THE BRIGHT SESSIONS: THERAPY FOR THE STRANGE AND UNUSUAL
The Bright Sessions is a smart, psychological fictional podcast that is a cross between In Treatment and X-Men and has the feel of a riveting stage play. Each episode follows the same format — Dr. Bright, a licensed psychologist, meets with one of her patients to discuss a range of issues. At the beginning and end of each session, she often narrates some of her thoughts about the patient and session, not unlike the “Captain’s logs” in Star Trek. It’s in these brief narratives that we listeners learn more about the longer story arcs of the story.
The reason I equate this podcast to X-Men is that each of her patients has a special, extraordinary power. And Dr. Bright is like Professor Charles Xavier, a leader of sorts that assembles these individuals together. Based on the hints that we know so far, it certainly sounds like Dr. Bright is attempting to bring these individuals together for some sort of larger goal that is still unknown.
Based on the casting information in the podcast’s website, this season focuses exclusively on three of Dr. Bright’s patients, Sam, Chloe, and Caleb. Of the three, Sam is a central focus — not unlike Jean Gray from X-Men. Sam is voiced by Lauren Shippen, who is also the creator and writer of the podcast.
Sam has the ability to travel back in time. Her body literally disappears in a poof — it’s happened twice already mid-session — and she spends hours, weeks, or even months in different eras of the past, while only a few minutes pass in present reality. The thing is, Sam can’t control her time travel. The jumps happen involuntarily, often when she is feeling acute anxiety or stress. She can’t control when or where she travels to or how long she stays. At this point, after several traumatic incidents in her past, Sam simply wants to eradicate this ability within herself all together, which she sees more like an afflicting disease than a beneficial power. But Dr. Bright wants Sam to try to harness this ability and use it for some still unknown greater purpose.
Chloe can read minds. For a long time she thought she was hearing the voices of angels. But after meeting with Dr. Bright, she’s come to understand that she has the power of telepathy. So far, they’ve only had two sessions together, and most of that time has been spent getting Chloe to come to terms with the fact that the voices she’s hearing are other people rather than angels. I expect we’ll learn more about Chloe’s longer story arc in episode 9.
Also, we’re told that Dr. Bright once treated Chloe’s mother, which is how Chloe got connected to Dr. Bright. And while Chloe was able to read Dr. Bright’s thoughts in their first session together, Dr. Bright has engaged in self hypnotism and meditation to block Chloe’s ability to read her mind in future sessions.
Finally, Caleb is a high school teenager and an “empath.” He can’t read people’s specific thoughts the way Chloe can, but he can detect their emotions. Of the three patients, Bright has been meeting with Caleb the longest — 13 sessions now. Not each of these sessions is “covered” by an episode of the podcast, by the way.
The most recent episode of the podcast, episode 8, focused on Caleb’s budding romantic relationship with his high school friend Adam. At first, Caleb couldn’t stand Adam because Adam was “sad all the time” and his sadness affected Caleb’s own emotional state. But through Dr. Bright’s encouragement, Caleb reached out and got to know Adam, and now they are virtually inseparable. It’s also revealed that Caleb and Adam have “butterflies” for each other, but it seems neither Caleb nor Adam are quite ready to reveal their feelings to each other just yet. Caleb is a football player and if he is gay so far it’s a secret he’s keeping to himself. But it certainly seems like Caleb and Adam’s is a love story that is waiting to bloom.
The writing on this podcast is sharp and dramatic. The voice actors are quite good at their roles. At about 20 minutes each, the episodes seem to be just the right amount of time. And while the podcast is constrained by the limited, no frills format of the therapy sessions — we don’t ever hear, for instance, directly from Adam or the other characters lurking in the background, and we don’t travel through time with Sam — this limitation actually works in the podcast’s favor. As a listener it requires you to pay close attention to the details of the dialogue, as even a passing reference to an event in the past reveals important clues.
There are several longer term mysteries this podcast is building up to that I will be closely following:
- First and foremost, who is Dr. Bright? How is it that she has developed this practice of “therapy for the strange and unusual” as she put it? And what is Dr. Bright building up to? It seems very clear at this point that she is very intentionally recruiting these patients for some sort of larger mission. But what is that mission? In short, what is the purpose of the Bright Sessions?
- Second, at the very end of episode 6, Chloe, who is telepathic, says she is sensing some very evil thoughts from someone who is nearby. She is scared and thinks Dr. Bright is also in danger. We learn that these thoughts are coming from Dr. Bright’s next patient— someone named “Damien.” Dr. Bright insists that her relationship with this patient is none of Chloe’s business and basically wants Chloe to stop thinking about it. We never actually hear from Damien, and this is the only reference to Damien in any of the episodes of the podcast so far. But I can’t help but wonder if Damien was truly just a “one off” that was meant to be forgotten or whether he will play a larger role in the story arc of the podcast. If there is going to be a central villain in The Bright Sessions, it stands to reason that it will be him. Or at the very least, will this Damien do something evil or harmful that becomes the catalyst for an important development in the story down the line?
Other questions and loose ends:
- We know that Dr. Bright has worked with Chloe’s mother in the past. Will we learn more about Chloe’s mother and Dr. Bright’s past?
- Speaking of Dr. Bright, we only know bits and pieces of her character. I don’t think we even know her first name. In the latest episode, we find out she’s not married. We know she’s been practicing long enough at least to have treated both Chloe today and her mother in the past. My guess is she’s been practicing for at least 10 years. We know that she’s not a psychiatrist because she’s not allowed to prescribe medication. Will we learn more about Dr. Bright’s backstory?
- The final other character lurking in the background is Dr. Bright’s secretary, a woman named Sarah. Sarah’s character has not been assigned a voice actor so most likely we won’t hear from her. But we know she typically hangs out near the waiting room with the other patients waiting for their appointments. Sarah is also engaged and the wedding planning is stressing her out — which is not uncommon even among very happily engaged couples. It’s unclear at this point whether Sarah will play a larger role in the story arc.
- Dr. Bright labels each patient at a certain level of ability. Sam, for instance, is “Level 10, Class D.” Caleb most recently bumped up to a “level 6.” What do these levels and classes mean?
All in all, I’m very much enjoying this podcast thus far and looking forward to the next episode!