Speechless 2x13 "D-I-- Dimeo A-C-- Academy"
Last week, LaFayette High School’s principal, Dr. Miller, dropped a bomb on Maya and Jimmy DiMeo—that their son, JJ, would not be able to graduate this year. As one would expect, “D-I-- Dimeo A-C-- Academy” finds Maya gearing up yet again to do battle with the school administration on JJ’s behalf, with a particularly funny scene toward the beginning of the episode in which Maya practices saying “Bloody unacceptable, Dr. Miller!” in varying inflections, only to look over and notice that the principal in question has pulled into the parking spot next to her and is practicing saying “I understand, but…” We then see Dr. Miller speed-walking down the school hallway away from Maya, who follows hotly on her heels asking, “Why are you running away from me?” (Maya knows exactly why.)
Maya and Jimmy explain to JJ in the first scene of the episode that, due to absences for medical appointments and some low grades, the school won’t be letting JJ graduate. But JJ, knowing his mother, simply asks her what she’s going to do, as she knew he would. Maya’s first plan of action is to go to confront Dr. Miller. The principal is very easily intimidated by Maya’s mama-bear tendencies, but, as this isn’t her first rodeo, she’s brought backup: JJ’s teachers, who all confirm that JJ won’t be able to graduate. This information hardly fazes Maya, however, who immediately targets each teacher and negotiates down their graduation requirements. But this isn’t enough for Dr. Miller, who musters up the courage to go head-to-head with Maya, saying, “It might be possible to squeeze a passing grade out of each of these teachers, but to graduate JJ before he’s ready wouldn’t be the right thing for him. So I won’t allow it.”
When Maya gets home and tells Jimmy that “those fools are insisting he do another year [of school],” Jimmy wonders if they might be right to want him to repeat his senior year. “I mean, I know how you get whenever someone says the words ‘JJ can’t,’ but should we consider that maybe this isn’t one to fight?” Jimmy is right, as he often is, but Maya is still wrapped up in her mama-bear rage and isn’t ready to hear that her son, whose fair treatment and access she’s been fighting tooth and nail for his whole life, will have to repeat his senior year. Maya knows how to choose her battles, and she chooses...all of them.
JJ doesn’t want to go back to LaFayette High, so Maya impulsively decides to homeschool him and get him caught up in time to graduate. Dylan and Ray both have rather unpleasant days at school (in the case of the former, not being named track team captain; the latter, having passed gas while in front of a heat-sensing camera for science class) so they decide to join DiMeo Academy as well, Dylan on the condition that she be able to compete against her former teammates at the next track meet. Maya asks Jimmy to help teach Dylan and Ray, and takes JJ on “an exploration of the tapestry of life”—Jimmy’s best guess is that that means the zoo. Once Jimmy busts out the math books, Dylan pumps the brakes—she thought she’d just get to slack off for a few days until Maya stopped being mad at the school and everything went back to normal, earning a sigh of relief from Jimmy, who was hoping the same thing.
But Maya is none too happy to discover that the three played hookey, and is taken aback to learn that Jimmy thought this was going to be a temporary gambit to blow off steam. “This isn’t a school, it’s a tantrum. Someone told you no, so you went to war, like always,” Jimmy tells her, adding that he’ll always have Maya’s back, but that he thinks this is an ill-conceived plan that he wishes she would have consulted him on.
Maya wants more than anything to see JJ succeed in life, regardless of his disability, and (as Dr. Miller’s reaction makes evident) has fought with the school time and time again to ensure he has a good environment to learn in. Clearly, Maya has a lot of practice at convincing people to treat her son fairly and provide him with accomodations. Normally, this is a good thing, and a very necessary part of being a parent of a disabled child; but, as JJ and Maya discover in this episode, Maya’s efforts to make JJ’s life as painless and easy-to-navigate as possible occasionally backfire. She sinks easily into the role of “fixer,” because whenever JJ has a problem, she fixes it, often without discussing it with Jimmy first or taking time to think things through. From the pilot episode onward, Maya has been fighting tooth and nail for the fair treatment of JJ, but in this episode, she learns an important lesson about parenting—a parent’s job isn’t to remove all obstacles from their child’s life, no matter how tempting it may be.
