Switched At Birth: “Love Among The Ruins”/The Fosters: “Things Unknown”
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We missed you, too, Sean Berdy.
We missed you, too, Sean Berdy.

Switched At Birth: “Love Among The Ruins”/The Fosters: “Things Unknown”

ABC Family’s heartfelt Monday night dramas return in fine form

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The Fosters

"Things Unknown"

Season 2, Episode 1
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Switched At Birth

"Love Among The Ruins"

Season 3, Episode 12

Switched At Birth: “Love Among The Ruins”
Two of my big complaints about the sometimes frustrating first half of Switched At Birth season three were how much it focused on plot over story, and on newly introduced characters at the expense of the show’s very talented main cast. These concerns happily take a backseat in the show’s return, as fallout from the midseason finale makes for a busy-but-focused premiere full of wonderful character moments. The show’s balance is back—at least in this episode—and the result is very satisfying.

There are three big stories continuing into this second half: Bay and Emmett’s reunion, Matthew’s continued torment of Emmett, and Regina’s conflict with East Riverside over the development project. All advance here nicely, taking on some welcome character-based weight to balance their more plot-heavy aspects.

Especially strong right out of the gate is Bay and Emmett’s reunion, fraught though it is. The biggest question after they had sex in the midseason finale was “What happens next?” Switched At Birth wastes no time answering, picking up the very night of the encounter with the revelation that Bay and Emmett didn’t use a condom, and now Bay needs to get the morning after pill. What’s great about this story is how it subtly does so much good work dealing with the messy business of sex and what happens when you are young and make mistakes, without ever being preachy or judging Bay and Emmett for what they did. They should have used a condom. Bay knows this. Emmett knows this. But now they have to deal with the consequences of that mistake. It’s also a great showcase to explore how the girl always has it harder in this situation, and is silently expected to take more responsibility for the matter. It’s Bay who has to find a place to get the pill, not Emmett. Even Emmett—great as he is—just assumed Bay was on the pill without asking, simply because of her past dating experience. It’s a tough world out there for teenage girls, and it’s nice to see that quietly acknowledged here.

Also strong is Regina’s clash with the residents of East Riverside over her involvement in the new development project with Wes. When we last saw her, she was getting a brick thrown into her shop window. Instead of scaring her away, however, it somehow causes her to ask for her job back in order to steer the project the right way for the good of the neighborhood, consequences be damned. Standing in her way are the neighborhood residents who see her as a threat to their community and their history, leading to an interesting confrontation between Daphne and the (supposed) gang member leading the charge against Regina, Nacho. The strength of this story is that Nacho’s views on gentrification are just as valid as Regina’s views on how the development will help strengthen the neighborhood. It’s an ideological battle, but one that will likely become much more than ideological as the East Riverside residents get more angry. As long as the opposing viewpoints remain this balanced and interesting, Switched At Birth will have a winning story on their hands.

Stray observations:

  • We’re trying something new in this space, doing more abbreviated reviews of both Switched At Birth and The Fosters. This is a trial run, so please click, read, comment, and spread the word if you enjoy!
  • Carrie Wikis Some Art: Love Among The Ruins, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1894, oil on canvas. 
  • Toby is in Iceland, and I assume they used Lucas Grabeel’s real photos of his time there. Sometimes the line between television and real life is a little too thin.  
  • Marlee Matlin and Sean Berdy had some really wonderful scenes here. They have fantastic mother/son chemistry.
  • Best overall trend: Bay and Daphne acting like sisters throughout.
  • Best small moment: Daphne finally, finally asking Angelo to learn how to sign. Perfect, and long overdue.

The Fosters: “Things Unknown”

One of the main overarching themes of The Fosters is fixing things that are broken. Typically those things encompass intangibles like hearts, minds, and families, but the season one finale took this broken subtext and literally made it text, having Brandon’s hand be injured during a beating from the vile Vico. When it happened it almost felt like audience catharsis, “punishment” to Brandon for a series of horrible decisions and awful manipulations throughout the season. What it ends up being is far less cynical, however; it just might be his path to redemption.

Throughout the entire first season The Fosters handled an almost overwhelming amount of drama, but amazingly, it rarely tipped over into melodrama. The once place where this balance regularly seemed precarious was in Brandon’s stories, which started off as small transgressions and rapidly careened into a character making hugely awful decisions that appeared to remove most of his hope for redemption. Smartly, the show takes all of this past baggage and uses it here to help inform Brandon’s future. His hand is broken and likely will never work again, ruining his whole identity as a pianist. It’s to the show’s endless credit that when Brandon sadly exclaims “I”ve played this a million times and it’s not supposed to sound like that!” we can feel for him again, despite his many transgressions. Brandon finding out who he is without the piano is a way to completely redefine him as he redefines himself, and that journey has infinite promise.

The flip side to Brandon’s physical brokenness are Callie’s more logistical fractures, as the revelation that she has a different biological father than Jude ruins her chances for adoption. At first it feels like yet another “let’s all pile on Callie” moment when she gets shuttled off to a new, horrible foster home (What if there is a fire, lady who locks young people in their room at night? What if?) but by the end it turns into something much more, as Callie decides she wants to find her biological father just as we learn he might have known where she was all along, and Callie might have a half sister she never knew existed. (Also, her potential biological father is played by Kerr Smith, which is always a good thing. That is, until it reminds you of your inevitable existential doom because Kerr Smith is easily old enough to have two teenage daughters. R.I.P., my youth.)

Stray observations:

  • Welcome to The A.V. Club’s mini-The Fosters reviews! I hope you enjoy this expanded space to reflect and comment beyond the one thread each week we had before.
  • The structure of this episode was quite good, as the editing and writing played with time and perception as it subtly switched from flashbacks to the present with very little signal that it was doing so. The show just trusted us to get it, and the confident direction ensured we would. Outstanding.
  • Mariana’s struggle with her heritage and identity shows definite potential, especially when it gives the writers a chance to have Lena talk about her same struggles growing up. A wonderful, organic moment.
  • Jesus’ story is a bit of a snooze so far, but I enjoyed Emma owning her own uncomfortableness and not pawning off that responsibility on him. Way to subvert the typical clingy girlfriend stereotype, The Fosters!
  • Where, oh where, is this Ana and Mike thing going? Oh dear.

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