Atypical continues to exemplify the capabilities of high functioning people with autism, while not making that the sum of the lead or show.
|Elsa||Jennifer Jason Leigh|
|Megan||Angel Laketa Moore|
|Ms. Whitaker||Casey Wilson|
|Officer Timms||Jeremiah Birkett|
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It’s a rather tumultuous year for the Gardner household. Sam is prepping for graduation, dealing with using a support group vs. one on one therapy, alongside trying to understand the complexities of his relationship with Paige. On top of that, thanks to Doug stepping up when it comes to parenting Sam, he gets to further and further exert his independence.
Something which makes Elsa a bit uncomfortable. If only because her life has been so dedicated to Sam’s that, while he is accomplishing things beyond her wildest dreams, it also means he needs her less. Which wouldn’t be so bad if she had a job but she doesn’t. All she had was taking care of her family and with Casey being a daddy’s girl, and her relationship with Elsa tumultuous, she can’t reinvest her time there. Then with Doug? He’s struggling to just talk to her, be friends with her, never mind maintain being a husband. Hence why he kicks her out.
Leading to him realizing, he probably didn’t prep himself, and the household, to deal with the vacuum which is no longer having Elsa around. After all, his kids are spoiled. They never learned to cook, they don’t really clean after themselves, and with being an EMT, Doug is often tired after work. Add in stress-induced panic attacks run in his family and he realizes he has to co-parent unless he wants an early grave. For while his dad may have been able to deal with panic attacks monthly, and make it to his 80s, he didn’t have a Casey in his life who wouldn’t put up with that foolishness.
Speaking of Casey, the shift to Clayton was hard at first, but then it became life changing. The main reason being Izzie who started off an evil little thing. Yet, there comes a point where Casey can’t imagine her life without Izzie. Leading you to believe Evan and her might be in trouble because Casey could be in love, romantic love, with Izzie.
Episodes & Synopses
Unlike most of the characters on Atypical, Sam doesn’t have a huge influence on Casey’s storyline. She more so does on his by pushing his buttons and being a bratty little sister. Which makes it so she can interact with Sam, have moments with him, like when he asserts himself as her big brother, yet not get sucked in.
Thus allowing her to gravitate a little bit towards everyone’s storyline, put her stank on it, and then maintain a separate life. Something Lundy-Paine handles to the point it’s like she is low-key the lead and Sam is but a Trojan Horse. For she is given the type of season that you’d associate with a female lead, not a supporting character or someone part of an ensemble.
Take note of her journey with Doug and Elsa. Casey has never really been close to Elsa because she often would choose Sam over her because of his autism and her fears. Fears which we later see were justified but what did Casey know of Elsa’s sacrifices and worries? All she saw was her mother running to her older brother and apologizing to her until the words, “I’m sorry” meant nothing. Yet, with the affair, and taking note of what Casey goes through with Evan and Izzie, I think she started to understand her mom. Maybe even work on forgiving her because she has something similar going on.
Plus, after Evan taking note, so many times, of how he’d love to have a mom like Elsa, even in the capacity of what Casey and she have, it seemingly clicked. It went beyond her being okay with her mom returning for the sake of Doug but her consoling Elsa at Sam’s graduation. Not wanting it to be made a big deal, yeah, but that was a huge thing.
Though we can’t forget her relationship with Doug. Their father/ daughter relationship is one of the cutest things on television. His dry humor mixed with her sarcasm, and while they often maintain this friend-like relationship, there is also this respect, if not fear when it comes to Doug. Especially not wanting to disappoint him or not be what he needs her to be. Granted, it wasn’t at the level of her doing more around the house to alleviate his stress but, she and Sam are spoiled.
Then, when it comes to Sam, beyond the mechanical pencils scene, and the dance on her birthday, you just have to appreciate the role she plays in his life. Zahid may have treated him like everyone else for a while, but Casey established that no matter how mom treats you, or the world, you are my older brother and I’m going to treat you as such. Which means me annoying you, hugging you, having my friends meet you, and protect you because you are mine.
Establishing How Much Therapy Helps
Sam’s time with Julia was only one year, and his time in the support group was only a few months, yet look at all it did. Heck, take note of how the tools he learned helped Doug deal with his panic attacks and how it helped Sam understand what other people were going through? Well, outside of Paige but that’s a whole other topic.
Sam Finding His People & Being Both Challenged & Inspired By Them
But most of all, let’s take note of how empowered he seemed by finding his people. For while Sam has known Christopher, or known of, for who knows how long, and Elsa has a support group, Sam didn’t have that same community. He didn’t have a Lily or Amber to relate to. To help him understand what was possible. And in finding them, you realize how important it is to find your people. For while he didn’t make friends with them to the point of hanging out, getting to bounce off ideas and feel less like a weirdo because he knew a room filled with people like him, you can’t discount the effect of that.
