As we get closer and closer to the final episode of Switched At Birth’s first season, my frustration with this third episode cycle grows. The first two episode blocks had their strains and growing pains, but managed to always rise above the sum of their parts and tell some impressive emotional stories despite a few tiny plot hiccups. With this third cycle, however, bad plot seems to pile on top of bad plot, until the entire show is snowballing toward a season one finale that seems as if it will be questionably satisfying, at best. This show is still capable of some of the best character work on all of television, so how did it end up here?
The biggest problem here has to be the sheer amount of episodes ordered for season one, which was just so far beyond anything reasonable it’s remarkable. Sure, ABC Family aired them in three separate blocks, but as the lawsuit looks to wrap up they are obviously designed to fit together as one cohesive whole. For the most part, the first two blocks worked, but this third almost feels as if the show was already scrambling for story ideas and was forced to come up with something on the fly.
The worst example of this is Daphne and the just plain creepy relationship between her and Jeff. As it progresses it doesn’t get any easier to take, and tonight it took the ultimate leap into Daphne sharing his bed. It seems as if this is leading toward Daphne learning a big lesson about life, but along the way, it has been treated almost as if this is a relationship we should be rooting for, and that feels wrong. The people around Daphne keep gently warning her of her impending mistake—and even Jeff seems to recognize what the two are doing is wrong—but in the end the mistake was made, and there’s no turning back from here. What’s unclear, though, is just why Daphne making this particular mistake is at all interesting. It doesn’t illuminate anything about her character, it doesn’t really build her up in any way at all; it just tears down, and tears down brutally. What started out as an interesting story about a deaf girl making her way in a tough hearing environment quickly devolved into a trite adolescent fantasy, and that’s the most disappointing thing of all. Daphne as a chef could have been so much more.
Also frustrating but in a different way is Bay’s involvement with Zarra and how it is affecting her relationship with Kathryn and John. As expected, Bay doesn’t get away with stealing the money from the car wash and must confess to her parents what she’s done in order to make sure Travis doesn’t get punished. Kathryn and John’s frustration with her causes her to seek shelter from Zarra, which is obviously where this entire story was leading all along. The issue here isn’t where it ended up tonight, but that the journey was so uninteresting. The show has struggled with giving Bay sufficient motivation for her unwavering support of Zarra until tonight, when it all came out in an enlightening rush: Bay sees herself as being exactly like Zarra had she not been switched and grew up with Regina on the other side of town. This is likely patently false—Regina was a better, more stable parent than anyone in Zarra’s life—but the emotion of it coming from Bay feels right, and redeemed this whole story a little bit. Bay has always been the one of the two girls searching for what her new identity means after finding out she had been switched. Daphne had her identity formed at an early age due to her hearing loss, but Bay was an open book, and right now Bay is intent on reading that book between the lines. Tonight’s episode was an important step in making Bay’s entire story this season feel like it has been worth it, and although I’m not quite there yet, I’m a heck of a lot closer to believing it.
Rounding out the disappointment with the plot tonight was the trial and how everything about it felt directly imported in from another show. The trial has always been a bit of a tough fit here, and the courtroom scenes with the crazy lactation consultant took things into the almost insulting realm. That, compounded with the lawyer finding a magic deux ex switchina of another two babies from the very same hospital, guarantee that the Kennishes win this case (unless something shocking happens with Kathryn's testimony next week) and much of the time spent on everything lawsuit-related throughout the entire first season was wasted.
But this is still a show that can nail a character moment no matter what else is going on around it, and tonight was no exception. If the lawsuit did nothing else, it gave us the great scene of Angelo testifying as to what this switch took away from him. Angelo is demonized at times—and abandoning Daphne was an absolutely horrible thing to do—but his pain was palpable here, as was his anger for how he let his relationships with all the women in his life slip away. This, not some trendy plot about a teenager dating an older man, is why Switched At Birth is great.
I just want the show to remember that again.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: The Trial, Sidney Nolan, 1947, Enamel paint on Composition board. This was the first Google result, so I’m going with it.
- I loved everything about Toby and Emmett’s interactions tonight. Toby hasn’t had a “dramatic” story in this third cycle, but it’s been well-told and is turning out to be more interesting than it has any right to be. A small story done right is a great story.
- Remember when Daphne was in love with Emmett and was going to fight for him no matter what? Because it doesn’t feel like the show does right now.
- More Travis, please! His family story right now is very intriguing, especially considering what we’ve previously seen about his home life.
- Melody: “Now I feel like I’m a hundred.”
- Emmett: “Are they all about Jesus?”