Review of Touch from an Autism Mom
It has been a long time since I have been profoundly moved by a television show that has left me feeling hopeful regarding the interconnectedness of humanity. For anyone who believes things happen for a reason, this will be your new favorite show. Having previewed their new baby on Wednesday, January 25, 2012, Fox will enjoy seeing news about this series spread in the coming months. When it debuts on March 19, 2012, it will be seen around the globe in more than 100 countries within 3 days’ period of time and try to achieve a level of connectedness by the fan-base as never before. Arguably it has been something people have been complaining about for quite some time about the US or Canada having exclusive access to a show, and other countries having to wait to see it, sometimes many weeks, sometimes many months, sometimes never, which leads to seeking access on torrent sites which ultimately results in the demise of a show because no one is live-viewing it anymore.
The story centers around Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland) and his son, Jake Bohm (David Mazouz). Labeled “severely autistic”, Martin never believed in the diagnosis given to his child and seems to be just trying to do whatever he could to make a connection with his son, yet fully accepting and loving his child at whatever place he was (very Son-Rise-esque).
I am a mother with a child with severe autism. In the weeks leading up to the show, I seemed to be getting a lot of negative feedback about that–not ANOTHER show about another kid with autism–as if autism is the célèbre-du-jour of Hollywood. Indeed kids or adults with autism were turning up everywhere on every show either as part of the main cast or as a guest star. There are a few shows that got it right, but most did not. Most people with autism are not savants (only about 10%). While parents with autism appreciate the desire to bring awareness to the spectrum disorder, when it is depicted incorrectly, it hurts our cause. The general population has grown tired of hearing “My child has autism.” They scoff at you like you are just part of the misguided parents who need to have a diagnosis for their child. Or, you have the medical community trying to reclassify the spectrum of autism to water it down so it does not appear to be an epidemic (a blog for a later time). Even I started viewing this show with a bias.
FROM THIS POINT FORWARD, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS:
The show opens with a narrative from Jake about numbers very similar to the a belief borne from the red string of fate, a Chinese legend that said the gods tie an invisible red string around the ankles of those that are destined to be soul mates and will one day marry each other. The two people connected by the red thread are destined lovers, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break, a concept very similar to soul mates. But Tim Kring, the creator of Touch, twists this idea even further to tie a group of individuals together.
Fans of Jericho (or Three Rivers or Hawaii-Five-O) will be thrilled to see that Carol Barbee is executive producer on this pilot. Executive producer Peter Chernin now has another hit on his hands after enjoying great success with Terra Nova and New Girl, also on Fox. Also sharing executive producer co-credits are Katherine Pope (also of Terra Nova and New Girl), Kiefer Sutherland, and producers, Neal Ahern, Jr., (Terra Nova, Parenthood), and Dennis Hammer (Heroes, Crossing Jordan).
The show opens with Martin at his job at the JFK airport in New York where he is gathering a bunch of cell phones that were left in the lost and found and unclaimed, to his son who is fascinated by them. One of them rings as he is walking away. Apparently it is the owner of one of the phones trying to get the phone back after losing it at Heathrow Airport in London 2 days previously. He is not looking to get back the phone itself, but rather photographs within the phone. Apparently it is her birthday “tomorrow” but he is now in Mumbai. And he seems to be in great emotional distress. Martin’s phone is ringing so he places the man’s phone down in a bin. His son is in trouble. “I pay your school good money to keep my son safe. Are you grasping me?” Oh yes, I was relating to this character very much.
He’s off to talk his son down off an electricity tower, and I mean that literally. Meanwhile, the cell phone gets mixed up on top of some luggage. Jack Bauer is scared of heights? What? Oh wait, wrong show. It is hard NOT to put Kiefer automatically into the role of Jack. The workers want to know if the numbers 318 have any special meaning to Jake but Martin shrugs it off. A report to child services is going to need to be made.
