

Therapist Kelly Scott gives Insider this sound opinion:

…Dr. Reisman’s approach ⁠— insisting that Perry was purely evil, with no positive attributes ⁠— only could have been effective if he was still alive and Celeste needed a one-dimensional view of him to leave the relationship. But now that Perry is dead, painting him as the bad guy serves no purpose for Celeste or her safety. Rather, it will likely alienate her.

Madeline and her husband Ed (Adam Scott) also sign up for Reisman therapy after Ed finds out Madeline was unfaithful. In what appears to be their very first session, Reisman badgers a confused Madeline into explaining why she cheated, then out of the blue accuses Ed of being “profoundly disengaged” and possibly as guilty as his wife for their current problems. The upshot: neither is happy with how they’re treated.

For additional info and opinions regarding the therapist in Big Little Lies Season Two, here are a few resources:

Oct 16

“ACOD”: Adult Child of Divorced Parents “Helped” By Quasi-Therapist

Not to be confused with the real world’s ACOD, which for years has stood for the 12-step program Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families, the title of the new film A.C.O.D. stands for Adult Child(ren) of Divorce.

Co-written and directed by actual ACOD Stu Zicherman, the movie is officially described as follows:

A.C.O.D. follows Carter (Adam Scott), a seemingly well-adjusted Adult Child of Divorce. Having survived the madness of his parents’ (Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara) divorce, Carter now has a successful career and supportive girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But when his younger brother (Clark Duke) gets engaged, Carter is forced to reunite his bitterly divorced parents and their new spouses (Amy Poehler and Ken Howard) for the wedding, causing the chaos of his childhood to return including his wacky therapist (Jane Lynch).

But is she really a therapist? It’s set up in the trailer:

So, ACOD Carter discovers when returning to Dr. Judith in the midst of a crisis that she wasn’t in fact his child therapist; actually, she was studying and writing about kids of divorce. And now that she’s seen him again, she decides she’s interested in doing a 20-year follow-up.

This is groundbreaking stuff, after all. “Do you realize you’re the least-parented, least-nurtured generation ever?,” asks Dr. Judith.

Although film critic Dan Callahan, rogerebert.com, disses Lynch’s character as “an oblivious and self-centered quasi-scientist who made big bucks out of telling his childhood story in a book and who now wants to make more money with a sequel,” that doesn’t mean she’s unimportant. Indeed, Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly, gives Zicherman kudos for making Jane Lynch’s relationship with Carter a key ingredient of the film. “Lynch, less farcical than usual, speaks hilarious truths in her lightly hostile way.”

Claudia Puig, USA Today, agrees: “…(S)he imparts obvious truths like ‘I’ve always thought funerals should be about the person that died’ with an air of scholarly authority.”

Another key element of the movie’s plot is that Carter’s life adjustment isn’t what he thinks it is, which leads to an existential crisis and relationship problems.

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: “Carter is an expert at managing his own life; he’s just not so great at letting go and living it.”

A conclusion from Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “…an unfunny comedy about a guy mooning over his parents’ divorce decades later, is so eager to please it’s hard to hate. But it’s sluggish even at 87 minutes, clichéd and gives you nothing of interest to look at other than some familiar faces.”