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S02.E04: Panic/Tars

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When Al begins having panic attacks, Riley, Art and Lizzie encourage him to seek therapy so he can deal with stress, on the CBS Original series UNITED STATES OF AL, Thursday, Oct. 28 (8:31-9:01 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
 

 

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Holy shit, the second half of this episode got REAL dark and heavy REAL fast, didn't it? Whew. 

I just want to give Al the world's biggest hug, I swear. My god, those stories he told about what the Taliban had done to him and his friend when they were children, and then his memory of the horrific tragedy that befell said friend and his family. Just. Damn. That actually had me gasping. I mean, it's sadly not surprising to hear how violent the Taliban were/are in and of itself, obviously, but still... 

Him passing out in the store was quite unnerving, too, with the way he just dropped and was briefly unconscious. Thank goodness Riley and Hazel were right there. 

Loved, loved, loved everything with Al and Lizzie talking to each other as they did this episode, even in the moments when things got really tense and harsh between them. I always enjoy it when they get to have some serious heart-to-heart chats, and I'm glad we got that here. I think she's absolutely right that Al being safely away from the horror of what's going on back home is what's finally allowing him the chance to start actually processing and dealing with all the stress and pain and fear he's been dealing with, and the awful memories he's tried to repress. And yet, on the flip side, the fact he is so far away from home, far away from family and friends whom he can't see every day and be right there to protect, brings a whole new level of stress and pain and fear for him, so it's like one new level of anxiety being added to an already pretty huge pile. No wonder he would start having panic attacks. Who wouldn't, in his shoes? 

And I can also understand his hesitation and reluctance to go to therapy, especially if there's been a particular stigma around it where he grew up. It's not surprising that he would struggle to take the very advice he's been giving Riley all this time, and that it might take him a while to come to terms with the fact he needs help, too, the way Riley's had to learn that lesson. It was tough to watch him snap at Lizzie as he did, and her feeling so helpless and not wanting to say the wrong thing, but he was frustrated, so it's understandable, too. And luckily, I think Lizzie understood that, too. I am glad that he did apologize to her later, though. 

And it was good to see him talking to Riley and Art as well, to get their view on the whole therapy idea. The fact they've all been talking to people was a great way to help normalize it for Al, so hopefully, with time, he'll come around on the idea of going to see someone, too. In the meantime, I love the idea of him going to community college and taking psychology. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out :). 

On a significantly lighter note, Art had some truly funny one-liners this episode. I loved his remarks about the baseball game, and I got a really good laugh out of, "His head was stuck in your mom's birth canal for a really long time." XD. And it's neat to see Hazel moving on to middle school (!). I already like this Violet that she's befriended, I can see Hazel hitting it off with someone like that. Wonder if we'll ever get to meet her at some point :D.? I also like Riley admitting to getting emotional over those ads with families reuniting. Aw. I can see that :). 

Yeah. Heavy episode, for sure, but also a really good one. 

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I actually think Al has a point about how friendship and peer support has been farmed out to "professionals" and that it creates an emptiness and helplessness in the community structure. I'm not opposed to therapy, but I think it's absolutely true that, for instance, Riley being incapable of having a deeper confidence with Al, and Lizzie immediately trying to pawn him off on "a professional" because she doesn't know what to say, is a flaw in their own characters, but it's endemic to the culture, not just them personally who have this deficiency. While Al can benefit from things about being here, I hope they also show that he's right about some of his observations about the culture, and that it's not all a one way thing where he learns and adapts, while no one else takes his perspective to heart and benefits from that, as well. 

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1 hour ago, possibilities said:

I actually think Al has a point about how friendship and peer support has been farmed out to "professionals" and that it creates an emptiness and helplessness in the community structure.

Yeah, I liked that point as well. I agree that he's absolutely right about that, too. And not only does it lead to the issues you mentioned in your post, issues that Lizzie and Riley struggled with, but that lack of community also creates a lack of empathy and understanding, which...well, all you need to do is turn on the news to see the effects of that in people's everyday lives :/. 

And even with the professional help, a lot of it's being done online now, partly because of the pandemic and partly because it seems everything is moving online in general more and more, so that just further adds to the distance and lack of an immediate, direct human connection. So, yeah, it is good that Al brought that up, and I'm with you in hoping that Lizzie, and the rest of the family, reflect on that a little more, too. 

51 minutes ago, OlderThanDirt said:

Will they ever revisit Lizzie's loss of her fiance?

I hope so. I'd definitely be interested to learn more about that time in her life, too. 

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While I agree that Al has a point about friendship and peer support being "farmed out", no one in that family / peer group is equipped to help Al with his PTSD, just like they aren't equipped to help Riley with his. Lizzie was 100% correct in trying to draw a small boundary because she doesn't know how to help him. Did she do it in the best way? Probably not. But in the heat of the moment people aren't at their best.

