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Shell Shocked Veteran / Live-Action TV

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Shell-Shocked Veterans in live-action TV.

  • In the Andromeda Season 1 finale and Season 2 premiere Rommie appears as a Shell-Shocked Veteran when a hidden computer file of her first meeting with the Magog comes to the surface and subverts her programming.
  • Babylon 5:
    • An earlier page quote was Delenn's response to a veteran of the Earth-Minbari war who kidnapped her; decidedly one of the scarier foes she would face.
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    • Given the eventual revelations about Delenn's past, in some ways she herself could be considered a Shell-Shocked Veteran who turned her pain inwards. Many of her personality traits could be explained as a result of unresolved and deeply internalized grief over what she started. It's unclear if this is how JMS designed the character but this is how Mira Furlan said she played the role.
    • There's at least one group in the Minbari Warrior caste who want to resume the war, or at least kill Sheridan. And let's not even get started with the whole Narn-Centauri thing.
    • Also, the man who thought he was King Arthur, in the episode "A Late Delivery from Avalon." As it turned out, he was the gunner of the Earthship that fired first on the Mimbari vessel carrying Delenn and the revered leader of the Mimbari. By the end of the episode, Delenn's forgiveness and kindness to him helps him out of his pain.
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    • There's also Sinclair in the first season, who is clearly suffering from the after-effects of the Earth-Minbari war. He particularly has nightmares about fighting at The Line, where humanity suffered 90% casualties.
    • And a lurker who once saw his entire squad wiped out by an nasty alien on an outer rim outpost.
      Lurker: They're coming through the walls!
      Garibaldi: I know where he's been. I've had the same nightmare.
  • Babylon Berlin: Most of the male characters are World War One veterans, so the shellshock sufferers are plentiful - and their treatment by society is quite awful. The protagonist Gereon Rath, for example, seems constantly just a morphine shot away from going catatonic from his trauma, but is still forced to hide it from his police superiors.
  • Name a Battlestar Galactica character. Any Battlestar Galactica character, in no way limited to the ones currently in uniform. (The Razor movie is especially notable in allowing viewers to witness the events leading up to all three of its central characters becoming prime examples of the trope: one winds up as General Ripper, the other two both become suicide bombers. For opposite sides.)
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  • Played straight in Blue Heelers with There Last Night, The Cull and a few others. For several years around Anzac Day or Rememberance Day there would be an episode where they invoked this trope.
  • Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow of Boardwalk Empire both served in World War I and came back with lingering injuries (Jimmy has consistent pain from a leg wound and Harrow had half of his face disfigured) and severe shell-shock. Both are so mentally damaged by all of the violence they experienced and committed in the trenches that they take up work as hired killers with few qualms, and while they are still nice to friends, they exhibit a notable Lack of Empathy. (Especially Richard, who once proposed to draw a target out of hiding by killing innocent family members).
  • Detective Adrian Pimento in Brooklyn Nine-Nine spent twelve years working undercover for a vicious mobster, and as a result of the things he did is not quite... stable. In his first appearance he held a knife to Jake's throat and destroyed his keyboard yelling "Machine!" It's all Played for Laughs.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy is this for awhile after she twice discovers that coming back from the dead is no picnic.
  • Alan Bridges from the second Christmas special of Call the Midwife has serious PTSD after a particularly brutal experience in The Korean War (he was on National Service "fixing spark plugs" but was forced to front-line duty—as in killing men with bayonets—when the Chinese overwhelmed his unit's position). We learn as a result that Trixie's sunny, bubbly personality is in part derived from her constant need to cheer up her father, who was shell-shocked serving in the Mesopotamian Campaign of World War I.
  • Charité at War: At the beginning of the series, Otto comes back from the World War II front. He acts the part of the unconcerned sunshine, but once he gets drunk, he begins to talk about his experiences, and it becomes clear how immensely miserable he is. He manages to catch himself somewhat, also due to the support and understanding of co-veteran Martin, but whenever the war comes up, he gets incredibly bitter and angry with the regime that sends them out to fight lost battles.
