John and Kathryn Kennish are out of sync. This isn’t a new development; ever since the season three premiere, their lives have been woefully fractured, with Kathryn busy searching for a new purpose and John busy searching for any sign that this political career he fell into was the right path for him, neither one talking to the other about their respective emotional states. When looking at the state of their fractured relationship, it’s fairly obvious that something had to shock them back into each other’s emotional lives again. But although the why was obvious, the how—Nikki’s mother Jenice leaning over after a shared moment with John and kissing him—was impossible to predict.
Let’s just be frank: John Kennish is having a rough season. He’s been shockingly unfeeling toward Kathryn’s attempts to connect with him about her struggle to find purpose. He was openly bigoted toward Kathryn’s gay friend, Renzo. And his somewhat nasty streak continues in this episode, as he is so wrapped up in his own professional worries that he never even bothers to ask Kathryn what her big, exciting book idea is about, then gets angry with her when she calls him on it. It’s tough to watch, especially because all of these things happen before we really get any sort of inkling why John is acting this way. The only person who actually gets John to open up at all turns out to be Nikki’s mother Jenice, whom John runs into when helping Toby set up his new apartment and strikes up a quick friendship. It’s her he tells that the Republican Party leaders in his state disinvited him from riding on the party’s private jet to the convention. It’s her he gets vulnerable with about his failings as a politician. And that’s when the kiss happens. Hell, it’s mostly why the kiss happens.
It’s not hard to understand why John is having such a hard time connecting with Kathryn and choosing to reveal his secrets to a near stranger instead. Confiding your failings in people who expect things of you is difficult, maybe one of the most difficult things in the world. Kathryn is pulling away from him, mostly because her new life journey conflicts with the more rigid place John expects her to hold in his life. When those two things are combined, friction is bound to occur. But that doesn’t mean the slow destruction of John and Kathryn’s relationship is easy to watch. That doesn’t mean him being short with Kathryn, uninterested in her new life, and reluctant to discuss his own conflicted feelings about his life path is right, either. But it does feel frustratingly real. John stopped the kiss. Jenice realized what she did was wrong. But Switched At Birth threw a match into the gasoline by having Regina see the kiss through a window and misinterpret it—something that’s great for previews and cliffhangers but can drive everyone crazy in the process.
Also out of sync are Bay and Tank, whose storyline finally goes to the place I really, really did not want it to go: a romantic place. It seems Tank has developed quite the crush on Bay and she only realizes it when Daphne points it out to her and advises her to let him down swiftly and easily. The idea that Tank is harboring secret feelings for Bay isn’t shocking—she’s smart, funny, cute, and a lot of fun to be around—nor is the idea that Bay is completely oblivious to those feelings. But it’s like Bay says when she is letting Tank down: She has no male friends. (Heck, she barely has any female friends.) She’s on the other side of two pretty rough relationships. Her relationship with Tank has been delightful throughout the season because it was so simple and pure, and this realization he doesn’t feel the same way she does takes all of that simplicity out of it. Something about the last scene, where Bay’s hand gets severely cut and he so generously and genuinely helps her, makes me think there’s more to come here, more layers to this relationship yet to be peeled back. Will Bay have a change of heart? As much as it is disheartening to see yet another male/female relationship on television refuse to stay platonic, Tank remains a really nice addition to this show. He just fits, even if he ultimately ends up fitting in a different place than where he fit at the start of the season.
As for Daphne, her story with Sharee finally moves into a new place in this episode. Their relationship has thawed considerably since its antagonistic beginning (mostly off-camera, unfortunately) and that thaw allows for the show to dig a little deeper into Sharee’s home life. Surprise: It isn’t great. Sharee’s mother (played by the always-welcome Erica Gimpel) turns out to have severe problems and may be mentally ill. Sharee desperately begs Daphne to not tell any of the authority figures at Carlton what is happening. This is where things get tricky, which is where Switched At Birth shines. On the one hand, Sharee’s home life is none of Daphne’s business. On the other hand, as intelligently pointed out by Regina, Sharee is just a teenager. She’s not equipped to handle what is happening to her mother, either emotionally or physically.
Sometimes decisions that are right feel wrong. Sometimes people who need help can’t help themselves. Daphne is very obviously doing the right thing by reporting Sharee’s home situation. But this will have extremely negative consequences for Daphne, at least in the short term. But although Daphne has made terrible decisions in the past, she’s a good person who knows the right thing to do—even if the right thing is all wrong for her personally. And it’s this space between right and wrong, easy and difficult, consequence and folly, where all the best stories live.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: Have You Really The Courage?, Henry Clarke, illustration from The Shepherdess And The Chimney Sweep.
- Another out of sync couple: Toby and Nikki, who might be staying in Peru an extra six months. Nikki, you just got married. Be an adult, come home, and go to Peru again later if you still want to help.
- My favorite small moment of the episode: Regina bringing up Daphne’s ability to be easily swayed by the people around her, specifically mentioning Jace, and Daphne’s subsequent apology for how she behaved last summer. I like when shows have a good memory.
- Will this hand injury affect Bay’s ability to paint? (And did they really need to call an ambulance for a cut on her hand?)
- Is Kathryn really going to write a book that can be described as Nine Innings of Grey? Dear God no.
- Bay: “Did you see that? I think I understand sports now!”