‘Atypical’ Season 3 Review: Moral Quandaries

If you haven’t watched Atypical yet and are wondering if you should, I can answer as Sam would throughout Season 3 – it’s not a quandary at all.

Though the Netflix show is about a young adult on the autism spectrum, the characters, family dynamics and life challenges all have something anyone can identify with. Season 3 was no different, with Sam heading off to college, Casey exploring her sexuality and the parents pondering the state of their marriage. As Sam was required to take an ethics class – each character also explored moral quandaries of their own.

4 out of 5

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In his last autism peer support group before his major life change, Sam hears the statistic that only 4 out of 5 people on the spectrum are successful in college. He obsesses over this statistic for most of the first semester, and it hinders his adaptation to college life. His reaction to this situation is so relatable. I also refuse to ask for help and become determined to succeed on my own, sometimes to my own detriment. When Sam finally went to the disability services office and admitted he needed something, I cried all the tears.

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Watching a black and white thinker like Sam navigate an ethics course and struggle with abstract art was a reminder of what education is about. While we aren’t all Atypical, we should all be putting ourselves out there and doing hard things like Sam does. My favorite part of this storyline is when he is so stressed at the beginning because he got a “C” on something he worked hard on and thought he was a failure and then at the end of the season he was absolutely thrilled to get a “C” on an assignment because he overcame a challenge.

Bromance in Jeopardy

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The ship that was front and center of my angst this season was that of Sam and his best friend, Zahid. Sam finally faced a moral quandary and had to report Zahid’s girlfriend for stealing from the tech store, even though his friend asked him not to.

The “un-homied” storyline was devastating throughout the season, because we got to see glimpse of how the two of them became friends and just how much they mean to each other. Zahid’s girlfriend is toxic – but he had to figure it out on his own.

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I loved how the season finale felt like the big romantic ending of a rom-com, with Sam racing to stop Zahid’s elopement. And their re-homie ceremony was beautiful.

Casey’s Crisis

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Casey Gardner is big bundle of emotions and I love her so much. She is one of the most complex characters on the show. And honestly, can we give Brigette Lundy-Paine all the awards for her portrayal of a teenager struggling with confusion over her sexual orientation and place in the world?

Last season, Casey became attracted to her best friend Izzie. She buried the issue firmly in the sand, putting Izzie in the friend box and Evan in the boyfriend box. But all of that came to a head this season. It was gut-wrenching to watch Casey’s confusion over what to do with her new and exciting feelings she had for Izzie, but the deep love she has for Evan.

The episode where she kisses Izzie and is euphoric, and then devastated when she realizes she has to tell Evan because she does not want to be a cheater like her mom was an emotional journey, let me tell you.

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And I just want to sidebar here and say that neither Evan or Izzie make Casey’s decision easy. Evan is seriously so sweet this season, and Casey practically bursts into tears every time she looks at him. And Izzie makes it hard for Casey to escape her feelings. And then she has her own crisis, gets scared and pushes Casey away.

At the end of the finale, Casey seems like she has the weight of the world lifted off her shoulders when she and Izzie engage in some PDA in the school hallway, and she and Evan are seemingly forging a new kind of friendship after their break-up.

This was emotional storytelling at its finest. I can’t wait to see what happens next for Casey, should we get a renewal.

Paige is Not So Perfect

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Paige is a reflection of that perfect girl we all know from high school. Aggressively cheerful personality, the highest grades, the peppiest of pep. But in this season, all of her enthusiasm cannot help her in the crazy world of college dorm living.

My heart absolutely broke for Paige when we learned that the story about the cheese and dorm rat with no friends that she told Sam was about her. And the brave face she put on for everyone, not being able to admit that she failed had me all up in my feels.

The writers did an amazing job with the juxtaposition of Paige struggling while Sam is succeeding. And the Gardner family, of course, supports her as she is trying to figure out who she is. I love her and Sam’s relationship toward the end of the season.

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My favorite scene was when Paige compared her life to greenery, complaining that she was not a succulent that could be clipped and replanted somewhere to bloom healthily. She said she thought she could be clipped from her comfortable life and thrive at college, but instead she didn’t sprout at all.

Casey encouraged her to give herself a break. “Maybe you’re not a succulent. Maybe you’re something better. Like a fern or a nice moss.”  It was such a hopeful scene for those of us who have to re-evaluate our life when things don’t happen the way we plan.

Parent Problems

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I’ve never been a huge fan of Elsa, to be honest. I don’t like cheaters, so her storyline from Season 1 turned me off of the character completely. I’m also a mom to a neuro-divergent kid, but not as Type A or organized as her, so maybe that’s why I didn’t connect with the character completely.

But this season, I found that I enjoyed her character more and the growth Elsa is experiencing. Finally learning to let go and be more controlling, she is showing more depth. And while Doug would be fully in his rights to leave her after the affair, I agree that this half-state of marriage has gone on for far too long. Living in limbo, despite your mistakes, is no good for anyone.

And Doug finding companionship with someone else helped him understand how that might have happened with Elsa. The threat of separation made the two of them appreciate what they had and remember why they got together in the first place.

While I hated the cheating, I’m glad they explored on this show the toll that special needs parenting can take on a marriage. You are in the trenches together, and there are times when it pulls you closer and times when you don’t want to be in the same room with each other. Not that I speak from experience. *coughs*

What’s Next?

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One of the things I loved about this show is how each finale feels like it could be a series finale, but gives a hint as to what could come next if there was to be another season.

Sam is presented with a new life challenge – he and Zahid agreed to move into an apartment together. How will Sam survive without his carefully designed bedroom that comforts him from his sensory issues?

Paige was interviewing to be a nanny for Sam’s therapist and called herself a baby-whisperer. Please tell me that this was foreshadowing that she will get the job, and not that she will be pregnant from having sex with Sam. They are totally not ready for that business.

Will Casey be able to juggle her new training regime with her social life, including her family and new girlfriend? Will she be accepted into UCLA, and what will happen if Izzie doesn’t get in? How will things be with Evan moving forward?

So many questions. I demand answers! Please, Netflix, renew this lovely show for a fourth season. This show means a lot to me as a parent, but also as a viewer. We need more shows about people that are not “typical,” because really, who is?

Atypical is available on Netflix.

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