Late in the season-one finale of Switched At Birth, an exasperated Kathryn exclaims “What is happening with our children?” Really, that’s been the theme of this entire third cycle of season-one episodes, as Bay and Daphne’s lives spin out of control while their parents do something (anything) else.
As far as that theme goes, it’s a good one—it’s just the execution that’s been lacking. Both Bay’s foray into the more dangerous side of street art and Daphne’s entry into the working world had the potential to be character-enlightening and thematically appropriate. Somewhere along the way, though, both stories neglected to circle back around and connect to anything happening in the larger picture, thus rendering them both mostly unsuccessful.
Of the two, Daphne’s has been the more egregious failure. After a while, complaining about this every week (like I have since Daphne’s attraction to Chef Jeff was introduced) gets monotonous, but instead of improving as it went along, it was as if the writers were doubling down on the awkward, until it culminated in horror with Daphne sleeping with Jeff last week. Instead of honest, emotional consequences for this decision, however, this act—if it even happened, because it isn’t mentioned at all beyond Daphne lovingly looking at a pack of birth-control pills—is swept under the rug, with the relationship crumbling due to a maddening combination of outside forces and Jeff’s character regression. The owner of the restaurant being concerned about Jeff dating one of his employees is a fine story, but to have that be the catalyst for Daphne to then panic, quit her job, and declare her love for Jeff only to have him reject her with the tired “baby, you’ll find someone right for you someday” spiel is frustrating.
But here’s the big problem with Daphne’s entire story in this last run of episodes: What was the point? It could have been so many things: an examination of Daphne searching for connection during a confusing time of her life, the illustration of how parents and teenagers can live under the same roof but know nothing about each other, or even a tough look at how susceptible teens can be to the lure of a worldlier person. Her story even started as something else completely: a deaf person’s navigation of working in a high-stakes hearing profession. Instead of being any of those things, it was just highly uncomfortable to watch. It never seemed to have a clear point of view, either; were we supposed to be rooting for this couple, or praying for Daphne to see the light and dump him? The actual good-bye between the two felt like it was attempting to be profound—and might have been if it was between two different people—but it was just so nice to see the end of this awful story that it felt more like relief. Whatever happens with Daphne next season, I hope it has far more to do with her personal development and far less to do with older men.
Bay’s story was more frustrating, though, because it was almost good. Bay started the show as someone rebelling against her own life, and has from the beginning had a harder time adjusting to her new family situation than Daphne. Bay is a searcher, so using her relationship with Zarra to explore her connection to what her life could have been is a great idea; again, however, it’s the execution that doesn’t deliver. It always hinted at being something great, especially when it started to dovetail with John and Kathryn’s story. Bay rebelling and John and Kathryn disagreeing on how to bring her back from the brink is exactly the kind of story Switched At Birth tells so well, and the show almost got there. But so much time was spent on the downfall that John and Kathryn didn’t get a chance to be involved until right before the finale, and therefore everything had to be compressed in a way that was detrimental to the resolution. Bay’s careening off to Mexico on a whim makes a certain amount of sense, but for her to make it 12 hours away, lose her passport and money, and still only bail because John and Emmett showed up felt like a stretch.
Especially because that resolution, though peppered with some nice understanding moments between John and Bay, really is more of a setup for Bay And Emmett 2.0. This isn’t an unpleasant thought, as their relationship was always very interesting. It’s just that Bay’s story has been much more about her finding herself than her finding her way back to Emmett, so it’s not as satisfying if that turns out to be the ultimate conclusion.
For as much as the teen stories floundered at the end of the season, the parents managed to fare a bit better. Regina was mostly stuck in an ill-advised green card marriage to Angelo, but John and Kathryn got a chance to shine. John especially has blossomed, embracing a more equal relationship with Kathryn, forming a bond with Travis, and learning how to relate to Bay on her level even when all he wants to do is show her tough love. Kathryn’s apex came at the trial, when she was forced to testify and had the light-bulb moment that she wouldn’t have wanted the switch not to happen, because that would have meant never getting to raise Bay. That’s the tricky part of the switch: Instead of ruining everyone’s lives, it is now working to make both of these families stronger, together.
The best part of the entire season, however, was Bay and Daphne and how they truly became sisters. This was well-rendered, with their trust coming slowly until they were automatically confiding in each other and trusting each other like they’ve been siblings all their lives. When Bay finds out the trip to Mexico is a much longer undertaking than she understood, the first person she thinks of is Daphne, so it’s appropriate that the entire season ends on a scene of the two rehashing just how much their lives have changed since the switch was revealed.
Switched At Birth is a soap opera with a highly ridiculous original premise, but that premise allows for so many wonderful things, with Daphne and Bay’s bond being one of the best. When season two comes along, the show can easily regain some of its lost luster by focusing on the bonds between the characters and less on over-the-top soap-opera storylines. A little soap is fine; it’s just when it takes over that the problems begin.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: Street Noises Invade The House, Umberto Boccioni, 1911, oil on canvas. This is my favorite one yet.
- Angelo gets some random woman pregnant, cementing his status as “guy who causes trouble, always.” Now he’s just $5 million richer as he does it.
- Poor Toby had such a great final third of the season but he’s almost forgotten in this finale. More Toby in season two!
- John and Emmett have a great scene together in the car. It’s wonderful how every combination of characters on this show works in its own unique way. Emmett really brings out the best in everyone.