There are lots of ways for queer stories to end on TV: axe-murdering, car accidents, poison, drowning, werewolf attacks, vampire attacks, cyberman attacks, stabbings, bludgeonings, brain tumors, heart explosions, train explosions, building explosions, rare diseases, tractor accidents, fires, breakdowns, breakups, and cancellation. To name a few. But amongst those tragedies, there are occasionally queer storylines that come to the close like the birth of a golden pegasus, rare and wondrous and almost impossible to believe. Yes, sometimes, very very rarely, queer people get happy endings. A few weeks ago, we added a couple to those hallowed ranks, Casey and Izzie of Atypical, who had their fair share of ups and downs in their intense and confusing friendship-turned-relationship — but who ended Atypical‘s final season full of love for each other, alive, and together.
It goes like this: Casey and Izzie both want to graduate, get into UCLA, and make the track team. It’s always been a different path for them to get there, though. Casey’s parents are, um, supportive? They’re actually overbearing perfectionists who are going to send Casey to therapy for a good long time in her adult life. But then, so is Izzie’s mom, but for a different reason. Izzie’s home life isn’t great, and in fact her very mentally unwell mom is rooting for her to fail and kicking her out of the house and demanding that Izzie parent her (instead of the other way around). This difference causes tension between them, but they’re able to talk it out and find ways to support each other despite those big home life differences.
But there are other negotiations too. Izzie is enraged about their private school’s dress code, which reinforces gender norms and the gender binary and is antiquated and deeply unfair. She tries to make change with a petition, which Casey kind of reluctantly signs, even though she agrees with Izzie’s mission. When that doesn’t work, Izzie decides to stage a protest. Casey waffles on it because she doesn’t want to get suspended and she doesn’t want to hurt her chances at getting into UCLA and she doesn’t want to have to hear her mom go on and on about it. In the end, though, she decides to join, and the whole GSA slow-mo walks through the hallways in their modified school uniforms — Casey in a tie and baseball cap even! Well, and Casey gets off the hook no problem, but Izzie does get suspended. And still! They work it out, together!
Near the end of season four, the rigorous standards Casey’s parents have held her to finally cause her to buckle, and she walks out on a track meet and quits the team. It freaks Izzie out, but she stands by Casey as she navigates a sport-less life, despite the fact that running has always meant so much to them. And, well, anyway, Casey already taught Izzie to ride a bike, so they’ll always have that! Izzie finally decides that her presence in Casey’s life is making it harder for her girlfriend, so she breaks up with her. But Casey puts her foot down and says that if Izzie doesn’t love her, that’s one thing, but she doesn’t just get to make unilateral, condescending decisions about their relationship! And of course Izzie loves her and she’s sorry. Izzie seals her apology with a kiss — and I won’t lie to you, I had some serious Tara and Willow flashbacks during this scene. But no stray bullets came through the window!
Casey and Izzie end the season with their UCLA dreams still in tact, and even their track dreams still in tact. Best of all, they decide that if either of them make the team, they’ll follow their individual dreams and support each other. They’ll chase their future as a couple, but with their own goals no matter what.
Izzie and Casey’s relationship is, more than anything else, soft. It’s sweet, and tender, and actually kind of hilarious. They share a sense of humor, which is one of the most important things. There’s this tendency among all kind of critics to write off stories about teenagers as juvenile, unless there’s a lot of sex or drugs or trauma involved. I mean, I guess that’s kind of the case with “adult” shows too. Critics love their self-destruction, assault, and bloodshed. But I think there’s something very brave and mature about having the courage and vulnerability to tell a soft story, especially for a group of people who have so few happy endings to lean on.
Stories are the things that make us human, and real gay people still need to see fictional gay people finding happy endings to know happy endings are possible for them too. For every Atypical, there’s a dozen lesbian and bisexual characters dead at the hands of tornadoes and frost trolls. The world is so hard, we deserve a little bit of happiness.