Shows like Switched At Birth always seem in danger of stepping on the wrong side of the Very Special Episode line. It’s something about the earnestness; while it can be endearing, it also can easily slip into contrived treacle if handled with a less than deft hand. With both a potential war casualty and a disenfranchised deaf character’s redemption arc, this episode seriously stretched the flexibility of that line. Thanks to some interesting collateral consequences for the main characters, though, the show manages to just barely pull it off.
The main reason I’ve never gone to the Very Special Episode place with this show before is its usual more long-form storytelling style. VSEs are almost always a one-episode affair, bringing in a character with an identifiable problem for the show’s protagonist to “solve,” then wrapping that story up within the same hour. Up until this point Switched At Birth has firmly resisted this type of thing, preferring to develop characters and stories slowly over several episodes.
This is why the entrance of Travis as Daphne’s sort-of polar opposite is so jarring at first. Introduced as a kid with a serious attitude problem, the story so quickly ricochets from “annoying kid we just met and kind of hate” to “kid we now know everything about and kind of pity” that it is almost difficult to see Travis as anything more than a prop used to say something about the characters we do know and love. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, I suppose; in fact, using Travis’ unfortunate situation of being surrounded by hearing people who refuse to learn his language is a good way to have Daphne realize just how easy she has it by being able to “pass” in a hearing world. But cramming it all into one episode just isn’t the show’s style, and the story suffered just a bit as a result. Still, a really interesting future story seed was sown here by giving Daphne a greater awareness of how she fits into the world—both hearing and deaf—and what that means for all of the relationships she finds herself in, especially her and Wilke.
Adding to the Very Special Episode feel was the news of Ty’s battalion suffering casualties in Afghanistan and everyone’s uncertainty over his fate. Interestingly, although it feels like a VSE moment this is actually the epitome of long-term storytelling, with Ty leaving for the military so many months ago and his presence being brought up last week in a different context. Although Ty turns out to be fine (albeit potentially a bit bummed upon finally learning Bay has moved on in his absence) his friendship with Bay continues to be a drain on her relationship with Emmett, especially once he learns they have been emailing each other. It’s so easy to see Emmett’s reaction to this whole situation as childish but he is essentially a child, and this is the sort of thing teenage boys get angry about. Learning Ty knew about Bay’s art as well doesn’t help matters. The trouble with Bay and Emmett’s relationship right now is it all feels like a serious of little break-ups and make-ups, with no time for them to simply be. One of the more surprisingly wonderful things about the summer season was watching them discover each other. Writing a happy couple is admittedly tough, but do they have to be so unhappy so much of the time?
The rest of the episode was far more standard stuff, starting with the ongoing saga of Simone the Budding Sociopath. Her paranoia and control issues surface first when assuming both Bay and Daphne had been talking to Toby about her behind her back (which they hadn’t) and then blossom when she goes so far as to sabotage Toby’s gig with Guitar Face so he can play a solo gig she lined up for him herself. It’s more than controlling, it’s downright creepy, and thankfully Toby calls her out on it. Everything about this Simone storyline has been the very definition of a slow burn, but when is it going to inevitably explode? Seeing as her presence hasn’t been the most thrilling thing of this winter season, the sooner the better.
And finally there’s Kathryn, teaming up with lawyer Craig to do damage control after her payment to Britzia last week. Angelo’s plot in this whole thing thickens when they visit his lawyer and learn he had a source who tipped him off to Britzia’s willingness to testify, a source who seemed very knowledgeable about the hospital and eager to take them down. This lawsuit thing is inherently uninteresting to me, but this is a little bit intriguing: Who is the source? And what do they have against the hospital? Meanwhile, this storyline is hinting at something even more awful than the lawsuit: a potential flirtation between Kathryn and Craig. Of all the places Switched At Birth doesn’t need to be going so early in its run this is number one, especially since they’ve already thrown suspicion on John for past affairs with the reporter from earlier this season. Kathryn and John are main characters and need something to do, yes, but this is simply the world’s laziest way to do it.
- Carrie Googles Some Art Because Wikipedia Was Useless: Write a Lonely Soldier, June Wayne, 1976.
- I must admit, the lack of follow up on Emmett’s living and schooling situation after last week’s big blowout was a bit disappointing. I understand not making it a focus, but did it even get a mention?
- Hoo boy, the photoshop of Blair Redford on the tank was rough. His head was about four times too big for his body. At least they got him to actually do the phone call with Bay, even if we don’t see him.