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In Between, Down Below: Power Ranking Television's Disordered Detectives

By Cindy Davis | Seriously Random Lists | July 22, 2013 | Comments ()


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In 2010, “Parenthood” and “Sherlock” both debuted main characters who have Asperger Syndrome. Whether a byproduct of awareness being raised, or in order to raise awareness, these and other characters with mental health issues have been welcomed and in many cases praised for their realistic depictions. Interestingly, in exploring characters with mental illness, writers seem to be drawn (as ever) to people in law enforcement; it only makes sense. Among professions, police are often subjected to high stress levels, long hours and shift work, and overall challenging or upsetting circumstances—statistically, they have “more suicidal thoughts than the general population.” With television being the dramatized version of life it is, some of the characters are more effective at their jobs than others, and some are clearly placed in unrealistic positions or circumstances. I thought it would be interesting to have a look at how these current characters are portrayed, and whether their effectiveness is affected. Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional; all observations are merely…observational.

***Obviously, show spoilers are ahead.

8. Detective Sonya Cross, “The Bridge”

sonya.jpg

Affliction: Asperger Syndrome

The Situation: Regardless of Diane Kruger’s excellent abilities as an actress, this detective could never realistically be effective. Granted, we’re only two episodes in, but what we’ve seen of Sonya Cross so far is not mere social awkwardness; she’s immature and child-like to the point that she doesn’t have the skills necessary to her profession. Investigating crime entails not only finding and evaluating evidence, it requires some ability to observe and read situations or people; Cross is just a little too oblivious to have even gotten into her line of work.

7. Special Agent Will Graham, “Hannibal”

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Affliction: Encephalitis, Asperger Syndrome, “Empathy Disorder”

The Situation: Though his so-called “empathy disorder” is part of what makes Will Graham so useful in his role, it clearly takes an emotional toll and may physically, as well as mentally, affect him. A cursory look around appears to suggest a specific kind of atypical empathy can be associated with Asperger Syndrome, causing “increased personal distress.” Graham’s combination of health issues landed him in the hospital, and ultimately aided his crafty psychiatrist to set up the agent; by the season one’s end, Graham is being held at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, rendering him completely ineffective.

6. CIA Case Officer Carrie Mathison, “Homeland”

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Affliction: Bipolar Disorder

The Situation: Regardless of how unrealistic the idea of hiding her disorder from the CIA is, when she takes her meds, Carrie generally seems quite capable in her role as field operative; her instincts are impeccable. Unfortunately, after suffering a concussion, Mathison becomes increasingly manic and adding alcohol to the mix certainly doesn’t help the situation. Carrie is brilliant and though at times she is an excellent agent who can manage her condition, she eventually loses control, her official position, and submits herself to be treated with electroconvulsive therapy. In “Homeland’s” second season, she attempts suicide, quickly changing her mind and forcing herself to throw up the pills she ingested. Carrie continues to serve as an undercover consultant, but it seems highly unlikely she’ll ever be reinstated.

5. Lieutenant/Private Investigator Debra Morgan, “Dexter”

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Affliction: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The Situation: After being kidnapped and nearly killed by Dexter’s brother aka the Ice Truck Killer, then finding out Dexter’s true nature at the end of Season seven, it’s no wonder Deb has PTSD. And aside from sporadic drug and alcohol overuse, Morgan has generally kept a decent handle on her mental health and her job (save the excessive crying/swearing jags). Without spoiling anyone as to events in last night’s episode, that semi-stability may be coming to an end, and the recent bad psychiatric advice certainly isn’t helping. Deb left her position with Miami Metro and her professional situation is up in the air.

4. Deputy Rick Grimes, “The Walking Dead”

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Affliction: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Grief, “Complete Mental Breakdown”

The Situation: While Rick Grimes isn’t exactly an officer of the law in his current situation, he’s been the de facto group leader and for a time, their moral compass. But life and death in zombieland has clearly taken its toll; since Lori’s death, Rick’s been having hallucinatory visions and what Andrew Lincoln calls a “complete mental breakdown.” Interestingly, despite his increasingly erratic and unreliable behavior, the group has still (mostly) chosen to follow Rick’s decisions, even as they note the signs of his mental decline. And other than the random moments where he’s inexplicably frozen in the midst of enemy gunfire, or stood staring into the woods, Grimes generally holds it together. How long his stability lasts remains to be seen.

3. Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, “Broadchurch”

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Affliction: Heart Condition, Insomnia, Panic Attacks

The Situation: DI Hardy comes into Broadchurch with quite a bit of baggage and stress. He’s left a city precinct after having been involved in a high profile murder case gone bad and he’s taking over a case as an outsider, having been chosen over a local officer who is initially resentful toward him. For the most part, Hardy is able to function well, working around his momentary panic spells; it’s the heart ailment that nearly derails him. Other than having to be hospitalized and other small bits of time lost to dizzy/panic spells, Hardy is fairly effective and able to work around his conditions; he solves the crime at hand.