Especially considering Sam is high functioning. Which leads to this idea that he is between two worlds. For he doesn’t fit the expectations and ostracization those who aren’t high functioning are subject to, yet he isn’t one of the neurotypicals. He’s stuck between two worlds and struggles sometimes with the one he is often in. For while Sam tries, he needs patience from you as well. Which, as seen by Zahid perhaps being one of his few, if not only, friends Sam has, not many are willing to make the time and put in that effort.
Sam and Zahid
Switching to Zahid’s role this season, as much as it stays the same, in terms of him being there for Sam and their cute bromance, it gets taken to the next level thanks to key moments. One being Sam’s college essay where he talks about the significance of Zahid being a friend who treats him with love and without a hint of pity or like he is anything but a friend. The second notable moment comes from episode 6 and third from episode 4. In those episodes, it becomes clear that Sam and Zahid aren’t just work friends but something more.
In episode 4, Sam learns to lie, thanks to Zahid, and uses it to save Zahid’s job. Then, in episode 6, after Zahid saves Sam from being arrested, maybe worse, he has a heartfelt conversation with Sam. Once which shows us the Zahid we don’t see often. Someone who isn’t always sure of himself or who has a witty thing to say. For all thanks to one biology teacher who didn’t try to understand Zahid, like so many don’t try to understand Sam, he momentarily gave up on his dream of becoming a nurse.
And with that, you realize why Zahid, like Casey and Elsa, is so protective over Sam. For he knows it really only takes one person to break you down. Hence why Zahid always tries to build Sam up and he loves Sam beyond as a friend but like the little brother his parents didn’t give him.
Sam and Paige
Let it be stated, Sam does Paige dirty for most of the season. Whether it is continuing to practice on her, through lying, or showing he can be empathetic to everyone else but her, Sam is often trash. Yet, there is something horrible yet cute about Paige sticking by Sam despite all that. Horrible for it really pushes how lonely this girl must be, even with the clubs she is in. Yet, also cute because you recognize there is something she likes, perhaps loves, about Sam, and it scares her a bit.
Take note, Paige is someone who has largely controlled her life and planned it out as far as she could. So someone like Sam who pokes holes in her plans and makes it so she can’t control her emotions? That’s terrifying. Hence her trying that power play nonsense of them being casual. She needed to reassert control and that backfired. Making it where, like how Doug and Elsa had to slowly heal their relationship, the same thing had to be done with Sam and Paige. They had to reestablish their friendship and show when things got hard, they got each other’s backs. As seen in episode 10.
The one where Paige flipped the f*** out when she saw what people wrote in Sam’s yearbook. All because he tried to live off this high he was feeling from a few nice things said. Yet, some wanna call him a dweeb and other cruel things and Paige goes off to the point of going horse – before her valedictorian speech. The speech which is the exclamation mark to the high school chapter of her life.
Leading to Sam having that grandiose comeback often seen in romance films after the dude been messing up. Sam, a boy with autism, who doesn’t like crowds, loud noises, and public speaking, he does her speech. Why? Not out of guilt for how he treated her or to say sorry. It is because, after all that has happened, all he has done, he realized he loved her and for people you love, you force yourself out of your comfort zone.
Showing The Prejudice, Discrimination, and Bullying People with Autism Go Through
Speaking of comfort zone, while none of it hits so hard it leaves Sam a mess, prejudice, bullying, and the more hurtful side of being someone with autism is explored this season. Anything from Arlo’s father Theo making Sam sound like a punishment, Arlo taking advantage of Sam’s naiveté, taking note of how many people with autism are under or unemployed and then the big one – the lack of training for emergency services when it comes to interacting with people who have autism.
In the strongly Zahid focused episode, episode 6, followed up by episode 7, we see the dangers which come from being autistic in a world not prepped for that. One, Officer Timms, as Sam walks down a street, alone, at night, pulls him over thinking Sam is a drug addict. In truth, because of all the stimulants in Zahid’s room, which he was sleeping over, he decided to take a walk. Either home or to calm down. Yet, with this man thinking Sam is a drug addict, and Sam not responding right away, he was ready to arrest and treat Sam like a criminal. Luckily Zahid stepped in but imagine if he didn’t.
To make things worse, Timms excuses himself by taking note of the dangers of his jobs when Doug lets him know that’s his kid. Then, to placate Doug, he puts Sam’s picture on the wanted board so if someone sees Sam, they’d know. Though don’t take that as Doug getting special treatment for it is handled in such a way where Doug is being blown off.
