When people close to you change, it rarely happens all of a sudden. It usually occurs in subtle increments, slowly shifting your relationship dynamics until you look up one day and your relationship becomes one you might not even recognize. These types of evolving relationships is the underlying theme of “Distorted House,” a quiet, modest episode of Switched At Birth with a lot of interesting bits and pieces around the edges about the fear someone can feel when the people around them start to change.
For Bay and Ty, these changes are tricky because they all happened while he was overseas dealing with things Bay can’t possibly comprehend. When she first saw Ty in the season premiere, it was a joyful thing, with Bay quickly falling into their established rapport and in her happiness to see him completely missing just how much his side of that rapport had shifted. Only his irrational blowup at the end of the episode indicated just how deeply he had changed, changing whatever fragile bond remained from their relationship before he left into something far more dangerous and confusing. Now Bay is basically dealing with a stranger—a stranger who won’t open up and make himself known again—and for her, it is terrifying. This fear heightens when Bay learns that Ty’s friend and fellow soldier killed himself upon his return to the States, unable to adjust back into a more civilian life after all he’d seen.
I expressed a few concerns last week about the similarity of this story to one Parenthood did very well last season, but so far I am very pleased with its evolution here. The stakes feel interesting because this is someone Bay, Daphne, and Regina know intimately, someone with whom the change in character can feel visceral and powerful, and yet the show seems smartly determined to slow play the fallout. Ty’s story about his tattoo and the little girl is heartbreaking, but not nearly as heartbreaking as what he hasn’t talked about—and that’s the tension simmering under the surface. Although Bay and Ty’s interactions were nice and subtle, the highlight of the episode was his quick scene with Regina, where she reaches out to him as a fellow person who has been in over her head and asked for help. For all her faults, Regina has always been good at helping other people in hard times, and the writing of the scene gently highlighted the lengthy history of their relationship in a way it can’t with Ty and Bay, and having both of these textures within his story is really nice.
The other shifting relationship on the show has to do with Bay as well, but this time the fallout is with Daphne and the Kennishes. Bay’s decision to continue to stay with Regina is a tough one for Kathryn, John, and Daphne to understand at first—why would she want to live with an unstable alcoholic when her comfortable house and family is right there?—but Kathryn relenting and understanding Bay’s need to connect with her biological mother opens up an entire story arc that’s been mostly closed in the series so far. Things have always been on the Kennishes terms: Daphne and Regina at their house, taking advantage of their things, under their noses so they can have input on both their daughters’ lives at any moment. To have Bay definitively move away from this dynamic, if even just for a moment, forces the Kennishes to face what they haven’t really had to before: Bay has a whole other family with their own dynamic, one the Kennishes aren’t necessarily invited into.
It’s the way this manifests that makes it work so well. When Bay moves to Regina’s, it doesn’t come with drama and hysterics: It mostly comes with confusion. Daphne’s confusion is the most pronounced, not comprehending why Bay would willingly separate herself from the Kennishes and offering to convince Regina to come back home so they can all live together again. What Daphne doesn’t understand is that Bay hasn’t had the chances she’s had to get to know Regina and Angelo the way Daphne has known Kathryn and John. Kathryn also feels slighted, and their mutual discomfort presents itself as nitpicking each other instead of just understanding what the real, unspoken problem is: their fear Bay will be lost to them forever. That they come together to help Bay and Regina—only to arrive at Angelo’s and see Bay, Regina, and Angelo dancing around the living room like a real family, a family they don’t feel a part of—is where the fear they’ve internalized becomes very external, and very real. Seeing the two girls with their biological families for a while is a fascinating and enticing road for the show to go down, and this was a great way to kick that off.
Other than these two very compelling threads, the rest of the episode was far more standard stuff. Kathryn and Daphne’s arguments dovetailed into something more poignant at the end, but having it play out over tennis lessons and tournaments was a bit heavy handed. Suffering from the “we have to move this story along” plot of the episode were John, Toby, and Travis, who navigated a very boring story about John needing a new manager at the car wash very mundanely. When both Travis and Toby presented themselves as candidates for the job it was fairly obvious John would give it to Toby, and that’s exactly what happened. The only interesting moment was the conversation between John and Kathryn about how John considered giving it to Travis both because Travis needs someone to give him extra breaks in life, and also because he doesn’t want Toby to get trapped in a dead-end job for the rest of his life. It was a nice bit of thoughtful debate in the middle of what was otherwise a banal runner.
Still, even in a quiet, unremarkable episode like this, Switched At Birth always manages to sneak in a few moments of rather profound character work, like the stories tonight with Ty and Bay. Unlike the changing dynamics between those two, the show shifting to abandon its characters is something the audience never has to fear.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: My (pitiful) search engine skills failed me! Anyone know what the title is referring to?
- Angelo still can’t find his baby, which is sad, I suppose. At least he didn’t steal that one he thought was his? Progress!
- In all seriousness, Angelo’s plots are very inconsequential, but I did really love his conversation with Regina asking how she could leave Bay with the Kennishes all those years ago knowing she was their child, and not just take her and run away forever. A nice vulnerable moment for them both.
- Bay: “Is it possible to get herpes from a movie? Because they should have been giving brain condoms out in the lobby.”
- “Not everybody comes back damaged.” “Maybe. But I bet you all come back changed.”