Episodes like this are why television is such a special medium.
There was nothing particularly extraordinary about “Mother And Child Divided”—it’s a solid-but-not-remarkable way to kick off the second half of the season, entertainingly and successfully setting up decent stories for all of the characters—but what was special was how the episode took issues that have long been simmering under the surface of the Kennish-Vasquez family and finally deployed them, to maximum emotional effect. There’s nothing like 40 episodes of backstory to make a poignant moment land, and this unique attribute is my favorite thing about TV.
When we last saw everyone, things were a giant, finale-fueled mess: John won his state senate seat by default when his opponent dropped out, Regina shipped herself off to rehab, Lana disappeared with Angelo’s baby, Bay and Daphne were barely speaking, and Toby announced his surprise engagement to Nikki. It was overly dramatic in the way all Switched At Birth finales tend to be, but what the show lacks in subtlety when introducing storylines it makes up for in its execution of those stories, and tonight’s premiere is no exception.
The biggest, most transformative follow-up to these dangling threads is Regina finally acknowledging the resurgence of her alcoholism and going to rehab, and her return after six weeks away is nicely realized here. While she was gone Daphne’s life didn’t stop; instead, Daphne spent the time growing closer to Kathryn and embracing the Kennish country club lifestyle, much to Regina’s chagrin. Regina’s transition back to family life was always going to be complicated, but the writers make the very smart choice here to use her return to highlight the inherent class differences between the two families. There’s always been an underlying sense of John and Kathryn having more power because of their money—Daphne and Regina moved into their house, after all—but this subtext becomes absolute text here, and the conflict is fascinating. When Regina sees Daphne living at the big house, working at John’s campaign, and using a credit card they provided, it’s so much more complicated than Regina worrying about Daphne losing her connection to her more modest upbringing: Regina feels like she’s losing Daphne completely to her “real” family.
The problem comes when this fear manifests as Regina lashing out at everyone. Sick of what she sees as the Kennishes teaching Daphne shallow values about money, Regina takes away her credit card and makes it very clear to Kathryn and John that she is the one who will be making financial decisions for Daphne. The great thing about this is that Regina’s stance is entirely acceptable and reasonable, but to the Kennish family, who being comfortable with money just cannot understand her reticence, it feels like only she’s only doing it to regain power over Daphne. Regina’s slip back into drinking brought a mountain of distrust and resentment into a relationship that was still only tentative at best, and the ripple effects are really nicely drawn here. Regina’s frustration only grows, until she lashes out at the Kennish materialism in front of everyone and then decides to remove herself from the stress of her living situation completely, moving into Angelo’s house alone. But this move only brings up further issues. Daphne’s slow drift toward the Kennishes isn’t just natural curiosity about her biological family—in a tough, heartbreaking scene, she reveals that Regina’s lying and drinking felt like a personal betrayal to her, a betrayal that obviously has her clinging to the family that feels rock solid.
And it’s not just Daphne. When Bay learns Regina has taken off yet again without talking to her about it, you can practically see Bay’s heart break right then. This leads to the scene that excited me so much, when Bay finally, finally confronts Regina about her reluctance to connect with her biological daughter. It’s something I’ve mentioned in past reviews and we’ve all discussed in the comments here, as Daphne’s relationship with Kathryn has been explored in detail but Bay and Regina always seemed to get the short shrift. When Bay tearfully asks Regina “Why do you push me away? Why don’t you want to spend time with me?” it’s an emotional gut punch to both Regina and the audience, and Regina’s explanation about her guilt for not going to get Bay years ago when she realized the switch is heartbreaking. The episode ends with Bay asking to stay with Regina at Angelo’s house, and it feels like the show is finally ready to explore their mother and daughter relationship. It took 40 episodes to get here, but that scene just might have been worth the wait.
Beyond the core family dynamics, there were some nicely rendered things around the edges of the episode. Toby’s surprise engagement to Nikki felt like nothing more than big finale surprise shenanigans, but the way it’s manifesting here is quite nice. Any drama between them is one of class and lifestyle differences, things they obviously wouldn’t have had time to deal with when making such a rash decision to get married. I have doubts the wedding will actually happen, but the maturity of the relationship and likeability of both Lucas Grabeel and Cassi Thomson have the potential to make the journey getting to that point pleasing.
The biggest surprise of the episode was the return of Ty (Blair Redford), a character we haven’t seen since early in season one when he left to join the military. Bay’s shock at seeing him is intensified when she learns he’s been back for months and hasn’t contacted her or Daphne, a signal that something isn’t quite right with him. When he blows up at two friends who play a dumb (but ultimately harmless) prank on Bay, it’s pretty easy to see that Ty has some PTSD issues that will come into play if their relationship progresses. This storyline was just done amazingly well on Parenthood, so it will be interesting to see how it’s handled on this show. I have a feeling Daphne won’t be too happy when she realizes Ty is back and Bay neglected to tell her about it, that’s for sure.
Overall, this was a very solid premiere to begin the second half of what has been a great season two. Setting it over the summer means we will have a break from the Carlton story for a while, but this feels like a smart way to not push that one too hard before potentially returning to it down the line. With class issues and Bay and Regina’s relationship stay at the forefront, the next stretch of episodes look like a pleasing one indeed.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: Mother And Child (Divided), Damien Hirst, 1993, Glass, painted steel, silicone, acrylic, monofilament, stainless steel, cow, calf, and formaldehyde solution. Wow.
- I liked how Daphne and Bay’s rift is still there, and has expanded to be about so much more than Noah or Daphne’s reluctance to have Bay at Carlton. When you fight with family, one thing turns into everything so naturally you tend to forget why you’re even fighting in the first place, and that’s definitely the case here.
- Emmett and Travis are reduced to a very minor C story here, but their dalliance with two girls looking for a little deaf adventure was amusing, if not necessarily essential.
- Angelo is off somewhere looking for his baby. If this takes all season, that would be fine by me.
- Coffee cart guy seems just obnoxiously quirky and pleased with himself enough to be a major annoyance in the future. Tread lightly, Daphne.
- Why does Bay win a monkey at the carnival but come home with an octopus?
- “It’s in a terrible neighborhood!” “No, it’s just not surrounded by mansions.”