'Atypical' Season 2, Episode 5 Recap: 'The Egg Is Pipping'
The Mighty’s autism community reviews the second season of Netflix’s “Atypical.”
The following is a review of the fifth episode of the second season of “Atypical,” and contains spoilers.
I watched the entire first series in one sitting last year and have been eagerly awaiting the second installment of “Atypical.” The first series resonated with me and my family in more ways than one as we are an autism family.
This episode begins with a flashback to 2004, when Sam (Keir Gilchrist) was first diagnosed with autism, and they are all sitting with the doctor receiving the news. It is evident in this scene that both parents process the information very differently. Once they are back home, Sam’s mom, Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) says she is relieved to hear the diagnosis and dives into discussing her plan of action.
Clearly, she has researched autism at length as she lists early intervention, speech therapy, equine therapy and noise-canceling headphones. A parent who has not heard of autism prior to receiving the diagnosis will be quite overwhelmed and seek a second opinion, similar to the reaction exhibited by Doug (Michael Rapaport), Sam’s dad.
We then fast forward to the present day, Doug is now having panic attacks and isn’t keen to take his medication. Doug’s panic attacks were brought on by Elsa’s infidelity in the previous season. Elsa had moved out of their family home but Doug’s ill health and seeming inability to cope with everything has brought her back. Elsa offers to assist with chores around the house, which is eventually reluctantly accepted by the rest of the family. No one has forgiven Elsa for her ill deeds and the wounds are still quite fresh within the family unit.
Sam’s love and special interest in penguins make him an expert on the subject. He attends a peer support group where the other members are also on the spectrum. They are discussing a serious topic about employment and autism and fail to understand the point Sam is trying to make by speaking about the Arctic and Penguins. Eventually, they ask him for clarity and once he explains, they are able to understand his point. This shows that whether Sam is with neurotypicals or peers on the spectrum, he may be misunderstood.
Within the same peer group discussion, they begin to talk about money. Amber is shocked that Sam doesn’t handle any financial aspect of his life. She is quite nasty to Sam and calls him a baby. Sam’s mom, Elsa is responsible for managing all of his money, even his salary earned at his part-time job. Elsa has justified why she does this: She says that Sam won’t be able to wait in the long queues at the bank or deal with noisy ATMs. While she does perhaps have a point, what will happen when Elsa is not around to manage his finances? How will Sam cope then? This theme of financial independence and autonomy is really critical as it determines the independence of the adult autistic. Financial lessons have to be learned and taught over time like everything else. Is Elsa being overly protective? It turns out that Elsa has managed to save $7,000 in a bank account for Sam.
Later in the same episode, we see Arlo, one of the students at Sam’s school, take advantage of Sam. Arlo suggests Sam donates $700 for a party at Arlo’s house. Arlo, knowing that Sam is obsessed with the penguin egg hatching, offers to let Sam watch the video on Arlo’s home theatre system at the party. Sam is absolutely unassuming and is duped out of $700. This is a very real scenario. Elsa contacts Arlo’s mom when Sam mentions the party as she was unaware of it. Arlo’s plan is spoiled as he planned to have a party without their knowledge. Arlo is furious with Sam. He confronts him and attacks Sam at school. Arlo smashes Sam’s cell phone, stamping on it repeatedly. Sam was keenly watching the progress with the penguin egg a few moments prior to this and thereafter gets very upset.
Sam retreats to a quiet isolated corner of the school where he unsuccessfully tries to call for help. This is a particularly sad and realistic scene depicting bullies present in everyday life. A student finds Sam and comforts him. This was really nice to witness, but one has to question how often that really happens in reality.
Sam opens a bank account on his own with the aid of the banker. His dad accompanies him but then sits and waits while Sam proceeds to do all the necessary paperwork on his own. This was nice to see that given the opportunity, Sam managed on his own. Sam then asks a range of questions to the banker which she answers nicely. In reality, the banker will probably not entertain these questions for that length of time.
Doug cooks dinner and offers Elsa some. She totally misreads the situation and fixes her makeup, clothes and hair before joining him in the kitchen. She finds a single bowl with her chop suey. Doug is nowhere in sight, as he had already finished his dinner, making it clear that even though Elsa is back in their house and lives, it is purely platonic, for the benefit of their children.
Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), Sam’s sister also has her share of challenges. She is somewhat a misfit at her current school where she was nicknamed “Newton.” Her friends at her new school (who seem to be quite wealthy) insist on visiting her local favorite pizza place as a group. Casey is quite embarrassed by her boyfriend Evan (Graham Rogers) and the fact that he goes to a technical school. The get together doesn’t end well for Casey as she has a fight with Evan, who accuses her of acting differently just to fit in.
Eventually, despite the horrible events at school, Sam watches the penguin egg hatching and comments that he had a good day. Obviously, the egg hatching was the highlight of his day. Sam makes a statement about hatching penguin eggs and their very slim chance of survival. He says three out of four do not survive and he does not want to think about the consequences of that statistic. A stark parallel is drawn to the survival of neurodivergent individuals and how difficult it is to survive in the world and society without supports in place.
This episode would have received 5 stars from me except for the one scene which was not entirely realistic. I have removed one star for the scene in the bank where Sam opens his personal bank account. The bank employee is very kind and accommodating. She answers all his random questions. In reality people aren’t so accommodating and kind. They are rude, and will look at you strangely if you ask questions that are irrelevant in their mind. The bank is also a busy place thus in general they do not have the time to speak to you for a prolonged period. In my experience the bank can be quite noisy, but in this episode was portrayed as a quiet and calm place. Nevertheless, this is a tiny scene in the entire episode. Overall, I really think that the writers have brought through the important themes of financial independence, autonomy, bullying and navigating through daily life independently very successfully.
I thought this episode was an honest and realistic portrayal of everyday family life and the dynamic within the family unit. It is very clear that Sam is deeply loved by his entire family, who will always go to great lengths to protect him and advocate for him while allowing him to experience life on his terms. I can identify with all of the above and see so many similarities within our own family.
I appreciate also that autism manifests differently in each individual so this poses a challenge for the creative team behind “Atypical” as they may be accused of stereotyping autism. I don’t agree that they have stereotyped autism in the series. I think that “Atypical” gives the layperson great insights into the challenges posed by autism to the individual and family unit. It also manages to highlight the positive aspects of autism without overly romanticizing it.
Episode 4 Review: ‘Atypical’ Tackles the Idea That Autistic People Can’t Lie
Episode 6 Review: ‘Atypical’ Shows a Truth Parents of Kids With Disabilities Know All Too Well