• Mitch Blatt

TNT’s Perception has an “Obsession” with Schizophrenia

In the TNT drama Perception, Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack) is a professor of neuroscience at Chicago Lake Michigan University who occasionally works with FBI Special Agent Kate Moretti (Rachel Leigh Cook) to solve cases where his expertise is relevant. He also has paranoid schizophrenia and hallucinations.

The second season episode Obsession opens with Pierce giving a lecture on the amygdala and fight-or-flight when a CPD detective takes him into his office and accuses him of stalking his ex-girlfriend and ex-therapist Caroline Newsom (Kelly Rowan) and leaving her threatening messages. Pierce goes back to his classroom to continue the lecture, sees the threatening message written all over the board and accuses his students of listening in on his private conversation with the detective...but his teacher’s assistant Max Lewicki (Arjay Smith) says that he’s having a schizophrenic episode.

FULL SPOILERS AHEAD!!

In the A-plot, Moretti’s unofficial teammate Liza Brahms (Sharon Leal) finds out that the stalker’s DNA is a match for a murderer she’s been chasing. A DNA test takes Pierce off the suspect list, and Brahms finds out that one of Caroline’s patients (Adam Wylie) was using a fake identity (“Steven”). Caroline says that he wanted help for violent fantasies and doesn’t fit the suspect profile. The real criminal kills Caroline’s boyfriend while “Steven” is in custody. The killer Brahms is after falls to his death, and Pierce realizes that someone else is after Caroline (this is left unresolved).

In the B-plot, Pierce feels humiliated by his episode in class, but Lewicki assures him that his students love him. Mr. Williams (Phillip Casno), the father of one of Pierce’s students (as well as one of the university’s donors) pulls his daughter out of the class. The Dean (LeVar Burton) wants Pierce to meet with Williams and put him at ease. Pierce rudely asks where the Dean’s principles went, and the Dean calls him out on this rudeness, “your diagnosis doesn’t give you an excuse to be an asshole.” When they meet, Williams bluntly asks if Pierce is taking medication and expresses a desire for him to get evaluated by a doctor. Pierce refuses to let Williams tell him how to manage his illness. Pierce ends up quitting CLMU entirely and moving to Paris.

DO YOU SEE THESE MESSAGES TOO,

OR AM I HALLUCINATING?

The University’s Chancellor tells the Dean that there have been “tragic incidents at universities involving the mentally ill” recently and that they should show Williams that his concerns are taken seriously, “people don’t want their kids taught by a schizophrenic.” The Dean correctly states that ring Pierce for being mentally ill would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Pierce feels that putting Williams at ease would mean “apologiz[ing] for [who] he [is].” He tells Moretti, “I’m only a suspect because people are ignorant and prejudiced. Who's the killer? Blame the schizo!” On a similar note, Brahms suspects “Steven” because of his fantasies (“A guy who’s into leather? Whips? Sounds like someone who could beat a girl to death”), but Pierce tells her that people like “Steven” are “no more likely to be violent than anyone else” and that the areas of the brain that register pleasure “can also respond to pain and fear” (using science to challenge her pre-judgement). Even though “Steven” has violent fantasies, he turns out to be an innocent and respected big player in the tech industry.

Overall, I give this episode of Perception a 5/5 for the realistic portrayal of the stigma around schizophrenia, 4/5 for the story (I would’ve liked more detail, but TV shows can’t be as long or detailed as movies), 5/5 for the social commentary, and 5/5 for the duo of McCormack and Cook.

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