Grady – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Speaking of comedic turns with a serious subtext…
Entertainment media has a tendency to divide mental illness into either one of two categories, funny, or serious. Generally speaking, the two do not mix, because we can’t laugh at mental illness if we’re reminded that it’s a serious issue. But the legendary Deep Space Nine two-parter Past Tense dealt with many serious social issues, and in particular, how those issues are intertwined. When Captain Sisko, Bashir, and Dax are transported to 21st-century Earth, and come face to face with that era’s inhumane treatment of the poor, the episode can’t avoid acknowledging the role mental health plays in the issue of poverty.
Airing in 1995, the 21st century was the near future, and the episode featured a dystopian San Fransisco in which the poor were consigned to walled slums called “sanctuary districts;” the mentally ill of the districts are branded “dims.” Dax’s combadge is stolen and ends up in the hands of Grady, a dim who’s coded as schizophrenic. Grady believes that aliens are invading the Earth and that he is invisible, luckily he’s sweet and kind, and Dax’s reassurance that she’s a good alien is all that’s needed for him to return the combadge.
Emotionally speaking this scene has everything. It’s amusing, Clint Howard is magnetic, and it’s heartwarming to see a marginalized character treated with kindness and return it. It’s also bittersweet; earlier in the episode Bashir remarks with outrage “…there are any number of effective treatments for schizophrenia, even in this day and age. They could cure that man now, today, if they gave a damn.” making it clear that they regard Grady and the dims as victims of circumstance. Grady, despite his sweet nature, doesn’t see a happy ending when our heroes restore the timeline.