Tuesday, February 7, 2017

REVIEW: 'Switched at Birth' - Daphne Takes a Stand When a Picture of Mingo Goes Viral in 'This Has to Do With Me'

Freeform's Switched at Birth - Episode 5.02 "This Has to Do With Me"

After a photo of Daphne and Mingo dressed up as their favorite singers goes viral, the pair find themselves caught up in a controversy that escalates into a discussion of race relations and free speech. Bay seeks a job at the tattoo parlor in town. Kathryn and John court a new pitcher for the UMKC baseball team. Regina and Luca work on a class project together.

The premiere ended with Daphne and Mingo taking a photo that would then go viral because it featured Mingo dressed up as Lil Wayne. It kicked off a huge conversation the show is having about race relations on college campuses this season. It's a very important subject matter. One that defines a number of stories on campus in "This Has to Do With Me." This hour largely focuses on the immediate aftermath and Daphne trying to look at it from an intellectual perspective. But the show also does something very smart in making it a more personal issue that has real-life consequences for the characters. It's a key issue up for debate with Daphne and her friends. But it's also easy to see how other characters view the same subject matter even though they are doing something completely different. Just look at John and Kathryn's story. On the surface, it's about the two of them trying to woo a baseball pitcher to the university. But underneath, it's commenting on class and race in some understandable and nuanced ways. That suggests that these three characters will become important in the debate on campus as well even though right now John just wants this pitcher and the kid wants to support his family.

It's also fascinating to watch Daphne address this issue. She has a unique perspective on things. And yet, she is also limited by her vantage point. She doesn't immediately understand how the costume is offensive. More importantly, she knows that Mingo wasn't trying to parody or ridicule Lil Wayne. He dressed up like him because he likes the rapper and his music. He was doing so out of appreciation. It's just his limited point-of-view that doesn't realize how complicated it may be for other people who look differently than him. Daphne sees all of this as an intellectual debate. She's quoting the first amendment and the kind of repercussions that would follow if Mingo is harshly punished for wearing the costume. In the beginning, she believes the story will just blow over and they just have to wait it out. When Mingo could lose his R.A. job, that's when Daphne starts to fight. She fights for him. She stands up for what she believes in even though she doesn't fully understand the nuances of this situation. She's fighting to protect people's rights to say what they want. She doesn't believe the university should be able to censor its students. She sees this as the time in their lives when they need to be challenged intellectually. She may not be able to keep up with the debate in her philosophy class. But she understands that it's important for a learning environment to be able to have such conversations.

But that's not why the costume was offensive or why this is going to be a much bigger issue for the show this season. It's instead how it makes people feel. Admittedly, this is a predominately white cast. It's up to the guest characters to provide a black point-of-view for this conversation. That will increase the roles of Iris and Sharee this season. Sharee doesn't want to spend any time worrying about this issue. She has bigger priorities to focus on in her life. And yet, that doesn't make Iris look weak for caring so deeply about all of this. She was the one who first called Mingo out for being offensive. It's just a part of what her life is like as a black woman. She shares that perspective with Daphne. She was offended by what Mingo did because he was suppose to be the person in the dorm who protected her. Instead, he's a part of the problem. So, she can't feel safe on campus anymore. That's a powerful issue for the show to address. Universities need to be safe places. They need to be open to different debates. But they also need to foster a healthy and safe learning environment so that everyone can achieve what they want. Right now, Iris doesn't feel safe. And Daphne's first amendment argument is only driving a wedge in their friendship. Daphne is open to hearing other opinions - especially ones that come from the people she cares about. It should be fascinating to watch if this becomes something even bigger on campus because Daphne speaks up. Again, race relations is a difficult subject matter. So the show will have to be very careful of the optics moving forward. It works in this hour but it could be awkward in the future.

However, Daphne's story is really the only one of much value throughout this episode. It's nuanced and is about something. It introduces a problem and the characters struggle to solve it with a moving final beat that will complicate things in the future. The rest of the episode just feels very piece-moving. That's not inherently bad at all. There has been a lot of talk in these first two episodes about John taking the team to the college world series. That would be quite an accomplishment for him. It's fascinating to watch him and Kathryn walk the narrow morality line of not being able to bribe the pitcher to the team. It goes against the rules. But more importantly, it shows that this family has learned from their recent tax problems. And elsewhere, Bay is just struggling to prove herself as a tattoo artist. It's all just a part of her difficult re-entry into life in Kansas City. Her story with Travis is really romanticizing their time in China. It's setting up expectations that life there was so great with them and life in Kansas City just isn't. They are still a good romantic pairing. They are still making things work despite new obstacles. It's just more the show telling the audience something instead of showing much of it. Yes, they are good in the end. Plus, Bay is able to keep her new job as an apprentice. But it could just be setting up for something big to complicate their futures.

And yet, all of that is interesting and necessary work. The same cannot be said with whatever is going on with Regina right now. Again, it's understandable to approach a new type of romance with her. Sure, she's had a number of romantic stories over the course of the series. It may be more interesting to see her actions as a small business owner define her on the show. But that's not the case. Instead, it's all about this new dynamic she has with Luca. That either succeeds or fails on whether you believe Regina would make that video game mistake with her class project. It's all just a little too ridiculous to work for me. Regina has never seemed that clueless before. And now, there are just going to be arcade games around the Cracked Mug. That's a major change that is just played off as a silly subplot to show Regina succeeding at college while also being entangled in this romance with Luca. And so far, he seems like a persistent guy. He's not willing to let go of Regina just because she wants things to be over. That could become problematic if they ever really break up. Right now, it's simply played as sweet and genuine that he'll fight for her no matter what. It's just wrapped up in a story that just doesn't work at all. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "This Has to Do With Me" was written by William H. Brown & Liz Sczudlo and directed by D.W. Moffett.
  • The episode opens with Daphne and Mingo waking up in the same dorm room. So, there is the thought that they've had sex again despite their intentions of being just friends. And yet, it's quickly made clear that nothing happened. The show just wanted them in the same space when they learned they've gone viral.
  • John is working Travis so hard on the baseball team right now because he believes he'll need him as a pitcher. That's why Travis has little time for Bay. But with this new guy joining the team that could allow things to normalize for Bay and Travis.
  • It's nice that Kathryn is the one to come up with the solution for the problem. John wants to bend the rules in order to get this pitcher. He wants to give in to the promise to get him a car. Meanwhile, Kathryn wins by tattling that the other school is breaking the rules by doing so. 
  • Of course, Kathryn comes off as kinda naive as well in saying that athletes get an education instead of payment during their years at college. She's also giving the pitcher a future even though his problems at the present with his family are more important than that.
  • Bay's new boss isn't some hardass who doesn't like to share her space. She just doesn't want Bay to jeopardize her business. Bay does a tattoo without having the proper licenses. She does fine work but that's no longer enough to work in this industry now that she's home. Nor is scaring off a bunch of thugs.