And I bring up this being shown because I want you to imagine if it wasn’t a cop but Sam needed an ambulance and he is freaking out. If that EMT didn’t have the training to handle someone like Sam, imagine what could have happened. Or, take note of the big Black dude in Sam’s support group. A cop seeing him act like Sam did, and not being responsive, on top of Zahid or someone not showing up? That could be the end of his life.
Something we may not see in the news often, but is still something seen. Such as this situation last April.
The Length of Time It Took Doug and Elsa’s Relationship To Heal
Doug and Elsa don’t end up back together this season. Despite this season covering a whole school year, Doug still can’t get Nate making out and having sex with his wife out of his head. Note, he does find himself able to have sex with her once, even renewing their friendship after the Theo and Holly debacle. Also, after the aforementioned Sam incident, he talks about starting a business with Elsa in which they use his network and her knowledge of people with autism so that first responders and cops know what to do.
However, when they are supposed to have a real conversation to maybe move on, maybe go to couples therapy, he goes to Megan. A woman who is Amber’s mom, the girl in Sam’s group session, who seems to have a thing for Doug. Mind you, she knows Doug is married and having a rough patch, but it doesn’t mean she full on holds back. If anything, while not a home wrecker, she certainly makes it so if Doug decides to leave his marriage, it can be a smooth transition.
And I appreciated, not Megan coming between two married people, but Doug struggling with forgiveness. For more often than not, it is the guy cheating or him having to apologize for something he did. In this case, while Doug does have the mark on him for leaving, that doesn’t compare to Elsa having a full-blown affair and it only stopping since she got discovered – if I recall correctly. Now, whether in season 3, if this gets renewed, they heal old wounds, who can say? But if they cover as many months in season 3 as they did season 2, and Elsa and Doug reconcile, it would seem realistic at that point.
The Fears, Hopes, and Expectations of a Parent Raising A Child With Autism
In episode 10, after Sam deals with the insults written in his yearbook, he goes to the aquarium to see the penguin he adopted. The family joins him and it leads to Elsa pulling out a list of things that, when Sam was a child, she hoped for him. Such things as being able to communicate, find something he loves, and a whole bunch of items Sam thinks as a very simplified list. Yet, when it comes to parents with children who have autism, what may seem like a simple list is actually a quite daunting one. Even with early intervention, you don’t know how high functioning your child might be.
For the most part, what we see on Atypical are high functioning people with autism or, in Sam’s case, a character who is high functioning. However, for many people, they may never get to have a full blown conversation with their child. May never see them go off to college and live their own lives. If they don’t take care of them, someone else will have to and they have to deal with this idea that their child will never be independent.
And if you think about it, as much as you can grow adjusted the neurosis of your child, you go through all that because they are your kid. You birthed, or provided the resources, for them to come into being. As for someone else? They’re getting paid to take care of your child and while there are many who love their work, others only took that job for the money. Which makes it so you have to worry and fear that their bad day could mean your child getting injured, maybe injuring someone else, and perhaps the situation not deescalating in such a way which makes it so your child doesn’t get harmed or worse.
Hence Elsa crying at Sam’s graduation while he did Paige’s speech. Considering all she has seen during her mom’s support group, imagine her son doing the valedictorian speech for his special friend. Having the third highest GPA of his graduating class. That is, on top of having a best friend, a job he has held for months, managing his own bank account and preparing for college! Many moms don’t get that but somehow she got lucky.
It Shows, At His Core, Sam Isn’t Really That Different From Anyone Else
Nearly every episode, there is something happening in Sam’s life, that runs parallel to the rest of the cast. Whether it is Paige trying to use power dynamics to regain a sense of dignity, as Doug does with Elsa and giving her rules, or Doug having panic attacks, as Sam has anxiety attacks, and repeating the different kinds of penguins to calm down. These examples, amongst the many, show that what Sam goes through isn’t because of his autism nor how he handles certain situations.
Nearly everything Sam goes through is universal. Even in terms of not wanting one thing out of his control defining him. For Sam, it deals with Ms. Whitaker, as she tries to navigate what it means to be in contact with Sam, saying he should use his autism as a selling point. On the flip side, there is Zahid who let one person trying to define him affect him for years. Yet, unlike Sam, he wasn’t able to deflect being defined and move on.
And there are many other examples of how, I don’t wanna say they downplay Sam’s autism but do present it as simply something which forces him to adapt in ways others don’t. Yet, it is made clear that while he has to adapt, the source problem is universal and the methods Sam takes are viable options for more than just him. Like, total honesty. Elsa picks that up and it leads to her having a business opportunity and beginning the healing process with Doug.
