Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Switched At Birth: “Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear”

Illustration for article titled Switched At Birth: “Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear”
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

So we’re three episodes into regular coverage for Switched At Birth here at The A.V. Club, and I must admit I am a bit stymied about how to approach this new batch of episodes. The extended season one order has obviously removed some of the storytelling urgency here, causing a slight shift in focus that somehow feels so much more than slight in the final results. The question is: Will this shift take away the very things that made the first ten episodes feel so vital?

The perfect example of one of the negative effects of this shift is the story tonight with the Kennish lawyer. Apparently, she’s been playing naughty lawyer with one of the hospital board members (who we briefly met last season) and didn’t see any reason to disclose this fact to the Kennishes, or even think it might be a conflict of interest. Now, I don’t know much about the law, but it is just ridiculous to think any lawyer worth their salt wouldn’t see this as a giant problem. Not only was it ridiculous, it was kind of boring to boot. The only thing it seemed to advance was to get the case files delivered to the Kennishes so they could find out Angelo disappeared off the face of the Earth for the past two years, perhaps because he was involved in some shady behavior.

I can’t help but think if the rest of this season had half as many episodes there wouldn’t have been time for this little bit of nonsense, which makes me concerned for the ongoing vitality of the series. The only things that alleviate this concern, though, are the other wonderful little moments the show has been able to explore due to this extra time, like Daphne and Toby’s newfound sibling relationship. Him becoming her confidante in the absence of Emmett has been great for the show and for both of the characters, especially Toby, and I find myself perking up whenever a scene between the two starts. One of the things Switched At Birth does very well is create very specific relationship dynamics between all of their characters, and it’s nice to see Daphne and Toby get a dynamic of their very own.

The biggest story this week, though, was Emmett and the fallout from his arrest at the end of last week’s episode. In an interesting perspective shift, the episode opens with a reprise of his arrest, except this time the audience isn’t thrust into the point of view of Emmett but is instead a more removed observer, able to hear the police commands and see the desperate attempts for Emmett to communicate with his hands cuffed behind his back. It’s brutal and sad, and likely very emblematic of a problem many deaf people have had in their lives. As all of you guessed last week, he was arrested for putting Bay’s artwork on the billboard after being caught by some remarkably clear and well-placed cameras. Although the plausibility seems a little strained, the story is a fairly effective way to get an inside glimpse on what happens within the legal system when you are deaf, with the bonus of having a profound effect on Emmett and Bay’s relationship.

What has been compelling so far with Emmett and Bay is how their relationship is constantly tested, and those tests are almost solely because of misunderstandings or innate differences in hearing and deaf people, and yet they’ve found a way to spin each occurrence so it doesn’t completely feel like a retread of the same issues. Yes, their problems often come down to a reluctance in communication, but that reluctance feels organic enough to still work. If this happens every episode for an entire season it may not work, but for now they maintain just enough innocence, sweetness, and occasional understandable anger to keep it interesting.

One relationship that was front and center for the first time was Daphne and Angelo and the tentative steps towards rebuilding their relationship. Daphne’s big question in this relationship – a question we learn has affected much of how she views her deafness to this day – is whether or not Angelo left because she became deaf. For her, closure isn’t knowing he’s a jerk, because his absence these past 13 years is proof of that. It’s knowing why he was a jerk. When she finally gets the chance to ask him she is fearless, not backing down, not giving up until he finally admits to perhaps partially leaving because of it. This is obviously devastating, and this on top of learning she was only asked to come play basketball for Buckner so they could get a grant for catering to athletes with disabilities is doubly devastating for her feelings towards being deaf. In this episode Emmett explains to Bay how he sometimes hates hearing people, which is something Daphne no doubt can understand. Daphne's loneliness and alienation has been a theme of this season so far, with no end in sight as of yet.


The scene where Daphne confronts Angelo was quite moving and the main motivation for my aforementioned confusion about these past few episodes. There is all this weird and slightly boring stuff around the ages, stuff it’s hard to connect with for even one second, and then they do a scene like Daphne confronting Angelo and it's suddenly crystal clear why I recommend this show to people. It’s highly unlikely any show of this ilk can feel that raw and piercing all of the time – and as much as I've been lionizing the first ten episodes, Switched At Birth didn’t constantly feel like that then, either – but it’s simply frustrating to see the more frivolous things when I know how deep and true the show can go. Still, those moments are still strong and affecting enough to keep me loving these characters and wanting to come back for more.

Stray observations:

  • Carrie Wikis Some Art: “Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear,” Vincent van Gogh, 1889, oil on canvas. Hey, I know this one! van Gogh liked to paint himself a lot. (That sentence would make my Humanities professor proud, I’m sure.)
  • I don’t know how Daphne can read Simone’s lips. She doesn’t move her mouth.
  • Bay and Daphne signing while having a conversation now is a nice subtle shift in their relationship.
  • I knew this would happen eventually: ABC Family put a giant promo bug for Jane By Design over Melody’s subtitles. It would have been nice to know the substance of her apology to Regina.
  • So Regina and Angelo are going into business together and perhaps more. I’m sure Angelo’s shady past won’t be revealed at worst time for their rekindled friendship!
  • “Really? What, because of the haircut?”
  • “There’s obviously a Kennish joke book.”