by Nalini Haynes
TRIGGER WARNING: MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES AND SUICIDE
I’ve heard SO MUCH about Homeland over the past couple of years, right up until last week’s Salon article titled ‘Homeland recap, what a mess: Let’s count the 13 ways this most recent “Homeland” was a disaster‘ followed by today’s article titled ‘Homeland’s best shark-jumping moments.’
Willa Paskin sums up the series thus:
I want to say that “Homeland” has never been the most realistic show. Or a realistic show at all. It’s about an unhinged, bipolar, genius CIA analyst in crazy and true love with a tortured, terrorist Marine who, by some freak of vetting, was allowed to become a congressman and a vice-presidential candidate.
Which is, in a nutshell, the problem with the series. I heard people raving about the series so I watched the pilot episode. The unhinged bipolar CIA analyst/agent doing all sorts of shit SUPPORTED by her boss who is keeping her mental illness secret, who has apparently NEVER had her mental illness picked up during psych evaluations when returning from fieldwork, whose psychotic episodes have not affected her work in the 15 or so years she was on the job, nor did her medication affect her analytical skills or emotional affect to the point where awareness was raised and interventions occurred…
Sorry, folks. I will rein in my rant.
I was trained as a counsellor – I have 3 degrees in counselling: bachelors, grad dip and master degrees – and although I didn’t specialise in what is termed ‘abnormal psychology’ I know enough about those areas to know that Homeland is completely unrealistic. Furthermore, waaay back when, I had a friend… more of an acquaintance really, in hindsight, because if she’d been a real friend I should have known. One day I heard she committed suicide.
WHILE ON SUICIDE WATCH.
After her suicide it all came out. I learnt more than you’d ever want to know about the hell her friends and family went through and about the workings of the psych ward in that hospital, where two of my other friends were periodical inpatients. I was aware both of them had mental health difficulties so I was all the more surprised that the engineer and more apparently functioning one of the three friends was the one who committed suicide.
I’ll call my deceased friend Jane. Not her real name.
Jane was intelligent and, when things were good, she seemed highly functional. She was an engineer with a job FFS. Problem was, Jane had bipolar disorder. I can’t remember if doctors struggled to find the right medication or whether she would go off her meds. Apparently Jane was in and out of hospital numerous times, not just ‘away for work’ as I believed.
At one stage Jane was locked up in the psych ward due to a psychotic episode. All the plants were apparently watching her, so she pulled off every leaf off every plant and shredded every leaf individually. She left a few plants completely alone. When asked why she left some alone, she said they were artificial plants so they weren’t watching her. Those plants really were plastic apparently – she may have been psychotic but she was able to tell the difference.
Sue was another friend who was much closer to me during her years of functioning well and being employed as a speech pathologist. Sue told me about times when she’d hear voices from the white noise on the TV, or actors would talk to her directly from pre-recorded programs. Around the time Sue told me these stories she’d been high-functioning for several years so it seemed like a distant but disturbing memory from her young adult years until she spiralled back down into mental health difficulties.
Sue recommended I read a book: I think it was Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness. ‘Manic Depressive Illness’ was what they called bipolar disorder back in the 90s. This book discussed the illness, the effect on sufferers and families, and even how some sufferers would go off their medication to get the emotional highs or to escape the side effects of the medication, with the downside of suffering extreme lows as well. Written for the layperson while I was still in the early stages of my first degree, this was a great introduction to studying abnormal psychology although it’s not a medical manual. Nor would it be deemed accurate these days – medicine has come so far – but it was readable and offered some insight from the perspective of sufferers.
Since then I’ve studied a little psychology and abnormal psychology at a tertiary level, enough to understand some of the basics, recognise the signs and refer counselling clients on with a report to assist a mental health professional to treat a client. (Note: I no longer work in mental health or in counselling in any form after losing my job at what is now SA Health after being repeatedly refused disability access for my vision impairment.)
I’ve studied enough and had sufficient contact with real live people to know that a person suffering from mental illness with a current active psychotic disorder cannot conceal that illness indefinitely. And, seriously, conceal it from HER EMPLOYER THE CIA?! This could make for a very dark, very controversial COMEDY where the CIA is presented as an incompetent bumbling employer but not as a drama.
THIS IS WHERE HOMELAND FIRST JUMPED THE SHARK.
In its basic premise.
I watched Homeland‘s pilot and was all like: ‘WTF??? SERIOUSLY???????’ And haven’t watched it since.
Of course I’ve heard so much about Homeland and how ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC it is. I’ve reconsidered watching it, but now that means I have to access it in some form from the beginning as I won’t just jump in part-way through a TV series.
And I’m not, just NOT going to buy the series unless it totally proves itself to me first.
So, if you’d like to LEND me YOUR copy, I’ll give it a go.
I’ll probably recommend a drinking game: SPOT THE PLOT HOLES.
Willa Paskin says:
Some viewers find these creative liberties/absurdities off-putting: I have not been one of them. “Homeland” is so entertaining, Carrie Mathison is so vibrant and broken, Claire Danes is so next-level great, I would forgive the show anything.
Sometimes I forgive shows blunders, plot-holes and shark-jumping but I really have to be hooked first. I need SOMETHING to engage me. Preferably good characters and generally a decent plot. I need to CARE about the characters. The number one way to put me off a TV series is to make it a soapy. Unfortunately my first impression of Homeland was a drama/soapy about to spiral into an abyss of implausible melodrama.
Someone convince me otherwise.