Since the beginning of this final stretch of season one episodes, Daphne’s flirtation with her boss has been Switched At Birth’s ticking time bomb. As each episode counted down, it was like the detonation timer counting down to the inevitable moment Daphne and Jeff took their relationship beyond tentative looks and awkward flirtation. And that’s exactly what their kiss at the end of “The Declaration Of Independence” was: inevitable, and a total bomb.
It’s so hard to call a storyline on Switched At Birth a bomb, because no matter how ridiculous the situation is, it is invariably written, acted, and directed with such care. This storyline is no different, with Katie LeClerc putting in some good time making Daphne’s conflicting emotions over Jeff into the proper focus: This might be a misguided teenage flight of fancy, but it’s one Daphne herself takes very seriously. And when a beloved character takes something so to heart, it can be easy to get swept up in her emotional journey and put aside any misgivings. Alas, that didn’t happen for me here. Teenage girls dating older men is just too rote a story at this point—having been done to death in recent years, particularly egregiously on this very network—and it’s just plain uncomfortable to watch, especially when the older man is in a position of authority like Jeff is here.
To the show’s credit, everyone surrounding Daphne keeps telling her what a horrible idea dating him would be. For a while, it almost felt like the story would take a last-minute swerve and subvert expectations, with Daphne realizing she’s in over her head. But in a move that’s good for soapy drama but not great for the internal credibility of the show, Daphne steers right into the skid and is the one that brings the relationship to its turning point, confronting Jeff about her feelings. As much as every moment Daphne and Jeff spend acting like more than friends makes me cringe, I am quite curious to see how the writers handle the unraveling. Because this will all unravel, sooner or later.
Also taking a turn for the more ridiculous end of the spectrum was Bay’s street art story. The whole “rich girl teams up with poor girl, bonds over art” thing was always a tightrope to walk, and up until this point, it mostly managed to stay upright, but the silly rap music accompaniment and downright tedious confrontation between Zarra and the tagger defacing her art was just plain not good. Here’s the thing, though: Just like Daphne’s story, the emotional details of Bay’s journey here were so well-observed that it almost feels worth it. In the aftermath of Emmett’s betrayal, Bay has been searching for an identity to grasp onto, and here, she has one: She’s a street artist, and no matter what her parents think, she’s going to continue to be one, with transparency. No matter my quibbles with Zarra and her stereotypical quirks (she lives in a van down by the river, basically), Bay is getting some good development here, and that’s really all that matters.
But while less desirable storylines were in the forefront tonight, there was some pretty great stuff around the edges. Best of all was John’s interaction with Travis, who, after having a few spotlight moments in the middle stretches of the season, has been mostly in the background ever since. Tonight, he comes to the forefront again when John notices he never seems to want to spend time at home and takes Travis under his wing. It’s a great spotlight not only for Travis and his compelling back-story, but also for John, who gets a chance to display some compassion and a nice advancement in his sign language skills. John has always had a blind spot when it comes to understanding people of different circumstances than his own—check his face when he hears that no one in Travis’ family signs—so to have him step up and be a friend to Travis, especially after Daphne ditches him, is very nice to see.
Another nice, quiet runner was Kathryn’s concern over Regina’s wrist and Regina’s resistance to Kathryn’s help in the matter. Regina not being able to fully communicate with Daphne has been swept under the rug a bit, but it truly must be a frustrating experience, so it was nice to see it addressed here. The perfect thing is that although Regina feels like it is her hand inhibiting her communication with Daphne, Kathryn is able to fully communicate and feels the same way. These are the moments Switched At Birth can handle so well. Parents will always feel like they can’t fully connect with their teenagers, no matter the reason, and Kathryn and Regina recognizing this shared difficulty helps them both.
Unfortunately for now, it’s the things Switched At Birth doesn’t do so well that are in the forefront. But those things manage to be tolerable, because at least there are still those glorious edges.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: The Declaration Of Independence, 1817, oil on canvas. Historical!
- Nice little moment: Emmett and Kathryn running into each other for the first time since he and Bay broke up. It was the perfect combination of sadness and awkwardness and regret.
- Toby asks the Christian rock girl on their first date. Aw, I guess?
- By golly, they built that gym set, and they are going to use it!
- Bay: “Well, the flyer says, ‘My heart belongs to Jesus,’ but the handwriting says everything else is negotiable.”