KILLING OFF AUTISTIC CHARACTERS – THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY
*Please note there will be spoilers ahead*
This month I watched season 3 of the Umbrella Academy on Netflix.
Imagine my shock when a mysterious man began to appear in episodes.
I hadn’t worked out who he was and why he was there, they like to do this in TV shows, have characters come in whom you don’t necessarily recognise initially but then it’s revealed who they are and you watching at home going “Oh it’s him/her/they/them.”
So, before I go ahead and discuss Season 3 let’s just recap on who Harlen was before he changed his name to Lester Pocket.
Because it’s the son Harlan who is main focus of this week’s blog post.
You see Harlan in 1960’s Dallas is a non-verbal Autistic child.
Now, I’ve only watched 2 episodes so far but from what I’ve seen I’ve been very impressed with the way that they’ve accurately been portraying him.
I did an extensive google search, but no information came up on who which Autistic organisations the show’s creators consulted in order to be able to write for this character and also the actor himself playing Harlan I couldn’t find out if he’s an Autistic actor or a non-Autistic actor, and yes it bloody well does matter.
Things to note here is that this was 30 years ago before they started diagnosing Autism in children so two assumptions can be made here (again I can only make assumptions due to not being able to find out any information via an extensive Google search) that the writers of the episode have a non-Autistic child, or they know one and spoke to their parents.
It’s very frustrating to not be able to find out key information about this.
Back to where we find the Umbrella siblings this season.
In the episode where Harlen who now goes by the name Lester he shows up in the same place as the Hargreeves now find themselves up against “The Sparrow Academy.” A sort of new and improved version of the “Umbrella Academy.”
Lester who has is now staying at the hotel comes down to the hotel lobby and as the Sparrow superheros are about to attack the Hargreeves kids, in steps Lester and destroys two of the sparrows.
Its later revealed because Lester thinks that Viktor has told the others that accidently when Lester’s mum was dying (Sissy), that because of the fact that he was saved by Viktor he has some telekinetic transferred to him and that Lester retained a fragment of Viktor’s telekinetic abilities.
As his mother was dying Lester consumed with grief and anger unleashes his telekinetic powers and accidently kills all the mothers of the Umbrella kids.
It then (not sure why this next bit had to happen) Alison finds out after Lester let’s slip and kills him.
In the TV landscape Autistic characters are either portrayed by non-Autistic actors, or we are non-existent.
It has not totally sat well with me that a disabled character, who was previously non-verbal, but who now communicates, but is still Autistic (a fact that is never addressed), is simply sacrificed for the sake of moving a story along?
I simply don’t believe that this was necessary, and I felt it was cruel and an easy way for the writers to potentially rid themselves of this character?
What the writers have done is what’s known as “Bury your Disabled”.
A term which means when a disabled character (be it physically or mentally) is killed off in a movie or TV Show.
- Accident: Someone who is disabled and dies at the end of the movie due to natural causes. Usually due to complications arising from their disability.
- Murder: The disabled person is killed off in a violent manner. This can be because they (the disabled character) were considered, by the writer and audience, an easier victim because of their disability.
- Suicide: May carry the unfortunate implication that one is better off dead than disabled. Or, worst-case scenario, the writer who uses this trope really does believe that one is better dead than disabled.
- Mercy Kill: Someone close to the disabled kills — or even murders — the disabled, either by their request or thinking that life as a disabled person would be too hard to bear. This may overlap with suicide, mercy killing, euthanasia, and even murder, and may carry the same unfortunate implications as suicide.
I sat and watched as the character of Alison just without emotions, without a conscience just handed over the dead body of Lester an innocent Autistic man to the sparrow academy and felt nothing.
No sign of remorse, no let’s not kill an Autistic man, it was a cold senseless death and what has it served?
The answer – Nothing. It’s just how disabled characters are treated and viewed on TV as disposable people without a purpose to serve to a storyline.
I feel that the writers took an easy way out/option here.
Television has the capacity to create emotional connections, educate and highlight important views and opinions. It reflects our sense of who we are as a society and who we might be. We now need it to be a place that allows disabled people the chance to tell their stories and for our voices to be heard.
CARRY ON THE CONVERSATION
Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.