After a record-length first season, some shows would need to take a breather, step back and deliver at least one simple, low-key episode in which its characters adjusted to all they just went through. Not Switched at Birth, though! The second season premiere “The Door to Freedom” snaps the Vasquez and Kennish family right into a whole new set of problems, and in a role reversal of sorts, this time around it is Bay (Vanessa Marano) who is thriving, while Daphne (Katie Leclerc) is heartbroken, struggling to find her way, and hurting other in the process. In a way that still stays true to the characters’ personalities as we know them to be, Lizzy Weiss and her writers room have crafted a whole new set of issues to allow the actors to run the gambit of emotions and show off their range.
[Minor Spoilers Ahead]
Click here for a photo preview of “The Door to Freedom,” Switched at Birth’s second season premiere.
Hot off Angelo’s (Gilles Marini) courtroom victory, he is flush with cash and blowing through it so fast he probably will be broke in six months. So we stole that from John Kennish (D.W. Moffett), but it doesn’t make it any less true. Angelo is bestowing gifts upon everyone, but only trying to win the hearts of some—for other he’s just saying thank you. His generosity does not go unnoticed by Regina (Constance Marie), though, who has been fighting her feelings for him for so long that this showering her with romantic ideals may just tip the scales in his favor. What he gives Toby (Lucas Grabeel), Daphne, and Regina are just gifts in “The Door to Freedom,” but they set up storylines to come later in season two.
And don’t worry: Switched at Birth didn’t forget about the cliffhanger it left you with at the end of the first season. Though the first part of the episode seems like the show is ignoring Angelo’s potential little bun in the oven, it soon comes back to bite a surprising family member in a big way when he inadvertently gets dragged into Angelo’s mess and asked to keep the secret until he at least knows for sure if this is his kid or not. Switched at Birth is certainly playing with a lot of drama for its second season, but it’s nice to see the show playing with different pairings of characters, too, and utilizing everyone in its extended cast in a number of different ways.
Right now, though, the focus is on the seeming shift between the girls. Bay is finally doing well for once, feeling loved and supported and energized to throw herself into constructive activities. Of course, that doesn’t go so well for her, and her uptick in grades causes concern about cheating in her French class. Asked to go before the school board to defend herself, Bay slips back into her old attitude of defiance and wanting to just say ‘Screw you’ and walk away from it all. But she doesn’t, showing maturation and growth.
Daphne, on the other hand, is floating, yet to replace her job, still pining for Jeff and ignoring Travis (Ryan Lane), who is trying everything he can just to make her smile. She is a shell of her former independent, sunny self, but she doesn’t get too far before some sense is smacked into her. What’s most interesting here is that you easily consider how Daphne’s actions affect her as a young woman, choosing a man over a passion and potential career, but the show very carefully points out that she has a greater purpose than that. Her actions are actually more tragic—and a bit offensive—because the deaf community has had to work so much harder than most to get chances like the one she was offered in the kitchen. She threw it away without thinking about the message that sends. It’s a brutal reminder that even though Switched at Birth has given Daphne a lot of freedom to operate an adult world, she is just a kid, and her mistakes will be made as such.
“The Door to Freedom” interestingly introduces a new season-long arc that is sure to cause a lot of discussion, if not outright controversy. We meet a new student (Stephen Lunsford) who is entering Carlton as a hearing student taking part in a pilot program, presumably meant to integrate and teach a stronger sense of understanding about deaf culture to those who wouldn’t normally be exposed to it. It’s a blip on the radar in the beginning of the episode; he can barely sign, and Emmett (Sean Berdy) off-handedly makes fun of him, the way he seemed to hate all hearing people when we first met him. But it sets up something so fascinating that is rarely considered in just how separate the deaf community still unfortunately is from the rest of society.
A show like Switched at Birth, which actively features ASL only scenes and paints deaf culture in both an informative and positive light, has made great strides, but the fact of the matter is, it’s still the exception to the quote-unquote norm. And forget about simple opportunities on TV and consider schools in the real world: a deaf child cannot attend a regular classroom environment; they do not accommodate for his or her translator. Instead, they are cast out separately and treated as special needs. This sends the message of “difference” to everyone involved, and it is still easier to fear difference, rather than want to embrace it or learn to understand it.
The Carlton storyline, which is an opening for Bay to switch schools and be met with a whole new slew of challenges for herself, really is extremely forward-thinking and unique in its own right. There are just so many storylines to service, we have to hope it gets its due in being told to the fullest extent, rather than on “TV time.” It certainly is one of the most fascinating things on television in general right now.
Switched at Birth returns to ABC Family on January 7th 2013 at 8 p.m.
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