Atypical season three is an emblem of unity in divided times

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By Ella Rose Wignell, 2nd Year, Film and English

In a twisted age reflected by a constant stream of dark-humoured, dystopian satire, Atypical (2017-) has been at the forefront of Netflix as an emblem of unity and love of all kinds.

Charting a progression in the manner developmental disorders are portrayed in the media, Keir Gilchrist’s performance as Sam in Season 3 of Atypical continues to tastefully depict the compassionate, funny, intelligent and brutally genuine character we all love as he sets off on his latest hurdle; navigating the world of college.  

When Atypical began, a mixed reaction surfaced from the autism community. While it was amazing that the subject of ASD - autism spectrum disorder - was finally being acknowledged in an empathetic way, there was worry that the character of Sam would inadvertently define the community by their diagnosis.

No one person with autism is the same any more than any human is the same, and so to have an actor who isn’t on the spectrum identify what it means to be on, was risky. However, I would argue that the show has done a thorough job in crafting Sam as an individual personality in addition to the ASD symptoms that affect him.

It is true that in season one, Sam is an outlier amongst the characters, the only ASD representation we really see for a long period of time. However, the producers responded wonderfully for season two and took it upon themselves to hire a larger proportion of autistic cast and writers to help add authenticity as well as diversity to the show.

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Season three continues with this ethos to the point where it is the normality, allowing us to witness the strong community that those on the spectrum form for each other and making it the most humane of the seasons.  

The season’s sharpest storyline was the choice to forge a rift between Sam and his best friend Zahid (Nik Dodani), due to the introduction of Zahid’s truly awful new girlfriend. Instead of following the clichéd TV tactic to regurgitate a romantic on/off storyline, a ‘de-homieing’ by Zahid poses a far greater emotional complication for Sam.

Over the course of the show we have admired the sweet bromance between the two; Sam’s logical, artistic soul complemented by Zahid’s playful, cocky, guru spirit. Zahid is privy to all of Sam’s thoughts and feelings; the trust between them is clearly long-formed and precious and it is an entertaining and a charming portrayal of friendship between two people both on and off the spectrum.

It is an entertaining and a charming portrayal of friendship between two people both on and off the spectrum

To deprive Sam of this constant in his life, when he has finally reached a higher level of self-confidence, is an excellent ploy; and also, a heart-breaking one. Sam’s wittily perceptive and gentle view of the world has been painfully relatable since the beginning and contributes towards the shows overall moral message: that everybody is atypical.

But season three thrives in it’s further exploration of the strains of those around Sam; such as his parents’ unlabelled relationship, Casey coming to terms with the complexity of her sexuality and Paige’s loneliness at university. In fact, Sam himself is the only character this season to have peaked in his confidence.

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Despite his fears surrounding the statistic that 4/5 students with autism fail college we see him fighting for the life he wants to live and craving independence. The most warming moments of the season see him comforting and offering support to others, rather than being looked after himself.

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I would admit that there are fewer heart-rending moments this season. By that I mean I made it through without becoming a hideous emotional wreck, unlike the previous two. But Sam, it seems, no longer requires monologues from his family to remind him how capable he is. He can be his own hero now.

Though we might miss those tear-jerking moments of unity, there are still plenty of subtle scenes that love to pull at your heart strings without destroying you altogether

Though we might miss those tear-jerking moments of unity, there are still plenty of subtle scenes that love to pull at your heart strings without destroying you altogether. In truth I think this was needed for the show to progress to its pinnacle.

As an audience, we are watching Sam mature and progress and the heart of the show is in this inspiration.

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Did Atypical season three have a similar emotional impact on you? Let us know!

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