Though Izzie starts off seeming like a stereotypical mean girl threatened by Casey’s talent, she evolves. With being forced into a room with Casey, talking about helping to raise 3 younger siblings, an absent dad, a mom addicted to pills and her, her mom’s, abusive boyfriend, you feel for this child quickly. Add in Izzie and Casey connecting quickly and falling for one another and she brings a welcomed added layer to Casey.
For one, Casey’s feelings for Izzie helps her understand her mom and how she could cheat on someone she loves. Two, it makes Casey bisexual and navigating that could be interesting. Lastly, with Izzie having such a dramatic life, it sort of pops this bubble this show is in where things happen but nothing too terrible. Yes, Elsa cheated on Doug but they are working on it. Yeah, Doug had a heart attack scare but with Elsa back in the house his stress got alleviated. Also, Sam may have gotten tricked into giving $700 and also bullied a little bit, but he ended his school year giving the valedictorian speech.
Even for the majority of side characters, things end pretty well. Zahid applies to nursing school, Julia finds the courage to talk to her mom about being pregnant with a son, and Paige gets into the college of her choice. Only Izzie doesn’t find her life all coming together after the trials and tribulations of the year. There isn’t the hope Elsa has because Doug was warming up to her, she had to take her siblings to her grandmother’s to keep them safe. Which makes her a welcome little disruption – despite throwing a bit of a wrench into Casey and Evan’s relationship.
For the most part, this show is pretty grounded. Even with an affair in play, what Izzie goes through off-screen, alongside all Sam deals with, there isn’t any usual teen drama, be it FreeForm or CW nonsense. Nate, however, brought a little bit of that by trying to cheat on Izzie and make it seem Casey initiated it. On top of Izzie, or someone else, following up on that by writing “Slut” and “Ho” on Casey’s sneakers.
Yet, in the long run, it seems Nate was just a catalyst. If not a speed bump so that Casey and Izzie could become a thing. And when you think about it, with them both being on the track team, the only purpose of Nathan is, like with Evan, showing a girl can be in a committed relationship with a guy yet still develop feelings for a girl.
Julia & Sharice
At this point, Sharice is someone who seems like a placeholder. She shows up in two episodes and doesn’t really say or do anything noteworthy. She just seems like a token Black character. One that doesn’t even get a Zahid moment where you are reminded why she and Casey are close, or what she wants to do with her life. She just exists and on the rare occasion pops up.
As for Julia, her storyline barely feels connected to this show anymore. With Sam no longer using her as a therapist, and her storyline mostly dealing with her pending motherhood, it seems we’re just waiting for the actress’ contract to run out.
Who Is Sam Talking To When In A Therapist Chair?
Sam is not in traditional therapy this season yet is talking about topics as if he is. Who is this dude talking to while in what looks like Julia’s office?
On The Fence
The Actors With Autism Seemed Underutilized
Sam finding his community is of great importance, as well as showing actual actors who have autism. Yet, what to some may have been a glaring issue, not featuring more people with autism, feels like it was rectified with quantity over quality. I say this because so little is done with the people in that support group. Lily gets to talk the most and we learn she has a boyfriend, goes to the dentist, and things like that, Amber is allowed to show some of her personality, but everyone else is mostly a mystery. One character, the big Black guy, we know he wants to be a dentist, but they barely, if at all, say his name. Then, for those who sit right of Sam, left of Ms. Whitaker, they maybe get one or two lines out of the whole season and that’s it.
We also don’t see Sam make friends with them, maybe have a crush on one, or anything. I mean, in my mind, instead of Bailey, and what happened with her, I feel like someone from the support group would have made a good short-term love interest. That way, similar to Izzie, even if Sam still ultimately chose Paige, we’d get to really know what life is like for another person with autism. Rather than what we get which is learning Amber likes ambulances and little things which are more so random facts than things which make you feel you truly got to know anyone.
Overall: Positive (Watch This)
Largely, Atypical addresses many of its critics, especially those of the autism community, while making it so Sam’s autism doesn’t define him, nor become the central part of everyone’s story. It simply is something he was born with, is part of his life, and while it influences many things in his life, it doesn’t stop him from doing a thing. For, as seen, even if it is speaking in front of a bunch of people, if motivated to do so, he will find a way to set aside the neurosis autism brings and do what needs to be done. For if there is one thing Atypical pushes is that with the right support, those on the spectrum can potentially do anything.
As for the rest of the characters? Casey gets to step out in what feels like a big way, while still remaining attached to Sam’s storyline, and nearly all the favorites from last season have at least one stand out moment. Making it where, outside of Julia’s character seemingly existing until her actress’ contract runs out, and Nate who brings nothing but eye-roll inducing trouble, this remains one of the best coming of age shows on a major platform.