Monday's Switched at Birth finale marked the high school graduation of the show’s main characters Daphne Vasquez (Katie LeClerc) and Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano). But while it was a time for celebration on screen, off screen, the third season of the ABC Family drama made me want to scream, not cheer, from the rooftops.
It all started with the death of Daphne and Bay’s father Angelo (Gilles Marini) in July. Sure, his sudden demise from a brain aneurysm yielded plenty of high-stakes drama, but it just seemed too convenient. There were plenty of story possibilities left to explore in Angelo’s estranged relationship with his daughter Daphne—for whom he was just learning to sign—as well as in his growing bond with his biological daughter Bay and his roller-coaster marriage to Regina (Constance Marie). At the time, series creator Lizzy Weiss told TV Line that the idea to kill Angelo came from her own experience with the death of a high school teacher in her teen years; it was an event that had a profound impact on her. But a beloved high school teacher isn't the same as a father, and even though Angelo's last episode was wonderful, the twist felt like a lazy decision by writers unsure of what to do next.
However, the ramifications of Angelo’s death, particularly on Daphne, were what really made me want to change the channel week after week. In the next episode, Daphne wound up doing cocaine while visiting a dorm at Northwestern, in an effort to ease her emotional despair. Sure, "angsty teenager with nowhere to turn experiments with drugs" sounds like a pretty run-of-the-mill plot point for a teen TV drama, but watching a focused, intelligent, and mature character like Daphne suddenly take such a random and dangerous turn was jarring, to say the least. Alcohol or marijuana—the latter of which she was actually looking for when a kind young deadbeat offered her some coke instead—would've seemed like a more natural move considering Daphne’s inexperience with drugs and her mother’s past battles with substance abuse. Thankfully, Daphne only took cocaine and threw a couch off the roof of a building that one time... yes, a sofa-hurling really happened, and it was just absurd watching it as it is writing about it now.
To make matters worse, in subsequent episodes the character kissed her friend’s boyfriend (just one of many her romantic dalliances as of late), stole Oxycontin from the medical clinic she worked at, and vandalized thousands of dollars' worth of property at her mom’s design store. When Regina discovered the vandalism offense, which resulted in a felony charge against Daphne, she asked her daughter why she seemed so intent on throwing away everything that they'd worked so hard for throughout Daphne’s years in school. A visibly frustrated Daphne didn’t respond, and in truth, there’s no piece of dialogue the show's writers could've scripted for her that would've explained away her character’s sudden and drastic personality change.
As a longtime viewer of Switched at Birth, I've long been impressed by the show's unique take on the typical pitfalls of growing up. At the beginning, the switch storyline was a good hook, but once that eventually ran out of steam, it gave way to even richer and more interesting plots about the socio-economic differences between Bay, the spoiled daughter of an ex-baseball star, and Daphne, who was brought up in the far-less-glamorous East Riverside, not to mention the deaf culture surrounding Daphne and her group of friends at school. Switched at Birth truly offered a refreshing take on teenage drama that was unique from the glut of high school-centered programming on The CW, MTV, and even elsewhere on ABC Family, which is what made it even more disappointing to see the show stumble so much in Season 3. Instead of depicting interesting issues like the question faced by many deaf high school seniors of whether to attend a deaf university like Gallaudet or a hearing college, the show relied too heavily on clichéd tropes.
At the end of the Season 3 finale, Daphne ended up avoiding jail time for the second offense on her record because Bay took the blame for her. And as Bay was led away by a detective, she joked to Daphne that she would gain “street cred” in the artistic community—a very sweet moment between two girls who didn’t know each other at all until two years ago, and probably wouldn't have met if it weren’t for the switch. But despite that brilliant cliffhanger, it’s still a struggle to muster up excitement for what’s to come in Season 4 after Daphne’s 180-degree turn. Bay, and the rest of their extended family, may be able to forgive and forget Daphne’s many indiscretions this past season, but I’m not sure I can.
What did you think of Switched at Birth's third season?
AIRED ON 10/26/2015
Season 4 : Episode 20