  • Colleen McMurphy on China Beach became an alcoholic because of her wartime experiences in Vietnam.
  • Leonard on Community claims to have participated in several wars, and this trope may be an explanation for his current wild and coarse nature.
  • John Kreese of Cobra Kai makes it pretty clear he's been through some serious shit, and explains on numerous occasions that he's glad Johnny will never have to see the things he's seen and how he even failed to get back into the military because "they have these psychiatrists now." As he only seems to bring this up to entice others to do what he wants and lies his ass off non-stop about plenty of other things, it's at first left ambiguous exactly how shell-shocked he actually is and if he is just a psychotic Blood Knight amoral bastard who's riding it like a crutch, until Season 3 gives a definitive answer. It's very real, Kreese was once a decent but troubled young man who joined the army and went to Vietnam after his mother committed suicide, took part in a mission that went bad and he and the rest of his unit were captured because he wasn't able to detonate an explosive when his friend was still in range. Said friend was immediately murdered right in front of him while the rest were taken prisoner and forced to fight each other to the death for the amusement of the Vietcong one by one, while he had to endure the guilt of it and constantly being blamed by his captain for everything— when it was his turn to fight his captain, he then learned his girlfriend Betsy died in a car accident and, after a brutal fight and managed to turn the tide and chose to kill his captain as his allies rescued them. While it still doesn't excuse what he's doing now, considering the metric ton of crap he went through it's no small wonder he's as effed up as he is.
  • Control Z: Sofia is clearly suffering trauma due to her father dying and then turning up alive. In the past, she attempted suicide, while also cutting herself as a means of coping.
  • Aiden Black from Cracked is a police officer who suffers from symptoms of PTSD after being involved in two fatal shootings. The episode "Old Soldiers" revolves around a shell-shocked Afghanistan vet planning to go out in a blaze of glory and ends with Aiden joining a support group. In "Faces" we meet ex-Child Soldier Benjamin Omari, a veteran of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who ends up joining Aiden's support group.
  • The killer in the Criminal Minds episode "Distress", who is committing his crimes because he's had a psychotic break and thinks he's still in combat.
  • Dark Desire: Darío is traumatized by being menaced with a chainsaw, and nearly breaks down while visiting where it happened. Alma is similarly affected from not only the death of her best friend Brenda, but also her very destructive relationship with Darío.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Ribos Operation" (part of the Fourth Doctor's Key to Time arc), the Graf Vynda-K has a bad case. At the end of the episode he is reliving and raving about battles long since fought, and ignoring the world around him.
    • The Doctor themself was reimagined as this in the revived series, having fought in the Last Great Time War while the show was off the air. The war ended with the Doctor committing (more or less) complete genocide of both Time Lords and Daleks as some kind of last resort to end the chaos, since the Daleks were winning and both sides would have wiped out every other species in the universe.
      Tenth Doctor: I'm so old now. I used to have so much mercy.
      • In "The Doctor's Daughter", Ten explicitly confirmed he fought alongside other Time Lords as a soldier.
      • Pictured on the main page, the War Doctor. Instead of going by the name "Doctor", he was a warrior, choosing to shelve his principles to fight a war which was so big, he couldn't keep running from it and was eventually sucked right into the heart of the battle. He spent at least 400 years in battle through the Time War, and by the very end of it all, was absolutely sold on the notion of ending it by his own hand, unleashing a doomsday weapon which would cause a double genocide. Thankfully, he got a miraculous second chance at avoiding this fate. After regenerating, his dark legacy had such an effect on the Doctor that he wiped him from his memory until learning that he went out of that life as a hero.
      • In the show's 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor", the conscience of the Moment tells the War Doctor what his future regenerations will be — the Tenth being "the man who regrets", and the Eleventh being "the man who forgets". But the one he didn't know about, his immediate successor, the Ninth Doctor, would turn out to be a man who resents.
