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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Switched At Birth: "Memory Is Your Image Of Perfection"

Illustration for article titled Switched At Birth: "Memory Is Your Image Of Perfection"
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John and Kathryn Kennish’s marriage didn’t fall apart all at once. It fell apart in bits and pieces, in the inevitable silences between the happy moments. It fell apart in sideways glances and neglected dreams. It fell apart in the back of Kathryn’s mind long before she even recognized anything was wrong. But now she recognizes that everything is wrong, and it’s John’s turn to get caught up. Except John doesn’t even realize he’s fallen behind until Kathryn leaves him standing in a parking lot, alone and stunned and dealing with the potential that his marriage—his life as he knew it—could be over.

These are the scenes of a marriage. They could be scenes from any marriage, really; that’s the beauty of the story Switched At Birth is telling. Throughout the season the show punctuated the story with big, outlandish moments, with John kissing Jennice or Kathryn writing a steamy novel based on her experiences as a baseball wife. At times these punctuating moments threatened to overcome the narrative, tipping it into unpleasant soap, but this episode pulls the story right back into focus and puts the more scandalous moments that preceded it into perspective. John kissing Jennice wasn’t the story. It isn’t the reason John and Kathryn’s marriage is falling apart. It’s the catalyst for Kathryn to finally realize what she’s been going through all season, for her to confront John not with the specifics of his indiscretion but with the totality of her discontentment with their marriage. It’s sneaky and small and smart.

What’s interesting about John and Kathryn’s dilemma is how ordinary it turned out to be. Kathryn is unhappy. She’s been vaguely unhappy for a long time, but now she finally has diagnosis for what is wrong: She wants to grow and change, and John wants her to stay the same. He’s unhappy but he sees no way out of it; his unhappy has become normal, like a droning hum in the background of his life. John has never been the most flexible man. Kathryn so clearly expressing a desire to be fulfilled in a way he can’t imagine fulfilling her obviously terrifies him, so he rejects it completely, and by rejecting Kathryn’s  idea of fulfillment he doesn’t realize he’s essentially rejecting her. How many real relationships have ended this way? Millions, probably. Seeing something like John’s “I’m not happy because you keep telling me how unhappy you are” sentiment dramatized on television, which is glorious in its absolute commonness, still feels like a treat.

Not every story in this episode was ordinary, as much as I wish they were. Daphne—who is basically a magnet for drama at this point—is caught in the middle of Sharee’s life, having turned her mother in to a social worker but still taking it upon herself to do more. This aspect of Daphne’s character, the one that wants to help people despite the cost to her, is one of Daphne’s most admirable qualities, even when it brings out the worst in the show. That worst comes when Daphne and Sharee trick Sharee’s mother into getting to the free clinic to meet with Daphne’s boss. It’s a disaster that ends with the boss getting stabbed and Daphne having to jam a needle into his chest so he can breathe. As an overall story, Daphne helping Sharee realize she can’t take care of her mother on her own is compelling. In juxtaposition of the thoughtfulness of the Kennish marriage, Daphne jamming a needle into someone’s chest feels a little silly.

But there’s redemption elsewhere. After what feels like a whole season without a story, Travis gets a great one here. It’s time for college interviews, and Galludet is calling for both Emmett and Travis. Yet while Emmett is blasé about the whole thing, Travis is a twitchy mess at the thought of his interview (and I love the idea of “mumbling” vs. “crisp” signing Melody discusses here when preparing him). Travis isn’t just twitchy, he misses his interview altogether, then lies about it. When Melody catches his lie she can’t understand, until Mary Beth breaks it down: Travis comes from a horrible family situation, and Melody’s house is the first place he’s felt like he was home. Now it feels like she’s kicking him out just as he feels like he’s found a family again. It’s lovely and specific and full of wonderful moments only Switched At Birth can have, like the truly great scene where Melody and Travis fight with each other while Mary Beth sits between them desperately trying to keep up, with the camera placement and movement expertly representing Mary Beth’s alienation in that moment. Because although she got the idea of the argument, she’s still an outsider in the moment. Not because she can’t hear them—although that’s part of it—because the moment was about what it has meant for Travis in his life to be deaf, and how that’s suddenly different now with Melody, Emmett, and Mary Beth, who all understand him in a way his family never tried to.

At its heart, through all the soapy shenanigans and twists and turns of this season, Travis’ story remains what Switched At Birth is about: People reaching out to each other and trying to understand. Sometimes, like with Travis and Melody, this understanding comes easily. Sometimes, like with John and Kathryn, the path is a bit rockier. But how happy are we that we get to watch them walk it?


Stray observations:

  • Carrie Wikis Some Art: Untitled (Memory Is Your Image Of Perfection), Barbara Kruger, 1982, Collage.
  • I am still very into Regina’s story with the East Riverside project, as stories of gentrification issues interest me. Adriana won the day here by pointing out how Wes was trotting out Regina like a Latina mascot to help sell his project, but Wes also has a point—it’s a mutually beneficial business relationship. Even if it is kind of gross.
  • Bay CANNOT lose the ability to use her hand. Art? Signing? Bay needs her hand. I will accept nothing else. (Poor Bay.)
  • Bay and Toby playing a Parent Trap scheme on their parents was adorable. But those Pig Troughs look pretty nasty.
  • Gabe the cute audiologist is back and it looks like Melody is going to start dating him. Finally!
  • Daphne’s boss calling her out on flirting with Jorge and Campbell instead of doing her community service was priceless.