Three Sensitive Men on Television: They Aren't Who You'd Think
They aren't who you would think because when women say they want a sensitive man they usually mean someone romantic, thoughtful, artistic, vulnerable, and open to sharing their emotions, someone nice and sweet and a little dorky. That's all well and good, but in this piece I'm writing about sensitivity primarily as it relates to the senses, the ability to perceive subtle stimuli, or as google puts it, "quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, and influences." These three male characters on three different crime procedurals all fit the bill:
1. Will Graham on Hannibal
Will is an interesting case because he blurs boundaries. He is never described by the writers as a psychic, only as a psychological anomaly, someone with empathy so strong it is nearly a disorder. He himself describes what he does as simply "interpreting the evidence". Yet, unlike our second character Patrick Jane, he has definite tendencies one might typically associate with a "psychic": visions, flashbacks, and dreams that allow to him to get into the mind of the killer. Whatever you call his skill, Will is definitely an example of poorly managed sensitivity. He is portrayed as mentally unstable, about to slip into insanity at any moment because of his uncanny ability to understand the thoughts and motivations with serial killers. In fact that is why he is matched with Hannibal as a therapist in the first place.
Will is shown continuing to do his work despite the heavy toll it takes on his psyche out of a sense of responsibility: he can save lives. At one point he asks his boss, Jack Crawford, "Do you have anyone who can do this better unbroken, than I can do broken?" It turns out a lot of his instability is being purposefully exacerbated by Hannibal, but either way, this whole duty thing is a typical TV plotline, and a terrible life lesson. Part of the message of this blog is that sensitivity is a gift that should be shared with the world, but please, if you have something that is clearly draining you in real life, stop and take care of yourself first, or you'll be completely useless to anyone. I'm ALL about selfishness, and if you stay tuned to future posts, you'll eventually see why.
Another odd thing about Will is that even though he is described as having "pure empathy" we never see him "reading" normal people, only murderers, which is unlikely to happen to anyone in real life. Psychics might claim you can do a little white light dance to protect yourself from crappy energies. I'm skeptical, why continually put yourself in bad environments in the first place? I do believe you can learn to clear yourself or strengthen your reserves, but sensitivity is not typically something one can just turn off.
But out of the three men on this list Will Graham does strike me as the most open and honest and least guarded and in that sense he hasn't let his perceptive sensitivity completely ruin his emotional "sensitivity". Though his penchant for taking in stray dogs and sense of responsibility for Abigail Hobbs, daughter of a serial killer he shot, indicate possible boundary issues or unhealthy projections. Having strong boundaries is essential for everyone, especially empaths, but that is a topic for another post.
2. Patrick Jane on The Mentalist
Patrick was trained to read people as child, used by his unethical carnie father to swindle "marks", and then became a fake TV.psychic, before becoming part of the California Bureau of Investigation. As a mentalist he has an extreme eye for detail and a knack for reading people's minds using their body language. He often uses senses his coworkers overlook to pick up clues, like the scent of alcohol or cologne. Unlike Will, he does read just about everybody he encounters, but he never really takes on the thoughts and emotions of the person he is investigating and appears unphased by the nature of his work. He also doesn't do it for the victims but rather for revenge, for a chance to catch Red John, the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter, and at times he seems to derive pure entertainment from nailing the culprit. It is apparent that though his skill is the result of practice, he is also somewhat of a natural genius and easily bored. So at least we know that even though he is obsessive, he doesn't have poor boundaries like Will Graham or a hero complex. I mean, come on, Red John does deserve to be killed.
Despite being perceptively sensitive, Patrick' isn't terribly emotionally sensitive (though he shares with Will a dislike of discharging weapons). He has a closed mind and a closed heart due to his traumatic past. His inability to stop being so flippant about life and open up, trust others, and love again is problematic, and resolving that through his relationship with colleague Theresa Lisbon is a major part of his character development. Patrick is also an atheist and closed-minded when it comes to religion and denies "real" psychic skills exist, though we see that attitude weakening at some desperate points and its also implied through his draw to Theresa, who is a devout Catholic.
