One of the big reasons Switched At Birth works so well is that it embraces change. Because the show deals more with the small moments of everyday life, though, the change it embraces is on a small-scale level, giving every character the chance to incrementally grow, change, and evolve in a completely naturalistic way. Tonight’s episode was full of these small-scale character observations, and it took what could have been filler and elevated it nicely.
The theme of “Tree Of Forgiveness” was all about the assumptions we make about people, and how those assumptions are often at odds with reality. From John’s reaction to Bay’s art confession to Kathryn’s shock at learning why Toby is really out of sorts, both Kennish parents were moored from their foundations in interesting ways. The most interesting thing about it, however, is their reaction to the news.
In Bay’s case, her story this season about branching out into more hard-edged street art with new friend Zarra takes an unexpected turn tonight, when she breaks down after arguing about the value of street art with John and finally tells him all about what she does, including what she did to his own place of business. The naked naiveté and desire for her father’s approval in Bay’s voice as she tells John she chose to do art on his car wash wall because she “thought he would like it” is heartbreaking, especially when John’s only response is a dumbfounded, “I feel like I don’t know you.” It’s harsh in its brutal honestly but not mean, as John truly doesn’t have the ability at this moment to understand why this is so important to Bay, and therefore all he can see is the nuisance and criminality of it all. The impressive thing for John is he didn’t respond how the John of the pilot would have reacted; that John would have been all anger and immediate reproach. As he and Kathryn discussed the issue, it was once again striking how unusual it is to see a scene like that on television: two parents, muddling through the best they can when faced with a difficult situation. The Kennish marriage was one of the problematic parts of the show when it began, but now, it supplies some of the best moments. That’s some great small-scale change.
John wasn’t the only parent struggling with the inner life of his offspring this week, as Kathryn was similarly struggling with Toby’s newfound listlessness. Toby has been largely ignored in this Emmett/Simone mess—other than a well-deserved cold shoulder to Emmett—but when you look at it, he might have come out of the whole prom episode in the worst shape. Not only did he find out about Simone sleeping with Emmett, but his best friend moved away, and with his best friend went his band. At least Kathryn noticed his video game-fueled ennui and decided to snap him out of it by attempting to trick him into playing some music at the local church music night. Toby is angry and mortified, and in the process blurts out the real reason he is no longer with Simone. This raw confession motivates Kathryn to support him by going onstage herself (when he refuses) and sing a lovely version of “Hard Times Come Again No More,” which Toby eventually joins her in onstage. It’s a nice mother and son bonding moment, and it’s just plain good to see Toby get so much non-gambling story screen time.
Finally tonight, there is Angelo and his continued quest to try to reconcile with Daphne. Daphne has always been quite insistent she doesn’t want or need a relationship with Angelo, and I like that she has the confidence to simply tell Angelo this to his face rather than stringing him along. Where this gets compelling is when Angelo’s too-convenient (and almost groan-worthy) injury pops up and Daphne is the only one who can help him, forcing them to interact. Daphne pretty much puts the dagger in Angelo’s hopes when she tells the hospital staff she’s not his daughter, but instead of this slamming the door on their relationship for good it somehow opens a tiny window. Angelo apologizes again, and in his frustration over Daphne’s reluctance to forgive him, he actually seems to reach her a bit.
These types of incremental changes—whether they be to individual characters or the relationship between two specific characters—are what Switched At Birth does so well. By embracing and even reveling in the gradual shift of these things, every episode only makes the show’s world stronger. And that’s pretty darn impressive.
- Carrie Wikis Some Art: Tree Of Forgiveness, Edward Burne-Jones, 1881, oil on canvas. That little cloth portion feels like an afterthought prompted by censors, no?
- Scene of the night: Bay and Daphne discussing how Bay should handle Emmett. Their scenes are always gold, but I especially liked how Daphne was a good friend to both Bay and Emmett here.
- I also liked the subtle class conversation between Bay and her new friend Zarra once Zarra learned Bay’s real last name.
- Emmett’s new motorcycle girl is cute! As is Toby’s churchgoing musician friend.
- On that note, did we know the Kennishes went to church? Maybe at the beginning of the series the characters mentioned it?
- Regina counseling Simone has potential as a storyline, but once again, Regina is doing something in secret that’s absolutely going to devastate everyone around her. Between this and her new truce with Angelo, she sure likes to get herself into messes.