Detective Sergeant Sean Stone (DS Stone), is one of the main characters in ITV’s new four part crime drama Chasing Shadows. DS Stone is ‘not normal’, something only implied at the outset when he spoke out of turn at a press conference, arranged by his Chief Superintendent (CS Drayton) to announce the solving of a major crime. In doing so, the plaudits CS Drayton expected to receive from the assembled press reporters became recriminations. This incurred the wrath of the CS Drayton who told Stone that he was ‘finished’ and immediately transferred him to a missing persons charity as their liaison officer. Given the following portrayal of DS Stone’s ‘abnormal behaviour’ in this opening episode, it can hardly have gone unnoticed before, especially by CS Drayton. This created a highly improbable exposition, it being simply a contrivance to introduce the theme of a neurotypical person’s relationship with someone having Asperger’s syndrome.
In a review of Chasing Shadows, Mark Lawson writes of DS Stone. ‘Reece Shearsmith plays a blunt, obsessive detective in ITV’s new missing persons drama, but this diagnostic vagueness does a disservice to people who really have Asperger’s’. To the presumable bemusement of those affected by the condition, the autism spectrum has become a fashionable fictional accessory’. Adding; ‘there’s a sense that writers of crime-fiction are trying to medicalise maverick individuality – always an important element of TV detectives – into a generically insulting but brilliant demeanour.
The casual, almost flippant, characterisation of Asperger’s syndrome in this television drama became an irritation. Fictional characters on the autism spectrum are not new, but as Penny Gotch asks in her article ‘The curious incidence of autistics in fiction’; ‘What about the autistic characters themselves? You’d expect them to be the stars of their own stories, wouldn’t you? But no. Only half of the books have an autistic protagonist. The rest have ensemble casts, or show the autistic character solely through the eyes of a neurotypical lead. This doesn’t challenge the readers, show them anything new, or teach them what it’s like to be autistic. This is showing them the world through the same neurotypical bubble they always look through’. Gotch’s view certainly fits the first episode of Chasing Shadows.
Inspecting The Trend Of Autistic-Spectrum Characters, prompts Tasha Robinson to write; There has been a rising wave of novels written from autistic characters’ perspectives or closely focused on their world-views. The mysteries behind autism make it an evocative topic — and ambiguity leaves room for writers to romanticize, theorize or appropriate at will’. Nevertheless, the autistic characterisation is more often a contrivance, as in Chasing Shadows, used to introduce a maverick detective and inject some humour into a dark plot.
‘Contrary to popular belief, people with Asperger’s do have empathy. They care about how others are thinking and feeling but they often have difficulty putting themselves in other people’s shoes’, says Robyn Steward in Lesser-known things about Asperger’s syndrome, ‘This is a skill that can be learned over time’. Time being something that the script writers of Chasing Shadows seem to have given little thought to regarding the ‘feelings of an Aspie‘ in their characterisation of DS Stone. This is made apparent by the cameo appearance of DS Stone’s paid help, while implying his own awareness of having Asperger’s syndrome, he remains emotionally detached when she asks him questions regarding his recent behaviour.
On reaching this brief scenario the television audience are already aware that DS Stone is not neurotypical, however, at no point is the audience given a glimpse of the world from an Aspie’s perspective. Instead of creating empathy, the scene is set for future remarks contrived to amuse a neurotypical television audience. Something that they actually do to good effect in presenting the world as seen through the neurotypical bubble of the script writers. So far Chasing Shadows has failed badly in many ways, but especially in this contrived humour and its portrayal of an Aspie detective.
The Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical – Tragically, as many as 9,625 out of every 10,000 individuals may be neurotypical.
The National Autistic Society – The leading UK charity for people with autism (including Asperger syndrome) and their families.
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