Speechless S3E15 Review


Last week's Valentine's Day ep was bookended by reminders that JJ's parents hadn't yet met his girlfriend -- Maya cyber-stalking Izzy in the cold open, and Maya (during her helicopter ride with Jimmy) interrupting JJ and Izzy's attempt to kiss outside the school in the closing tag. This week, a month into his relationship with Izzy (Kayla Maisonet), JJ finally agrees to let his mom meet her after she guilt-trips him with a PowerPoint presentation, including footage of his birth (a bit much, yet I couldn't help laughing -- especially at the proud look on Jimmy's face); to make the best of the situation, since he knows Izzy enjoys games, JJ has his family set up a "game night" for when she comes over.

Meanwhile, Ray announces to his siblings that he now has a driver's license and offers to drive JJ wherever he wants; this comes in handy when, after their mother fails to provide a gluten-free cake for the game night, the boys have just a half-hour before Izzy's arrival to go buy one themselves. (Speaking of game-night snacks, Dylan and Kenneth have an amusing if somewhat predictable little side-plot in which they get into the cheeseball Jimmy made for this special occasion, and end up hatching a plan to construct a fake cheeseball from clay and dog food and then "accidentally" drop it -- only for Jimmy to catch the ball and let Izzy have the first bite...) Unfortunately, Ray's nervousness about driving worsens after a heavy fog rolls in, and he insists on waiting in the bakery parking lot until it lifts. Worried about Izzy being left alone with Maya, JJ demands to be taken home (fog, and now darkness, be damned) and later accuses Ray of having taken pity on him with his "this is our license" talk; as the brothers argue, Ray hits a tree and upends the cake in the back seat. While they survey the damage to both car and cake, JJ claims the accident wouldn't have happened if Ray had listened when he'd first told him to hurry home instead of waiting until dark -- which causes Ray to snap, admitting he had never intended to be JJ's chauffeur, and he had only offered to "share" his license because he "felt bad" for him. Whoa.

As silly and irreverent as this show tends to be, I love how it's not afraid to get real -- especially regarding the dynamics of special-needs families -- and the heartfelt conversation that follows is a prime example of what the series can do at its best. Ray knows JJ hates being treated with pity, but he admits he feels "guilty" sometimes about going through typical growing-up milestones that his older brother's disabilities have not allowed him to also experience ("It makes no sense! There's no reason why I should get to be able to do these things, and you don't get to. It's not fair!"). JJ's lovely response ("You're right, but we don't have control of it. I don't waste my time feeling bad about it -- you shouldn't") inspires Ray to reassure him that they can't control how their mom handles Izzy, and as they dig into the toppled cake together, the fog lifts -- both figuratively (as the boys have come to a new understanding of each other) and literally (they can see they're only a couple blocks from home when they're able to recognize mailboxes, other cars, etc. Maya has hit).

The DiMeo boys' conversation nicely ties into Maya's concern about not being able to control how Izzy feels for and treats JJ -- she wants to protect her son from getting his heart broken, but she knows all she can really do is try to rein in her own overbearing tendencies (with help from gentle Jimmy) so her meeting with Izzy goes as smoothly as possible. Alas, she does fly off the handle a little -- throwing together "Revelations: The Game of Truths" in a matter of minutes, using parts of other games, as a means to interrogate Izzy -- but Izzy quickly sees through Maya's scheme and turns the tables on her. They lob questions at each other a while longer until Izzy gives up, believing Maya will never be satisfied with her; however, she understands where she's coming from ("You've helped JJ through so much, but this is the one thing you have no control over") and reassures her, "I care about JJ. A lot. And I trust that you taught him well enough to choose someone that cares about him the way he deserves." Maya apologizes and concedes that no matter how desperate she may be to know everything about JJ's girlfriend, she knows she neither can nor should; ironically, though, as much as Maya had feared going too far and ruining the evening, it's Jimmy who inadvertently ends up doing so: He lets it slip that he had snooped on Izzy's phone earlier (to read a text from JJ while he'd been anxiously waiting for him and Ray to return from the bakery).

Izzy just wants to go home, but Maya and Jimmy manage to keep her from leaving before the boys arrive; after Jimmy explains what happened and concedes that his son and Izzy should be able to have their own secrets, JJ (inspired by Ray's openness with him) counters that "it's better to come clean with the stuff you're holding on to," and he drops a major bombshell of his own: Izzy has been accepted to a college in New York, and he has less than a day to complete a short film for his application to a school he wants to attend there. This sets up the premise for...

Next Week: JJ (with his family's help) scrambles to finish his film-school application, while Jimmy must deal with the fallout from his screwup with Izzy in "W-H-- WHEELCHAIR P-L-- PLANET."

Grade: 8/10. As with s1e19 "C-H-- Cheater" and s2e12 "The H-U-S-- Hustle," I hadn't expected this to be the first half of a two-parter; s1e19 took a hard-left turn into gut-punch realism (Ray opened up about his concern for JJ's future) that dovetailed brilliantly with the themes laid out in the two main plots (Ray's fixation on money, and Maya pressing JJ on the importance of a good education), while s2e12 would've been a perfectly fine episode (with Maya coming to a reckoning for her bad attitude towards non-special-needs parents, and Ray and Dylan temporarily upending their good-boy/bad-girl dynamic) even without its out-of-nowhere reveal that JJ would have to repeat his Senior year of high school. Though both remain two of my favorite eps of the series so far, I felt like this one tried for something similar yet didn't quite measure up -- as much as I admired the Ray/JJ and Maya/Izzy dialogues, the closing-tag reveal seems merely a setup for a standard sitcom farce (unlike the more interesting issues and questions raised by those earlier episodes' conclusions).

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