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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Switched At Birth: “The Merrymakers”

Illustration for article titled Switched At Birth: “The Merrymakers”
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Well, that was a whole lot of stuff, now wasn’t it? This was an hour jam-packed full of plots and scenes and character interactions and drama, with every single person in the cast getting their own little moment, and there are a lot of characters on this show. It didn’t necessarily work as a cohesive hour in any sort of overarching thematic way, but there was a pleasant zaniness to much of the proceedings that managed to smooth over most of the rougher story edges.

For me, though, this was really the Toby Show, in the best way possible. Say what you will about the marriage plot—and I don’t think it’s been entirely successful—but I absolutely love the exploration of Toby as a character it has sparked throughout the season. Most of this is because Lucas Grabeel is a completely underrated performer, so stealthily good at any and all comedic and dramatic moments the show throws his way, so it’s nice to see him get a chance to shine. Tonight was no different, as he tackled the unique dilemma of learning he has been exposed to chlamydia in the past while he is in the middle of his bachelor party. Thanks, Simone!

It’s contrived and mostly ridiculous, but what’s interesting about the way the show plays this reveal is how it plays out not for pure comedic relief—although Grabeel gets a few fantastic comedic moments along the way—but on a wholly unexpected, emotional level. Toby’s head feels like a jumble of emotions, all tied into his upcoming marriage to Nikki and her recent personality changes in light of learning the truth about her father, and all of his frustration only comes out when evidence of his past troubles with Emmett and Simone are surfaced here, by the STD scare. It’s completely strange but somehow works, especially in cementing the bond between Toby and Emmett. Emmett started the night completely opposed to Toby’s marriage, but after seeing the mature way Toby and Nikki quickly settle the potential chlamydia issue, sees that their bond isn’t necessarily a bad thing, agreeing to be Toby's best man on the big day.

Not on board with the marriage, however, are Kathryn and Nikki’s mom, Jenice. The uneasiness between the two mothers starts out as the manifestation of ingrained class issues but quickly becomes less about that and more about Jenice’s concern for Nikki’s current emotional state after finding out about her father. While I think the class issues between the two families are inherently interesting, the writers are in danger a bit here of going too broad and falling down a rabbit hole of obvious tropes, so it was nice to see the show pull back a bit and make the concerns of all parties more about the well being of their children than any inherent socioeconomic differences between the families. In the end, it comes down to two mothers who want the best for their children and don’t think a marriage so young is what's best. This is obviously leading to a big confrontation in next week’s finale, one I’m certainly curious to see how the show frames.

Did I mention there was a lot going on in this episode? Because I’ve barely scratched the surface of the pure volume of plot conveyed. Most important for future finale plotline purposes, I fear, is Daphne’s continued run-in with the increasingly mustache-twirling Senator Coto, who apparently now only speaks to Daphne in allegorical veiled threats. Just like a real super-villain! Scared, Daphne completely removes herself from his orbit but makes the mistake of telling a drunken Nikki about what Coto did to the intern, causing Nikki to then leave an incriminating voicemail on Coto’s office line. The girls manage to break in and erase the message—which featured a nice character moment for Nikki when she realized she was just projecting her own daddy issues on Coto—but a security guard tips Coto off to their suspicious activity, and the episode ends with him watching security footage of their dalliance. I’m not sure what Coto will do in the finale, but one thing I’m sure of is that it will involve creepy, condescending speeches.

Besides everything that happened with Toby, my favorite little story of the night was Bay’s quest to get Ty out of his upcoming deployment. I am a sucker for any story where John Kennish does something selfless, and he does that to the extreme in this episode, visiting Ty and finding out that Ty doesn’t want to break Bay’s heart by telling her he wants to go off with his unit. What’s great about John’s decision to tell Bay he didn’t have the pull to keep Ty in Kansas City is that he does it knowing it will break Bay’s heart, but respecting Ty and Bay’s relationship enough to know that Ty telling Bay he wants to go would break her heart even more. It’s a lovely, mature story highlighted by a wonderful, respectful scene between Ty and John, and everything about it is why this show is so good.


Even though this episode was far too scattered and jam-packed to make it great, besides the things mentioned above, it had one big thing going for it that has been missing from a lot of the rest of the season: sustained core character interaction. Daphne, Bay, and Toby had a scene together! Toby and Emmett! Emmett and Travis! Daphne and Nikki! Bay and Mary Beth! There was a sense of these people being fully enmeshed in each other’s lives that I didn’t realize I missed so much until it was resurrected here, in a cavalcade of intermittently connected, overly busy moments. Did we need a lot of these scenarios shoved in here? No, not really. Would they be better served as individual storylines if they were given a bit more room to breathe in other episodes? Probably.

Was it fun to watch, though? Yes, indeed.

Stray observations:

  • Carrie Wikis Some Art: The Merrymakers, Carolus-Duran, 1870, oil on canvas.
  • Travis and Mary Beth’s story was sweet, and I liked how it worked to round out her character a bit more, but it might have been better served as a bigger section of a less-packed episode. Good for Mary Beth for planting one on Travis, though.
  • Is it bad that although Angelo should get custody of his daughter Abby considering the circumstances, all I could do was feel bad for the poor couple who had to give her up? This is a messy situation I feel like could have used a bit more fleshing out.
  • Lots of talk about Wilke being judgmental of Toby’s life from afar. No sign of Wilke’s pretty face. This is cruel.
  • Toby: “It says here to list your sexual partners. Do you want to just copy off me?”
  • John: “I get it; I get it. Our son is marrying into a drug cartel.”