I hope Al does decide to seek therapy. 

12 hours ago, Annber03 said:

And I can also understand his hesitation and reluctance to go to therapy, especially if there's been a particular stigma around it where he grew up. It's not surprising that he would struggle to take the very advice he's been giving Riley all this time, and that it might take him a while to come to terms with the fact he needs help, too, the way Riley's had to learn that lesson.

SNIP

And it was good to see him talking to Riley and Art as well, to get their view on the whole therapy idea. The fact they've all been talking to people was a great way to help normalize it for Al, so hopefully, with time, he'll come around on the idea of going to see someone, too. In the meantime, I love the idea of him going to community college and taking psychology. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out :). 

I can completely relate to Al here. I was the champion of telling all my friends how much therapy could help, while refusing to go myself. I finally started talking to a professional and I hope Al does too. I'm excited to see Al at community college. 

 

12 hours ago, Annber03 said:

I just want to give Al the world's biggest hug, I swear. My god, those stories he told about what the Taliban had done to him and his friend when they were children, and then his memory of the horrific tragedy that befell said friend and his family. Just. Damn. That actually had me gasping. I mean, it's sadly not surprising to hear how violent the Taliban were/are in and of itself, obviously, but still... 

I cried. I wonder if those were true stories from the writers, too. I'm so glad they don't shy away from going there with these episodes. I'll end up saying it in almost every episode thread but they are stories that we in the "western world" need to hear, frequently. Afghanistan already dropped off the news and I don't think anyone expects the "kinder, more inclusive Taliban" to actually exist or keep their word to not be shit monsters posing as humans.

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1 hour ago, theredhead77 said:

While I agree that Al has a point about friendship and peer support being "farmed out", no one in that family / peer group is equipped to help Al with his PTSD, just like they aren't equipped to help Riley with his. Lizzie was 100% correct in trying to draw a small boundary because she doesn't know how to help him. Did she do it in the best way? Probably not. But in the heat of the moment people aren't at their best.

Very much agree.  While Lizzie was sympathetic, she doesn't have the training to try to help Al deal with such a traumatic experience.  In fact, my favorite line of the episode was her concerned "I don't want to say the wrong thing or give you bad advice" because I could completely relate.  I would say the same thing in that kind of situation because I wouldn't know how to respond and would be afraid of making things worse.

This was another very strong episode.  I wasn't expecting the reveal that Al's friend and his family had been killed, and Al's fear of not being able to trust his own memories really got to me.  I could understand why his frustration made him snap at Lizzie, but I appreciated that after having time to think about it and talking to Art, Al tracked down Lizzie to apologize.  I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but I love that every character is fundamentally nice and that they all support each other.  

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It made perfect sense that Al would have his panic attack while school shopping for Hazel. Some part of his brain was thinking about his nieces and that they might not be able to go to school.

I liked that Art was supportive of therapy. It would have been so easy to paint him as an "I'm a Marine. Real men don't need therapy" type. He benifited from therapy during a difficult time in his life. It also makes sense why he's so supportive of Riley seeking therapy.

What's great about this show is that the characters surprise you. They all have some depth to them.    

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2 hours ago, Rose Quartz said:

'm starting to sound like a broken record, but I love that every character is fundamentally nice and that they all support each other.  

Same. I'm also 110% OK with this being a broken record from all of us.  I forgot to mention earlier that I love that Lizzie is respectful of Al's boundaries when it comes to male/female. She totally wanted to give him a hug but knew that would make him uncomfortable, so the friendly arm squeezes were as huggy as she was getting.

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I know this show is a sitcom, but last night's episode was a gut punch. As someone who deals with mental health issues, I'm glad this show is dealing with both empathy and warmth when it comes to this important issue. 

All of the characters are dealing with trauma. Riley has PTSD from his service in Afghanistan. Al is dealing with the horrors of growing up under the Taliban and the current state of his home country and how it's affecting his loved ones and fellow Afghanis. Art lost his wife. Riley's marriage has broken up. His daughter is dealing with this break-up. And Lizzie is still grieving the death of her fiance. That's a lot to pack into a 30-minute show. And I think they are doing a tremendous job.

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I think a psychology and/or medical psychology class and books would help Al a lot. He, like a lot of people even Westerners, still think of emotions and mental health as not being the same as physical health. I know it's a sitcom and it did a lot of great stuff in less than a half an hour already, but I wish someone had explained to Al when he was wishing for a brain tumor that a panic disorder or PTS is just a concretely linked to your brain. The only difference is doctors can't identify it with a test yet. 

