That ending was certainly unexpected.
Switched At Birth often seems to give John a bit of an unfair disadvantage when it comes to being a three-dimensional, easily-likeable character. As the de facto patriarch of this whole ragtag clan, John has to simultaneously represent the stable center of the family and an actual living, breathing human being who has his own significant biases, prejudices, thoughts, and feelings. Often, he’s called on only to be the dissenting party, the one raising an objection when everyone is willing to just go along for the ride.
It’s tough to be this character—especially when it comes to garnering audience sympathy—but Switched At Birth spent a lot of time over the first two seasons not only showing John’s privileged, judgmental side, but also highlighting the love he has for his family that fuels any and all of the potentially rash judgments he makes. Regina’s return from rehab has tested the softer side of John, as his longtime resentment of her simmered under the surface of their every interaction this season. This simmer finally came to a boil tonight when they had a long-awaited confrontation about why he’s so hard on her: because she kept Daphne from him for 13 years, and she’s keeping Bay from him right now.
John’s character works as more than a cartoon because of speeches like this, speeches that underline the true reason his anger comes too quickly, or he’s too harsh to judge: He cares about protecting his family. Sure, that caring could be better expressed, but his rush to judge and ease with a negative quip is what makes John a realistic, well-rounded character. This character building means that when Regina—heading into the Kennish house to continue their fight—instead finds John collapsed on the floor, it’s devastating despite the fact that John has just displayed some of the worst behavior he has in the entire run of the series. It’s impossible to know where their relationship will go from here, but when Regina looks down at the lifeless body of the man who just told her he’d have been happy to take both her daughters away from her, she doesn’t see a monster. So neither do we.
But John isn’t the only character that garners complicated reactions from the audience right now. Ever since Jace burst on the scene this season, all know-it-all bravado and condescending charm, he’s been a bit of a dreaded presence. Tonight’s episode goes a long way toward softening his edges a bit while still retaining a bit of his mystery. This is accomplished by giving all of his affectations a bit of a secret agenda, in that he’s an undercover political blogger working at the coffee cart in order to get dirt for his blog. It’s a bit farfetched (a British guy whose passion is Kansas state politics seems like a stretch), but it also made his character suddenly much more tolerable, especially when he agrees to squelch a story about Daphne’s young intern friend having an affair with the (very evil) Senator Coto. I might just be warming up to Jace a bit, as long as he stays away from the latte art.
Just as John’s story with Regina has been simmering since she got back from rehab, Bay’s relationship with Ty seems to be on a low boil to something bigger and much more complicated. Everything along the way feels like a complete red flag: his inability to figure out how to close the distance between them, his complicated relationship with the fellow soldier who committed suicide’s family, his obvious discomfort in his own skin. But the story is working precisely because of this protracted development. Bay spends the whole episode trying to push Mary Beth into “getting over” her brother’s suicide—trying too hard and embarrassing everyone in the process—but this pushing is happening because she can’t push the one person she wants to the most: Ty. Her complete disaster with helping Mary Beth was actually the only thing that helped Ty in the end, as she finally just opens up about all of her feelings to him and he tentatively returns every single one. It’s hard to imagine a way this romance isn’t anything but doomed, but the sweet way they come together makes it easy to root for it to all work out for the best.
The most interesting part of the episode, however, was perhaps the quietest. After a long break from a significant storyline, Emmett gets some great stuff to work with here as his father returns to tell him he is getting a cochlear implant. He and his father parted on not the best of terms, with his father ceding permanent custody to Melody without consulting Emmett, and there is an ocean of resentment just flowing off of Emmett and onto his father at every turn. But this is more than just a father and son conflict: The decision to get a cochlear implant is a highly person and political decision in the deaf community, and Emmett does not take the news well. The highlight of the episode is not with Emmett and his father at all, though, but with Emmett and Travis, as they argue about what getting a cochlear implant means for them, with Travis taking the side of thinking the decision has merit. Little glimpses like this into deaf culture are always the most compelling things the show does, and it’s used with great efficiency here. When Emmett’s father tells him he won’t get the implant if Emmett doesn’t want him to—and Emmett actually says no—it’s clear this is just the beginning of a much bigger fight for them both.
This was a very strong episode of the show with many great moments, but this is a case of the final moment trumping all: John lying helpless on the floor, as Regina starts CPR and helpless calls out for anyone in the family to help. What Regina starts to realize in that moment is that no matter how much she and John butt heads, no matter what they said to each other not five minutes before, they are already family forever. Whether they like it or not.
Now John just needs to live long enough to figure it out, too.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: He Did What He Wanted, Yves Tanguy, 1927, oil on canvas.
- Is Angelo about to be broke again? Between $700 toilets and going in on what looks to be a very expensive restaurant venture with this unknown socialite, his financial decisions seem shaky at best.
- Parker the misguided intern is played by Laura Spencer of the web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which if you haven’t seen you should watch immediately. In its entirety. You go; I’ll wait.
- The show remembered Daphne and Emmett are friends! I like when they remember.
- Ty: “I can’t believe you went to a deaf school. That is so you.”