In The A Word episode 2, the Hughes family’s attempts at dealing with 5-year old Joe’s autism show that Joe is not alone in having problems with communication.
In episode 1, we saw the Hughes family going through the difficult process of realisation and diagnosis regarding Joe’s behaviour and his place on the autistic spectrum. This week, the family sets about dealing with the situation, and it does not go well.
With not a moment’s reflection, and having watched a few Youtube videos, mum Alison becomes a self-appointed expert on autism and decides to remove Joe from school. Roping in the rest of the family to fill in her “Joe Rota”, she’s determined to protect her son. But is this really the way to go about it?
This episode is all about communication, or more specifically, what happens when communication breaks down. And this is certainly not isolated to Joe; it’s manifest in everyone around him. Joe’s mum and dad, Alison and Paul , and sister Rebecca have very different approaches to Joe, and the fracturing of the family’s relationships is hard to bear for them and us as viewers.
Also having problems with communication are Eddie and Nicola. Already struggling with their attempt at giving their marriage a fresh start, their relationship is put under more strain as Nicola agrees to Alison’s request for her to see ex-lover Michael about Joe’s diagnosis. Nicola’s meeting with Michael raises questions about truth and lies in relationships. Is it better to tell the truth and risk hurt, or to tell a lie to protect someone you love?
Providing some much needed light relief is Christopher Eccleston as granddad Maurice. Having his own communication problems with music teacher Louise, whose sexual advances he rejected last week, he deals with it in his own unique way. He also manages to bring his own particular approach to the “Joe Rota”.
Eccleston, Vinette Robinson (Nicola) and little Max Vento (Joe) continue to excel, and this week the rest of the cast get a chance to shine, particularly Morven Christie and Lee Ingleby as a couple falling apart under the weight of their problems, which are not confined to Joe.
As the relationships around him unravel, there’s an increased focus on the little boy at the centre of, but separate from, the family. Joe has been perfectly fine in his world of music and now we see the effect on him of other people’s reactions to his diagnosis. It’s interesting that the people around Joe who deal with him best are those who are not filled with angst about his autism. This is so beautifully written and acted, it could break the hardest heart.
The showdown between two key characters at the end of this episode shines a spotlight on the theme of communication that’s woven throughout this episode. There are also important questions about motives and why people do the things they do.
The beauty of The A Word is that it doesn’t only focus on Joe; it also examines the many other problems faced by a seemingly ordinary family. What it definitely does is continue to provide the highest quality modern family drama.
Episode 2 of The A Word will air on BBC1 on Tuesday 29 March at 9pm.
Written by Peter Bowker, Director Peter Cattaneo, Producer Marcus Wilson
For more news and gossip on The A Word take a look the dedicated Facebook page.