    • Captain Jack falls into this mode now and then in the series and in Torchwood, having lived through at least two Dalek wars (In "Bad Wolf", he recounts a fleet of ships being destroyed), World War I, and World War II twice.
    • In series 8 of the new series, Clara's boyfriend Danny Pink was in Iraq and accidentally killed a child.
  • Anthony/Victor from Dollhouse became a Doll after returning home from Afghanistan with severe PTSD.
  • This is Played for Laughs on Drake & Josh with their grandfather, who goes crazy and thinks everyone is a German spy out to get him and even talks into a Shoe Phone.
  • The Drew Carey Show:
    Lewis: I think Santa doesn't want to kill us anymore. We didn't get any death threats recently. And when we threw Kate to him and left her for dead, he didn't touch her.
    Kate: Yeah, he told me not to worry and that he wasn't going to rape me. He told me that after what Santa saw in the Gulf War he could never be with a woman again.
  • Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. When Dorothy's son comes to visit and is soon revealed to be a morphine addict. Later, when Dr. Mike's presumed dead fiancé shows up, he explains that after being injured, he was held prisoner at Andersonville (a Confederate prison camp with conditions so dreadful that 1/3 of its inmates died and a visiting official became ill with influenza within one hour of his arrival). His staunch response to her horrified reaction—"I DON'T want to talk about that"—implies that his time there was particularly traumatic.
  • Parodied in Father Ted, when Ted and a local policeman are hunting the recently-escaped Father Jack:
    Policeman: [haunted] This reminds me of Vietnam...
    Ted: You fought in Vietnam?
    Policeman: Ah, no man. You know — the films.
  • Mal Reynolds from Firefly, as a result of the Unification War in general and Serenity Valley in particular.
    • A deleted scene from pilot episode Serenity makes it clear that this applies to both Mal and Zoe.
      Simon: If that battle was so horrible, why'd he name the ship after it?
      Zoe: Once you've been in Serenity, you never leave. You just learn to live there.
    • A non-military example appears in "Bushwhacked" with the only man to "survive" a Reaver attack. Though, as Mal says:
      Mal: You call him a survivor. He's not.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Ned Stark, in stark contrast to Robert, who misses war and his glory days. Best shown in Lord Snow, where Ned watches Arya practicing fencing with Syrio Forel with a wooden sword, only to have his amused expression slowly turns grim as he's gradually reminded of the hell of war, apparently hearing the distant sound of swords clashing and men dying instead of the wooden sounds of his daughter's fencing.
    • Even Robert seems to have more than a few lingering traumas from the war; hearing him talk to Barristan Selmy about the first man he's ever killed, it's obvious he's more remorseful than anything else.
    • It's clear Jon Snow is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after being murdered and brought back to life in "Oathbreaker."
    • It's clear the loss of life during the war and the Red Wedding left Robett Glover broken.
    • Even if he wasn't this before, the Battle of the Blackwater (specifically the Blackwater being on fire) really screwed the Hound up.
  • Grey's Anatomy.
    • Dr. Owen Hunt, who arrives at the hospital traumatized from loosing friends and his own sister. At one point he Wakes Up Fighting and starts strangling his own wife.
    • Cristina, after the hospital shooting, which saw her preforming surgery as the gunman put his weapon to her head and orders her to stop. The ensuing PTSD leaves her unable to even enter an operating room, and she quits briefly before a spectacular He's Back during another shooting. Cristina gets this again after the plane crash, four days without sleep in the cold leaves her catatonic upon rescue, and she flees Seattle for Minnesota after recovering.
  • Homeland has Brody, returning home after several years of torture as prisoner-of-war. He blanks out, has mood swings, nightmares, sleeps on the floor so as not to hurt his wife and may well have undergone a Face–Heel Turn.
  • The second series of Horatio Hornblower casts Captain Sawyer's paranoia and insanity as a result of this. At one point he mistakes Archie for an admiral he knew, only to correct himself because the man was decapitated in front of him during a battle. Later, he drowns out the noise of a prisoner uprising by plugging his ears and reading aloud his report of the battle where he defeated three French frigates with one ship. Though the battle began his reputation for extraordinary courage, the report itself recounts a bloody and brutal affair. Essentially being forced to fight heroically for his whole career made him see enemies everywhere and turned him into a Death Seeker.
