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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Switched At Birth: "Drowning Girl"

Illustration for article titled Switched At Birth: "Drowning Girl"
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The second half of Switched At Birth’s season two was primarily about individual and emotional change, following Bay and Daphne as they spent a summer exploring their own personal emotional limits. The season three premiere finds all its characters in the midst of a whole lot of new emotional—and most prominently, situational—change, and it’s abundantly clear from just this episode that they’re not adapting to it very well.

Switched At Birth traditionally takes care of a lot of business in its premieres, using them as a sort of declaration of the stories it intends to tell in the upcoming season, typically resulting in an hour that can feel overstuffed on plot and underserved on character moments. Although “Drowning Girl” is heavy on setup for its characters’ season-three journeys, where it succeeds is how it gracefully also manages to weave in a few strong emotional threads. The strongest of these threads comes from somewhat of an unanticipated place: Daphne’s fear that her blackmail of Coto last summer ruined her relationship with John for good. Daphne’s transition into the Kennish family was always highlighted by the ease of her relationship with John—something that contrasted starkly with Bay’s much more murky road with Regina—and so, at times, it seemed almost as if the switch was less of a burden for her than it was for Bay.

But Daphne is unburdened no longer. She spent a lot of time last summer making extremely poor decisions, and to Switched At Birth’s credit, they don’t shy away from the consequences of those decisions as this new season begins. Her biggest situational arc this season is obviously going to revolve around her time doing community service at the free clinic to satisfy the terms of her probation, where she meets both a handsome nurse practitioner Jorge (David Castaneda), and a charming, happy-go-lucky volunteer, former snowboarder Campbell, who is now confined to a wheelchair (RJ Mitte, unfortunately not eating breakfast). This setting is bound to deliver a lot of opportunity for Daphne to continue on the path of realization she had in the season two finale, where she finally started to come to terms with being a former resident of East Riverside.

Where Daphne’s story hits closest to home, though, is in her desperation to regain the formerly easy, loving relationship she had with John. John has always been portrayed as a tough character, one who makes harsh judgments about people and then takes a good long while to change his mind. His rift with Daphne cuts deep because—as he made perfectly clear in last season’s finale—Daphne was the one person he never thought could disappoint him like this. Obviously, this is wildly unfair to Daphne—putting her up on a pedestal she was bound to fall from. John isn’t treating her badly, but there’s nothing more relatable than feeling that almost imperceptible cold shoulder, a sudden rift between you and someone who formerly loved and admired you without reservation. Daphne now has to deal with the fact she isn’t the golden child and figure out a way to close the gap between her and John, and it’s a story delicately told here, through a series of really lovely scenes with Toby. (Toby is basically the MVP of all scenes he’s involved in, ever.) (I might be biased, as I love Toby.) Watching Daphne and John slowly repair their relationship is certainly something to look forward to.

As for Toby, he is also a character completely unmoored—lost while wife Nikki is off doing volunteer work in South America and he sits at home in Kansas City, out of school and stuck in a job he obviously only tolerates. The decision to immediately ship Nikki off and force Toby to confront the life he chose is an interesting one, which looks to become even more interesting when she does return and Toby’s life is something she maybe doesn’t quite recognize. Coaching field hockey is a bit strange, but any excuse to get Toby involved in Daphne and Bay’s life is a good one, as their brother/sister dynamics are the best thing on the show.

The sister who could probably use Toby the most right now is Bay, who is quietly still reeling from her breakup with Ty. It isn’t that they broke up: What resonates, what she can’t let go of, is that he cheated. (Well, more correctly, he didn’t cheat but let Bay think he did—which might be worse.) Her sadness manifests itself in perhaps the most teenage way possible, as she gets drunk, sets her sights on a cute boy, and then ends up puking in the bushes while crying her eyes out to the nice guy. It’s like Bay is in college already! It’s hard not to feel for Bay here, especially when we (and Mary Beth) both know Ty didn’t cheat—he’s just too much of a coward to understand that by letting Bay think he did, he’s hurting her much more than simply breaking up with her. Although this story seems a bit more wrapped up than many others introduced in this episode, Vanessa Marano is always such a joy to watch, even in sadness. Though it would be nice to see her be happy for a while.


What might be the least expected thread here is what’s happening with Kathryn. Kathryn has long been a bit lost (similarly to the way Toby is right now, adrift without a purpose; them recognizing this in each other could be wonderful) but with Toby’s marriage and the impending departure of the girls to college, her situation has gone from abstract to acute. A tentative therapy session leads to not much more than a doctor pulling out a prescription pad, but she starts to really come alive here when she randomly meets a new, exciting friend (Alec Mapa) who opens her mind to things like tap dance lessons, drum circles, and not worrying about anything in the world but you. What starts as—and continues to be, honestly—innocent fun takes an unexpected turn when Kathryn starts lying to John and using those lies to try to get out of her normal, stodgy responsibilities, like his charity events. Kathryn has long wanted something that can be hers, and it looks like this season is going to be her road to finding it. There are sure to be some bumps along the way.

This hour was stuffed; there’s so much more setup here that I barely had time to touch on, most importantly Carlton’s transition to a 50-50 split between hearing and deaf students. The Carlton arc in the first half of season two is one of the best things Switched At Birth has ever done. I have high hopes that this trend will continue, as the school adjusts to bear the weight of a significant number of “problem” students bused in from districts that didn’t want them anymore, and how that affects both them and the Carlton kids who fought so hard to keep their school open. It is stories like these, which touch on class issues and the way the system is set up to steamroll over the disadvantaged, where Switched At Birth has an outlet to tell stories unlike most anything else on television. That the show is consistently committed to doing so is what remains remarkable.


Stray observations:

  • Carrie Wikis Some Art: Drowning Girl, Roy Lichtenstein, 1963, oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas.
  • Angelo is obviously about to run into some major money troubles. Who agrees to shell out an additional $350,000 talking to a person they’ve never met before? Angelo, you are a dummy.
  • Regina buying the business is a great idea, but the way she approached Angelo about it put me off completely. Those two have a bit of a communication problem, especially when it comes to Abby. That’s a situation that seems untenable.
  • Bay’s college art class was a bit odd, but enjoyable, thanks to Sandra Bernhard and Bay’s goofy fraternity-brother partner Tank. But don’t go “get beer” in random frat-guy rooms, Bay!