On the way home, they stop at a gas station. Martin gazes at his son in the rear-view mirror while gazing over at the school bus filled with children talking and acting like normally developed children. My heart sinks. I know EXACTLY what this character is feeling. How many times have I done this with Patrick, just for a brief second wondering what life would be like? Martin and I share a common bond in addition to the fact that they are our only living child so we know really no other kind of life. He looks into the rear-view mirror and his son is gone, having taken off to go over towards the bus. Another similarity to autism–so I’m still very hesitant. How many of us turn away for a second and our kids with autism take off? Martin talks to his son like one would talk to their loved one in a coma, hoping that something they say will jar their loved one to respond in some way, desperately longing for that contact. I have been in this place, too, where Patrick was seemingly catatonic (but very noisy, unlike Martin’s Jake). Martin notices the number on the bus: District No 318. In the store, the TV is showing a story on “The Children of 9/11″ and the struggles they endure. A man is trying to buy a Lotto ticket. Jake looks up as the man calls out the numbers: 87 1 9 20 31 11. Jake grabs the Lotto ticket and runs to the car, locking the doors. He writes down these numbers on pages of numbers he already wrote previously and hands the ticket back. The man says, “You ought to keep that kid in a cage.” Oh yes, that is something we’ve had to endure hearing before. But this is actor Titus Welliver from “Lost” so I expect dark mystery to surround him.
Then we see a beautiful young singer, Kayla Graham (Karen David) on stage, surrounded by her fans, recording her performance on a cell phone that looks very similar to the one found at JFK. She does not believe she’ll ever be a big star. Her co-worker, Niles Borne, (Simon Delaney), tries to encourage her, saying half the company was there to support her tonight. He tells her that we all have a destiny, and hers is to be a big star. The cell phone, he believes, is the key. He found that the cell phone had traveled all around the world and now her recording was on it. The phone apparently right now is in Dublin, Ireland. He sticks the cell phone into the luggage of someone headed to Japan and away the cell phone goes.
An alarm set for 3:18 goes off at Martin’s computer. He goes in to put Jake to bed. Jake has apparently lined up cell phones. He mentions that the doctor said he was going to grow up bigger than him and how was that going to work? I’m already living that. I’m 5’3″ and my 16-year-old son is now 6 feet tall, and has seizures. The cell phones go off. Jake has all of them programmed to show the numbers 87, 1, 9, 20, 31, 11.
A family in the Middle East, Baghdad, is the next bunch introduced. The son is trying to imitate Chris Rock and wants to be a comedian. They need an oven to keep their bakery. It will cost 800,000 dinar (about $687 US dollars). The only way to make that kind of money is with shady characters who make people blow themselves up. His friend suggests they check out Hassam’s place.
Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) from family services show up at Martin’s door the next morning. One reality disconnect: They do not show up that quickly. I already dislike this woman, so she did a great job as an actress. She lists his inadequacies as a parent, supposing that the state could do a better job. Another reality disconnect: The writers did not Google: State facilities, Texas, fight clubs, Department of Justice report, Corpus Christi. “The financial challenges will only increase as your son gets older.” I can relate to that statement, but do you know what the first thing is to get cut when state budgets are on the line? Yep, people with disabilities. Good thing Martin lives in New York versus let’s say Texas.
Martin shares that her wife died in the 9/11 tragedy. While Clea is trying to “talk” with the silent Jake, Martin sees the numbers in the newspaper: The numbers belong to the new Lotto winner. The man (Randall) who bought the ticket realizes he is a winner and places a phone call to a woman. He says he wants to come home now.
Simon (the owner of the cell phone now off to Japan) is on a plane and calls a woman. He is on his way to Tokyo. He wants to be there for “her” birthday (the child) but the woman is short on conversation. She also appears to be in emotional pain. My first thought was a divorce. He asks her if they took any photographs of Lily while they were on vacation besides for the ones on his phone; a tear streams down her face as she says no.
Clea tries to explain the strange coincidence off as it being part of Jake’s autism, which Martin insists is NOT his diagnosis. Martin said that for all he knows Jake does not speak because he has nothing to say. Martin says he is trying to communicate; Clea belittles his thought to wish fulfillment. Her character then starts softening up, trying to say no one is judging him (but they are).
