WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Season 4 of Atypical, now streaming on Netflix.
In Atypical, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Elsa hasn’t been treated well since the series debuted. Granted, most of her arc in the four seasons involved her cheating and trying to erase the sins of that extramarital affair to keep the Gardners intact. Now, in Season 4, while Elsa’s forgiven and seems to be making progress toward becoming her old self, she once again loses support when she needs it the most.
Although not to excuse Elsa’s behavior, she cheated on her husband after her family neglected her. Sam’s autism was something she’d primarily dealt with alone as she couldn’t trust her husband, Doug, who fled after Sam’s diagnosis before returning. As for her daughter Casey, she’d been giving Elsa a hard time even before she caught her mom cheating.
But ultimately, Elsa sought attention from another man to get some joy back in her life as her family was so ungrateful toward her unflinching dedication and decades of sacrifice. While the Gardners initially shunned her, Doug moved past the affair to rekindle their love for the family’s sake, while Casey appreciated her more due to her own issues with her girlfriend, Izzie.
Yet, for some reason, Atypical continuously trashes Elsa, with Doug berating her for being skeptical of Sam wanting to go to Antarctica. She knows his triggers and the dangers of such a trip, although Casey calls her unsupportive. However, Elsa’s simply cautious and protective. If Sam goes to Antarctica, it’s not like she can pop across town like when he’s renting and help him during breakdowns. Therefore, it’s unfair that Elsa gets reamed for this while everyone’s more lenient toward Sam’s girlfriend, Paige, who has the same concerns. Elsa cares too much, but this time, it’s justified — not paranoid. Sadly, the only person who loves what she does is Izzie, who wishes she had a loving, thoughtful mom like Elsa.
To make it worse, when Elsa turns to her autism support group, she isn’t received well. Sure, she’s gloom and doom, but they need to work this through with her. Instead, they dub her too negative and boot her out, which is pretty ignorant and selfish. She needs them now more than ever, and after having done so much to help them out, they have no interest in someone who’s desperate and needs support.
It’s why Elsa gravitates toward patching things up with her own mom, as she doesn’t have much of a foundation to lean on despite giving so much to so many. Her character arc feels unfair. Seeing as she’s paid her dues, her family and peers really should have done more to show her she can depend on them in dire circumstances like they can on her.
Created by Robia Rashid, all four seasons of Atypical are available on Netflix now.
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