It’s the launch day of Paul’s gastropub, and the family gathers to open its doors. While Maurice gets to grips with the half-done décor, Alison determines to reconcile with Paul. As Luke’s romantic gesture falls flat with Rebecca, Nicola has some shock news for Eddie.
Seeing Joe is in the way, Maurice takes him on a visit to Louise’s – but within minutes the day has taken an unexpected dark turn. Can the family join forces with the community to ensure the safety of its youngest member? And where will the crisis leave each of them as the day draws to a close?
We’re all imposing our own narrative on his inner state, which we have no way of knowing anything about.”
So says Nicola (in her own unique way) about Joe, neatly summing up what the viewer has witnessed for the last five weeks of The A Word. It’s one of the most insightful things any member of Joe’s family has said throughout this family drama. Any adult member of the family, anyway.
Last week we asked whether, with the family falling apart around the little boy at the centre of it, there was any hope at all for them with only one episode remaining? Could it all be wrapped up in a bow in this one remaining episode? And what about the little boy at the heart of it all? Would he get the understanding and communication he so desperately needs?
We knew it would be a tough task, and so it was. Is there any hope for the family? Well, for some, yes, for others, the future is far less certain. Alison, up to now having relentlessly imposed her will on everyone around her in her seemingly manic intent on protecting her son, has suddenly become a loving, supportive wife and mother. This portrayal of her is far more unsettling than the deluded tiger mother we’re used to. Now Alison is helping husband Paul with the launch of the gastro-pub and throwing her loving arms around daughter Rebecca, who’s been practically invisible to her Joe-obsessed mother so far.
Joe is missing. The weather is so cold and bitter you can feel it through the TV screen and the dark night is looming. As the village gathers to search for her son, Alison is forced to do the one thing she’s fought so hard against: admit that Joe is different. Use The ‘A’ Word. Her terrible fears about what this means for Joe could be seen to be unfounded as a school mum calmly asks what Joe’s autism means as they search for him. But let’s not imagine that Joe’s future is now going to be all rosy. Louise’s son Ralph, who has Down’s Syndrome and who was the last person to see Joe alive could be a sign of what Joe may face as he goes through life.
Years before, Ralph was a victim of a vile accusation by school bullies. The truth of his innocence doesn’t stop tongues wagging and fingers being pointed now that Joe has disappeared. While Alison tries to build a fragile peace with Louise, Louise lets Alison have no illusions. “You’ve got a child that’s different, ” Louise warns. “That’ll always be there.” Whatever may come, Alison finally realises that she loves her son just as he is.
You feel more positive for Maurice’s future. Having clod-hopped his way around his fledgling relationship with Louise, you do feel that he has built more of a peace with the music teacher who’s challenged him at every step.
Not doing so well, in fact doing really, really badly, are Eddie and Nicola. Nicola admits that she wants to stay in the village because she thinks she may be pregnant. Far from being a happy ending for one of our favourite couples (Vinette Robinson and Greg McHugh have been superb throughout), this news tolls what seems to be the death-knell on this marriage just as it seems to be working. Unable to shake the thought – however irrational – that Nicola’s former lover Michael could be the baby’s father, Eddie reveals how much he despises his wife – and himself – and leaves.
Rebecca, one of the few characters who is able to have a decent relationship with Joe, fares as well as can be expected here. Seeing her dad (Ralph Little) for the self-centred knob he is, Rebecca (with the help of Nicola) finally gets to be strong with former boyfriend, Luke. She is even – finally – seen and heard by Alison and Paul. It’s a minor miracle of sorts for this lovely and staggeringly well-balanced teenage girl.
And what of the little boy at the centre of everything? While all around is chaos, Joe is just Joe. We’ve seen him walking the lonely country road week after week, Each week, a different toy in hand. What we didn’t know was where he was going or where he’d been. During the search for him, the Police discover that he’s had a little hiding spot for them. So where had Joe been when he was missing? Well, he was missing his sister and had gone to a bus stop, Rebecca’s usual hang out place. It’s startling clear that it’s not Joe, but those around him who need to change.
As a final episode, this is not completely satisfying. Are the programme makers aiming for a second series? This one has certainly not been tied up with a bow. It would seem that there’s plenty more story to tell and to some degree, this feels like the opening chapter of life for a family with an autistic son. The jarring transformation of Alison from bull-in-a-china-shop to loving wife and mother is a little too unbelievable. The happy family lying together (against the world?) on the bed at the end of the episode feels barely believable. And we’ll never forgive writer Peter Bowker if this is really the end for Eddie and Nicola.
We don’t know about a second series, so we can only judge The A Word on this one. There have been some good, some bad and some ugly parts. The family has been mostly infuriating, but at times entirely sympathetic as they go through the process of dealing with a child with autism,, along with their many other problems. The children in The A Word – young Joe and the teen cast – have been superlative and it’s a tribute to the writer, cast and directors, that they’ve been portrayed so well. Perhaps it would be as well to leave the family to work out their future together. Or apart.
Oh, and definitely give Maurice, Louise and Police Chief Bob their own spin-off sitcom.
If you’ve loved Joe’s impressive soundtrack in The A Word, the BBC has set up a 38-track playlist as an added bonus. Check it out on the BBC The A Word website.
Written by Peter Bowker, Director Sue Tully, Producer Marcus Wilson