2. Special Agent Hank Schrader, “Breaking Bad”

HankS.jpg

Affliction: Panic Attacks, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The Situation: After his Tuco takedown, DEA agent Schrader was offered a promotion and transfer, but panic attacks subverted his confidence and Hank had some hard times—he was sent back to Albuquerque. But his instincts have always been good, and after almost being killed by the cousins, Hank has been working his way through physical rehabilitation and PTSD. Of all the cops on this list Schrader may have been through the most, and come out the other side a better man. I’m curious to see if he’ll suffer any setbacks in these final eight episodes, chasing after Walt.

1. Detective Sherlock Holmes, “Sherlock”

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Affliction: “Slightly Aspergerish”

The Situation: Other than being cold or unemotional in his dealings with other people, there isn’t much to indicate Sherlock suffers any disorder. He may not have many friends, but with Watson as his “moral compass,” Holmes’ detective work seems unaffected.


Cindy Davis, (Twitter) clearly has issues.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Nadine

    You could also count both Detectives Holder and Linden from The Killing.

    Holder is a recovering junkie, suffers from depressive episodes and outbursts of violence or anger, and has had incidents where he's exhibited suicidal behaviour, including just walking into traffic in a very 'if it hits me, it hits me' kind of way. Lately, especially, he has been incredibly down on himself and repeated and restated several times that he is a junkie and will never not be an addict and as a result everyone does and should hate him for ever and ever the end.

    Then you have Linden. Hoo boy do you have Linden. She's grew up in and out of care, bad homes and good ones, which has left with an intense need for justice and righting of wrongs. This need can exhibit as obsessive behaviour in cases, or this season manifested as her standing between a dozen armed, pissed off cops and the guy they reaaaally wanted to shoot.

    She doesn't always read social queues appropriately but this might be half on purpose as she seems to step up to the mark when Holder free falls. She has spent two separate occasions on mental health wards due to her obsessive behaviour over cases. One of those was organised as a way to silence her but it didn't take a bunch of doing or any very complicated lie to get her in there and most people who know her agreed the days she had were probably good for her.
    She seems to have attachment issues, including being both very protective of her son but also willing to potentially endanger or unsettle him, while being reluctant to show too much affection in certain situations.

    I find Sonya Cross to be exactly as you say. Too childlike. She's kind of adorable but as a person. As a cop she's just...she's the worst. Perhaps if she could make detective based on keen observations alone, she'd never be allowed to be alone with anybody. Someone else would also be sent to do her interviews. Which, as you say, would limit her as a detective anyway.

  • Conor

    No Luther?

    List is immediately invalid. Especially after you guys put Idris Elba at the top of the Pajiba 10. Cindy, I am very disappointed.

  • streakermaximus

    No Monk???

  • annie

    The first time I heard about Asperger's was when Dancy did the romcom with Rose Byrne. Turns out Danes was doing Temple Grandin at the same time, an they shared research. That's so cute I might vomit.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Because I will never stop beating that drum (which goes double after they ripped my heart out last night), Linden on The Killing has MAJOR disorders. That woman is as messed up as anyone on this list, save for Carrie.

  • Battereddaisy

    What about Luther?

  • k op

    Hank from BB is obviously the most realistic portrayal of LE. Dean Norris is an incredible actor for the role, as well.

    I love Sherlock and store that in the fantasy side of my brain. Too good to be true or consistent, but so damn enjoyable, nonetheless. As with shows like Buffy, I'm willing to eat the baloney for the thrill of it.

    But I'm not watching any more of The Bridge. Sonya is so derivative of all the other dysfunctional leading characters out there, that I'm mostly bored and partly infuriated. Was this a show conceived by committee? Was that sex scene supposed to be funny? It could have been, but the acting, editing and script were terrible.

    You don't include Holder and Linden from The Killing, maybe because their dysfunctions can't be labeled. I often wonder if they could really exist on any police force. I find that Season Three of this show is fantastic, and far more believable in terms of having a police chief who is sympathetic with Linden, in particular, because her methods yield results.

  • Milek

    no luther?

  • What's Luther suffering other than being a workaholic?

  • lowercase_ryan

    anger. like, all of it.

  • You'd be angry too if you only got three episodes a year.

  • lowercase_ryan

    TRUST ME, I AM ALSO ANGRY ABOUT THIS!!

  • Captain Pineapple

    I get that this list is for funsies but Asperger's is neither a mental health issue nor an illness but a developmental disorder. Presenting it alongside actual, serious mental health issues isn't really doing people on the autistic spectrum any favours, no?

