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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Switched At Birth: “The Intruder”

Illustration for article titled Switched At Birth: “The Intruder”
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Last week, I once again voiced my most common complaint about Switched At Birth: that its wacky plot shenanigans often threaten to overwhelm the lovely character balance of the show. The more I reflect on this complaint, however, the more I think that my initial instincts here might be completely off-base.

Don’t get me wrong: The plots still go completely sideways at times. But at its heart, Switched At Birth is a soap opera, and something has to keep the drama moving. What the show excels at is putting its characters into a big jar, sealing them in, and shaking really hard, with the goal of seeing how the dust settles once the shaking stops. And so far, the dust settling and subsequent cleanup has been consistently excellent, no matter how crazy the shaking.

The shakeup in the premiere was Regina and Angelo’s rash decision to get married, so, of course, tonight's episode focused on the aftermath. To its credit, the show doesn’t sugar coat anything the two did; the entire family (minus Bay) is angry with them, especially when the family members realize it might also implicate them in any future government immigration fraud investigations. Regina and Angelo are horribly naïve about the whole situation, believing they can simply live in separate places and after one interview with an immigration officer they will be home free. Their case is flagged for investigation, which means their living situation will be checked in on frequently, and thus, Angelo must live at the house.

With this, the jar is done shaking, and the rest of the season will be about how all of the characters react to this new situation. Although tonight was mostly about setting up what will happen down the line, there were still several great character scenes sprinkled in that illustrated just how good the show is at mining character moments from every situation. The highlights were the lovely scenes between Daphne and Bay, as they navigate both getting to know their father and reintegrating Emmett into their daily lives at the same time. Bay and Daphne have one of the very best dynamics on the show—full of guarded self-protection and a simultaneous deep understanding of the other’s situation—and every time the girls are in a scene alone together, it shines.

One thing Switched At Birth has gotten much better at throughout this long first season is giving individual characters their own stories independent of whatever is happening with the main family story. These first two episodes introduce new threads for several characters and give them just enough weight so that they feel like they are enriching the show, not just serving as a place holder or distraction from the main episode focus. The biggest example of this so far is Daphne’s work at the kitchen, which is obviously building to something more but for now serves perfectly well as a great little character builder. Last week, it was Daphne fighting against discrimination; tonight, she’s fought past that and is on to using the job as an escape from what’s happening at home. Stories on this show never exist in a bubble—every story feeds the others and serves the characters in turn, and this is a great example.

Also beginning a new story is Bay, who meets a fellow street artist who looks positioned to challenge her creativity, and John, who gets a nice little character runner about losing his major league doubles record to a current player. Bay’s story is destined to continue in future episodes, but John’s was just for tonight, and it was a welcome little bit of character development for him. John has always been a tricky character, starting out as a borderline jerk and slowly softening, so it’s nice to see his vulnerabilities showing. For all his former baseball glory bluster, he’s just that: a former player, glory faded, and the public’s memories of him are fading along with that as well. The exploration of how his masculine identity changes once his baseball glory fades and his wife is no longer around to take care of him is a good one and one I’m looking forward to see evolve.


“The Intruder” was more about setup than execution, yes, but what execution was there was well handled. Now that Angelo is firmly in the mix, all that’s left to do is watch how the dust from his presence settles on everyone else in the family.

Stray observations:

  • Carrie Wikis Some Art: On hiatus this week due to excessive results. Turns out there are a lot of paintings titled “The Intruder.” Who knew?
  • Do we know who did the sound on Daphne and Emmett’s movie? Was it Toby and Simone?
  • Bay: “And I better go, so you can tell your boyfriend about your husband.”