A young Japanese woman goes through the bag of the man who came from Ireland, the one with the cell phone in his bag. She and her friend, Izumi, are in a fan club of a group called “The Morticians” who are from Ireland (actually a band based out of Waco, Texas). The man lives in Tokyo but wants to have some fun with the young girl before going home. She grabs the cell phone in his bag and leaves.
Back in New York, Martin is leaving Jake at the boarding facility. Obviously no research has been done here either. These state facilities do NOT look like this gorgeous facility. My heart wrenches for Martin not only for having to leave his son in one of these places, but also that he cannot even hug him to say goodbye. Personally, I’d skip the country and run. No one is ever taking my kid from me. Martin then goes to visit the grave of his wife, Sarah. He says, “They say God never gives you more than you can handle. But I think he has this time.” Oh dear, the tears start streaming from my eyes. How many times have I felt and said the exact same words, or felt extreme anger at people who have said that to me, not having the slightest clue what our lives are like. He looks down to find a FDNY badge with the numbers 318 on them.
The Japanese girls see Kayla Graham’s video and decide to start up a fan club as they believe she is probably already a big star in Ireland. They are going to enlist the talents of their friend, Takezo, who runs the Jumbotron at Shibuya. They will get him to download “everything” on that phone and put it up on the Jumbotron (you can see where this is going). They’ll pass the phone to another client at 4:00 p.m. , who is catching a plane to Kuwait in 3 hours.
A search for mutism and cell phones leads Martin to the door of The Teller Institute that lists the following: Mysticism, Mythology and New Age interpretation; a rise in diagnosing behavioral disorders; for a select few, mutism is a false diagnosis; this is a beginning in a shift of consciousness. (Okay, now I’m thinking Mayan 2012 theories here). We are witnessing an evolutionary step (I’m thinking Alphas here). We must listen to their message. How string theory and quantum entanglement…. (I’m thinking Fringe). The geek that I am (and conditioned Lost fan) looked up the link to http://www.tellerinstitute/electromagnetism.html but it does not exist. He gets an address to this institute: 318 West Tesla Street, Bronx, NY. SWEET. It would have been really great if the address actually existed. A bath-robed Professor Arthur Dewitt (Danny Glover) answers the door. He talks about electromagnetism and that some kids (mostly) are just tuned into the right frequency. Interestingly, he gets Martin an orange soda, the same kind Jake drinks. Apparently Jake has discovered the Fibonacci mathematical sequence on his own. He shows him pictures of the curve, similar to how Jake lined up the cell phones. “The universe is made up of precise ratios and patterns. You and I–we don’t see them. But if we could, life would be magical beyond our wildest dreams, a quantum entanglement of cause and effect where everything and everyone reflects on each other. Every action, every breath, every conscious thought connected. Imagine the unspeakable beauty of the universe he sees. No wonder he doesn’t talk. ” Martin, excited, responds, “My son sees all that?” The professor continues, “Your son sees everything–the past, the present, the future. He sees how it’s all connected.” Martin responds, “You’re telling me my son can predict the future?” The professor adds, “I’m telling you, it’s a roadmap. And your job now, your purpose, is to follow it for him. It’s your fate, Mr. Bohm. It’s your destiny.” I know have complete chills. I see the parallels of my own life being reflected in this story. My Patrick has accomplished a great deal in his 16 years on this earth; my purpose is for him to fulfill his destiny. I have often felt like his conduit.
Back at the school, Clea becomes a believer when Jake uses popcorn to make the numbers 2, 1, 2, 9, 2, 0, 6, 9, 2, 2, the numbers which was her mother’s phone number before she died. And then her cell phone rings with that number. He goes over to circle 18 on the March calendar.
The Lotto winner is headed to Lynchburg, Virginia.
Martin looks at Jake’s numbers again and gets a phone number. Using modern technology, he puts it into the reverse phone numbers feature of a web site and it comes up as Grand Central Station at 87 East 42nd Street. Eighty-seven is the first number of the Lotto sequence. Clea knocks on his door; 3/18 is “today.” Martin is not sure if he is supposed to stop something from happening or make something happen, not only to happen on 3/18 but AT 3:18. Twenty-two minutes to Grand Central Station? Yeah, right. He better live close-by. When he locates the phone, there is a man talking on it. When he turns him around, he realizes it is the man from the store, the one who punched him. Now Martin punches back. The police break up the fight. It’s now 3:19 and Martin thinks he has failed.
