Parenthood Recap (Season 2 Episode 18): “Qualities and Difficulties”
NBC’s Parenthood Tackles Max’s Asperger’s Head-On
Heavy stuff this week, folks. After last week’s closing moments in which, due to Crosby’s selfishness, Adam yelled at him about Max’s Asperger’s with Max standing right there at the top of the stairs, tonight Adam and Kristina had to tell Max what it is that he has and what it all means. And while they didn’t do such a good job at first, with the help of Dr. Pelican, they worked on it through the hour and helped him understand, and not to be upset about it, in the end. There were a few other subplots, but those were fairly inconsequential. The big story of the episode was Max’s, and I think Jason Katims and company pulled it off beautifully. Recap below…
Max, seated on the couch opposite Adam and Kristina, asks what Asperger’s is. They tell him it is a form of autism. Max asks what autism is. They say that people who are autistic have certain disabilities, then quickly back up and say it’s not a disability, it’s a syndrome. Your brain is wired differently than others’ and you process information differently. Max hears ‘wired’ and doesn’t understand, since the brains he knows of have muscles and capillaries. Both in tears now, Adam and Kristina tell him how much they love him, that this is tough stuff to deal with but that they are here for him. Max asks if they or Haddie have Asperger’s and Adam says no. Just Max. He excuses himself to go up to his room. Oof. Could have gone better.
The next day, they go to Dr. Pelican seeking help with what to do. When Pelican looks concerned upon hearing that they told Max he has a disability and is wired differently, Adam accuses him of being judgmental. Pelican says to explain it to Max you need to be simple, descriptive, and highlight the positive aspects of Asperger’s. Adam scoffs, saying surely there are no positive aspects. When Kristina tells Dr. Pelican that she cried during the talk, he says that to cry implies mourning. “So you’re saying we blew it?” Adam asks. “What do we do now?” Pelican recommends a redo, and gives them a blueprint script of what to talk about with Max, saying that they should take a few days to practice and be on the same page before attempting another discussion. “This is an important transition for him,” the doctor tells them.
Back at home, Adam tells Kristina that he’s not on board with this, saying that to feed Max positive spin would be a lie. Kristina reads off some of the qualities and difficulties that come with Asperger’s: Determined, unique sense of humor, passionate about your interests (qualities); Having a hard time making friends, hard to read other people’s cues (difficulties).
The next morning, Kristina sits with Max at the breakfast table, but Max isn’t wanting to talk, instead resigned to distantly stare at the Nutrition Facts on his cereal box. Adam pulls her aside and they continue to argue about what to do next, and Max, presumably, overhears them.
At Joel and Julia’s, Crosby is having a meeting with his sisters, asking for advice on what to do about his situation with Jasmine. They tell him that he really screwed up and he needs to do a lot of work if he ever wants to fix things, and not just with Jasmine. Just then, Adam enters, thinking he was just there to meet with his sisters, but he flips out when he sees Crosby’s there, too and turns to leave. Crosby chases after him and tries to apologize again, but Adam doesn’t give two craps about Crosby anymore. “You’re not even on my radar,” he tells him.
Zeek and Camille come over to Adam and Kristina’s that night and say that maybe it was for the best that Max found out now instead of years on down the road. Adam flips out and accuses them of trying to put a positive spin on everything: all of this happened because of Crosby, what with causing Gaby to leave and Adam to go off about Max’s disability with Max within earshot. Camille tells Adam that he needs to talk to his brother and Adam’s rage grows: (Essentially, he says) Is this why you came over here?! You know what? Crosby is this way because of you! You’ve made excuses for his fuckups all throughout his life! You bail him out constantly! You do his laundry for him! And to sympathize with him is just unbelievable!
Adam decides to give Max a really great day, and lets him skip school to go to an amusement park and ride a certain roller coaster that he’s always wanted to ride over and over. But before they leave the house, Max has a mini blow-up over not being able to find the shoes he wanted to wear. A precursor of things to come…
When Kristina calls Adam and learns of what he’s done — he’s already at the park with Max, who’s enjoying the $6 cotton candy that Adam now has to buy for him (he grabbed it from the vendor and bit into it without asking Adam if he could) — she informs him that this wasn’t a good idea. “You’ve gone rogue,” she says. He tells her he just wanted him and Max to have one good day. But when they get into their seats on the roller coaster, the manager comes out and gives them some bad news: the ride is shutting down for the day because it needs repairs. Max refuses to accept this and a big — and public meltdown — commences. He yells at Adam for taking him out of school and changing everything, promising him he could ride the roller coaster and that he HAS to ride the roller coaster now. When he realizes it’s not going to happen, he runs from Adam and through the park, screaming all the way. Adam eventually catches up to him and tries to calm him down, as passersby start to look.
That evening, Adam apologizes to Kristina, but she understands that he wanted to connect with Max. Adam breaks down emotionally, stating that he didn’t want Max to feel limited, that he wanted to forget for just one day and have a happy memory with his boy. The two agree that they should try to talk with Max again.
The next day, they sit down with Max, this time at the dining room table, and begin by asking if he remembers going to occupational therapy and having Gaby over all those times. Well, they say, you worked so hard on those because of your Asperger’s. Max flatly states that they’ve already told him that. Then they tell him of the special abilities that having Asperger’s gives one: the amazing memory (“You’ve read every book about pirates there is”) and the passionate interests (bugs). They talk about how his challengers are remembering to look at people in the eye when they talk to you, remembering to smile at others upon first meeting them, and staying calm when presented with different ideas. “You’re a rock star, Max,” they tell him. Max asks if he will always have it. Yeah, they say, and present him with a book written by a boy with Asperger’s just a few years older than Max. We’re learning about this together, it’s new for us, too, and we’re so proud of you, they say. Max asks if he can go play Bug War Online and they say of course. As he runs off, Kristina tells him she loves him. That night, Adam and Kristina read Max ‘Frog and Toad’ as he falls asleep.
All in all, this was handled very delicately and executed to near perfection by the writing team. I’m eager to see how Max’s story progresses now that he’s been made aware of his disability. It opens up a whole new set of storylines for the character, and the show in general, which is great.
Of course, there were other things happening in this episode. Let’s cover them briefly:
- Jasmine continues to shut Crosby out of her life entirely and Crosby as a result gets drunk and is arrested after getting into a fight with one of his neighbors over the loud music he was playing. Zeek bails Crosby out and Crosby breaks down in front of his dad, admitting that he’s really messed up. Crosby has to lie to Jabbar about why he’s not living with his mom anymore and why his stuff isn’t there, either.
- Sarah and Jason Ritter’s teacher character from Season 1 meet cute again — could this be The Event?! — and she gives him a short story she wrote for him to read and critique. She later contemplates taking over as manager of the bar where she currently works, but the current manager, played by Jim O’Heir — Jerry from Parks and Recreation! — says he doesn’t think she should squander her talents doing bar managing. Plus, it pays less than simply tending to the bar, what with tips and all. Jason Ritter comes over to Sarah’s to tell her that what she’s written is not a short story but a play, and that it is excellent and funny, but needs a second act. He gives her a book on playwriting to help her out and she thanks him.
- After seeing how damaged Jasmine has become because of Crosby — telling them that everything was OK in her life until she finally breaks down and lets it all out to Julia — Joel tells Julia that he’ll never, ever cheat on her, ever.
No new episode for a few weeks. But things keep looking better and better for a possible Season 3 renewal, so I wouldn’t get too concerned that this final stretch of episodes is going to be the end!
Image Credit: NBC
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