Unfortunately, one of the side effects of the many prescriptions Edgar takes is a low sex drive, impacting the intimacy between him and Dorothy. She asks what’s wrong and he hides the problem from her, opting instead to go off his meds in order to restore his libido and deepen his relationship.
Episode 5 of season 3 shadows a day from Edgar’s perspective, and we witness the full brunt of his PTSD symptoms when they aren’t being muted by medications. It’s the blue-black abyss of either late night or early morning, and he can’t sleep. He goes for a shirtless run in the middle of the night, stopping abruptly when he sees a vehicle screech to a halt. Panicked, Edgar ducks behind a row of parked cars, his heavy breathing venting out the terror creeping through his body. The van approaches, and an arm casually tosses a newspaper out onto a driveway.
A routine trip to the grocery store devolves into a terrifying panic attack. We hear the ringing in Edgar’s ears as he whips around to survey the other shoppers, his breaths growing sharp and shallow before he locks eyes with a woman wearing a hijab. He whispers to himself, agitated. Customers start to notice his odd behavior. From Edgar’s perspective, they stare wordlessly, casting silent judgment upon him. In his world, a pile of trash bags on a street corner could contain an IED. A stranger’s passing gaze could be a hostile targeting him for an attack. The sound of choppers overhead could signal death from above.
Later, Edgar meets with the Chief of Medicine at the Veteran Affairs, a visit that took months of persistent effort to schedule. She sympathizes with the struggle he and other veterans go through to get the help they so desperately need, and because she “really likes” Edgar, she offers him 10 sessions in their “virtual reality trainer.” The simulations should help lessen the battlefield trauma veterans like Edgar has experienced.
Edgar is thrilled, but wonders if he would have been granted this opportunity had he not kept “asking and asking.” Dr. Higgins cuts him off abruptly, reviewing his paperwork. He clarifies that he’s taking 11 different prescription medications but recently stopped because they weren’t working for him. “I don’t like the side effects,” he explains. “They make me feel blotchy.” She changes her tone, imploring him to get back on his medication before they’ll find a fit for him in one of their therapeutic programs. The doctor may be in, but she just snatched the football away from a damaged, defeated Charlie Brown.
In the next episode, the crew (Gretchen, Jimmy, Lindsay, and Edgar) embarks on a final “Sunday Funday,” following cryptic clues to an exclusive speakeasy hidden away somewhere in the bowels of Los Angeles. Gretchen appeals to her PR client, a hip hop artist named Sam Dresden, for help with one of the clues. The group passes around Dresden’s vape pen while he deciphers a musical easter egg. Edgar tries to return the vape before they leave, but Dresden encourages him to keep it.
As the group moves from one checkpoint to the next, Edgar’s demeanor visibly changes. He’s more relaxed, happy even. By the time they hit Chinatown and Lindsay asks how he’s doing, he responds:
“I went off my meds because my dick didn’t work and now I’m totally freaked out by everything but this pot is mellowing me out sooooo that’s an illegal temporary fix!”
“So everything triggers you?” Lindsay asks.
“Oh yeah,” Edgar responds, exhaling a plume of vapor. “I’m worse than ever. Even, like, small noises or someone yelling will just send me right to — ”
She cuts him off, smiling, and implores him to turn around. He does, and finally notices the ratatat of firecrackers being lit and punctuating the air behind him. Only this time, it didn’t seize his breath and send him spiraling into a panic-fueled misery. The cannabis calmed him, made him feel at ease. For the first time in a long, long while, he felt normal again.
Eager for some “immersion therapy,” the highlight of the episode comes when Edgar purchases two bags full of fireworks and encourages his friends to shoot them directly at him in an abandoned stretch of concrete. He takes a pull from the vape, smiles, puts on his Aviators, and stretches the vape into the air, declaring “Do it!” They comply, laughing as streaks of smokey, colorful sparks whizz by Edgar as he stands calm and confident, soaking in an experience that would ordinarily be met with crippling terror.
Edgar’s experience as a veteran struggling to receive adequate treatment for his PTSD is fictional, but it represents the plight millions of Americans struggle with each day. Combat-related PTSD in U.S. military veterans since the Vietnam War is estimated to range from 2-17%
. According to the VA, up to 20% of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans, 10% of Gulf War veterans, and 30% of Vietnam War veterans have experienced PTSD
Like Edgar, veterans are often prescribed drugs to help treat their myriad symptoms, but as Army first sergeant Gregory Westbrook explains, they come with their own drawbacks
“The drugs that they were giving them … they couldn’t get up in the mornings,” he says. “Most of the guys weren’t the type of soldiers who had issues before Iraq or even in Iraq, but they bring them back and put them on these drugs, and they’re falling asleep in the chair. There was no way they could function, especially in a civilian job. So maybe marijuana is an alternative.”
