Switched At Birth isn’t afraid to let its characters be ugly. The show has always understood that good people aren’t good all the time and even the most well-intentioned people can make mistakes, whether it is out of actual malice or merely ignorance. It’s this willingness to show multiple facets of its characters that makes the stories feel so rich and character evolutions feel so earned.
Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t tough to watch when it happens. John’s reaction to Renzo’s demonstrative personality is one of the most jarring, casually ugly things ever depicted on Switched At Birth, mostly because the moment itself happens so quickly, and so without comment. Last week when Kathryn started hanging out with Renzo and lying to John, it was inevitable that it would blow up in her face. It does here in spectacular fashion, with everyone having a grand time at the Kennish house when Renzo comes to dinner (well, John has a more reservedly grand time) until Renzo offhandedly mentions Kathryn attending a drum circle when she purported to be helping her friend Caroline through a rough time. John, never the coolest head in any tough situation, reacts horribly to the knowledge that his wife is suddenly lying to him and sneaking around with this new friend he doesn’t quite understand.
And then he says it. When Kathryn accuses him of having a problem with Renzo’s homosexuality, John says “I had guys on my team, they were gay. They didn’t rub it in your face.” To be honest, as a viewer and longtime supporter of John this hit me like a slap in the face. John Kennish is a troublesome character at times, harsh to judge and sometimes very stubborn in his more conservative, narrow-minded views. But underneath all of John’s problems, John always seemed like a decent, fair man. When watching a show about a character that is different from you and holds different views, it’s still tough to step back and look at a moment like that and view it as anything other than horribly offensive. As a statement, to me personally it is horribly offensive. But what troubles me isn’t that the show let John say something horribly offensive; it’s that the show let him say it and let it hang out there, with barely a comment from Kathryn about how awful he was being. I have a lot of faith in this show and how it treats its characters, so it is very likely a more thorough examination of John’s views are coming. In the context of this episode, however, it’s tough to think of a way John comes out of this one with the same respect he had from me going into it.
A significant portion of the rest of the episode was spent at Carlton, as the kids are still dealing with the transition into Carlton as a half-hearing school. There were some comments on last week’s episode that mentioned how the depiction of the Carlton kids versus the new kids seemed stereotypical and perhaps troublesome. I definitely see this viewpoint, especially in the way the kids were framed and shot in the premiere. However, after this episode and as the story develops I’m starting to think (or at least hoping) that is the whole point. By making the new kids students who have fallen through the cracks of the traditional high school system, the show can tell complicated stories about kids who haven’t been given a chance before. This definitely seems where Sharee’s arc is heading, as she continues to butt heads with Daphne but also starts to move further into the Carlton fold, joining the field hockey team and striking up a bit of a hate-ship with Daphne.
Switched At Birth is also doing something smart by introducing the idea that someone is slashing the tires of deaf kids in the parking lot and then letting the characters’ own assumptions about what is going on make a point about the prejudices the Carlton kids have towards their new classmates. It’s easy for the kids to assume an outsider is behind the attacks, but Emmett learns the truth is much more complicated: It’s Matthew, their friend and fellow deaf student, who is perpetrating the attacks. We don’t know yet why he is doing this, but as he’s the one early in the episode who called their new hearing classmates “thugs,” the answer looks like it could be another example of the show examining the uglier side of human prejudices.
The moment I liked the best in this episode was a small one, though. It was during Regina’s storyline, when she was remarking on how small East Riverside felt and how she couldn’t imagine that she and Daphne ever lived there, and Daphne quietly reminds her of all the wonderful friends and neighbors they had, and how that feeling of community contrasts so starkly with the big, closed-off mansions of Mission Hills. Daphne spent a lot of time over the summer forgetting her East Riverside roots only to make those connections again, so to have her remind Regina of the same thing was a nice, small nod to that journey. Also, it brought Regina back down to her more grounded persona, something she’s been missing as of late and something that has always been an important part of her character. Regina might be a new business owner with a nice new car to play along with that role, but her spirit doesn’t come alive again until she’s diving in a dumpster. That’s a Regina journey worthy of spending more time on.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: Your Body Is A Battleground, Barbara Kruger, 1989, photographic silkscreen on vinyl.
- I loved everything about the field hockey scenes (Kennish brother/sister bonding is the best), but I loved nothing more than when Toby got Bay to hit the ball by telling her it was Thomas Kinkade.
- Bay and Tank’s friendship continues to grow. Tank is turning out to be a stronger character in two episodes than I anticipated he would be, but I would prefer if he remains Bay’s friend and friend only.
- Tank describing his single dot portrait of Bay reminded me so much of Ben Covington on Felicity describing his sandwich in drama class. Unintentional coincidence or purposeful homage?
- Daphne’s time at the clinic continues, but her time there is really less about her community service than it is exploring her relationship with Campbell. There were some smart moments there, especially in their conversation about their mutual difficulty using the phone, but otherwise I’m still waiting for this storyline to develop a little further before diving in.