Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Switched At Birth: “Tight Rope Walker”

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Perhaps the most pleasant thing about season two of Switched At Birth so far is how deftly all of the plots are dovetailing as the show heads toward its big all-ASL episode next week. The hearing pilot program at Carlton started as an easy way to get more of the teen characters under one roof, but along the way, it’s turned into a thoughtful examination of deaf identity and the importance of community, and how devastating it can be when that community is shattered.

What’s great about this story is how well it’s developed throughout the season and touched every character, starting with Bay’s challenging transition at the beginning of the season and now radiating out to shatter Daphne’s whole world. The mechanics of the situation feel a bit disconnected—I’m not sure just how the pilot program went from being the thing that took money away to a budget savings idea, for example—but the emotions of the arc throughout have been spot on.

What started as simple resentment from students and faculty alike has now devolved into pure survival, exploding into a full-out protest at a school board meeting as the deaf students fight to keep Carlton something they can call their own without being “invaded” by hearing kids. It’s especially hard on Daphne, who is caught between her deaf identity and Kathryn and Bay as a familial embodiment of the hearing presence at the school. A pivotal school board meeting to decide their fate starts as a referendum on whether or not to expand Carlton to include more hearing kids in the next school year, something both Melody and Daphne passionately and vehemently disagree with. Instead of either listening to them and leaving Carlton as a deaf-only school or expanding the hearing program the next year, however, the school board does something much worse and decides to close Carlton completely, forcing all the deaf students to assimilate at schools across the district.

There are likely a thousand reasons this doesn’t really make sense as a budgetary decision (forcing the district to hire more interpreters throughout the district to now accommodate the deaf kids in a hearing environment seems short-sighted, to say the least) but the emotional center of the story is very strong, which is why it works. Bay can easily fit in at any other school, and Daphne has a bit of an advantage in being vocal and having strong lip-reading abilities, but what about Natalie? Or Travis? Or Emmett? Or even Noah, who is losing more of his hearing every day? The reverberations of this decision are only beginning, and it’s a very compelling thread for the show to chase.

Aside from the big Carlton news, the bulk of the episode was dealing with Regina’s renewed drinking problem. When this story began, I was immediately concerned this was another one of the show’s too-soapy detours, but the way it’s shaping up is addressing both the issue and Regina’s character in interesting ways, I think. The biggest development here was Bay’s realization Regina might be drinking again and her quest to find out if she is right. The way it plays out feels exactly right, with everyone only espousing Regina’s ability to stay sober even in the worst of times and encouraging Bay to think positively. But what everyone doesn’t realize is they’ve never seen her as a drunk, not really. Daphne was too young. Emmett, Bay, and the Kennishes weren’t even in the picture. And even though Regina went through horrible times with Angelo where she never once took a drink, this time is different. This time, everything Regina uses to define herself—her ability to communicate with her daughter, her ability to provide for her family—has been taken away because of her wrist injuries. Regina is a woman who doesn’t know herself at all anymore, and for her to turn to alcohol to dull some of that pain feels right.

The only issue I have with this, and it’s admittedly a small one, is that at times, it feels like this story missed a connection or two to make it work perfectly. Still, the intent is presented well enough that it is working for me. It was especially strong tonight in anything involving Bay, from her detective work, to her staging the dinner party with Zane where he brought wine for them to share, to her finally going to him and simply telling him the truth. The subsequent blowout with Regina, where she acted irrationally and exactly like someone who needs serious help cut deeply, as did her tearful, seemingly sincere apology where she promised Bay she would get help. Bay is still naïve enough to think this is the end, but when Regina hangs up instead of leaving a message for her sponsor, it’s clear this is only the beginning, and Regina has a long way to go before she’s ready to fix herself again. It’s honest and painful (especially when you see the happiness and hope in Bay’s eyes), and it’s not wrapped in a neat little bow, and I love the show for that. We’ll just have to wait and see just how low Regina lets herself go before she finally gets the help she needs.


Stray observations:

  • Carrie Wikis Some Art: Tight Rope Walker, Jean Louis Forain, 1885, oil on canvas. Very Degas.
  • Thanks to Donna for doing such a predictably great job with her Second Opinion last week.
  • So, let’s discuss the hint of the Daphne/Noah/Bay triangle. I have to admit, I don’t hate it, simply because Daphne and Noah have pretty great chemistry.
  • Emmett asking Melody if Travis could live with them was a highlight. He hasn’t had much of a storyline this season, but this was the Emmett from season one I remember.
  • Another great scene: Melody explaining to Kathryn why Carlton being a deaf-only school is so important.
  • Very curious to see where Toby’s rekindled relationship with Nikki goes. Are they hinting he’s going to become more religious? That’s a complicated story I think the show could handle well, if so.
  • Zane: “Who? Who’s Doctor Who?”
  • Toby: “There wasn’t a girl in our hot tub.”