This was one stuffed episode of television.
Switched At Birth took a bit of a break from its many storylines while dealing with Angelo’s death and now these storylines are all racing back into the narrative, vying for space as the show sets up its end-of-season arcs. The stories themselves are mostly pretty good, but the sheer amount of things happening is a bit daunting. It’s a lot.
The main story here is obviously Daphne’s continued downward spiral. After snorting a bit of cocaine last week (which still blows my mind a little bit), Daphne’s anger at Regina is still completely controlling her actions, this time leading her to hook up with Nacho—both literally and figuratively—to vandalize the groundbreaking ceremony for the Riverside project. (Even though she’s on probation. Daphne is not making the best decisions right now.) They do such a thorough job that Wes’ contractors all pull out, requiring him to go to his last resort: Chip Coto’s company. This happens, of course, right as Melody helps Daphne see that Regina is hurting just as much as her and needs her daughter’s support, just in time for Daphne to see Regina shaking Chip Coto’s hand, which leads Daphne right back to Nacho. It’s messy and soapy but impressively, intricately plotted, and as much as I wish Daphne’s first instinct when hurt wouldn’t always be to make a bad decision with a boy, it works well here. At least it’s completely in character!
“Intricately plotted” is a great description for everything else that’s happening in this episode, as storylines and characters from far and wide come together in new and interesting ways. Tank and Bay mend fences and become something like friends when, after she discovers Tank living at Toby’s apartment, she helps him with his father and he in turn helps her deal with the news she might have an aneurysm. Toby and Lily cross paths again (and eventually, beds) when he tries to help Sharee out of a jam at school and it turns out Lily is Sharee’s teacher. Switched At Birth always has a lot of characters in the background, sometimes too many, but these characters are being used in an interesting and judicious way right now, which is impressive if still leaving the episode itself a wee bit overstuffed.
The one story I wish got a bit more screen time in this episode was Travis and his panic about what he is going to do in the future. It started out wonderfully, with a great scene where Travis and Emmett get their decisions from Gallaudet while Melody looks on, but this family story gets a bit lost in everything that happens in the aftermath. When Travis doesn’t get in to Gallaudet he immediately falls back on his instincts to give up and move on, even considering dropping out of high school to take a good job with a former Carlton dropout. While he’s doing this, though, Melody is working on something of her own: setting up a Kansas City branch of Gallaudet. This is surely a sneaky way to keep everyone around after college, Switched At Birth. I see what you are doing, and I like it.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: It Isn’t What You Think, Christopher Willard, 2009.
- Bay’s quest to figure out if she’s inherited an aneurysm from Angelo has the potential to be the kind of quiet, heartbreaking story this show does best, so I hope it gets some room to breathe in the coming episodes.
- Sharee mom update: She’s out of treatment and back home. This seems deserving of more than one line of dialogue.
- Tank and Bay as friends is nice, but I don’t love her talking to Tank about secret aneurysms and keeping it from Emmett.
- Jerry/Larry Gergich is Tank’s dad. And he was mean. Dammit Jerry!
- John’s sign language is getting good. I love that it’s gradually gotten better as he learns. A small, realistic touch.
- I like Lily quite a bit but “There’s no such thing as a selfless act” is relentlessly cynical. Disagree, girl.
- Toby’s sad, resigned reaction any time anyone reminds him he’s divorced is such a small detail, but it gives the story a wonderful weight and sadness.
This is one of those episodes where I wish The Fosters could focus on only one storyline for the entire hour. Brandon confessing to his parents what happened with Dani is something the show has been leading to since last season, something that has quite a bit of social responsibility and character weight behind it, and could have made for an absolutely killer single-story showcase. But what could have been is ultimately irrelevant; what’s important is what was, and what this storyline was was fantastic. It’s a great sign when all it does is leave you wanting more.
When Brandon and Dani had sex last season, it felt like an absolutely terrible decision by the writers. It came in the midst of Brandon’s horrible spiral into disaster, and had all the signs of a completely morally questionable event the show had no desire of fully dealing with the potential consequences of. I obviously should have trusted the writers had a bigger plan in mind, and that plan is revealed here as Lena arranges to have Brandon tell Stef and Mike what happened. It’s a supremely awkward and delicate situation, one the show does not shy away from.
In fact, the episode actually leans into this awkwardness and horror, scripting and blocking the confession scene to highlight just how devastating it is for everyone involved. The direction is impeccable, with every shot is thoughtfully composed and chosen to illustrate just how much this one event has changed the dynamics of this family unit. When Stef realizes what Brandon is about to say she is in the background of the shot, in focus as the still-oblivious Mike is blurry in the foreground. The focus shifts as Mike has his own moment of realization, his face becoming clear in the frame as the horror of what he’s hearing washes over him. While this is happening, there’s no background sound; no score, no sad pop music to underscore the scene. It’s just one family getting hit with an emotional semi truck with nothing to distract, and it’s gorgeous.
What elevates the story beyond just the reveal, however, isn’t shot selection or music choice but how carefully the show frames each character’s specific reaction to the reveal. Stef is immediately angry at both Dani and Mike, insistent Dani be prosecuted and blaming Mike for not noticing anything was wrong. Brandon is angry that she would want to press charges, considering what he feels to be his complicity in the act. Mike is incredulous that Stef would even suggest informing the police, pointing out that Brandon is a 16-year-old boy, and he knows how 16-year-old boys think. What happens, happens slowly: after talking with Lena, Stef releases her anger toward Mike, Mike realizes Dani did do something wrong (via a great speech from Stef about what his feelings would be if it was Mariana and an adult male instead), and Mike convinces Brandon it was Dani in the wrong, not him.
In addition to this being an important storyline for the characters in the show, it is an important storyline for the representation of statutory rape on television. There is a tendency for society at large to feel more like Mike did about the incident when the minor is a male and the adult is female; “boys will be boys” is a phrase that comes to mind. It’s important for relationships between minors and adults on television to not be about “romance” or something more moony: As Stef and Mike ultimately agree, Dani is the adult and it is her responsibility to make sure this event didn’t happen. Bless The Fosters for going there when many, many shows with teenage characters who have relationships with adults will not.
- There were so many lovely small moments in Brandon’s storyline tonight, but my favorite was Mike’s vulnerability when he realized Brandon and Dani had sex when Brandon was drunk. His worry about Brandon inheriting his alcoholism was palpable and heartbreaking.
- Having an episode titled “The Longest Day” where Kerr Smith was on a boat had my Dawson’s Creek cognitive dissonance on high alert. (Ever have one of those days you wish you could live all over again?)
- This Jesus, Emma, and Hailey love triangle is tired. Hailey is scarily manipulative when it comes to Jesus so obviously it’s leading somewhere, but the getting there is so tedious.
- Please don’t have Robert refuse to sign the adoption papers, show! It appears that’s where Callie’s story is heading, and poor Callie has been through so much that it would be nice for her to have two families who love her unconditionally and want nothing from her but her love in return. Alas.
- I just want Christian from Dance Academy to teach Mariana how to dance. Is that too much to ask? (Probably.)
- “You’re the best, you know that?” Jude knowingly smiles, because of course he knows he is the best.