Anyone who has kids, or even knows someone who has kids, is painfully aware that the most common feeling parenting gives someone—other than joy, of course—is crippling doubt. But as universal as this notion may be, it’s one not overly explored on television, simply because there aren’t very many shows that have the structure and inclination to support them. Switched At Birth, with its family tree more closely resembling a parasitic bush than a sturdy oak, is the perfect place to explore these feelings, and tonight the show did so with grace.
From its start, Switched At Birth has been highly attuned to the issues of shifting identity that come from having everything you believed about yourself and your life turn out to be a lie. As interesting as Bay and Daphne’s take on this situation is, the viewpoint of how this is impacting their parents has always been of particular significance, and the show has given it ample time to develop. Left out of most of this, though, was Angelo, as he spent most of the season somewhere else. Now that he’s living at the Kennish house, using their treadmill and making parenting decisions about Bay, his new position as father to both girls is coming into focus. And this focus is leading to some great scenes between Angelo and John.
It’s a fairly obvious story: Angelo doesn’t want to alienate his new daughter, so he acts more like her friend, with disastrous results. The interest here is in the subtlety, and the show’s refusal to make anyone the bad guy; no one is 100 percent right or 100 percent wrong. So while Angelo lets a grounded Bay go off to who knows where, it’s treated as what it is: a new parent making an error in judgment, and a child taking advantage of what she knows to be a malleable situation. Angelo may “get” Bay and her art in a way John never will, but John’s semi-blindness towards Bay’s passion doesn’t mean he loves her any less or parents her in a detrimental fashion. So although Angelo “gets” Bay, John knows Bay, and rightly calls her out on her manipulation of a very tenuous family situation. Through every step forward these parents take, Switched At Birth is quietly making the somewhat radical statement that in the case of these girls, four parents really are always going to be better than two, and those four parents working together to do what is best for their daughters might be the most revolutionary and important thing they ever do with their lives. That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be bumps along the way, though.
As for Kathryn, she questions her fitness as a parent after a pushy interviewer insinuates that Regina is a better parent because she had doubts about Daphne’s parentage right away. Kathryn’s book success has her riding high as of late, but this doubt all but knocks her on her ass. Regina soothes her worries by taking her to the nursery of the hospital and showing her that distinguishing newborns isn’t as easy as you might think. It also makes Kathryn discover who Angelo’s secret hospital source might be: a pretty nurse from the nursery. Plot advancements aside, the best thing about this story is Kathryn and Regina spending most of the hour together, which isn’t something that happens often but is always an extremely pleasant thing to watch. Between John and Angelo and Kathryn and Regina, the parental foursome got a great showcase tonight.
On the child side of the family, the girls continue to work on discovering new personal avenues to explore. For all the questions Bay has had about her identity throughout the season, she still seems to be evolving and deciding who she wants to be. Tonight, we learn she’s been neglecting school (which is somewhat frustrating, considering she almost ruined her relationship with Emmett trying to stop him from doing the same) and attempting to run with a bit of a tougher crowd. Her insecurities over being from a different world are obvious, but never more so when she tells them her name is “Bay Vasquez.” Forced into some strange art gang jumping in ceremony, she then tags her father’s business in order to be let into their crew. It’s obvious this story isn’t going to lead to good places for Bay, although it might be more interesting if it takes a left turn and doesn’t become all about the rich girl broadening her horizons by slumming it with poor people. The bookend on this story tonight was John reacting negatively to the art Bay painted on his business, which unfortunately I could only see from John’s perspective. Unwanted, graffiti-esque art on his place of business isn’t anything to him but a nuisance. For Bay to expect anything different in that situation is just misguided of her. But perhaps that’s the point?
Daphne is also exploring something potentially dangerous, but in a completely different way. Daphne’s job at the restaurant started out as being about personal exploration but is quickly turning into her attempt at interpersonal exploration with her boss. Television is lousy with stories of teenage girls dating older men, and frankly, I absolutely hate it. The only thing this story has going for it so far is that Jeff is not Daphne’s teacher, and it appears to be a mostly one-sided crush on Daphne’s part at the moment. I’m not completely closed off to the idea of the story, but I do hope the show treats it with the wariness it deserves (unlike a certain couple on another one of ABC Family’s shows, who are treated as soulmates). The best thing about Daphne's story tonight had nothing to do with her dalliance with Jeff, however, but was Daphne’s conversation with Emmett where the two finally discussed their mutual past of being in love with each other at different times. I feared that would get lost in all the Bay drama, so it’s good to see some callback there, especially in such a nicely subtle scene.
But seriously, Switched At Birth. Please tread lightly here. Daphne deserves as much.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: The Shock of Being Seen, Gor Soudan, 2012. Gorgeous.
- Well, well, well, Melody’s got game and used it on Chef Jeff. And now Emmett has a secret he might eventually have to keep from Daphne. Drama!
- Daphne, you eat fish. Therefore, you are not a vegetarian.
- Toby was barely visible tonight, but I did appreciate his quick exit from the John/Angelo confrontation.
- Melody: “You can amuse my mouth any time you want.”
- “This has nothing to do with your racist grandmother.” “She’s not racist!” “Oh, honey, please.”