I’m not sure if this is the result of the extended episode order or simply an example of a show shedding its “newbie” roots and settling into a more long-term storytelling style, but these last two episodes have felt a bit different from the first ten. Substantively, they’re very similar; all of the attention to detail with regards to deaf culture is still there, as is the commitment to examining character dynamics and motivations. The way stories are unfolding, however, has changed a bit. Every story gets the slow burn, and what might have been wrapped up in one or two episodes now seems scheduled to last much longer.
This makes a lot of sense. The first episodes of a show, with their shiny new premises and exciting new stories and characters to explore, obviously operate under a heightened level of urgency. This seems especially in the case of a loaded premise like Switched At Birth, where there are simply so many facets to explore and no guarantee you’ll get all the time you need to explore them. Now that there is no danger of the show going away any time soon, every story – even ones that might not necessarily deserve it – is going to get more time to be examined. In the case of Switched At Birth, it is far too early to tell whether or not this will always be a good thing.
Taking a wait-and-see sort of attitude is sometimes necessary when reviewing television on an episode-by-episode basis, and this is definitely one of those times. The show is still settling in, and the good news is most things are still quite good. This episode’s best by a mile was Emmett and Bay’s conflict with Emmett’s mother, Melody. Melody’s disapproval of the pair has never been secret, making the horrible scene during game night fairly inevitable. Its inevitability didn’t take away any of its power, though, or any of its cringe factor. Melody’s continued disdainful attitude and rude behavior towards Bay was quite shocking in its spitefulness, which is an interesting turn to take with a fairly important character within the world.
What works about this approach, and what the show does best, is show why people do the horrible things they do. Like last summer with Regina’s big secret, Melody’s behavior towards both Bay and the prospect of Emmett taking speech therapy was explained. In real life, good people do and think imperfect things without it making them horrible human beings; here, characters are allowed to live in these same shades of grey. Although it’s almost impossible to overlook Melody’s horrible actions towards Bay at game night, hearing (seeing?) her explanation for why she is so against speech therapy manages to, if not justify it, at least explain her motivations. Learning she was forced to learn to speak and beaten with rulers if she signed is not only character illuminating, it also provides insight into the plight of an entire generation of deaf people. It’s very well done. That this conversation ended with her realizing she needs to perhaps see things from a different perspective – without said conversation every veering into over-sentimentality – just proves how well these characters are drawn.
Also continuing to be very compelling is how Daphne’s life is spinning out of control without anyone noticing. This is the one storyline likely best taking advantage of the show’s new roomy narrative space, as she is legitimately getting the chance to gradually fall, rather than having it happen in one episode as it previously did for Bay (and feeling forced as a result). Between her alienation from Emmett and the return of Angelo, Daphne literally feels she has nothing she can hold on to, so she starts holding on to anything new. This manifests in a nascent friendship with Simone, who’s suddenly everywhere, and a desire to leave her basketball team to play at Buckner. The former puts her in conflict with Bay and the latter with John, but this conflict leads her right into the arms of both. The conflict with John feels more important to his character’s arc than hers – people are finally standing up to him, thank goodness – but her new dalliance with Simone is obviously going to have negative effects for her. The new “bad influence” friend is a pretty well-worn trope, and Simone isn’t the most dynamic of characters so far, but seeing a rebellious side of Daphne is interesting because Katie Leclerc plays it so well. Daphne started out as such a sweet, loving thing – a note Leclerc also played well – so to see her slowly descend into something much harder has been fun. Daphne is clearly heading down a hard road, we’ll just have to wait and see how hard it gets. In the meantime, it's pretty amusing to see her procure fake I.D.s and make out with random strangers.
Introduced as well was the idea of Kathryn writing a tell-all book about their family. Her writing the book isn’t very interesting but her standing up for herself, and standing up to John, most definitely is. Kathryn has spent most of the series so far trying to ingratiate herself to Daphne and figure out a way to live with these changes in her life. Now it’s time for her character to get a backbone and stake some claim for herself as a person.
Sticking out as the strangest moment of the episode – and perhaps the most visually striking – was the end sequence and cliffhanger. Apropos of what seemed like nothing, the police showed up at Emmett’s house and ended up handcuffing him when he could not respond to their simple commands. What made it compelling was how, through silence and perspective, was put in the same position of confusion as Emmett. We could not hear or see, just as he could not. Sure, the method was sensationalistic: It’s a blatant cliffhanger, an obvious device. But the message behind the madness was something that feels much more realistic, as this sort of thing likely happens more than anyone realizes. As to what is really going on (are the police there because of something to do with Toby and Wilke’s new fake I.D. business?) we’ll just have to wait until next week to find out.
- The planking was so awful all I want to do is ignore it, yet I can’t ignore it precisely because it was so awful. Next week: Tebowing!
- The episode title is “The Tempest.” I am not a Shakespeare scholar, so anyone who cares to step in here, please do. Any parallels to the episode?
- Regina standing up to Melody was very important for her character and for her relationship with Bay. I still find it interesting theirs is by far the least developed parental relationship so far.
- There is significantly more Daphne/Toby interaction this season. It’s been quite nice.
- Poor Wilke. Daphne definitely has him in the friend zone.
- I love the details still. This week, the silent locker room stood out.
- “Heels and an apron. How Mad Men of you, Mom.”
- “The plan is to convince her that I’m not the antichrist.”
- “So what is your type, deaf and into Bay?”