This is an image of Sam from Atypical talking to Zahid. Sam and Zahid are both wearing their Techtropolis uniforms.

Atypical: Season One, Episode Seven

The end is near! The seventh and penultimate episode of Atypical is titled, “I Lost My Poor Meatball.” My first reaction was to desperately hope that it wasn’t yet another disgusting sexual euphemism.

‘You need bowling more than anyone I’ve ever met.’

‘Dude, I love love!’

At Techtropolis, Sam tells Zahid that Paige said she loves him. Bizarrely, Zahid frames love and sex as separate cities. “What about the D-Train to Bone Town?” Sam asks. “Sorry dude, you’re headed straight for Love Land.” I have to say, as a person who has been in a committed relationship for the last few years, the idea that sex and love are mutually exclusive is news to me. Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I mentioned that I have a sex life. Please return to pretending that I live a monkish existence with my platonic life partner. “How do I know that I’m in love?” Sam asks. “You just know, man. You just know,” Zahid replies. From an autistic perspective that is completely useless, vague advice, but the perspective of someone who has had adult romantic relationships, Zahid is being honest and real. Zahid is pretty young and may not even know how to answer more specifically. He’s a good friend to Sam.

Back at Casa Gardner, Casey tells Evan about Paige’s declaration of love while they make out on her bed. Casey points out that she and Evan have been dating even longer than Sam and Paige. There is an awkward pause. Casey and Evan continue making out to avoid talking about their feelings until Elsa interrupts them. Evan leaves. Elsa and Casey proceed to have an extremely awkward sex talk, in which Casey reveals that she doesn’t feel ready to have sex yet. They don’t discuss birth control, which seems like a major oversight. At least when he was giving The Talk to Sam, Zahid mentioned condoms. Zahid should not be giving better sex ed than Casey and Sam’s parents.

In the kitchen, Elsa is surprised that she has a free day on her schedule. Sam doesn’t want to get ice cream with her. He’d rather be alone and think. He’s an 18 year old boy. He’s growing up and forming a life separate from his mother’s. This is normal and healthy. Somehow this triggers Elsa to text Nick the Bartender and find out what he’s doing. Elsa really, really needs a hobby outside her family that isn’t “bowling.”

Elsa goes to the bar, where it turns out that Nick the Bartender and his friends are mourning the death of Nick’s friend Meatball. The “meatball” referenced in the episode title is not yet another disgusting sexual euphemism. Thank God. Nick turns to Elsa for emotional support and Elsa balks. She didn’t realize she had to treat Nick like an actual person. Of course, she leaves as soon as she gets the chance.

‘They have unlimited breadsticks, but what does that mean!? They have to have some kind of limit.’

At school, Paige, Beth, and some other kids are making decorations for the school dance. “We have snowflake garlands up the wazoo. I told Beth to stop making them an hour ago,” Paige complains. “I can’t stop. I’m a machine. A snowflake garland making machine,” Beth responds in a definitely, totally neurotypical way. Sam asks Doug to make an igloo so Paige will stop talking about it, which is definitely, totally something people say in emotionally healthy relationships.

Doug takes Sam to Olive Garden to “case the joint.” This means Sam is exploring the space and the menu before his big dinner with Paige’s family. For once, I actually find Sam relatable, although his continued preference to ask people questions while making eye contact instead of just Googling the answers continues to be strange. I realize it’s harder to get dramatic tension and comedy out of someone doing an internet search, but this just seems like the writers being lazy again. Google will even tell you what the busiest hours are for particular businesses. Elsa meets Doug and Sam at Olive Garden. She lies to Doug about having been at a memorial for her friend Luisa’s cousin. She tells Doug not to ask Luisa about it, which is clearly bizarre. She’s definitely going to get caught before the end of the season.

After approving of the food and the venue, Sam asks his parents how they knew they loved each other. This is a conversation Sam’s parents should have had with him years ago. After writing down three comments from his parents, he announces that is as many rules as needed. “rules work better in threes. Please don’t say anything else.” He has literally never displayed a desire to limit rules to threes before. This is, once again, lazy writing. Sam’s brand new, never-before-seen compulsion ensures that the scene is cut short. Plus, it gives viewers the opportunity to laugh at Sam’s weird autism behaviors again.

Sam goes through the items on his checklist. Paige is still controlling how often Sam is allowed to talk about what he loves most by giving him three cards per day that act as passes. “I don’t like this policy. I should be able to talk to Antarctica whenever I like,” Sam finally pushes back. “Well, I think it’s working, because the less you talk about Antarctica, the more I can talk about our relationship,” Paige retorts. “Plus it makes you less annoying. Not to me! I find you adorable,” she lies. “But to other people.” If it was actually about helping Sam irritate other people less, she wouldn’t control what he’s allowed to talk about when they’re alone. Can you imagine someone doing this to a non-autistic person in a relationship? It’d either have to be some pretty extreme BDSM or abuse. Or possibly both. They’re not mutually exclusive concepts. Sadly, Sam interprets this as, “making him a better person,” one of the items on his love checklist. Being more normal isn’t “better.”

At Techtropolis, Zahid is walking in circles.  He got a Fitbit on sale. The show accidentally makes a really important point: A lot of autism “symptoms” are arbitrary. When Sam walks in circles it’s disease. When Zahid does it, he’s trying to get his step count up. Sam decides because he wants to tell Paige about the Techtropolis sale, that means he loves her. Then, Julia comes in. She’s a little disheveled. Apparently she forgot this is where Sam works. Sam helps Julia get the TV to her car. Then, Julia shows an incredible lack of professionalism: She slow dances with Sam, pulling him close. Despite talking with Sam about sex for months, somehow she thinks he is asexual. Unsurprisingly, Sam has a physical reaction which he confuses with love. He decides to break up with Paige and declare his love for Julia.