Back in Iraq, a group of men walk in on the young boy at Hassam’s and they hide. They have a bunch of cell phones, including the one with Kayla Graham’s recording on it. A little girl sees them, but does not appear to give them away, but one of the terrorists comes back in. They catch him. He tells them about the oven and you can see the evil in their eyes. You know they are going to make him do something bad.
Back at Martin’s the 3:18 alarm goes off again on his computer; he notices there is a message on his answering machine. Randall Mead is calling him. Randall Mead who won Lotto; Randall Mead who was on the phone at Grand Central Station leaving Martin a message on his answering machine. He was a fire fighter on duty who tried to save his wife that tragic day. He was part of Ladder Company 318 on 9/11. He went to the 87th floor of the North Tower. His wife was alive, barely conscious and bleeding pretty badly. He carried her down 31 flights of stairs, but could not carry her any further. He convinced himself that she was dead, but the truth was he was not sure if she really was. He had been thinking about her for 10 years and had been playing the same lotto numbers every week for 10 years. 9, 11, 2001, 87th floor, 31 flights of stairs. He had wanted to try to make the numbers come out right. He was going to give all the money away. Then Martin hears himself on the phone answering machine, the encounter that happened at Grand Central Station. Then he hears Randall Mead’s name on the TV. Apparently the bus from the gas station had overturned in a bad rain storm. He pulled the kids from a burning bus. He said to the reporter if he had not missed his train, he would not have been there. Martin heads out to see his son, but his son escaped the state facility. Martin still does not know the further repercussions of this red thread.
Flash over to the Jumbotron where Simon, who is now in Tokyo, tries to call his phone: 44, 077, 0090, 0488. He gets Kayla Graham who is back at her day job. He wants her to find out where his phone is, but it is in “an invalid territory.” Kayla appears on the Jumbotron. He pleads with Kayla to please help him. Lily’s picture is in there, his daughter who died a year ago. Simon looks up at the Jumbotron and sees Lily’s pictures. It brings some peace to a grieving father. In Iraq, Simon’s phone rings. It is hooked up to a bomb that is now attached to our character’s chest. He pleads with Kayla to tell the world he was not a bad person; she tries to help him not explode. With all these wonderful connections, my heart was hoping this young man wouldn’t be blown up, that he would get his happy ending, too. Kayla tells him there is always a choice. They bond over Chris Rock. She asks him what would make him not do this. He tells her, “An oven.” She knows a guy (Simon) in restaurant supplies.
Martin and Clea find Jake at the tower. Jake narrates again: “The ratio is always the same: 1 to 1.68 over and over.” Kayla’s co-worker sees her video on YouTube with 1,621,318 views. Simon makes it home to his wife. Martin overcomes his fear of heights and climbs the tower to talk to Jake. Jake says, “Will these words be used to hurt or to heal?” Randall gets on a bus to Virginia. Martin tells Jake that he followed the numbers and people were saved. “I don’t know if you can even hear me, but I can hear you, Jake?” I’m sobbing at this point. How many times have I said this to my nonverbal son? Jake crawls over to him and for the first time in Martin’s life, gave Martin a hug. I have raccoon eyes by now; my mascara is flowing everywhere. I remember the first time my child have me what I call a half-hug. My dear friend who I shared my glee with said to me that she appreciated me sharing these things with her because it made her appreciate her neurotypical child even more. She never realized the things she took for granted, the comment that made me realize that Patrick’s purpose was for people to appreciate the people in their own lives and not take even simple things as eye contact for granted.
Jake grabbed Martin’s cell phone and pointed him on his next mission: 718-673-5296
Where I end my belief is this: How does Martin’s phone still work in that monster rainstorm?
My message to Tim Kring: Season 1 of Heroes was awesome. Touch has the possibility of great things that may start people thinking more about the ripple effect of their own actions, and acting more kind to each other. Don’t screw it up, okay? Save Touch, Save the world.