Veterans like Stephen Mandile often become dependent on their prescription medication
to help manage their pain, PTSD, and host of other symptoms brought about by their time spent serving our country. And if the pills aren’t enough, if they fail to adequately mute the pain that Mandile is forced to live with, or if they make people like Edgar feel “blotchy,” our veterans begin to feel desperate. Hollow. Clawing at an existence that doesn’t feel like living at all, but rather more like going through the motions as if they’re wading through colorless, flavorless Jell-O.
Edgar may just be a character, but thousands of actual living, breathing veterans like Mandile have successfully sought relief through medical marijuana. “I was amazed at the pain relief I got from cannabis,” says Mandile. “It helped with my migraines, my anger, my depression and my anxiousness. Within five months, I was finished with most of my VA meds.”
But despite the promising effects medical marijuana can deliver, the U.S. government has dragged its feet in addressing cannabis’s efficacy in helping our veterans. After a five year stall, the DEA has only recently finally approved a study examining the effects of cannabis on veterans with PTSD
. A bill that would have allowed VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veteran patients in legal states had the amendment removed by House Republicans
. And while medical marijuana is accessible in 25 states, only a handful specify PTSD as a qualifying condition
. Many veterans are left in a frustrating limbo between knowing cannabis can help alleviate their symptoms but not being able to legally procure it.
Even our fictional Edgar runs into some problems during his next VA meeting. In season 3, episode 7, he speaks with an employee assigned to his case, explaining that cannabis has really helped him with his symptoms and asking if there’s a form he can fill out to ensure that medical marijuana won’t interfere with his other benefits. The employee, a stone-faced man seated behind a desk piled with papers and comically large stamps, balks and responds:
“You just walked into a government building and asked if we’d be cool with you taking illegal drugs. Maybe on your way home you can stop at the DMV and ask if they’ll let you steal some cars.”
When Edgar asks if he’s unable to use medical marijuana even though it’s legal in the state, the employee says, “I don’t know. All I know is that” — he glances around before leaning in and whispering — “marijuana is a Schedule I narcotic. And you’re asking me, a government employee, if you can take it. Let’s call the police and ask them!” He pantomimes picking up the phone. “Hey, police! Which federally illegal drugs can this guy take that will be cool with the VA?”
Edgar leaves, frustrated. Later, with the gang all gathered at a memorial service for Jimmy’s late father, one of their friends who’s a doctor dispenses this advice for our combat veteran:
“The doctor in me is like, ‘You’re the patient, take what you’ve been prescribed, ya dumb little bitch,’ but the human in me is like smoke that ganj, yo! Real talk? It’s bull-worthy you can’t get a pot card! You went to war and straight bezerkered on fools! That’s an actual reason! Like, everyone at this party has a pot card for a dumb reason. Gretchen said she had insomnia, Lindsay said her back hurt.”
Musician Ben Folds pauses his piano playing to chime in with his ‘malady,’ holding up his hands and saying, “Piano fingers.”
“What reason did you use?” Edgar asks the doctor. The doc shrugs and responds, “I just said I saw a dog.”
At the end of the episode, Edgar emerges triumphant from a mobile medical marijuana authorization trailer with his new authorization. He passes what he thinks is a fellow vet and stops to salute him. The man pulls his vest closed and waves him off, inferring that he’s just pretending so he can get approved for an authorization. Edgar isn’t angry at the ruse; he’s such a nice guy that he feels bad for nearly blowing the guy’s cover, whispering, “Oh shit, I’m sorry” before scurrying away.
It’s an amusing but frustrating cap to Edgar’s journey from troubled combat veteran to medical marijuana patient. When the very program that was created to help people like Edgar systemically fails them at every turn and makes them feel like some sort of criminal drug addict for turning to the only safe substance that brings them relief, what’s the alternative? In Edgar’s case, he risks compromising his benefits by becoming a legal medical marijuana patient, but the risk is worth it to get his life back again.
Edgar’s story arc may not resonate with viewers as strongly as Gretchen’s battle with depression did in season 2, but it’s just as powerful a story, and one that needs to be told more often. Veterans’ struggles and the impact medical marijuana can have on their quality of life is a subject on which we should be repeatedly shining a bright, harsh, unflinching spotlight. It’s simply ‘the worst’ that a fledgling comedy on a cable television network was the first to do so.