Endings are funny things. Mediocre ones can leave you cold and unconnected. Divisive ones can sour you on everything that came before, turning something you loved into something to be ridiculed as a waste of time. Enlightening ones, though, can take a beginning and a middle and transform them into a richer, more meaningful experience, one to rediscover and unpack within the new context the ending gave.
That’s basically an overly flowery, long-winded way to say that the ending of “Dance Me To The End Of Love,” Switched At Birth’s kind of silly, kind of strange dancing episode, is absolutely divine. It’s the type of ending that makes you reconsider everything that came before it, because knowing the whole thing was leading to this puts a lot of what didn’t work upon first glance into perspective. The somewhat awkwardly integrated dance interludes and the somewhat strange dance dream sequences were tipping the episode’s hand—building to a point where an entire family staging a coordinated flash mob-slash-dance routine at the dinner table feels like the only obvious answer to a very difficult question: How is John going to get through to Kathryn enough to save his marriage?
It’s the setup that makes it great, too. When John finally realizes what Kathryn needs, the show slyly lets the audience realize it at the same time (and yes, it’s just a gesture, with the real work yet to come, but it’s a great gesture). The scene is set so innocently—Bay and Daphne having a wonderful sisterly conversation while doing something as completely normal as setting the table. It’s only when John meets Kathryn in the driveway promising a “family meal” that it becomes clear something is happening. Kathryn’s confusion mirrors ours—something is up but it’s impossible to tell exactly what—and then the impromptu table drumming begins. And then gets louder. And more coordinated. And suddenly it’s a full-on dinner table dance eruption, with the entire Kennish family pitching in to give Kathryn the sense of spontaneity and wonder she feels like she’s missing in life. It’s happy and romantic and relentlessly cheesy. And it works. Every second, every moment of it feels like yes. This is exactly what John would do to get through to Kathryn. And yes, it is exactly what would work.
It’s a credit to the writing staff for making this work, because Kathryn’s declaration to John that she doesn’t know what’s exactly wrong with her or how he can fix it is a tough one. John is a black-and-white kind of guy, the kind of guy who can go to a jewelry store and accidentally purchase the exact same bracelet for Kathryn he did four years ago, thinking that will solve his problems. Kathryn is rebelling against his inability to change and evolve and John only realizes it after blaming everyone but himself for her unhappiness. It might be unfair that he has to change to keep his wife happy, but this episode shows that is what marriage is about; the changing, the evolving, and finding a way to make each other happy even if it takes you out of your own comfort zone. And man, was it sweet.
Although the ending brought a lot of the episode into focus, it doesn’t completely erase the fact that watching much of the episode was a bit confounding. The dancing in the episode was expressed in three different ways: integrated into the plot, like with the Travis and Mary Beth story; expressed in a dream sequence, like Kathryn’s chorus line, Daphne’s nightmare, or Bay and Emmett’s Vegas number; or just as a random aside, like Toby’s underwear dance. Some of these were better integrated than others—Travis’s quest to learn to dance felt natural and like a story the show would tell even in a non-themed episode—but the dream sequences weren’t as successful. Bay and Emmett getting a story of their very own was wonderful, and as always it was like a masterclass on how the combination of subtle writing and actor chemistry can create a perfect thing. But the pair suddenly appearing as a Vegas couple right out of the ‘50s, and then smashing back into the present, just felt a bit ungainly. The dream sequences felt as if they needed some sort of transition or extra beat to make the delineation between the two worlds a bit more clear. The one dream sequence that worked was Daphne’s because it was an honest-to-goodness nightmare, full of bizarre moments and ramping up to actual horror. (Plus, that Jorge is kind of a great dancer.)
But awkward moments aside, the emotions of the episode were on point. All of the high school characters are at pivotal moments in their lives, and that plays out here wonderfully as Travis finds a true partner in Mary Beth despite his doubts, Bay searches for how to define herself as an artist even when she can’t use her hands, and Daphne tries to reconcile her new interest in medicine with the very real obstacles she would face as a deaf doctor. Switched At Birth is attempting to tell a lot of stories for the younger set this season, but these three are my favorite so far. They all feature that wonderful specificity to themes and stories Switched At Birth is uniquely equipped to tell; stories about identity and finding your way in a world that may not necessarily embrace you. Like the ending John created for Kathryn, these stories are about people reaching out and creating a way to make the world work for them, no matter what it takes. And those are some great stories.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: Dance Me To The End Of Love, Jack Vettriano, 1998, oil on canvas.
- Since we didn’t get too many moments of Lucas Grabeel dancing, here is my favorite dance-related thing he’s done: “I Don’t Dance” from High School Musical 2. Dancing! Baseball! Saying you don’t do something while you’re obviously doing it!
- So Daphne doesn’t want to be a chef anymore? I wish we could get a throwaway line or two about this change of heart.
- Tank’s line dancing was kind of weird? Maybe I just don’t get line dancing. Or fraternities.
- “You make me see the world differently. You changed everything.” Mary Beth is a great addition to this show.