  • From It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Frank tries to pass himself off as this. The rest of the Gang see through it, but he doesn't miss a beat.
    Frank: Look, I didn't go to Vietnam just to have pansies like you take my freedom away from me.
    Dee: You went to Vietnam in 1993 to open up a sweatshop!
    Frank: And a lot of good men died in that sweatshop!
  • JAG:
    • The only witness to the latest murder in "Déjà Vu" is a retired Navy SEAL who works as a groundskeeper at Arlington National Cemetery, and who spends much of his time drinking.
    • J.D. in "Sightings", a former Navy SEAL who harbors a very strong distrust of the Government in general.
    • Colonel Matt Anderson in "Survivors" has many flashbacks to The Vietnam War and believes his young son to be the Reincarnation of a dead war buddy.
    • In the second season episode "The Guardian", Chief Petty Officer Paul Bauwer, a homeless former Navy SEAL, is accused of killing three men while thwarting a convenience store robbery which he did to protect his young son who doesn’t know who he really is.
  • Justified has Raylan's father, Arlo, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from PTSD, early onset dementia, and bipolar disorder, and Deputy Marshal Tim Gutterson, an Afghan war vet who spends most of his time drinking to forget his service. Season 4 gives Tim an Evil Counterpart in Boyd's new Dragon Colton Rhodes, an Iraq and Afghan veteran, who battles with a heroin addiction that he gained to cope with his trauma. We also meet Tim's drug addicted friend Mark; when Colton says that "most of [Mike] died somewhere in Kandahar", he's not wrong, but he's also projecting.
  • Las Vegas. Danny McCoy when he returns from his second tour of duty with the Marines in season 2. He recovers later on.
  • In Life on Mars, Reg Cole is a subversion — he didn't actually get to go to war, and that's a plot point.
  • Largely averted in Magnum, P.I.. Although the main characters served in Vietnam and still bear the scars from it, they seemed to re-integrate back into civilian life.
    • The recurring character Mac might be this, or he might just be using it as part of his ongoing cons. As part of the character's backstory is having had a serious brain injury in Vietnam, AND being a conman, it's hard to tell.
    • Magnum meets other vets who didn't come home as healthy as he did, including one who lives in a patch of forest surrounded by tripwires and thinks he's in Vietnam much of the time.
  • In the Marple adaptation of The Moving Finger, Jerry Burton is depicted as a Broken Ace war hero who, to paraphrase his sister, came through the war with flying colours yet seems to find the peace utterly defeating.
  • Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H. The goofy fun-lover of the first season descends through the years into an embittered shell of a man. By the series finale, he's committed to a sanitarium, suppressing traumatic memories and rambling at length whenever something triggers him.
  • World War 1 affected many characters in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries who were involved in it. Phryne was a nurse and memories of losing soldiers under her care still haunts her. Jack said he was never the same after the war and it seems to have been the cause of his marriage being destroyed.
  • The Murdoch Mysteries episode "Kommando" basically runs the "drug-addicted Vietnam vet can't cope with civilian life, or the memory of what he's done" storyline, only in The Second Boer War. There's the added twist that his former comrades are hunting him, lest he tell the world exactly what they did.
  • NCIS:
    • Several episodes have featured veterans from a variety of wars suffering guilt or hallucinations due to the trauma and resulting stress.
    • A few episodes show Gibbs having flashbacks to his Roaring Rampage of Revenge in his revenge murder of the drug lord who murdered his first wife and daughter.
    • Sloane, who joins the main cast in season 15 (played by Maria Bello), lost her entire squadron to and endured nine months of torture from the Taliban during Operation Enduring Freedom. Fifteen years later, she's still traumatized. Needless to say, she and Gibbs bond over their experiences.
