The Patient – Hulu’s Psychological Thriller Series Shocks With 21 Episodes

SERIES REVIEW – Steve Carell plays a psychiatrist imprisoned by a psychopathic killer in this 21-minute shocker, which is both a horror and a punchy, unique series. The psychotic killer, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is also Carell’s patient and will not release the psychiatrist until he “cures” him of his killing spree.



The Patient is out on Hulu, which immediately caught my attention, and I binged it down instantly. It’s an extremely tense, minimalist series of seven episodes of just 21 minutes, in which several characters are featured, but the main story revolves around scenes of Carell fearing for his life and the eerily unpredictable, psychopathic Gleeson.



“Help, or I’ll kill!”


In today’s age of thoroughly bloated streaming TV, video gaming and press screenings, every minute is precious, and it’s a real blessing when the makers of a series choose to tell a story economically, condensed to its essence, rather than bloat each episode to over an hour with unnecessary asides. And indeed, The Patient, the FX production that debuts exclusively on Hulu on Tuesday, August 30th (I’ve seen seven of the ten episodes), makes excellent use of this minimal time, keeping the tension tantalisingly tight while exploring not only the present-day history of the killer and his captive but also the backstory, all helped by excellent performances from the two leads. Be careful what you wish for, however: in some ways, the unique format of The Patient is more of a curse than a blessing.

In The Patient, Steve Carell plays Dr Alan Strauss, a therapist who is tormented by the death of his wife a few months earlier but even more shocked to find himself chained to a bed in a cramped suburban basement. He is held captive by Sam (Domhnall Gleeson), a moody young patient who doesn’t open up much during their regular sessions. “I didn’t get anywhere in therapy,” Sam explains, but he can finally tell the truth here in the basement: “I have a compulsion to kill people”. He’s done it a few times before and wants Alan to help him stop before he does it again.



Handle it right, or you’re dead!


It’s a riveting set-up, and the script delves deep into Sam’s complicated psyche to find the twisted and sick mind behind it. He almost sounds intelligent when he speaks; as he says himself, he’s not as confused as the killers in the movies. Sam is a genuine eccentric: a natural gourmet and a bit of a foodie: he brings home exotic food for Alan, and he’s also a fan of singer Kenny Chesney. After some initial resistance, the captive Alan finally sits down and listens to Sam, who tries to make sense of his murderous urges (he sees himself as an avenging angel dispensing karmic justice: “They all deserved it”). Alan has to walk on eggshells, careful not to upset Sam while trying to stop him from killing again. He’s looking for a way out – for himself, of course – before it’s too late.

In The Patient, we also see flashbacks to Alan’s earlier life, as he is estranged from his Orthodox Jewish son Ezra, played by Barry Andrew Leeds, and shares some very questionable parenting decisions with the series’ Sam’s mother, played by Linda Edmond. But The Patient is essentially a highly taut psychological thriller that feels like a particularly bloody season of HBO’s The Therapist, and Carell and Gleeson’s performances in it are excellent.

Carell here is a far cry from the iconic Michael Scott character from The Office, not just because he wears a grey head of hair and a beard. Of course, we’ve seen some outstanding dramatic work from him in films like 2014’s Foxcatcher, so he’s no stranger to the dramatic role, and here, he plays Alan’s alternating fear and empathy as a delicate balancing act.

Gleeson is better known for more light-hearted roles, such as the romantic comedy About Time, but Star Wars fans will also remember her as General Hux in the previous trilogy. As Sam, the actor is quite chilling: he has an icy stare and looks ready to snap at any moment, as he occasionally twitches with barely restrained rage.



Tension maxed out


Weisberg and Fields have become masters of the slow-building psychological drama in their series The Americans – they write all the episodes here and seem to be torturing us with relish here, too. Often they can tickle our nerves with minimal sounds, such as a beeping phone that needs to be charged, which adds to the tension in an already throat-clenching scene. The 21-minute format helps keep the pace up, and several episodes end with huge cliffhangers.

I was happy to get seven episodes in one go, and of course, I’m on pins and needles waiting for the final episodes. The big question, of course, is how well the weekly format will work for a series like this, whose ultra-short episodes often end with cliffhangers. It will be difficult to wait a whole week for the resolution, so perhaps it will be better to consume it all at once, in one series.



The Patient

Direction - 8.6
Actors - 8.8
Story - 8.2
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 7.8
Ambience - 8.6



Hulu's psychological thriller The Patient ratchets up the tension with its 21-minute format. Also, it features two excellent performances from the inmate psychiatrist (Steve Carell) and the psychotic murder patient (Domhnall Gleeson).

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines – including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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