I’m sort of sorry that Homeland is skipping ahead six months from the events of its season finale to the advent of its second, if only because there are few people I’d be more interested to see actually go through therapy and related mental health treatments than Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison:
In its first season, Homeland got more attention for being about terrorism, intelligence, and national security, but it’s at least as interesting as a show that uses a national security framework to talk about what it means to be mentally healthy. The fact that Carrie is investigating a possible terror plot is a way of heightening the stakes for whether she is right or deluded, and whether the people around her are capable of overcoming their suspicion of her, rooted in her mental illness, and evaluate her work as they would if she was mentally healthy. But correctly executed, those would be fascinating and important questions, particularly given the misconceptions our society embraces about people with mental illness.
The Killing tried to do something similar this season, showing Sarah Linden buckling under the stress of the Rosie Larsen investigation. But the show turned Linden’s mental health issues into a shock plot, full of white gowns and hospital therapists, rather than a more nuanced exploration of how she maintains her mental health, and how her mental health plays into her style as an investigator and her experiences as a mother. NBC’s Do No Harm, a Jekyll-and-Hyde story about a neurosurgeon, which will debut in the midseason, has a similarly sensationalistic take: the show’s doctor becomes a sexually aggressive, drug-snorting, violent jerk when his other side kicks in. As S.E. Smith pointed out after The Dark Knight Rises shooting in Colorado, mentally ill people are victims of terrible violence more often that they are perpetrators. It’s braver and more interesting to explore what it means to live with mental health issues long-term, than to turn to mentally ill people solely to create fear and tension.