  • Never Have I Ever: Devi's clearly suffered a lot from her dad's death, possibly with PTSD. She had hysterical paralysis and thus had to use a wheelchair for a year. After getting over that, she still gets triggered by music, as he collapsed at her concert. She has flashbacks of him frequently too (also triggered by certain things) and even the pleasant ones are painful to her. Devi's in denial and tries to push her grief away, but of course it doesn't work.
  • NOS4A2: Vic is clearly traumatized from her experiences in the second season. It's mentioned that Vic hallucinates ringing phones and other electronics going haywire, while Carmody says every Christmas she'll drink until she passes out. He finally insists that she get professional help after one freak out causes a fire to start accidentally, endangering Wayne. It doesn't happen though-she's off after Manx soon after.
  • In Odysseus, the title character physically comes back to Ithaca, but his mind is still stuck in the war between the Greeks and Troy. He suffers from constant nightmares and paranoia, and his sanity is slowly slipping as the show goes on.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Black Box", Ares Group officer Lt. Colonel Brandon Grace suffers from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his last mission in which he was betrayed by a member of his unit.
  • Outlander: After nearly dying when he's hanged for being mistakenly condemned as a rebel, Roger gets PTSD, with classic symptoms: depression, flashbacks of it and suicidal ideation. It's even discussed explicitly as such (under the names current at the time).
  • All the men in Peaky Blinders were in WWI, and none of them came home the same. The worst effected is Danny Whizz-Band, but Arthur is a close second, with Tommy coming in third.
    • Grace was a British undercover agent in Ireland and participated in the dirty war being fought between the Irish revolutionaries and the British secret service.
  • Averted with Commissaire Larosière in Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie; he fought in World War One but is well adjusted to civilian life. It takes the death of his former commanding officer to trigger memories of how hellish the trenches were.
  • Confederate vet Johnny Yuma on The Rebel.
  • Played for Laughs on the last sketch of Saturday Night Live's 34th season where a man (played by host and former cast member Will Ferrell) who vacationed in Vietnam acts like a Shell-Shocked Veteran and sings Billy Joel's "Good Night Saigon" (joined by all of the then-current cast members, celebrity guest stars Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Tom Hanks, Maya Rudolph, Anne Hathaway, Norm McDonald, and Artie Lange [from MADtv, which at the time, was airing its final episode], and the musical guest for the episode [Green Day])
    • Done again later with Bill Hader playing an unhinged vet who disrupts a puppet class by using his puppet to express his post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Scandal: Huck reveals himself to be this, due to his CIA black-ops training. He and his other operatives were conditioned to torture enemies and eventually grew to like it. Huck wanted out and was trying to "get sober" while living homeless when Olivia found him.
  • Parodied on Seinfeld with George's father Frank. He was a chef during the Korean War, but swore never to cook again after a horrifying incident ... he served some overseasoned/slightly rancid meat and "sent sixteen of my own men to the latrines that night!" He's eventually convinced to start cooking again and helps out at a big dinner, only to go nuts when it looks like a guy's throwing up and knocks everyone's plates to the floor.
    Frank: They were just boys!
    Kramer: Frank, you were a boy too. And it was war! It was a crazy time for everyone.
    Frank: Tell that to Bobby Colby. All that kid wanted to do was go home! Well, he went home, all right! ...With a crater in his colon the size of a cutlet!
    Kramer: Frank—
    Frank: Had to sit him on a cork the eighteen-hour flight home!
  • Subverted with Dr. Watson in Sherlock. His psychosomatic injuries and therapy indicate that he's suffering PTSD and haunted by his experiences during the war, since he did see people die on him, but the truth is actually that he misses it. This leads to him helping Sherlock Holmes, since it allows him to indulge his Blood Knight tendencies.
  • Rick Simon on Simon & Simon experienced PTSD in the "I Thought The War Was Over" episode.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World: Malone watched three comrades die in World War I while hallucinating when he's shot by a poison dart. It's also implied Roxton had a rough time from World War I.
