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analysis: Luz (Arcadia) meltdown scene

date: 15 March 2024
The Belgian-Dutch series Arcadia features the autistic character Luz as part of its main cast. In one scene, she experiences a meltdown:

For context: the characters have just had their lives upended because it turns out the dad of the family committed massive fraud to maintain the social score of the family members at a high level. They are forced to move to a smaller house in a "lesser" neighborhood, lose their jobs, etc. Additionally, the dad gets exiled and left to die.

Here are some of my thoughts on this scene:

  • "I don't want to adapt" iconic line, 10/10 no notes
  • I think the sort of anxiety is shown pretty well. The discussion about clothes isn't the reason of the meltdown; it's just the final bit that pushes her over the edge. She's already highly strung due to all of the changes, especially because they happen so fast and she's given no time to adjust. Organizing her room and clothes is her attempt to take control of the situation and cope with that anxiety so Hanna coming in to argue and interrupt that is severely destabilizing.
  • I think this is also a "everyone is trying their best" situation. Luz is having a hard time adjusting, but it's evident that it's not easy for Hanna either. It's reasonable that Hanna wants to discuss their shared room situation because no matter how you twist or turn it, they're gonna have to share that room. It probably would have been better if Hanna disengaged once the discussion started escalating; Luz is clearly stuck on a single thought pattern, and it's better for everyone involved if they talk things over when she's not on the verge of a meltdown (I do want to make clear that I don't blame Hanna for the meltdown here, it's a situation that overall sucks and as I said: everyone is trying their best). Luz eventually settling down in their new living situation shows that the change of environment was the main issue, and she just needed more time to get her bearing.
  • Luz's exclamation, "I'm not a child," highlights an interesting tension: while she is an adult, she doesn't conform to conventional expectations of adulthood. During this meltdown, she needs someone to help her, and in some ways, that may look like "treating her like a child"—but "helping a person in a way that just happens to be similar to the way you would help a child" is not the same as regarding a person as a child and treating them accordingly. Cato approaches her as if she were a child, probably because it is the closest mental proxy she has for a person who doesn't act like a "normal" adult. While she's been Luz' stepmom for a couple of years, Luz has always been much closer with her dad, and Cato has often deferred difficult situations with Luz to the dad. She simply lacks experience on how to deal when Luz is having a difficult time (though again, like everyone else: she's doing what she can, given the situation at hand).
  • Head hitting is a fairly common thing when an autistic character is having a meltdown—both because it's visually striking and thus very suited to visual media, and because it's. y'know. a thing that is not uncommon in real-life autistic people. I have seen a criticism that the head hitting, and some other aspects of her body language, are not wholly consistent with the general type of autism they're trying to portray and would be more fitting if Luz were much younger (like, a preteen). While I don't wholly agree with this criticism, I definitely get where it comes from. The actress spoke with parents of autistic people and I suspect that at least part of those were parents of autistic children—which can lead to more "juvenile" traits ending up in a character. This happens decently often with autistic characters, unfortunately. (also: the problem is not a character having those specific "juvenile" traits, plenty of autistic people have said traits and there's nothing wrong with that. the problem is getting inspiration for an autistic adult character from autistic children.)

Notes about the video itself:

  • The video quality is a bit choppy because my computer is a bit shitty.
  • I added English subtitles, but the Dutch ones are burned into the video itself so they massively get in the way.