Warning: this article contains spoilers for the finale of BBC One’s Bodyguard. You have been warned.
At a first glance, Jed Mercurio’s Bodyguard looked like your typical crime drama: think shadowy meetings in alleyways, sizzling sex scenes, red herrings aplenty, and a classic whodunit mystery.
However, as stalwart fans of the BBC One series will tell you in no uncertain terms, the show has proven far more complex than the sum of its parts. Over the past six episodes, we’ve gasped as it has served up hefty helpings of of political intrigue, terrorist plots, and shocking acts of betrayal. Then there’s the deeper, more thought-provoking topics to contend with: think alcoholism, sexism, broken families and the careful breakdown of the ‘vulnerable woman’ trope (Anjli Mohindra’s Nadia had not been strong-armed into donning a suicide vest by a manipulative husband or shadowy MI5 forces: she was the bomb-maker and plot instigator. “I am an engineer,” she said proudly. “I am a jihadi.”).
Perhaps the show’s most important plot point, though, was its careful conversation around mental health.
Richard Madden’s role as the gun-toting, terrorist-chasing David Budd has earned him scores of fans around the UK, not to mention seen his odds as the next James Bond slashed by bookies.
Essentially, the Game of Thrones star has given us a new action hero in Budd. Which is why it is such a big deal that, in the season finale, he finally, tearfully opened up to a mental health counsellor about his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“My name’s David Budd,” he said towards the end of the episode, face crumpling as he finally admitted the truth. “And I need some help.”
Can we have that one more time, for those at the back? Budd, in perhaps his bravest move throughout the entirety of the Bodyguard series, said: “I need some help.” And, with those four little words, Mercurio’s thrilling TV show has helped tear down the corrosive, dangerous and outdated gender stereotypes that prevent men from seeking help and, ultimately, destroy them.
Unlike Budd, many men in the UK feel unable to share their emotions, due to the ‘male code’ that says you cannot show weakness, sadness, or vulnerability. Instead of being encouraged to speak up about their emotional wellbeing, or seek help, many are told to “man up”, or “stop crying”, or “be a man” – and the consequences of this toxic masculinity are devastating: suicide is officially the single biggest killer of men aged between 20 and 49 years old. Furthermore, the number of men currently in treatment for drug and alcohol abuse in Britain is three times that of women. These statistics paint a very clear picture: whilst women are seeking help for mental and emotional health issues, men are self-medicating. And, whilst women might attempt suicide (attempted suicide rates are higher in women) men are ‘succeeding’ (if such a word can ever be used in the circumstances).
Bodyguard stays true to these facts: early on in the series, it quickly becomes apparent that Budd is using alcohol to numb his feelings. That his refusal to seek help has led to the breakdown of his marriage. And that this self-induced silence around his mental health has proven deafening, debilitating and deadly: Budd attempts to shoot himself in the head in episode four – a suicide attempt which is only unsuccessful because the bullets in his gun have been swapped for blank rounds.
Yes, Mercurio gives Budd a ‘happy’ ending of sorts: our hero successfully deactivates his suicide vest. He leads police to the vital evidence they need to foil the Montague assassination conspiracy. He delivers his late lover’s killers to justice. And, best of all, he reunites with his beloved wife, Victoria (Sophie Rundle) – which is all he has ever wanted since episode one.
However, those shots of a smiling Budd driving off into the sunset with his family would not have been possible had he not a) acknowledged that he has a problem and b) asked for the help he so desperately needed.
Hopefully, these scenes will serve as a reminder to men everywhere that there is help available. That things can get better. That there is nothing masculine or feminine about suffering from the likes of PTSD, depression, anxiety, or OCD. That each and every single one of these mental health issues is a serious chemical illness – one which can destroy anyone in its grip. And that, whether it be a small, shy young boy during his first days at school or a bonafide male action hero, there is absolutely nothing shameful in speaking up and seeking help.
Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images: BBC One