Maya sends JJ off to the local college to hear a guest lecture and get a taste of college, and admonishes him to “let nothing stand in your way!” She is so focused on nothing standing in her son’s way that occasionally she forgets that some things literally stand in his way (e.g. doors), and that no matter how much she empowers him or fights his battles, some things will still be difficult, and that’s just a fact of disability. We see him try to navigate through a college campus, with streams of students not noticing him and no way to engage with anyone, and JJ realizes something. He’s not ready to graduate this year, and doesn’t want to continue with DiMeo Academy. “But it’s working! We’re proving that we can do it!” Maya protests.
“No, you’re proving you can and will do anything for me. We already knew that. But that’s not life. I checked out college today; it’s a bunch of people taking care of themselves. I need practice doing that before I go.”
It’s a big moment for both JJ and Maya, and one that’s been a long time coming. There is another big character moment between Maya and Jimmy, when Jimmy admits to Maya that he doesn’t always agree with her like she believes he does—he just doesn’t want to make waves. So Maya decides to make more of an effort not to steamroll him, and to consult him with decisions rather than just impulsively plow ahead. We’ve seen throughout the series how well the two complement one another, despite their very clear differences, and this episode strengthened that bond and reinforced Jimmy as a viable, smart decision-maker, whereas previously he’s often been left more on the sidelines as Maya takes the reins.
This episode’s plot of not being able to graduate due to disability and/or illness struck a chord with me. I’ll get personal for a moment here—I was always very self-motivated when it came to schooling, and homeschooled through high school because I preferred not to have the distractions of a classroom. But I got sick when I was 16, and soon was unable to keep up with my curriculum due to headaches, insomnia, and bad brain fog. This led to me not being able to graduate high school on schedule, which may not sound like a big deal since I was homeschooled, but I was also very involved in the music department at the local high school. Having my friends graduate and move on with their lives while I stayed at home, not able to have much of a social life and watching all my life plans go down the drain, was extremely difficult for me. Speechless frequently has plots that I can relate closely to, from people trying to “cure” JJ with herbal mumbo-jumbo to JJ trying to access non-accessible spaces, but this storyline in particular has resonated with me. Not graduating school “on schedule” is such a common occurrence for disabled people, so I’m really glad Speechless tackled it.
Dylan and Kenneth also get to learn some good life lessons in this episode: Dylan was certain that she would be chosen for captain of the track team, because she is the fastest runner, but as evidenced by her tantrum over not getting chosen, she was passed over due to her poor sportsmanship. She plans to prove to the LaFayette track team that she should have been chosen, so she enters the track meet under DiMeo Academy and quickly pulls ahead of the other girls in the race. But she twists her knee, and as runners fly past her while she collapses, her former teammates, the Sea Slugs, rally around Dylan and carry her over the finish line. As they carry her, Dylan protests that she doesn’t want their “stupid sportsmanship,” but finally admits, “You’re better people than I am.”
Kenneth comes into contact with his ex-wife (“The ex-wife who burned all your stuff?” “No, the mean one”) and grows jealous of her extravagant lifestyle. He rents an expensive suit and car to impress her, but the plan goes awry when the ex-wife’s dog jumps into the rented car and pees on the seat, forcing him to admit that it’s a rental. When he tells her that he’s “just an aide to a kid,” she looks surprised, and he hopes it’s because he impressed her, but she’s just surprised at how much he’s changed. We get a little peek into Kenneth’s past, and learn that he used to be very shallow and self-absorbed, and would never have taken a job based solely on helping someone. Kenneth has a bit of a self-discovery, and realizes that while he doesn’t have much, he feels fulfilled.
This episode was packed full of some really great character and relationship development, in addition to the usual humor.
- Jimmy [while Maya plots against the school]: “Should I put on the theme music to Kill Bill, or is it already playing in your head?”
- Maya: “Where are you going? Why are you running away from me, you coward?”
Dr. Miller: “True, I am a coward—a coward who cares; that’s my brand, and my track record of standing up to you is...not good.” (Dr. Miller, the coward who cares—what a great character, and I loved her finally being brave enough to disagree with Maya!)
- Jimmy: “I think Pepper’s right; it’s really no problem that a big pile of belts won’t fix.” (Pepper is the dog the kids convinced the parents to get, under the guise of her being a service dog for JJ. The only problem? She failed out of service dog school, so she turns the lights off and on at random, gives everyone bananas, and served briefly as DiMeo Academy’s sports mascot!)
Speechless airs on Wednesdays at 8:30/7:30c on ABC.
Michaela’s episode rating: 🐝🐝🐝🐝🐝