Warning – spoilers ahead.
TNT’s drama “Perception” is about David Pierce, a professor at a prestigious college and an occasional consultant for the FBI who happens to be diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Pierce, who doesn’t take medication for his illness, suffers mostly from visual hallucinations which often help him with his consultant role for the FBI. He has frequent episodes and has a live-in graduate student to help with his everyday tasks. He’s introverted, doesn’t like large crowds, and has the common symptoms that come along with schizophrenia.
The good part about the show is it shows someone with mental illness who is successful in a world which tends to shelter or discriminate against the mentally ill. The show itself also shows Pierce struggling with the stigma that is placed on people with his particular illness. Some examples may be trying to nullify his testimony in criminal cases by bringing up his illness, talking to his live-in grad student instead of him, etc. But last week’s episode takes the cake on showing the stigma up close and personal.
Pierce, who was in the middle of a class, was asked outside by a police officer who accused him of stalking his former ex-therapist and ex-girlfriend in a very physically intimidating way. When he came back inside the classroom, obviously shook up, he saw something on the blackboard relating to the stalking that he was just accused of and started to feverishly wipe down the blank chalkboard in front of his students. His live-in grad student had to inform him that he was having an episode. Afterwards, Pierce felt terrible about the incident and was his biggest critic on the matter. Meanwhile, one of the college’s most influential donors had his daughter in Pierce’s class and pulled her out until he could be sure that Pierce was “mentally stable” enough to be around students. Needless to say, this didn’t go over too well with Pierce and the head of the college took him away from the classroom to be put into a research role at the college instead, since he was tenured.
To be understood, teaching was Pierce’s life. It was something he loved to do and to have students engaged and learning because of him was rewarding. This placement in a “research role” was demeaning and clearly a sign of the stigma that was placed on his disorder, stating that someone with paranoid schizophrenia obviously couldn’t be trusted to teach in front of students. After years of being an asset to the university, one person’s prejudice and his threatening to withhold donations to the university diminished Pierce’s role as a role model, despite how much his student’s love him.
TNT’s “Perception” airs on Tuesdays at 10pm, but it just finished it’s extended second season. Season 3 starts up in June, but I highly recommend you watch this show if not for the positive view it gives mental illness (since Pierce is still regarded as worthwhile despite last week’s show of blatant stigma), but for the crime solving aspect which really ties Pierce’s illness into the outcome of each episode.