It’s a testament to all the things Switched At Birth does right that no matter what crazy plotline the show trots out, I still manage to somehow stay on board. This is a good thing, because while the show’s characters are among the best on television, the situations they are put in often leave a lot to be desired.
The latest bit of plot tomfoolery was introduced as a cliffhanger in the spring finale when it was revealed that Angelo was being deported, and his best chance for remaining in the country would be for Regina to marry him. This is inconvenient, of course, because Regina just embarked on a happy relationship with Patrick. Although tonight’s premiere doesn’t address the issue directly until the very end, Regina’s entire story is like a car alarm of warning signs throughout, blasting out an alert at every turn. Patrick doesn’t believe in marriage? Watch out, Regina, he’s not the right one for you! They never have time to see each other since Daphne lives at home? Having an actual husband rather than a boyfriend will fix that problem right up for you, Regina!
This might be a bit unfair, as it’s not like Regina and Angelo don’t have a history. In fact, one of the things the show has done so well throughout the first 20 episodes is establish that even though their relationship wasn’t always healthy, they have a connection Regina finds almost impossible to fully sever. Also, the reason Regina decides to go through with it—Angelo loses his deportation appeal and his potential departure shatters Bay’s already-broken heart—is decidedly character driven. Still, it’s one of those hackneyed television plots that makes you roll your eyes the second you hear about it. (Not to mention that I don’t think logistically he would be able to stay in the country once the deportation order had been given—he’d likely have to be deported and petition for return.)
Despite the marriage beginning under less-than-ideal story circumstances, however, the execution has the potential to bring about some very interesting dynamics. Angelo will finally have the chance for everyday interaction with both Daphne and Bay, which have been two of the least developed parent/child relationships on the show. There is also the very real connection between Angelo and Regina and how that connection will change now that they are legally bound to each other. If Switched At Birth has proven anything in the past, it’s that it can find immense character potential in even the shakiest of story grounds, and I fully expect it to eventually find that potential here.
The main reason Switched At Birth can get away with these plot shenanigans, though, is because while the plot spins on, the emotional center of the show remains decidedly anti-plot. This is best exemplified in the premiere with Bay, Emmett, and the messy, messy landmine their relationship has become. As soon as Emmett cheated on Bay with Simone (which itself was a bit of plot-fueling-character), it was only a matter of time until everything that was good about their relationship fell apart. When it exploded in the spring finale, it was a raw and painful nerve. Now, the summer is over—a summer Bay spent in some sort of amazing summer research program in the Galapagos Islands—and a kinder, gentler Bay is back. But while Emmett is putting all his energies in getting her to remember their bond, Bay is doing everything in her power to completely forget, even coming home with a new summer boyfriend.
But Bay’s denial doesn’t last long. Spurred on by Emmett’s treasure hunt letter, Bay finds a profoundly touching mural Emmet left for her depicting their relationship as a timeline, complete with his hopeful wish for their reconciliation at the end. It’s times like these where Switched At Birth shines, conveying leagues of emotion through nothing more than a simple character setpiece, a well-placed bit of music, and some very fine silent acting by Vanessa Marano. Bay and Emmett’s relationship might just be a teenage romance, but the show gives it gravity, and therefore, that gravity resonates far beyond the expected depth. Even better than the mural moment was the characters' actual first confrontation itself, which was both surprisingly mature and raw with the bubbling emotion you’d expect from two teenagers. As Bay tells Emmett, “You ripped the fabric; you can’t just tape it back together with words.” A lot of words were said, but Bay and Emmett are still in the same place they started: a girl with a broken heart and a boy who just wants to make it right. Where they go from here is yet to be seen.
While Bay was the emotional center of the episode, other characters got a few beats of their own. Kathryn—in an example of another bit of plot fiddling—already had her book published and now is transitioning into a full career woman, to the discomfort of John. Other than the ridiculously accelerated book timeline, this story played nicely between the two of them, especially because it was nice to see Kathryn staunchly defending her desire to do something for herself after taking care of everyone else for so long.
Also gaining some confidence was Daphne, whose love of cooking has blossomed into a desire to start training as an actual chef. The choice the show made to give Daphne this character trait from the very beginning was smart, because entering the cutthroat world of cooking is hard enough without having the hindrance of being deaf in a professional kitchen. As always, the show handled Daphne’s difficulty in adjusting to a world where being keenly aware of your surroundings is essential with aplomb. The best part about Switched At Birth doing stories like this is the show always knows how to mine the relationship possibilities in each one. Here, it’s Daphne and Kathryn and Kathryn dealing with her first instance of having to protect her deaf daughter from discrimination. Katie LeClerc and Lea Thompson play it splendidly.
Overall, this was a solid start to the last third of this very extended first season, setting up some nice character dynamics for the show to explore throughout the next eight episodes. As long as the characters remain the center and not the wacky plots, it should be a satisfying ride.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: This Is The Color Of My Dreams, Joan Miró, 1925, oil on canvas.
- This is still technically the first season, although the show premiered last summer and this is the third run of episodes. ABC Family likes to confuse everyone with things like 32-episode seasons scattered over 15 months.
- A little bit of “old” Bay was witnessed when she brutally ordered Simone to transfer schools. Bossy, hateful, understandable, and completely in-character.
- Lucas Grabeel is finally blond again. Thank heavens; the red never suited him.
- Family meal was ricotta cheese topped with whipped crème fraîche and toasted hazelnuts? That a lot of dairy, Daphne. Also: gross.
- “My dog is deaf.”