Switched At Birth: “And We Bring The Light”
Structurally, Switched At Birth shot itself in the foot a bit with this one. Opening with a cryptic in medias res teaser sets a tone of mystery that carries throughout the episode, but as the episode presses on the mystery becomes far less interesting than the character stories themselves, until it pops back up at the very end. Using this device to tease a big plot point later in the episode is tricky for a show like Switched At Birth to pull off, and I’m not quite sure it actually did make it work.
By teasing Kathryn getting a call about a mysterious accident, Switched At Birth effectively set up a “Who will it be?” mystery to tempt the audience to solve throughout the episode. We know something is coming, but we’re not sure what, so everything takes on an edge of portent it doesn’t necessarily earn. Smartly, the writers set up two parallel storylines—one with the Kennish family, and one with the Sorrento-Vasquez’s—sort of like a “choose your own potential tragedy” scenario to follow. What ends up happening, however, is that the parallel structure of the families becomes far more compelling than the hook of the opening, so when the device pops back up at the end, it feels more inevitable than interesting.
Still, the parallel structure of the family stories is just about compelling enough to make up for any shortcomings with the in medias res device. What’s so interesting is how it shows the Kennish family coming together, just as the newly stable Sorrento-Vasquez family is falling apart. (And in a clever bit of opposition to these trends, Bay’s college dreams of Platt are tanking right when Daphne’s dream of getting great SAT scores to go to the best pre-med school is just taking off.) Watching Toby, Kathryn, and John rally around Bay to help her with her art display was touching and interesting, in that there are rarely times the four “original” Kennishes are all in one place and working toward the same goal. It’s also a heartbreaking contrast to what eventually happens with Regina and Angelo at the end of the episode, as their entire relationship implodes in one quick and unfortunate moment.
What’s frustrating about the Angelo and Regina blowup at the end, the one that precedes Angelo getting in a car accident and potentially never getting the chance to make amends, is that their relationship has been so poorly defined since they got remarried. Was it for convenience only, or something more? Were they actually behaving like a married couple? Angelo slowly became more and more involved with Regina and Daphne in these past few episodes, but it was always very unclear as to what emotions were there beyond wanting to get closer to Daphne and take care of Regina. The one part of the story that worked very well was his growing connection to Daphne, and that culminated in this episode in an absolutely beautiful scene where he helped Daphne with her SAT stress and she, in turn, helped him see that they were finally a family. To have that loveliness followed so quickly with the nastiness of his argument with Regina wasn’t necessarily surprising, considering the circumstances, but it was certainly sad.
Where it feels like the mystery teaser serviced the story the least was in the scene where Regina accidentally draws a gun on her own daughter in a case of mistaken identity and paranoia. As the episode came to a close, it was obvious someone was going to be hurt. There was a gun in play, and Daphne couldn’t hear Regina to respond. It’s a genuinely stressful situation, but in concert with the in medias res teaser it feels like a bit of cheap misdirection to throw us off the trail of Angelo’s car accident being the actual tragedy. The tragedy is that this comes right on the heels of a terrifically resonant and emotional scene with Daphne and Angelo. I understand the urge to play with the structure a bit and have some fun, but Switched At Birth is strong enough to stand on its own; cheap misdirection not required.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: And We Bring The Light, Nicholas Roerich, 1922, tempera on canvas.
- Is Angelo dead? Just when I’m finally starting to like him!
- Toby’s goatee. Nooooooooooooo. Toby the DJ. OK, I guess?
- Kathryn using sign language to silently communicate with Toby in the security office was fantastic.
- Go away, Chip Coto!
- John: “When I became a state senator I thought that I would be useful, instead of a barely tolerated puppet for corporate interests.”
The Fosters: “Say Something”
Sit down, ABC Family promo department. We need to have a talk. Come a little bit closer…
WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING IN YOUR PROMOS FOR THE FOSTERS? They are patently ridiculous. All week, the promos for this episode played like a low-budget horror teaser, intoning that “Some Doors Are Better Left Closed.” It hinted at life-altering drama in Callie’s quest to meet her biological sister, and what the episode delivered was more like mild awkwardness. Normally I would not even mention promos in the discussion of an episode—promos are generally cut by the network promo department, not the show’s writing staff, and therefore should be held to a slightly different level of narrative responsibility—but this promo was so egregiously over-the-top that it affected my ability to engage with the episode itself, and that is unacceptable. It has to stop.
It’s a shame the promos promised such juicy tidings for Callie, because “Say Something” itself was probably the most low-key episode of the season. The biggest drama was actually Lena’s job interview and clash with Timothy over signing the donor papers, with Callie’s tentative first meeting with half-sister Sophia a very distant second. More than anything, it feels like The Fosters is setting Callie’s story up for a longer arc, first introducing the idea of her biological father’s insistence he never knew she existed, and then having him offer to pay for her college education. It feels very simple right now, very “no strings attached,” but in a matter this delicate simplicity is nearly impossible. Stef actually echoes this feeling when she decides their unborn daughter might be best off by actually knowing Timothy, as a stable figure in her life and as the donor who gave her life. It’s a delicate dovetailing of the two threads, and it’s handled with deftness.
Other than these main threads, however, The Fosters feels a little like it’s spinning its wheels in the last two episodes regarding some of its storylines. Jesus is still weirdly stuck in a loop of terrible romantic choices, without much advancement. Brandon and Callie are still slowly moving their way to getting over their epic love and settling into being simply brother and sister. Mariana does get a bit of advancement on her quiet exploration of race and privilege and how it affects her when the dance team holds auditions for a new member. What’s ultimately interesting about Mariana’s story is her placement on the dance team (despite not having the talent) ends up having nothing to do with her race, but her position as the interim principal’s daughter. Mariana was exploring race when it was actually a story of privilege. Very few shows can take a natural left turn like that and make it still feel completely organic.
Now if only the promo department could learn a few of these lessons.
- Jude’s vow of silence is very strange but compelling. Looking forward to seeing how that develops in the next episode.
- Having sex is a violation of Callie’s parole? That’s… specific.