  • Agreed. This list makes me pretty uncomfortable, especially since it's only speculated on in Hannibal and Sherlock. Will Graham mentioned something about being closer to being on the Autism spectrum rather than being a psychopath in the pilot episode, but I mean, we all have "autistic" qualities, but that doesn't mean everyone is on the spectrum. But his encephalitis and empathy thing, though, is worth noting.

  • As per the title, "Disordered detectives."

  • Mrs. Julien

    I have a sister-in-law with what I have always characterized as a "socialization disorder". Mr. J. spends all his time watching The Bridge exclaiming, "Oh my God, that's her! That's [redacted]! She's got Aspergers!" She has poor social skills and works as (wait for it) ...

    a drug counselor at a women's prison.

  • sean

    Sonya Cross would have never passed the mental health exams for any department. Let alone last the 10-15 years on the street before becoming a detective.
    "that she doesn’t have the skills necessary to her profession" is totally correct. Being a detective requires a great deal of bullshitting. Crimes don't get solved by CSI crap. They get solved because a detective bullshits someone into confessing. Or someone else to turn on the guilty party. The last is how almost every crime gets solved.

  • Three_nineteen

    So, it's canon in their respective shows that Sonya, Will, and Sherlock are on the autism spectrum? I don't remember the shows saying that.

  • profession: none, or starlet

    Re: Sherlock - sort of. John thinks he probably has Asperger's ('Hounds of Baskerville') and Cumberbatch has said he views Sherlock as an Aspie. However, Moftiss haven't said anything to that effect and this essay by a junior psychiatrist argues quite persuasively that he's not: http://wellingtongoose.tumblr....
    I suppose you could argue he has badly-written Asperger's.

  • Pretty much. On Hannibal, Will and Jack openly discuss the idea, FX describes Sonya's condition on the site page and Cumberbatch has discussed Sherlock.

  • Pants_are_a_must

    Today I had a thought: If Sherlock had ever met Will Graham, he'd probably diagnose his encephalitis in under 30 seconds. And then all hell would break loose.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Regardless of Diane Kruger’s excellent abilities as an actress,...

    Oh, get the fuck outta here! The woman has been atrocious in everything she's been in so far, from Troy over the National Treasure movies to Inglorious Basterds and now The Bridge.

  • melissa82

    You crazy. (Well, yeah she was awful in Troy but....who wasn't? And I haven't actually seen the National Treasure movies.. But she was great fun in Inglorious Basterds!)

  • BiblioGlow

    Eric Bana and his tiny metal skirt, that's who wasn't.

  • Agree.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Not really. She was just... there. She didn't do much except for looking pretty (if you are into the bland blonde look).

  • Don Juan de Markup

    Changes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) were
    published in the book's new edition in May of 2013 and Asperger's Syndrome was eliminated. We'll now have to go back to the older designation for people in that category, high functioning assholes.

  • emmalita

    "High functioning assholes." Brilliant. I'm stealing that.

  • Batesian

    "High functioning asshole" would explain a lot about my behavior, actually.

  • Artemis

    Kind of disagree on Sherlock. There have been multiple occasions on which he's shown a total inability to read/understand others' emotions, which would absolutely make it difficult to be a good detective, consulting or otherwise. The show is weirdly inconsistent with it, though--in one episode he can't tell that Molly is flirting with him or doesn't understand why a woman would be sad about a stillborn baby years later, and then in other episodes he can read emotional cues and work out interpersonal dynamics just fine.

  • Three_nineteen

    It's not that Sherlock can't do it, it's that he doesn't usually care enough. When he's on a case, he pays attention to everything. In social situations, he barely notices most people and when he does notice, usually notices the external things (clothes) and not internal (emotional state).

    SPOILERS

    I think that is why he doesn't notice Moriarty is a) not gay and b) is a bad guy when he first meets him.

  • foolsage

    I agree; Sherlock typically doesn't find other people that interesting so he doesn't really put much effort into figuring out what they're thinking. Clearly, he's not an empathetic person, and it rakes real effort for him to understand others' emotions. He only bothers if he's trying to solve a case.

    To be fair, Moriarty was sending Sherlock some strong signals the first time they met, so it was reasonable for Sherlock to interpret that intense interest as sexual, and not as an obsessive fan/nemesis geeking out.

  • toblerone

    Olivia Dunham???

  • BWeaves

    It's not like this is new:

    Ironsides: A wheelchair detective.

    Longstreet: Blind insurance investigator. I still can't figure out how that worked.

    Second Sight: Clive Owen as a blind policeman.

    Monk: OCD detective. Although real OCD people spell it CDO.

    Life on Mars: Policeman in a coma solves crimes.

  • foolsage

    How about Cracker (British series from the 90s starring Robbie Coltrane)? Fitz was pretty messed up, but was a brilliant detective. Well, ok, he was a criminal psychologist, but he was still solving crimes.

