Psych Was a Darker Show Than You Realized

Between the Yin/Yang murders and Henry's near-death experience, Psych wasn't afraid to get serious when it wanted to.

Photo: NBCUniversal

This article contains spoilers for Psych.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that Psych is a show that often involves murder. The procedural comedy-drama is well known for its running gags, irreverent humor, and the absurd scenarios that faux psychic Shawn Spencer (James Roday Rodriguez) and his best friend/crime-solving partner Gus (Dulé Hill) often found themselves in, all of which can overshadow the seriousness of the crimes they’re trying to solve. However, the series proves it’s worthy of the drama genre descriptor more often than we realize when it allows itself to go to darker places than we expect.

The most obvious example of this in the series is the Yin/Yang arc. Shawn and Gus go up against these serial killers several times throughout the series, and often find themselves and those they care about directly in harms’ way. Like many serial killers, Yin (Peter Weller) and Yang (Ally Sheedy) saw Shawn’s rise in status as a “psychic” detective as a challenge. They wanted to see if Shawn could best them, and eventually take him out of the picture entirely.

What makes these two even scarier is that their arc wasn’t a one and done kind of thing. Seasons 3, 4, and 5 all have Yin/Yang-centric episodes as the season finale, each forcing Shawn to race against the clock to save someone he loves. In “An Evening with Mr. Yang” Shawn’s mom Madeline (Cybill Shepherd) is strapped to a bomb at a drive-in movie theater. In “Mr. Yin Presents…” Shawn has to decide between saving Juliet (Maggie Lawson) and his high school crush Abigail (Rachel Leigh Cook). The final showdown against the nefarious killers, “Yang 3 in 2D” sees Shawn and Gus finally come face-to-face with both killers at once, but they both nearly die at the hands of Mr. Yin.

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After the season 3 finale proved that the series could handle darker material, season 4 upped the stakes before Yin and Yang even made their second appearance. The episode “Shawn Takes a Shot in the Dark,” which features guest stars Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy) and John Hawkes (True Detective: Night Country) as the bad guys, sees Shawn in real danger because of a case. This episode isn’t the first time that Shawn’s been held at gunpoint nor is it the first time that he’s gotten himself in trouble snooping around, but it is the first time that he’s shot and abducted.

Aside from having to save his mom from a serial killer the season before, this is the most vulnerable that Shawn has ever been while solving a case. It’s up to Gus, Lassiter (Timothy Omundson), Henry (Corbin Bersen), and Juliet to follow the trail that Shawn has been leaving and try to find him before he either bleeds out, or the bad guys decide to finish the job. Shawn can really only hope that the skills his dad taught him as a kid, like kicking out a taillight, will be enough to save him.

When Yin and Yang are both finally out of the picture after season 5, the show decides that it’s the perfect time to put Henry, Shawn’s dad, in danger. The episodes “Santabarbaratown” and “Santabarbaratown 2” sees the reopening of a case that Henry worked on when he was on the force. As new evidence comes to light, Henry realizes that his former partners, including Jerry Carp (Max Gail) were dirty, and involved in covering up this evidence in the first place. When Henry goes to confront Carp, he gets shot by his former partner, and left for dead.

Shawn has to find a way to manage his anger and the fear of losing his father in order to find Carp before he vanishes for good. Even after all of the stuff with Yin and Yang, this might be the angriest we ever see Shawn. With them, it was easier to compartmentalize. They were very clearly criminal masterminds. With Carp, however, it’s harder to stuff those feelings down because this is a man that Henry once trusted. It’s a betrayal that cuts deeper and ups the stakes.

Psych is great when it leans into comedy and pop-culture homages like the Clue episode, the Friday the 13th episode, and the Bachelor-inspired episode, but it’s incredible when it isn’t afraid to go to the darker places of the detective genre. The more serious episodes mentioned above pave the way for some really great character development in the aftermath, and prove that the show can take itself seriously when it wants to. We get to see that Shawn and Gus are more than just goofballs that happen to also be good at solving crimes – they’re damn good detectives.