Switched At Birth: “Game On”
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Switched At Birth: “Game On”

Switched At Birth sure can nail a big moment. More than almost any other show on the air right now (save Luck, and yes, I realize how bizarre it seems to compare Switched At Birth to Luck) it has the ability to tell stories almost viscerally, deftly manipulating all available senses until the emotional resonance of a scene blindsides you with its power. Luck does this with horse races; Switched At Birth, with its ever-expanding depiction of the deaf experience. Within the past week both shows have brought me to tears in beautiful, almost unexplainable ways, by simply setting up an event and then getting out of its way while it plays out, allowing the audience to make the necessary connections. It’s powerful stuff.

The event in question during this episode was Daphne’s tournament-winning free throw versus Buckner. This is a tired, obvious scenario of the underdog as chosen one, a moment we’ve all seen play out the same way a thousand times before. The twist here is how many emotional stakes are thrust upon this moment. For the deaf community, Daphne and Carlton competing in a big-time tournament is symbolic of so much more than just a game, it is emblematic of equality and freedom. With Daphne as Carlton’s star player, she feels the pressure of this more than anyone, especially with the threat of the team being cut altogether looming over the entire proceeding. 

The great thing is the show doesn’t shy away from its intentions here: Daphne is meant to be set up as the hero, and we’re meant to root for her. Daphne and John have a very well-rendered scene discussing this very thing, so when the big moment comes—the sound dropping out as Daphne turns down her hearing aids and both literally and symbolically turns down all of the pressure surrounding her—it feels earned, even within the predictability of the whole thing. Even though the outcome was inevitable, the manipulation of sound and atmosphere (coupled with the thorough groundwork forged throughout the episode) brought instant and unexpected tears to my eyes. This is sheer emotional storytelling power, something shows with twice the pedigree would kill to pull off. Even though the moment is almost immediately undercut when we learn the basketball program is likely to be cut anyway, the moment itself, and what it represents, still stands on its own.

There’s also so much more to Switched At Birth than the deaf aspects, as shown with Bay’s very precarious position with Emmett’s family. Since coming back for the winter season, the show has consistently focused on putting its characters in impossible situations and watching them crawl their way back out. By being forced into the middle of Emmett’s parents’ custody battle, Bay literally can’t win no matter what she does. Melody wants Bay to testify of the awful things she’s seen at Emmett’s dad’s house (which suddenly includes discovering Olivia’s pot-selling business in the garage); Bay simply wants to keep her boyfriend all while keeping him safe. 

Although the whole debacle basically leads to the destruction of Bay and Emmett’s relationship, it’s a real showcase for Bay’s character. It’s amazing to see how far she’s come since the pilot, when she was all fake-rebellion and backtalk. The Bay of today goes to her mother for advice, talks things through with all parties involved, and then comes to a decision on what she wants to do. Still, the situation is so impossible even with all of her thoughtfulness things get irreparably damaged. In a way, Bay’s story and Daphne’s are one in the same: both are thrust into the center of something bigger than themselves, both do the absolute best they can do, and both are ultimately punished for it in the end. It’s a brutal, depressing lesson, and it’s to the show’s credit that it manages to do all of this (and even throw in Emmett cheating on Bay with Simone at the end as the ultimate kick in the teeth) without having the episode seem like a downer. It’s not depressing: it’s messy, it’s complicated, it’s sometimes beautiful. It’s life. 

Although the show does nail these big moments, it still frequently has trouble with the little things. Simone’s character is so inconsistent at this point I don’t know what to think of her. One minute she’s giving Daphne the side-eye, the next she wants to be her best friend again. One minute she’s in love with Toby, the next she’s sleeping with Emmett. Is she manipulative or misunderstood? Is she simply desperate for connection and lonely? They need to do a better job of rounding her out so her actions don’t seem so plot-driven. 

Also, some of the transitions between the big setpieces of the episode and the smaller storylines like Regina’s new boyfriend Patrick or Kathryn’s book meeting are still not as smooth as they could be, creating a disjointed feel. This is something the show has been struggling with in the more plot-heavy second half of the season, and it hasn’t quite settled into a good rhythm yet. Still, these are small quibbles in comparison to the things the show gets so incredibly right. And I’ll take a million of these little awkward nitpicky moments if they come along with big, emotional moments like Daphne and Bay’s tonight.

Stray observations:

  • Carrie Wikis Some Art: Game On, 2006, Jack Vettriano. Whoa, ABC Family. WHOA. If Pat Robertson knew what the Internet was, he’d be horrified.
  • Shelley Long!
  • I love that Daphne and Bay are becoming friends again, but I do wonder what will happen now that Bay and Emmett are in shambles. Will Daphne take this opportunity to swoop in, or have they forgotten her promise not to give up on him?
  • The scene between Emmett’s dad and Bay was really well done: Powerful, emotional, and a good showcase of how good Bay has become with sign language and communication.
  • This is shallow and inconsequential, but I really, really loathe the Carlton basketball uniforms. They look like a regular gym uniform and not a team one.
  • “Sorry, I’m a baseball wife.”

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