Continued from Part 1 (Are They Autistic? – Reggie Abbot (Twelve Forever) – Part 1 | The Autistic Blogger (wordpress.com))
Before I begin, I need to give you all some context. I started writing Part 1 of this article before watching any episodes of Twelve Forever. The rest of it was written after I’d finished the series. I did things this way because I wanted to make a point about first impressions.
When you’re introduced to something for the first time, there’s little information to go on. All you have is what you see on the surface, like a TV trailer or someone’s appearance. It’s easy to draw conclusions from this simple information – perhaps because you’ve been taught the most likely outcomes. However, the crucial thing to remember about first impressions is they often turn out wrong. Maybe not entirely false. But there’s always more to something than what you initially perceived. It’s like judging a book by its cover. The title, blub and artwork can give you an idea of what to expect inside. But until you experience what’s written yourself, you’ll never understand what makes the book unique.
The same can be applied to people. Too often, those with Autism have their behaviours misidentified. Struggling to process information, for example, could be viewed as laziness or having hearing problems. It results in those people not getting the proper help they need. And all because the observing party didn’t understand the individual. It can work in reverse as well. Sometimes it’s easy to tell if someone is Autistic. Like when they’re obsessed with doing something a specific way, even if it appears strange to everyone else. But in most cases, it takes time and careful observation to determine whether someone is on the spectrum. That was the mindset I had going into Twelve Forever.
I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to work out if Reggie was Autistic or not. As explained in Part 1, I had many things in common with her character. But these similarities weren’t enough to be definitive proof. I needed to see something that would leave no doubt it was anything other than Autism.
So what did I learn from watching this series’ 25 episodes? Well, more than I was expecting. But also not what I expected at all. Let’s take a look.
Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge the series’ art direction. It uses a simplified style that appeals to both kids and young adults. When looking at the human characters, for example, some of their features do have realistic proportions. However, others use basic shapes, like circles and squares, to give them a slightly exaggerated appearance. As for the residents of Endless, their designs are certainly creative. But they’re not overly complex. You could believe they were imagined by a 12-year-old or younger (as the series implies they are).
Furthermore, the series has two distinct colour pallets. In the real world (for whatever reason), it’s always snowy where the main characters live – even during Spring time. So there are always dull, boring colours everywhere, like whites, browns and greys. In contrast, Endless is a sunny paradise, forever bursting with warm, brighter colours.
I think balancing these different aesthetics was essential for the series. Not only does it reflect how Reggie views both worlds, but it visually attracts the right sort of audience. Remember that the series’ primary goal is to show the characters’ growing maturity. So it makes sense to have an art style that draws in younger viewers but still emphasises the show’s coming-of-age themes. Speaking of which, let’s observe how Twelve Forever presents some of these themes through its stories. A good example is the first episode.
Episode 1 begins with Reggie celebrating her Twelfth birthday. It’s a simple party with only three guests: her mother, Judy; her brother, Dustin; and her best friend, Todd. The first time we see Reggie, she’s sitting at the table playing with an action figure. She and Todd are having a blast. But Judy and Dustin’s expressions show how they feel about this juvenile behaviour. Then Reggie gets given her birthday presents. However, aside from a music CD and a used gift card, they mostly turn out to be clothes or hygiene products. Reggie tries to act grateful. But she ultimately feels depressed at not getting anything she asked for. Her mother then reminds her they talked about her birthday being different this year; she won’t need so many toys now that she’s older. Besides, what she’s been given can be fun too. It’s just fun in a different way.
An opening scene can tell a lot about a series and its direction. In this case, it does a fine job of setting the tone and establishing the characters’ personalities. As mentioned above, the cold weather and muted colours contrast the happy celebration. Also, the party takes place in a small kitchen without decorations, and even the presents don’t have the fanciest wrapping paper. It makes our introduction to Endless feel more appealing later.
As for the characters, the series wastes no time showcasing Reggie’s immaturity. Besides playing with toys, her first line of dialogue is, “Come on, mom, I’m not that grown-up.” So she’s instantly dismissive of her age. Plus, we see how tormented she is by her gifts. Making room in her life for these mature things doesn’t excite her one bit. And her mother’s words do nothing to change that. It seems her birthday has become less of a celebration and more of a reminder that she’s losing the best years of her life.
The scene isn’t entirely depressing, though. Todd is a welcomed presence because he provides comic relief whenever necessary. More importantly, though, he’s shown to be close friends with Reggie. He indulges in her childish ways, and she appreciates his company. However, given Todd is her only friend at the party, it’s an early indication of how few she has.
As for Dustin and Judy, they each represent what I despise and love about the sub-characters in this series respectively.
Dustin, you see, is portrayed as a stereotypical teenager; someone who’s laidback, bitter, and puts little care or effort into anything – he’s the one who gave Reggie the used gift card. Not to mention he’s later revealed to be a conspiracy theorist and has a blog dedicated to spreading crazy stories (ep6). Unfortunately, several other human characters in the series have these generic personalities. Sometimes you get teen bands trying too hard to act cool (ep22) or teachers who’re overly timid or unprofessional (ep9). They’re just feeble attempts at comedy that weaken the series’ credibility. Fortunately, though, they aren’t featured too often. And they do nothing to harm the series’ more serious aspects. There’s even an episode where Reggie reconnects with her estranged brother over something they made when they were younger (ep6).
