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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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.