  • Played for Laughs in Soap with the Major who's still convinced he's fighting in the second world war and attacks the neighbours because he believes them to be Nazi spies.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: Commodore Decker from "The Doomsday Machine". When Kirk finds him, his mind is about as wrecked as his ship, largely due to Survivor Guilt.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation has Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself suffer this trope due to the events of "The Best of Both Worlds", where he is assimilated into the Borg and obliterates an entire fleet of Starfleet ships. He is certainly not over it by the events of Star Trek: First Contact where he turns much more brutal with the machines. This event connects Picard to the next Trek protagonist...
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, being Darker and Edgier than the rest of Star Trek, showed particular interest in PTSD. Not surprising when you consider that the last two seasons depict the largest and bloodiest war ever experienced by the Federation, but even pre-Dominion War episodes look into it.
    • The first episode deals heavily with Commander Sisko's depression after losing his wife during a particularly notorious battle. And much later on, after the Dominion War is in full swing, he begins having hallucinations and several nervous breakdowns.
    • Nog experiences PTSD after he loses a leg in combat and stays in Vic Fontaine's Las Vegas holosuite program for a while to cope.note 
    • Kira's entire character arc is about recovering from this. She starts out as obstructive and mistrustful of Starfleet, but gradually realizes how the emotional baggage she picked up as a freedom fighter can compromise her job and put Bajor at risk.
    • A rare non-combat variant, in one of the many "torture O'Brien" episodes. He was put in a simulation for (what seemed to be) twenty YEARS. When poor O'Brien finally came out, he was a very changed man, constantly reminded of the horrors he faced, and guilt for killing his cell mate.
    • In the seventh season episode "Field of Fire" shows what happens when this is mixed with a Vulcan. One of only a handful of survivors of a crew after a traumatic battle, he repressed his emotions so much he snapped and became a cold sniper targeting anyone who was happy. Why? In his own words, "Logic demanded it".
  • Season 3 of Star Trek: Enterprise turns Archer into this. This is particularly evident during the after-action debriefing, when Soval's criticisms drive Archer to a very pissed-off "The Reason You Suck" Speech about how the Vulcans wouldn't help him save Earth.
  • In Supernatural, a possible alternate future version of Dean Winchester turns into this after Sam gives in to Lucifer, Bobby is killed, and the Croatoan virus wipes out most of the planet.
    • Castiel too, though his shellshock manifests a bit ... differently.
    • Sam and Dean are both examples of this trope, although the extent to which it applies comes and goes. It is implied that all hunters are as well, or soon will be. Dean becomes even more so after spending a year in purgatory before season 8, where he had to be on constant alert and fight to survive.
    • John Winchester averts this trope when younger, and plays it straight later in life. Averted, in that although he served as a Marine in Vietnam, he returns home and seems reasonably well adjusted. Once Mary dies and he becomes a hunter, the trope is played straight.
  • Iraq war vet Terry Bellefleur on True Blood.
  • Edgar from You're the Worst is an Iraq War veteran with PTSD. While his status as a veteran isn't the central defining aspect of his character, the show (which is largely a comedy) does not gloss over his problems and Edgar's A Day in the Limelight episode "Twenty-Two" takes an especially harshly critical look at how the system ignores veterans and is ill-equipped to help with their mental health problems and getting them back into normal society.
  • World on Fire:
    • Douglas, who still suffers from "nerves" from the trauma he suffered in World War I.
    • On the way to the Dunkirk beach Harry and his squad find a hospital truck transporting shell shock cases, or rather it was, before the driver was killed in a Luftwaffe strafing run. Stan doesn't believe in shell shock as an idea—he calls it "cowardice"—but much to Stan's consternation Harry insists on escorting the men to the beach.
    • The first-season finale reveals the back story behind Harry's late father: he was a shell-shocked veteran of WWI like Douglas, except that he killed himself after he got home.
    • And finally there's Grzegorz, who, after somehow slipping through a wormhole from Poland to Belgium, and being plucked off the beaches of Dunkirk, finds himself in a Yorkshire hospital for shell-shock patients.


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