The following contains spoilers for The Shrink Next Door, Episode 4, “The Foundation” (written by Adam Countee and directed by Michael Showalter).
It’s been a week since we were all introduced to Marty Markowitz (Will Ferrell) and his manipulative therapist Doctor Ike Herschkopf (Paul Rudd). The first three episodes of The Shrink Next Door focused heavily on the formation of Marty’s trust in Ike. I’ve come to see it as Ike’s period of grooming Marty. That trust becomes increasingly clear in this week’s episode as we open with the repercussions Marty’s sister Phyllis (Kathryn Hahn) faces after she takes the family jewels in order to get his attention.
This plan backfires because Ike decides to twist her actions into making her out to be a person who is toxic for Marty. Ike stresses that she never cared about him and only wanted him around so she could have access to their family’s money. This manipulation is really just the beginning of how much Ike’s influence is going to suffocate Marty for the next 20-something years of his life. It’s because of Ike’s influence that Marty decides to cut all ties with his sister and does so in the very loud gesture of sending her a birthday card that includes the snips of her image that have been cut from every photograph Marty had.
In the podcast The Shrink Next Door, which the series is based on, Phyllis makes a great point that Ike may have been the one skating around with the ideas of what Marty should do, but in the end, it was actually Marty that carried them out. With every suggestion Ike made, Marty had the ability to say no and never did. He needs to be held accountable for this, and one thing I feel this series is finding hard to do is actually vocalize that. Instead, I feel the series is playing its hand too hard on the fact that Marty is the victim and is completely oblivious to the choices he’s making.
I understand that The Shrink Next Door needs to be able to tell its story in 10 episodes, but I honestly feel as though the first three took so much time to craft Marty’s world and how he uses the people closest to him to keep from completely losing himself in his anxieties. So when Episode 4 decides to quickly brush over his falling out with Phyllis and only call back to it moments after it happens, it’s as though we as an audience are being cheated out of exploring exactly how rippling this can be for Marty. Luckily, even at the moment shared between Marty and Ike, Will Ferrell is able to express his own inner turmoil through his body language and tone.
The bulk of The Shrink Next Door Episode 4 is in exploring Ike’s growing grasp on Marty. We can say all the horrible things we should about Ike, but Marty was someone who desperately needed therapy. He needed to work through his fear of failing and upsetting people, and although Ike would go on to use it against him, his sessions with Marty were actually helping. Marty had finally stopped hiding and was dealing with things head-on. His work life seemed to have gotten better because he was finally feeling confident in running things. He was so assertive about his own needs that he even racked up the courage to ask a woman, Hannah (Christina Vidal Mitchell), out on a date.
This assertiveness is first praised by Ike, as it should be. As a therapist, you should celebrate if your methods on a patient are working in their favor. This is a personal breakthrough for Marty, who’s been the quiet, reserved one for all his life. This is a moment where he allows himself to let loose enough that Hannah saying yes allows him the courage to burst into leaps of joy down the street. Yet, for Ike, assertiveness is probably the last thing he would want Marty to gain because that would mean he loses his power over him. Marty could begin to comprehend that Ike is doing the very thing he said he was going to protect Marty from—people taking advantage of him.
Any outsider looking at the type of relationship Ike was having with Marty would easily say that there were boundaries being broken between doctor and patient. Ike agrees to join Marty in starting a foundation where he contributes the bare minimum and Marty contributes the majority. Ike is constantly sharing his personal life with Marty, which further explains how few boundaries Ike actually has when it comes to his patients.
Even Hannah begins to question Marty’s relationship with Ike when they go to a charity dinner and Marty discloses that Ike is really his therapist and that it was his money that bought their seats, not Ike’s. She attempts to talk sense into Marty while he is having a panic attack and trying to reassure himself that Ike was in the moment when he bought the autographed baseball for a ridiculous amount of money.
Marty and Ike’s relationship resembles that of a toxic romance that would be seen in a Lifetime Original Movie—the ones where the rich man marries a woman who only wants his money so she pretends to love him, all the while making him feel as if he isn’t doing anything right when in reality it’s the woman he married just using him. Ike is the gold-digging wife while Marty is the poor sap who refuses to see the leech that has latched onto him.
Sure, Ike helped Marty out with his anxiety issues, but I believe the real reason why Marty believes he can’t fully leave Ike is that Ike was the one who saved Marty when he was having a heart attack. When Ike went and made that bid on the baseball, Marty had the curtains ripped wide for him. Between his own thoughts of what was going on and Hannah expressing her concern about the situation, it was clear that Marty might have broken off their partnership then. But then he had this heart attack, and Ike became the one who got him to the hospital and visited him. Ike saving him made Marty realize how alone he was. It opened this world of obligation to Ike because how can you break up with the person who literally just saved you?
You really can’t, at least not without making it appear that you are ungrateful for what they have done. It’s at this moment Marty is truly trapped in Ike’s grasp. With Marty being Marty, he feels an obligation to Ike. It’s this obligation that Ike takes full advantage of, and it gives him the upper hand. In the podcast, the real Marty talks about the period of his life where all he wanted to do was please Ike, and I feel that this is largely because Ike had become Marty’s savior. As a viewer (and listener), I just want to go and smack Marty across the face all Cher style and tell him to “snap out of it” and that he doesn’t owe that man anything since it was his actions that brought on his heart attack in the first place.
The Shrink Next Door Episode 4 was all about Ike realizing that, in order to have complete control over Marty (and his money), he had to separate Marty from the idea that being in a relationship would make him feel complete. Through his twisted ways of manipulation, Ike achieved that. As Ike’s wife, Bonnie (Casey Wilson) puts it, he doesn’t know when to stop. It’s at this point that Ike really has passed his point of no return. For as much as he wants Marty to achieve his whole potential as a patient, his own wants of a richer lifestyle have become the more important.