Shaun is caught up in a grocery store robbery that ends in one person being shot and the shooter being whacked in the neck with a baseball bat. As Shaun processes the events of the morning, and his involvement in them, the people around him all want to check that he’s okay. Claire has another rough week when she treats the shooter, a Nazi who isn’t shy about airing his bigoted views.
Shaun’s day gets off to a bad start when his neighour, Leah, comes into his apartment, ranting about their landlord and steals his apple. When Shaun doesn’t give her the response she wants, she storms out – leaving him confused and apple-less. So Shaun goes to the store to buy a new apple and that is how he ends up in the middle of a store hold-up. Under immense stress, Shaun struggles to cope and his response (literal replies, pacing, stimming) confuse the would-be robber who shoots at him, misses him completely and hits another person in the store before being whacked in the throat by the store keeper with a baseball bat.
This leads to an interesting view of Shaun’s response to such a traumatic event throughout the episode. Neil allows Shaun to get to work, judging it’s probably the best thing for him; Aaron wants him to go home and when that doesn’t happen, sends him to a hospital counsellor. Neil mentions something about Shaun’s cold and heartless responses being a positive for a surgical resident but I think he has missed the less obvious signs of Shaun’s trauma and – assuming this was deliberately done by the show – it is a good example of how autistic people may response differently to traumatic situations. Shaun in one scene is frantically searching for an apple and nearly gets into a scuffle with another staff member when he tries to take an apple from the patient/canteen meal trays. He also mentions the apple multiple times during the episode when asked about the morning. Other characters perceive this apple focus as a lack of caring for the victim and shooting but it struck me as a behaviour that I have had in the past where, when something had deeply upset me I would fixate on the one tangible that I could do something about because everything else was just too much.
Aaron also reiterates a point from a previous episode where he maintains that Shaun is bright enough to be able to overcome some of his difficulties with literal interpretation, need for routine and sameness, and social difficulties. This is a delicate and controversial argument that does come up in autism discussions – I know that there are things I’ve done that I could have stopped if I put the right strategies in place and I know that in the past I have failed to do so when it would have been better and manageable for me to do so. I also know that there are many that I cannot help and under stress there are many things about the way I response that I cannot change. When my partner wants to make a change to our weekly plan (with some notice) I know that if I put my headphones on and listen to some instrumental music I will be able to process that – yet there have been times when I didn’t put in a strategy that I could have and had an immediate anxiety response that escalated the situation. I can improve myself and compromise in many ways but in situations like Shaun’s in? With constant stress, social interaction, prejudice from co-workers and patients’ families, and then to be in the middle of a shooting? Not a chance. Aaron insisting that he should be able to stop himself doing things demonstrates a difficult and nuanced argument point.
Away from Shaun, it’s clear that Claire is also struggling with her own trauma from her patient’s death a few episodes back. She is argumentative and confrontational with Dr Audrey Lim who responds by placing her on “baby-sitting duty” with the racist shooter who has no qualms continuing his hate speech even from his hospital bed. He makes some digs that hit home for Claire and we see a hint of the struggle she has had to make it through to her residency. She demonstrates her sense of right and fair when she publicly apologises to Audrey, giving us a hint of the doctor she will no doubt become. Claire’s ongoing struggles are probably the struggles of many residents up and down the USA, especially as counselling is not the panacea that it is sometimes made out to be – in a couple of episodes it hasn’t really helped Claire and it didn’t really help Shaun. It will be interesting to watch for continuity on the mental health needs of the residents into the next episode – especially Shaun.