I was jealous of Hazel's middle school. Wish I could have done marching band that early lol. Loved Art's comment about being the bully and then throwing the ball at her stomach. 

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I love this show. I love how it isn't afraid to wring tears from my eyes in almost every episode. I love how the actors can go from comedy to drama in a snap. I love the sensitive way it's addressing damaged people trying to find their way whole again, while acknowledging that there can still be laughs along the journey.

Al had a good point at how Americans are not connected to one another the way they were, and although I'm glad Lizzie said she didn't want to give him bad advice or tell him the wrong thing, I do kind of wish she had pointed out that people also used to keep so much pain hidden and unacknowledged in prior times.

Also, sweaty Riley in shorts and a sleeveless muscle shirt. 😉

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3 hours ago, Grrarrggh said:

I wish someone had explained to Al when he was wishing for a brain tumor that a panic disorder or PTS is just a concretely linked to your brain. The only difference is doctors can't identify it with a test yet. 

There are people that need physical proof that something exists. While there isn't a test, I'm fairly sure PTSD shows up on certain brain scans (there's a better and more accurate word for it, but I'm not sure what it is). If he wanted "proof" that he had it and that it was real not just "all in his head," that could be arranged. 

For a Chuck Lorre sitcom, or really any sitcom, this is a fantastic subtle PSA about the importance of mental health and therapy. 

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1 hour ago, Sarah 103 said:

There are people that need physical proof that something exists. While there isn't a test, I'm fairly sure PTSD shows up on certain brain scans (there's a better and more accurate word for it, but I'm not sure what it is). If he wanted "proof" that he had it and that it was real not just "all in his head," that could be arranged. 

This is true, but it's complicated. MRIs have also been seen to show features of depression and anxiety, but there's a long way to go on the research. And it would show that it's "all in his head" ;) Sadly we've been trained to think of our emotions and brain as not the same thing in many ways. 

Researchers at Indiana University are also trying to develop a blood test that can detect PTSD. 

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14 hours ago, theredhead77 said:

I cried. I wonder if those were true stories from the writers, too.

Knowing what we know about how the season premiere was inspired by the writers' experiences, indeed, it wouldn't surprise me if that were the case here, either. Unfortunately :(.

And yeah, seeing Al's eyes welling up with tears and hearing his voice breaking got me all emotional, too. He's just such a sweet, gentle person, it genuinely hurts to see him in that kind of pain. 

12 hours ago, Sarah 103 said:

It made perfect sense that Al would have his panic attack while school shopping for Hazel. Some part of his brain was thinking about his nieces and that they might not be able to go to school.

Oh. Wow. Yeah. That's a really good point. 

When I saw the summary for this episode, I thought they were going to connect it to Halloween somehow, using a holiday based around things that are scary as a way to explore these real life horrors they're dealing with that are genuinely scary. But having this episode taking place right at the start of the school year makes perfect sense, both for the reason you note and the fact that it's still close enough in time to the recent events in Afghanistan to where he's still (very slowly) trying to come to terms with all that's just happened in his homeland and with his family and friends.

10 hours ago, theredhead77 said:

I forgot to mention earlier that I love that Lizzie is respectful of Al's boundaries when it comes to male/female. She totally wanted to give him a hug but knew that would make him uncomfortable, so the friendly arm squeezes were as huggy as she was getting.

YES. I loved how she was right there to bring him back and refocus when he started having an attack while they were sitting in the backyard, so soothing and calm and comforting. 

Add me to that broken record group. The affection and love and concern and respect between these people truly warms my heart every time :').

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17 hours ago, Grrarrggh said:

Sadly we've been trained to think of our emotions and brain as not the same thing in many ways. 

This is exactly what I meant. Scans could show that there something on a bio-chemical level in his brain. That it isn't all emotions, but something "real." If Al would accept the idea of a brain tumor, which shows up with medical imaging, he might be more willing to accept something that comes with something he can see (like regions of the brain lighting up). 

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That was another heavy episode, I really am impressed by how well the show can switch from comedy to very real issues. I really can understand why Al thinks that therapy is something that just lets people farm out their problems to strangers, but also that sometimes your family and friends don't know how to best to help someone who is having real medical and mental health issues. I could really relate to Lizzie saying that she's afraid of saying the wrong thing to Al. I also like that they tied it into Riley's own reluctance to get therapy, they really can pack a punch and deal with a lot of characters very real traumas in a thirty minute sitcom.

Even in a dramatic episode, it still managed to have a lot of funny lines and scenes. "Do you have a medical degree?" "Does your phone?" 

Not surprised that Riley gets emotional at sappy commercials, he's a real softie. 

Edited by tennisgurl
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