On the other hand, Judy is one of the series’ most down-to-earth characters; she embodies every parent who worries about their child’s natural growth. Truthfully, it shouldn’t be an issue that Reggie has particular interests. Or they’re so different from her mother’s when she was younger. But it’s sad for Judy knowing they have nothing in common – especially when she seems to relate more to other girls Reggie’s age (ep8). Also, since her daughter is reluctant to try new things, Judy worries that Reggie won’t move forward with her life and will struggle with adulthood.
Parental figures are a delicate aspect of children’s media. If a series is more comedy-based, it’s natural to portray them as goofy or eccentric. Their roles aren’t meant to be taken seriously there. However, for a series like Twelve Forever, the writers knew it was important for Judy to be as believable as possible. Sometimes the episodes needed someone to ground them in reality to convey their messages. And it works exceedingly well here. Any time Judy is onscreen, we feel the stress she’s under to be a good mother. She has to put her foot down when Reggie acts too immaturely sometimes (ep8). But she also doesn’t want to upset or peer pressure her. Growing up is a stressful process. So whenever she has to talk to Reggie about it, she uses a soft-spoken tone and looks for ways of making the transition smoother. The first episode demonstrates this approach quite well.
While preparing for a garage sale, Judy finds a box of Reggie’s old things. Since her daughter hasn’t touched it in years, she decides to sell it. However, Reggie is adamant about the idea. The box is filled with remnants of her childhood, and she can’t bear the thought of parting with them. It’s frustrating for Judy at first. But she comes up with a compromise. She gives Reggie until the end of the day to go through her stuff and decide what she can’t live without – anything else has to go. It seems like a good plan. But Reggie is too emotionally attached and feels she can’t get rid of any of it.
Personally speaking, I can understand Reggie’s feelings. Usually, in hoarding situations, you have to ask yourself logical questions. For example, what’s the difference in not owning something if you never use it anymore? Maybe you could argue you’ll use it eventually. But are you more likely to use something else when the time comes? Is the item as valuable to you as other things you own? Does it make any significant difference in your life? When you ask yourself these questions, the choice of whether to keep something becomes easier to decide.
However, just because something isn’t useful doesn’t mean it has no sentimental value. For example, I own a teddy bear that I’ve had since the day I was born. I don’t sleep with it anymore, of course. But I still hold onto it because it was given to me by my late grandmother. Throwing it away would be like throwing away a part of her and the connection we had.
Reggie feels the same about her old toys and sketches. Precious memories are attached to them, and she doesn’t want to risk forgetting. So instead of throwing them out, she decides she’ll keep them in her special place. Somewhere no adult can reach them.
Surprisingly, it’s revealed that Reggie and Todd already have the power to go to Endless. And they’ve been visiting the island for some time now. It’s not until later in the series that we learn how everything started.
About a year ago (episode 17), Reggie didn’t fit in well at school; her fantasies made her seem weird to other kids, and even her family looked down on her. One day, during art class, she made a key out of modelling clay, telling her teacher she wanted it to take her away from her boring town forever. Following another conflict at home, Reggie wished with all her might to go someplace where she could just be herself. Her desire granted the key its magic and whisked her away to Endless. Initially, she was freaked out by what happened (episode 18); especially when meeting the strange, abstract creatures who inhabited the island. However, she soon realised Endless was everything she’d ever hoped for. The residents admire her fun-loving attitude. She can do whatever she wants without consequence. And there are so many activities to discover that the only limit is her imagination. It’s a perfect child’s paradise.
Shortly afterwards, Reggie met Todd – the only person at school who seemed interested in her abnormalities. While spending time with him, she learned he was also stressed about getting older; he’s always having to look after his boisterous younger siblings, among other new responsibilities. Sensing Todd’s need for escapism, Reggie showed him the way to Endless. And they’ve been sharing adventures there ever since.
From a writer’s perspective, this backstory does everything it’s meant to. It establishes the main characters’ personalities and motivations. It also sets up their ordinary world before introducing the new one with its different rules. However, my only objection is that it comes too late in the series. It would’ve been better to have it as the opening episode so we could’ve followed the characters’ development from the beginning. Also, given Reggie and Todd are very familiar with Endless (in episode 1), and the audience isn’t, there’s a bit of disconnection. Sometimes they need to learn things along with the characters to form an emotional bond.
That being said, when the series does teach moral lessons, they’re some of the most personal I’ve ever experienced. They’re not simple run-of-the-mill lessons or even widely-appealing ones; they’re specifically chosen to guide viewers in Reggie and Todd’s age group. Young adult problems take centre stage in Twelve Forever.
For instance, going back to episode 1, Reggie takes the box of her old things to Endless and buries it in the sand. Surprisingly, it brings all of her toys and sketches to life. It also turns a label-maker into a monster which Reggie and Todd defeat with their superpowers. After things quiet down, though, we learn something intriguing. According to Reggie, once something is brought to Endless, it can never return to the real world. So even though she has some new friends on Endlesss, things will never be the same back home. It’s symbolic because the island represents Reggie’s childhood. By leaving her old things here, she’s essentially letting go of a piece of her past. However, that doesn’t mean she has to forget the positive memories they’ve left her. Plus, she can revisit them anytime she needs a break from her stressful life.
The series is very clever in how it teaches things metaphorically like this. In Part 3, I’ll give you some more examples. As well as answer the all-important question: is Reggie Autistic? Stay tuned.
Image courtesy of: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8009622/?ref_=tt_mv_close