No matter how old you are, it’s tough to grow up. This could be the mission statement of this season of Switched At Birth, which was a sometimes lovely, sometimes kind of silly exploration of the different ways the Kennish-Vasquez family is growing up. The midseason finale isn’t perfect, but it underlines almost every character’s journey of growing up and making choices, even if that choice is sometimes about how sad it is to move on.
The character who has been most overtly focused on growing up this season is Toby, who got married in the season two finale and had his wife immediately leave to go on a mission, where she remained until last week’s episode. It always felt like kind of a strange decision, story-wise, to have him make such a mature choice and then not show the real-life consequences of that choice. Most of this season was about Toby figuring out how to be an adult with responsibilities—capably portrayed in his realization that he really enjoyed coaching and guiding the girls on his field hockey team—but in the end, his biggest responsibility ended up being something behind his control. Toby spent the season building his future life, a life he envisioned spending with Nikki, but her return indicated she didn’t share his same dreams, and she felt called to live a life of service far away from Kansas City.
Toby’s response to Nikki’s admission was akin to the full gamut of human emotions crammed into about five minutes of screen time, as he started the episode devastated that his marriage was over (and Lucas Grabeel played the hell out this devastation, so bravo to him), moved on to being determined to fly out to Peru and get her back, and then realized—due to a conversation with Kathryn about her own life following John around—that this ultimately wouldn’t make him happy. Toby ends up leaving town anyway, using his unclaimed ticket to Peru on a solo trip to Iceland instead. His story this season is ultimately not about growing up in order to be with someone else, but growing up to figure out how to be himself. Nikki’s refusal to basically even be in her marriage at any point still doesn’t quite sit well, but Toby’ reactions to her decisions are always portrayed with sensitivity and specificity. All I know is I hope that ticket to Iceland was round trip.
Daphne’s story this season was also mostly about growing up, and like Toby’s, it played out nothing like it seemed it would after the first episode of the season. Last season, Daphne was all about making bad choices. This season was about learning the consequences of those choices, which she did when she was assigned by her parole officer to volunteer at the local free health clinic. The basic structure of this story—Daphne is forced to do community service, Daphne realizes she might have found a calling in medicine, Daphne struggles with the realities of this situation—is a strong one. Throughout the season, however, it was frequently bogged down with a bunch of somewhat silly romance drama. This obviously could come down to personal preference, but Daphne realizing she might want to move on from her dream of being a chef to a new dream of being a doctor is far more interesting than her love triangle between Jorge and Campbell, and it’s a shame much more time was devoted to Jorge and Campbell throughout the arc. Bringing Daphne’s attacker from the food truck back as a way for Daphne to realize she just might have what it takes to make it in medicine was contrived but ultimately satisfying. If only her time with Campbell and Jorge felt as emotionally realized, her season-long arc really could have soared.
And then there’s Bay. Bay has had a strange go of it this season, bouncing around between stories about the importance of her art and stories about the importance of the various men in her life, and most of it felt a bit underdeveloped. The one throughline Bay had throughout the season was her evolving relationship with Tank, who started as her somewhat goofy art class partner and friend and slowly evolved into something more. The one disappointing thing about Bay this season is it seems, like Daphne, most of her stories were more concerned with the men than Bay itself. This is especially noticeable as she juggled feelings for Ty, Tank, and Emmett all in an 11-episode span. This isn’t unrealistic or wrong, but it’s love-focused in a way I personally wish the show could break away from a bit. In the end, Bay’s art seems as stagnant as her relationship with Tank turns out to be.
But not stagnant is Bay and Emmett, who suddenly find themselves firmly back in each other’s orbit after a season of being each other’s rock, friendship-wise. Emmett getting catfished by Matthew was totally ridiculous and psycho (and I believe was predicted in the comment section last week, which was very astute), but Emmett getting catfished so wasn’t the point. The show wanted to find a way to get Bay and Emmett alone in that field in a way they felt vulnerable enough to finally let down their guard and admit to each other they were still in love, and that’s exactly what they did. All of the lead-up to the moment frankly wasn’t my favorite thing the show has ever done, but that scene? That scene worked completely, and it proves that you can do love stories if you make them matter. Throughout the season, did Tank really matter? He was pleasant enough, sure, but there was always a sort of remove there, a sense of impermanence. Daphne’s stories with Jorge and Campbell feel the same; impermanent, undone. These feelings of impermanence might not be an issue if the non-romance stories in Bay and Daphne’s life felt like they got equal time, but this season those always felt rushed, squeezed out by the more romance-focused stories the writers wanted to tell.
If you’re going to ask the audience to be invested in a couple, you have to make it count. Bay and Emmett’s story proves Switched At Birth can make love stories count. Now, it feels like time for the show to take its own advice and grow up a bit, and make all of Bay and Daphne’s other stories count—the ones that don’t involve romance at all.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: Love Seduces Innocence, Pleasure Entraps, and Remorse Follows, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, 1809, oil on canvas.
- Kathryn and John’s story ultimately wasn’t all that satisfying, simply because beyond the cute dance number it appears to have kind of stopped since then. Did the dance fix everything? Hopefully this will be explored a bit more in the second half of the season.
- I did appreciate Renzo’s nod to the fact that John was very uncomfortable with him at first. It’s nice to know the show at least remembers.
- Wes and Regina’s business relationship ends in anger and destruction, just as it has promised to from the very beginning. Now that Regina is away from him, I hope she finds way to take him down and take his shady East Riverside development with it.
- Bay is signing with her right hand again! A very welcome development.
- Tank depledging and apologizing to Mary Beth was a nice character moment for him.
- “I’m Christian… enough.” I admit, I snickered.