Whether it’s a case of absence making my heart grow fonder or absence giving the writers time to reflect on all the things that didn’t work about the latter half of the first season and make some course corrections, the season two première of Switched At Birth is a welcome return to form for a show I feared was lost forever. Everything that was narratively contrived and awkward before is now back on a far more even keel, with even the resolutions to those awkward stories feeling like triumphs.
Welcome back, Switched At Birth. We missed you.
Not much time has passed since the fateful courtroom decision in the finale that left Angelo a multimillionaire and John and Kathryn a one dollar-aire. It’s been just enough time for Angelo to get his payout and start spending it wildly, handing out lavish gifts to everyone in both families and buying an expensive lot on a golf course for his future house. It’s a surprisingly interesting dynamic to have deadbeat Angelo suddenly on equal footing with the Kennishes and able to provide support to Regina, and hopefully something they explore further as the season progresses.
More pressing Angelo news, however, is the revelation that a woman he had a one night stand with is now carrying his child. His reaction to the news is the most telling—especially to Bay—when he reveals he isn’t much interested in being the child’s father and potentially screwing up his perfect new life in Kansas City. Bay’s reaction to hearing he could possibly throw away a child yet again is pure devastation. Bay’s reaction to this—and to the news that no matter how she tries to clean up her act, the administration at Buckner isn’t much interested in her type of person—is the stuff that’s great about Bay. Why the show wasted so much time last season with art gangs and running away to Mexico is still unclear, but it looks like Bay’s story is back on the right track now.
What remains so wonderful about Switched At Birth—something it never really lost even in its darkest story times—is its specificity, when it comes to the different relationships on the show and especially when it comes to the deaf experience. Daphne and Regina or Bay has a different relationship than Daphne and Melody or Emmett, and these differences are always so carefully, thoughtfully, and naturally rendered. This is exemplified in the première with regards to Daphne’s reluctance to fully get over her breakup with Chef Jeff and how it's Melody who finally snaps her out of her stupor.
The Chef Jeff storyline was a disaster from day one—for many reasons discussed ad nauseum during the final episode cycle of season one—but the ending to this story was kind of remarkable. As much as the relationship itself was a wrong turn for the show, as much as its impropriety was frustratingly handled, Jeff was still Daphne’s real first love as a teenager, and deserves to be mourned by her character as such. This mourning manifested in a heartbreakingly realistic way; it wasn’t as if they had their big breakup scene and he was forgotten forever. Instead, Daphne pined. And she texted. And she held out that naïve teenage hope that they could be together again one day.
But, as the people around her all knew, that was never going to happen. To Jeff’s credit, he lets her down firmly but easily, closing even the friendship door as to not lead her on. It’s Melody however, who is the bringer of truth, brutally snapping Daphne out of her never-ending funk by pointing out everything Daphne did wrong with her opportunity to work in a restaurant kitchen not as a young girl in love, but as a deaf girl responsible for a culture as much as herself. In what is perhaps the best scene the show has ever done, Melody hammers home to Daphne exactly what she lost, exactly what she wasted, and exactly why she can never do anything like this ever again. It’s harsh but absolutely correct, because although it may be unfair that Daphne has to be “better” than other people just to have the same opportunities in life, it’s sadly the truth.
It’s a stunner of a scene, the kind of thing nothing else on television can do, and it’s simply delightful to see the writers remember that these are the kind of stories they can tell: stories with emotion, heart, conflict, and most important of all, love. Because if there’s one thing that’s certain it’s that these writers love these characters, and it came through loud and clear in this episode.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: The Door To Freedom, René Magritte, 1933.
- Angelo is the best gift giver ever. He’s also secretly the most observant person on this entire show. Maybe he can help me pick presents for my family next year? Because my mom is getting sick of socks.
- Toby generally struggles in stories of his own but he really shines in scenes where he’s inadvertently thrust into the crazy lives of his family. Case in point: his hilariously uncomfortable discussion with Angelo regarding the pregnancy.
- The very slow progression of the Bay/Emmett relationship was nice to see. He hurt her pretty horribly, so it’s much more interesting to see her slowly forgive him than it would be for them to just be back together already.
- John running for State Senate is intriguing, but I really just wish it was Kathryn instead. Her being told by the Republican Party leader that John is more electable is sadly realistic, but her running is far more compelling to me than him. Still, I think the political angle for the family could potentially be very interesting.
- Travis has really become the best minor character on the show, so it’s nice that he appears to be getting a bigger role this season. His family is a bunch of jerks, though.
- John: “Look at you, all you need is a red suit and a sleigh.”
- Daphne: “Here’s to being switched at birth and getting a food truck to compensate for the damages.”