“The Image Disappears,” the Salvador Dalí painting from which this episode of Switched At Birth gets its name, is an optical illusion; two images at once, where the one you see depends on your perspective. This duality is a wonderful metaphor for the episode itself, which explores the death of Angelo Sorrento with an interesting mix of stark realism and heart-tugging fantasy, mixed together to form something more than the sum of its somewhat awkward parts.
Yes, Angelo is dead. It’s a surprising turn for the show but not an unnatural one, as this thoughtful and careful episode proves. From the onset, it’s clear that this is a different type of episode: the colors muted, the score unobtrusive, and everything just a little less saturated while the Kennish-Vasquez family deals with the aftermath of Angelo’s accident. Where Switched At Birth always shines is the small details of how people deal with their problems in a human way—and then in turn deal with each other—and by having the family deal with Angelo’s death in stages, the show deftly hits all aspects of this very difficult situation.
The story of a family member dying is well-trod television territory, but a story of the decisions a family must make when the death is not immediate, when the question of removing life support is asked, is usually isolated to guest-star arcs on medical dramas. By having it happen to a regular character, one so integral to both Bay and Daphne’s lives, gives the story an emotional immediacy that’s almost bracing. And it’s the little things about how the story is told that makes it special, best exemplified by Daphne figuring out Angelo’s diagnosis of brain death by reading the doctor’s lips through the glass hospital wall. It’s shot like a horror movie, but it’s worse than a horror movie; it’s Daphne and Bay’s real life, and there isn’t any way for them to outrun the monster.
As the news of Angelo’s brain death radiates through the characters, they each get their own moment to have an individual, very specific reaction, which grounds the story and gives it even more emotional heft. Regina feels guilty for missing so many years with him. Bay is in denial that he won’t wake up and doesn’t want to turn off the machines. Kathryn wants to pray for her family, because it’s the only thing she can do to help. John feels bad that in his last interaction with Angelo, he thought the worst of him. Daphne feels anger at Regina because she blames her for the accident that caused his death. The lifeblood of great storytelling is specificity, and this script is teeming with it, and therefore is teeming with life (even while dealing with death).
The episode wasn’t perfect—the flashbacks and fantasy sequences felt a bit awkwardly placed at times, and ever-so-slightly emotionally manipulative in contrast with the emotional honesty of the rest of the episode—but overall it was a respectful, devastating, emotionally rich exploration of one family’s worst nightmare. Rest in peace, Angelo. You were emblematic of Switched At Birth as a whole: human and flawed, but striving to be better.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: The Image Disappears, Salvador Dalí, 1938, oil on canvas.
- Adriana was sorely missed here, even if her absence was certainly logistical. I hope she makes an appearance in an upcoming episode, at least for Regina’s sake. She needs her mom.
- It was fun to see Jake Kane’s head of security, Clarence Wiedman, here as Angelo’s doctor. (But Veronica Mars would have figured out the aneurysm explanation way sooner than the doctors did.)
- I speak no French, but Angelo’s mother saying goodbye over the phone was absolutely wrenching. Beautiful.
- Gilles Marini was wonderful in these last two episodes. It was a great sendoff for him as an actor.
- “This is all your fault.” Oh, Daphne.
This was one of those episodes where nothing is outwardly, acutely wrong but it feels like everything is on the cusp of being wrong. Jude still isn’t talking. Brandon is making horrible confessions. Jesus is juggling more than one woman, badly. Callie is repressing her past abuse. Stef is still investigating Mike. It’s like one of those old-timey dynamite sticks with a really long string, and someone just lit the match. We just have to wait for it to explode.
The most explosive of these things is Brandon finally confessing to someone that he slept with Dani. Of all the very bad, no good decisions Brandon made last season, his dalliance with Dani was the one most likely to have long-term consequences. When he eats a pot brownie and gets ragingly paranoid, he turns to Lena for help and ends up confessing to her what happened. It seems like a mature decision on his part: Tell a responsible, caring adult what happened and let the chips fall where they may. But Brandon can’t let anything be that simple and mature, then begging Lena not to tell anyone what happened. Lena has a point—what Dani did was a crime, techinically, and someone needs to be informed—and now she’s the one who has to make a tough decision. It’s a horrible (if understandable) thing for Brandon to ask Lena to do, as no matter what she decides she is put in an uncomfortable position.
Also concerning is Callie and what was really behind her decision to sleep with Wyatt, and then subsequent inability to follow through. Increasingly, it feels like Callie is going through the motions a bit in an attempt to recapture some sort of “normal” in her life. She wants to have sex with Wyatt because it’s something she thinks she can control, but in the end she doesn’t have the control of her mind she thinks and stops him before the actual sex happens. She thinks it is because she might still have feelings for Brandon (and the gross suggested hashtag on the screen enforces this), but Callie’s history of abuse is there, ready to haunt her just when she least expects it. She’s even reminded of it herself, when she mistakenly thinks she sees her abuser Liam. There’s bound to be more to this story to come.
And then there’s Jude. Jude still isn’t talking, a diagnosis of “selective mutism” by his therapist. It’s heartbreaking to see a kid as sweet as Jude, a kid who seemed to be adjusting so well, suddenly backtrack like this. But it’s a great story to tell, especially now that Connor lets Lena in on part of why Jude is having such a hard time. And his little gesture toward Callie at the end, comforting her even when he is in pain, is the perfect ending to what was a strangely unsettling episode.
- The open where Callie thinks Mariana is masturbating was sheer perfection. Kudos to this show for even talking about female teen masturbation, even in a dismissive sort of way.
- Jesus is being a jerk and this storyline is very, very frustrating to watch. Just be a nice guy, Jesus!
- Sophia’s intensity is a little frightening. Is it leading to something a bit more obsessive?
- It was obviously going to be Ana at the hotel. Is Mike just helping her out, or is there something more sinister happening?