  • Guest

    Come on. 3 of those don't apply. Clive Owen lost his sight during the series, Monk is not a police officer anymore, and Sam Tyler doesn't solve crimes in the real world but in his mind.

  • $27019454

    Longstreet was kind of a fox. That's how it worked.

  • Ginger

    Sherlock is a high functioning sociopath!! DO YOUR RESEARCH.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • annie

    He cares far too much bout the well-being of others, even at the cost of his own well-being to be a true sociopath.

  • Xulux

    Never trust a patient's self-diagnosis! He was obviously smitten by Irene Adler; he seemed genuinely distressed when Mrs. Hudson's life was in danger; and he confessed to Watson that he considered him a friend (his only one). So we know there are at least three people in the world he cares about.

  • Ginger

    Agreed...he does share a 'special something' with certain people (I could do this all day).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • profession: none, or starlet

    Funnily enough, there is a psychiatric student doctor who has written a full series of psychiatric evaluations of the Sherlock characters: http://wellingtongoose.tumblr....

    She argues quite persuasively that Sherlock would not receive an Asperger's diagnosis but that Moriarty definitely has psychopathic personality disorder. Fun stuff!

  • PaddyDog

    I suppose for the two cops who have Aspergers and Carrie in Homeland, my problem is that the CIA and most large metropolitan police academies all have psych tests specifically to identify these issues and the three we see currently on TV would all most likely have been rooted out way before graduation day*.

    *Caveat: one of Mr. PaddyDog's college friends who has obvious scary issues to anyone who meets him failed the Chicago police psych test three times but passed the NY psych test first time out. Last we heard the other cops were refusing to partner with him. Do you feel safer now New Yorkers?

  • Aaron Schulz

    Yeah the idea that Bipolar wouldnt be immediately caught by the psych tests is ridiculous.

  • Nadine

    I think it depends entirely on when it manifested. I don't watch Homeland so I don't know how long she's meant to have been ill but could she have only had her first episode after joining?

    Or if she was on good meds and was balanced etc when she sat her test maybe she could pass?

  • $32857398

    Personal story time. A few years ago I was extremely depressed and angry, and my neurologist told me I should see a psychiatrist. I got to the doctor's office, spoke to him four about 30 minutes and he asked me to take some psych tests with a psychologist. A few days later I returned to his office, he picked the test's results, peered over them, looked at me and said: "yeah, you have bipolar disorder".

    Needless to say, I'm not bipolar. But I was 23, ill and sad as fuck, so of course I believed him. Thankfully my mother (a psychologist) didn't buy it and I saw other psychiatrists that did not share his opinion.

  • Aaron Schulz

    Angry isnt really bipolars wheel house, it certainly happens with me, but its not that prominent. A bad doctor will do that. Depression with one or two instances of manic is all it takes to have BiPolar framework.

    I was diagnosed with depression when i was 18, put on meds, then a few months later tried to off myself, saw a different doctor and who tested me and said holy shit you need an anti psychotic to go with that antidepressent or thatll keep happening. Thats two stories where a doc decided the wrong diagnoses two different directions between the two of us.

    To get into the FBI/Homeland Security etc they have a few doctors go over it, and they talk to your regular physician. Depending on how deep into the government you go the more they spread the questions. The NSA questioned me about a friend in the military for over an hour about his mental health alone.

  • TheReinaG

    Yet military police do not, and if you have an MP background (Sorry Brits, not *that* MP) you can get away with it because of prior service. Not suggesting these shows have that background framework, just real life anecdotal stuff.

  • MPs do have a psychological background test, and if anything shows up there is further investigation. That said, the military in general is notorious for pushing people through any way possible.

  • TheReinaG

    I *was* an MP and never had to do any psychological tests, not to get in, in Basic or AIT (Though all MPs do OSUT training), or once I was assigned to my unit. You do have to have to be able to at least qualify for Secret clearance, and (just like everyone else in the military) you're supposed to disclose any medicines or previously diagnosed impairments, but they didn't sit me down and ask what kinda stuff I saw in ink blotches or anything like that. The only time the Army was ever concerned about whether or not I had any kind of psychological issue was when I was involved in a fist fight, and that was just sitting down with a guy who asked if I was always angry. When I replied "no, not always, but given that [the other person] had just broken my nose, I was a bit miffed" that was the extent of psychological examination experience in the Army.

  • delle

    New Yorkers?? I'm in another damn country and that freaked me the fuck out

  • John W

    So it's official in order to be a law enforcement officer (at least on TV) you have to be dysfunctional.

    Or at least slightly less dysfunctional than the crooks you're trying to catch.

  • Repo

    Unless you're Magnum P.I. Then you just have to be awesome.

  • John W

    With an awesome mustache.

  • melissa82

    And the ability to rock short shorts.

  • Batesian

    All par for the course of being awesome, naturally.

    ...y'know, we should start using "Magnum" for things that're super-awesome.

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