3. Dr. Cal Lightman on Lie to Me
Cal is portrayed as neither an empath nor a mentalist, but a scientist who reads facial microexpressions: "the world's leading deception expert". However, Cal is very much like Patrick in that he reads everyone around him whether he is on the case or not. In fact, this trait often causes problems with his teenage daughter and is portrayed as being to blame for the dissolution of his relationship with his ex-wife. Also like Patrick, Cal was trained in his skills, though at a much later age, driven by the death of his mother who was only pretending to be happy when released for from the psychiatric ward for the weekend and promptly committed suicide.
However, according to Cal, even though he had to work for it, some people are "naturals" like his protegee, Ria Torres. Though Ria's ability isn't depicted as completely inborn, but as the result of being abused as a child and having to read the moods of her father. Out of the three men, Cal is perhaps the least stereotypically emotionally sensitive and is often terse and blunt with his co-workers, has difficulty admitting his feelings for his colleague Dr. Jillian Foster, and only seems to soften when drinking. Cal's major wound IS directly related to his perceptive sensitivity: he doesn't have much faith in humanity because he knows everyone is a lying sack of shit. However he rarely seems rattled by his work like Will except for episodes in which his own life was in danger. In some ways even though he's the biggest asshole, he's also the most mentally stable, of the three men and appears to genuinely enjoy his work "helping people", as he describes it, often taking on cases out of curiosity.
What's My Point?
My point is to illustrate how whether you learn it or you were born with it (well-managed) sensitivity can be a superpower. When I watch these shows I see lots similarities between myself and the main characters. I have heightened empathy and am keenly perceptive. I never intend to use my supersensitive skills working for the FBI, but I do intend to use them to help people, solve their own personal "murder mysteries" like how and when they murdered their soul, and how they can bring it back to life. All three of these men are considered "geniuses". I like that and I like that all three of them can be cocky about what they know and condescending toward the skeptics around them with very good reason: they are nearly always right.
However, all of these men have personality flaws, big ones. Will doesn't pay attention to his own needs. Patrick wears a mask of superficial cheekiness covering deep guilt and pain. Cal is paranoid and bossy. I'm not so sure I would consider any of them dating material, (though I do find Simon Baker particularly alluring, yum, yum). If they were to "do their own work" (and if TV were real) each of these people could be even better at their jobs, and happier and more effective in their personal lives.
There are parts of these shows that I feel are actually quite realistic. Like how it can be difficult to find a good friend or romantic match, someone with some depth and complexity, keen intelligence, and a little edge, but not too much. It can be lonely seeing all. It can hurt. It can even make you bitter if you let it. But don't. Good people are out there (I'll be writing about dating in the future, so stay tuned).
I also think the blurred distinction between what's psychic and what's not is realistic. On The Mentalist Patrick's frenemy Kristina Frye is depicted as an authentic psychic. Patrick believes she is faking, while she believes he is in denial of his gifts. I've often wondered if people, like the British mentalist/magician/hypnotist Darren Brown (who is a huge skeptic), are actually using a non-local 6th sense when they do a really good cold reading, or if they actually are manipulating energy in the same way a great healer would when they hypnotize people. Perceiving lots of things with the five senses that other people don't could be called good intuition. My own intuitive skills are so well-integrated that I didn't even realize they were intuitive or unusual skills until someone told me. Then my life made a lot more sense.
There are also parts of these shows that are not as realistic in my experience (besides the fact that the skills portrayed are obviously highly sensationalized). For example, I am not just sensitive to the emotions of other people. I'm also affected for better or worse by places, foods, scents, sounds, everything. The only person on these shows who portrays any one of those traits is Hannibal who has a wicked, no pun intended, sense of smell.
Also Cal and Patrick are highly manipulative and use lots of trickery to get their way. Now I'm not dealing with criminals, but I never use my natural sensitivity to purposefully manipulate anyone by preying on their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I'm very straightforward. I suppose if you wanted to stretch it I am a persuasive writer, but I'm always honest in my writing, that's what helps make it good. That's the beautiful thing about Truth.
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-Emily, The Super Sensitive Human