‘I’m going to Clayton Prep!’

Casey finds out she was accepted to Clayton Prep and she was overjoyed. She decides that since she can’t sit still, she needs to take her bike to tell Evan the good news. Since people don’t usually talk about mode of transportation on TV, what happens next isn’t surprising: While biking, Casey spots Elsa and Nick kissing in the parking lot outside bar.

Elsa was in the process of breaking up with Nick when Casey catches them, but honestly, given Elsa has broken up with Nick a few times, there’s nothing that leads me to believe that Elsa was sincere this time or that she was actually going to cut off the affair. We’re supposed to feel sympathy because she got caught while “ending it” but I find it hard to believe she actually was ending it given her previous behavior over the course of the season.

When Casey gets to Evan’s house, she propositions him for sex, seemingly to spite her mother. Evan is a good egg, and seems reluctant. This is Casey’s first time, but I strongly suspect it’s Evan’s first time too. After, when he is breathless and buzzed on endorphins, he tells Casey he loves her. Casey is silent.

What worked

  • “Come in for a man hug! Tight, right? You like pressure?” Zahid is the only person in this show who actually treats Sam with respect. I wish he was less creepy and misogynist so I could actually like him.

What didn’t

  • I wonder how much Olive Garden paid for this product placement. Did you know they have unlimited bread sticks?
  • Also Sony. Also FitBit. There was so much product placement. I assume Sam works at Techtropolis because Best Buy didn’t pay them enough for the advertising.

Neurotypical Bullshit (NTBS)-O-Meter

  • “Well, I think it’s working, because the less you talk about Antarctica, the more I can talk about our relationship. Plus it makes you less annoying. Not to me! I find you adorable. But to other people.” Paige is an abusive, manipulative monster.

So what did you think? Good, bad, or just indifferent? Weigh in on the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Atypical: Season One, Episode Seven”

  1. As an autist (or autistic person if that offends anyone, or person with autism if that offends anyone, or a ‘person on the spectrum’ if that still offends anyone) I think it was another really good and fun episode. Paige a manipulative monster? That is so unfair…she went out of her way to organize a freaking Silent Night winter dance entirely because her boyfriend would otherwise never be able to go to such an event! She’s actually doing her best to understand Sam, which can not be an easy thing to do, but she seems happy in doing so because she cares about Sam.

    All the time when I see these negative reviews that look at every little thing (even going so far as to call the entire show racist and sexist because Sam is not a black girl but a white guy) as something horrible, I truly wonder if the writer (of the review) even has any experience with autists. I do, since I am one, and I really liked this show. And Paige, any autist should be happy to have a girlfriend or boyfriend who is actually trying to understand them.

    1. I wrote the article. I definitely have experience with autistic people. I’m autistic. So are most of the people who write for NOS. Agreeing with you isn’t part of the diagnostic criteria.

      1. My comment definitely wasn’t meant as anything personal, obviously agreeing with me isn’t part of any diagnostic. I am just really trying to understand why people in several reviews have such an almost hatred for Paige, who very clearly cares about Sam. She changed the entire winter formal (which I’m told is a big deal in the US, I don’t know since I’m not American, but I guess it is), to make it more suitable for him. That’s not a sign of a manipulative monster, that’s just really, really nice, which – much to my joy – ‘perfect sister’ Casey made clear to her as well.

        Even stranger, I’ve seen people sympathize with Elsa, who has sex with someone else than her husband in secret, yet despise Paige who wants to understand Sam. I know not every autist is the same (obviously, since for starters you and I disagree), but I just can’t wrap my head around why Paige is the bad person here. Personally I’d be glad to have a girlfriend who tries to understand me without making too much of a big deal about everything, like she does with Sam (when he locks her in the closer, for example).

        1. I’m pretty clear about loathing Elsa and am explicit about that in basically every episode review, so I’m not sure who you’re arguing with about that.

          The reason I have only negative things to say about Atypical is because it’s not a good show. It’s not well written. It’s not good representation. The main character isn’t a person so much as a hollow shell who cares for nothing except breasts and penguins. Instead of a personality, he has a DSM Diagnostic Checklist.

          I’m not negative about all representations of autism, or even all representations of autism that are of white men. I care a lot about finding the good in things. If you check out my reviews of The Good Doctor, especially a couple of the most recent episodes, I have a lot of positive things to say. The problem with Atypical was that there was almost no good to find.

          Additionally, criticisms about racism and misogyny are entirely legitimate, and I encourage you to take them seriously.

          Paige is manipulative and controlling because she limits how much Sam is allowed to talk about things he cares about. That’s unequivocally shitty. If my boyfriend told me I was only allowed to talk about Age of Empires II four times a day and no more than that, I’d dump him. He’s not my behavior therapist. He shouldn’t be my behavior therapist (Arguably no one should be anyone’s behavior therapist, but that’s neither here nor there). Paige should not be Sam’s therapist. That is not a healthy relationship. It’s controlling and abusive.

          Also, Paige isn’t good for tolerating Sam locking her in a closet. Don’t lock women in closets. It’s not OK. If you don’t understand locking women in closets is bad, don’t date. The fact that she was fine with it isn’t a sign of kindness. It’s a sign of the fact that she sees Sam like clay she can shape into the boyfriend she wants, rather than a fully formed person.

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