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Hulu’s ‘The Patient’ is about a serial killer — but also takeout food

The show, starring Domhnall Gleeson and Steve Carell, will thrill you psychologically — but it'll also make you hungry.
Steve Carell as Alan Strauss, Domhnall Gleeson as Sam Fortner.
Steve Carell as Alan Strauss and Domhnall Gleeson as Sam Fortner talk over bagels.Frank Ockenfells / FX

In TV’s latest buzzworthy psychological drama, takeout plays as major a part as its two leads.

In Hulu and FX’s “The Patient,” Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) is held captive by Sam Fortner (Domhnall Gleeson) in a low-lit wood-paneled basement, left with his thoughts, a bed and oddly cutesy cloud lamps hung on the same wall to which he is chained against his will. The series mainly takes place in this space, with many literal life-and-death conversations are had over a small table, one which holds anything from eggs to lavish takeout dinners.

Sam Fortner (played by Domhnall Gleeson) serves up bowls of pho.
Sam Fortner (played by Domhnall Gleeson) serves up bowls of pho.FX

Dichotomies like these are what viewers have found so intriguing about the show, where a serial killer and kidnapper has human qualities that so many of us can relate to —  mainly, that he’s a foodie.

During the very first tense mealtime scene between Alan and Sam in the series premiere, this becomes apparent. After that first night, Alan finds himself in the grasp of his newest patient and screaming for help through the night brings him no closer to freedom, and Sam finally shows up, after a recurring bit in the show where Sam relieves himself for a comically long amount of time.

Alan begs Sam to be let go, but instead of addressing Alan’s concerns, his enigmatic captor offers Alan leftovers from “one of his favorites,” an Indian restaurant called Maruti.

As the kidnapper and killer describes the best sauce pairings for chana palak (chickpeas with spinach) and sabzi (Indian mixed vegetables) as good options for breakfast to a frightened, confused Alan, the peculiar characterization the creators of the series intended to convey becomes a tad more clear.

“It’s funny, you often hear with serial killers that the neighbor is so surprised. But we delved a little deeper into that and learned that these people can sometimes be quite successful in their work lives and even getting along with people,” said Joe Weisberg, creator of “The Patient” with co-creator Joel Fields, to The Daily Beast, adding later that this allowed them to add depth and build out and add specificity of their serial killer character, who speaks of inspecting restaurants as his day job.

Steve Carell as Alan Strauss, Domhnall Gleeson as Sam Fortner.
Steve Carell as Alan Strauss and Domhnall Gleeson as Sam Fortner talk over bagels. Frank Ockenfells / FX

“So it’s pretty interesting to think of it. Because once you say that these are humans and not just sociopaths, then we as writers are able to start digging in to create a human,” he said. 

In another pivotal scene in episode two (slight spoilers ahead!), during a “therapy session,” Sam tells Alan about a man who was rude to him at a Greek restaurant, a situation the murderer has fixated on. Still, while Sam says he’s considering murdering this person, he takes a moment to compliment the food at the restaurant the man’s father owns, including detailing a modern dish of moussaka-filled gyoza “that just melt in your mouth.”

Between this, conversations over Vietnamese pho, noodles, and a steady stream of takeout containers and to-go cups from Dunkin’, you get a sense of the antagonist of the series through his culinary appetites much earlier than his hunger for violence becomes any clearer.

“Most of the time he’s not a serial killer, like he’s not killing, you know what I mean?” said Gleeson in an interview with Decider about the depiction of his character. “Working in all the lighter aspects of his character to make him a bigger thing than just one thing all the time … it would be bizarre if in a show about therapy you only showed one aspect of a person’s character. That would be such a mistake.”

Due to the frequency and significance of these tension-filled dinner scenes between Alan and Sam, FX and Hulu have given out free takeout dinners to viewers in a giveaway each week “The Patient” airs every Tuesday. The first two episodes of “The Patient” premiered on Hulu on Aug. 30, and in tandem with the pair of episodes, the networks gave away Thai dinner for two in the L.A. and NYC areas via a Twitter contest.

This week, in tandem with a scene in the show over bowls of pho, the networks gave away bowls of the Vietnamese soup along with bottles of Sriracha to a few lucky winners. Remaining episodes of "The Patient" air weekly and next week’s giveaway is sure to be a culinary tie-in to the plot, so fans should keep their eyes peeled — and their appetites saved.