Monday, November 6, 2017

Review: Speechless 2x04 "T-R--TRAINING D-A-DAY"

After seeing a few things about this episode of Speechless on Twitter, I thought I'd check it out.  For reference, I haven't watched since around 1x08 last season, when I just lost interest.  I tried again to tune in for the premiere last month, but I didn't last past the first five minutes.


This episode, Maya is training a group of teachers (who don't really want to be aides) to be aides for kids with disabilities.  To do this, she tells them she has printed out her son, JJ's care guide and made copies, essentially, as study guide material.  She says she expects that they've read these.

What about JJ's privacy?  Was he asked if he minded if his mom printed out and made copies of all of his personal care needs as a study guide?  Would a parent ever share private information about what their teenage nondisabled child needs with a group of strangers?  And make copies for them to read?  This felt like an exceptional breach of privacy to me.


Near the end of Maya's training of the teachers, Kenneth (JJ's aide) talks to them about "working with disabled people" and one of the trainees speaks up, "Aren't you supposed to say people with disabilities?"  Maya says, "You're damn right, you are!"

There is this push for people-first language and usually it is by nondisabled people.  I don't mind person first language (people with disabilities) but I do identify with identity first language (disabled person.)  The problem arises, I think, when identity first language is framed as wrong.  It is a valid choice for a lot of disabled people and I wish Speechless would not make it seem incorrect.


Jimmy happens to give Ray "the talk" as Ray has a girlfriend now, and Jimmy has noticed them getting closer.  Afterward, Jimmy comes home and tells Maya that he did this, and Maya's reaction is "Haven't we always said that whatever the other kids get, JJ gets?"  Jimmy objects that JJ doesn't yet have a girlfriend, but Maya insists that Jimmy needs to have "the talk" with JJ ASAP.

The notion that JJ should "get" The Talk just because Ray did is just plain ridiculous.  JJ should get The Talk because he is seventeen and he needs to be given this information so that he is prepared when he does encounter a situation.  Even when Jimmy and JJ do have The Talk, it's not implied that it happened, as it was with Ray.  JJ says he knows about sex, and Jimmy backs right off and asks if he has any other questions.  TALK TO YOUR TEENAGER.  I get that it's uncomfortable.  But you did it with Ray.  JJ is entitled to this information as much as Ray is, and not just via whatever he finds online.


For reasons I cannot fathom, Jimmy decides that he's going to take JJ camping to have The Talk.  I cannot think of a worse situation in terms of accessibility.

Jimmy says he is going to gather sticks to build a fire, and JJ says he can do it.  Jimmy laments all the things that could go wrong.  Strangely, the question of "How is JJ going to reach sticks on the ground and carry them back?" is never raised. Adaptations and / or suggestions of that nature are never made.  Eventually Jimmy lets JJ go, sans accommodation, but tails him, leaving sticks in "obvious" places for him to find.  JJ finds Jimmy tailing him and naturally becomes discouraged.

This leads me to my final issue with the camping storyline.  Jimmy, at some point, has to use the outhouse.  While he's in there, a log rolls down a slight hill and gets lodged against the outhouse door, trapping Jimmy inside.  He checks for JJ, who is outside, and beeps his horn to indicate he is still present.  Jimmy says they'll just wait for someone else to come by and help.  But JJ decides to get help himself, and sets off down steep hills in the dark to find the ranger station.  He finds some signs and is eventually able to locate help for his dad.

If you've been around here long, you know I talk a lot about place blindness and how disorientation without sufficient landmarks is a very real thing for many people with CP.  Realistically?  JJ would be much more apt to get lost (not to mention flipping his chair down a steep hill) trying to find help.  But he's shown to be successful at navigating somewhere he's never been before and in the dark, no less.


I saved this part for last because it stood out to me as the most worrisome.  After JJ tells Jimmy he knows about sex, Jimmy says he is open to any questions JJ has.  JJ asks:  "Can I have a wife?  Kids?  Can I have a family?"  After giving him a very patronizing, "Yeah!  You can do anything you set your mind to!", they talk again.  Jimmy amends his answer to a "very sincere maybe."  Because "there are some things you can't do and this one is tricky to see."

The implication here is very strong that disabled people cannot have families.  Cannot have children.  Cannot be parents.  This cannot be further from the truth, and it was difficult to see Jimmy give JJ a "maybe" (which was basically a "no, unless you prove me wrong").  This conversation could have gone very differently, had Jimmy been honest with his son about adaptations and accommodations that are available.  And that with the right support (as with anyone) JJ absolutely could be a father.

This was a hard one to watch because of all the faulty information that was shared in it.  I hope viewers will dig a little deeper and not take Speechless as gospel on these issues.


  1. Ok I have not seen the episode but here’s some thoughts based on your review. I find the conversation about sex in this episode really strange since I seem to remember various jokes in the first season about JJ’s “parts working”. This season is supposed to have disabled writers on it so I wonder if the “can I have a family?” lines were run by those writers. In regards to the bit with the sticks and navigating in the dark I saw the show defy logic quite a bit like in some early episodes JJ was shown as needing help eating and in another episode he downs a ton of chocolate with no assistance so that seems par for the course in this series. I will say JJ’s personality and reactions always seem in character and on point so at least the show has that going for it.

    1. His personality and reactions always seem on point because that's all he's given to do. From what I saw last season and a bit this season, I still feel like JJ only exists to move the plot forward, not as a character in his own right.