Tuesday, February 21, 2017

REVIEW: 'Switched at Birth' - Daphne Struggles to Understand Her Friends' Feelings on Campus in 'Relation of Lines and Colors'

Freeform's Switched at Birth - Episode 5.04 "Relation of Lines and Colors"

Daphne and Sharee are horrified by a racist display at the Black Student Union on campus. When the perpetrators are given minimal punishment, Iris starts a hunger strike in protest. Daphne receives an anonymous threat. Sharee grows frustrated with how the school is handling the situation. Emmett invites Bay to help him with an art project. Travis is upset that John seems ready to replace him on the baseball team.

Switched at Birth is focusing on some really fascinating and complicated subject matter in its final season. "Relation of Lines and Colors" spends a lot of time and focus on race relations on campus and sexual harassment in the workplace. Those are some topical themes that the show is mining for some excellent drama. And yet, it's also important to note that the main characters are all flawed human beings who are capable of being ignorant. Their actions largely make the situations worse. It's their inability to understand how someone else reacts to all of this that fuels a good portion of this story. That's fascinating. Daphne has always stood up for what she's believed in. She speaks out when she sees injustices. That has worked for her so many times in the past. Her actions have gotten her into trouble as well. But it's also important to recognize that she can't be the great white savior for her black friends on campus. That actually undercuts the message they are trying to make. That's a key struggle for Daphne. She wants to do the right thing but has no idea how to do that in a way that will actually help in the long run. That's a fascinating character arc for her this season.

All of this started because Mingo wore that Lil Wayne costume. He was ignorant and didn't know how that could be seen as offensive. It took awhile for Daphne to truly understand what the problem actually was with that whole incident. She made it a whole lot worse because she wrote that op-ed promoting free speech on campus. And yet, it's understandable that the show has to depict an even bigger event that highlights the racial divide on campus to really amplify this story. The trajectory of the whole Mingo mess wasn't going to lead to a hunger strike on campus. But a couple of students defacing the Black Student Union with cotton balls is significantly worse. It's an issue that highlights how crime and punishment work differently based on race. The white perpetrators of this crime are arrested for littering and are suspended from school for three days. Meanwhile, Daphne later receives a threatening note on her car. The black culprit is found and expelled for it. That just continues to show Daphne's own white privilege. She has the luxury of having a father prominent at the university who can call for swift and decisive action. She has John to protect and champion her on the campus. Not all of her classmates have that. In fact, it makes Daphne appear more ignorant and out-of-touch than before because she just doesn't get it.

This story has already caused tension in Daphne and Iris' friendship. And now, it's threatening to do the same with Sharee. Iris and Sharee have really had to step up this season as the clear voices for this story arc. It's an issue they can identify with and be passionate about in ways that the regular cast cannot. It's been interesting to see them have different reactions to the events as well. Iris was offended by Mingo's costume because it meant she didn't feel safe in her dorm. She moved out because her emotional safety was compromised. That incident really didn't affect Sharee. At least, that's what she said to Daphne. And yet, it's also clear that Iris is passionate about fighting for justice and equality on campus. She's the one who organizes the hunger strike to send a message to the administration. She's at the center of the story taking action to make a difference. She wants that more than anything - even though Daphne doesn't totally understand it. Meanwhile, Sharee needs a push to become just as active. It's clear that all of this is getting to her as well. She just doesn't know how to voice her concerns as well as Iris. And when she finally does stand up and speak out, she is promptly arrested by campus police. That's a powerful ending to a story that is just getting started. It's about to get a whole lot more complicated before it gets better. The lines have been drawn. Daphne has learned she just needs to support her friends as they take on this battle. Hopefully, it ends well. But it will more than likely have just as complicated a resolution.

Meanwhile, Kathryn's story has a serious discussion as well about how much of a certain behavior she's willing to put up with before she breaks. In her case, it's about sexual harassment in the workplace. Her job in the sports administration is brand new for this season. It's still an adjustment to seeing her working there. Her story also doesn't have the nuance of what's going on with Daphne, Iris and Sharee. That's largely because those are characters who've been important for awhile now and who the audience understands. With Kathryn's new job, it's still in the introductory stages and largely just sets up a thoughtful debate about what is and isn't appropriate. And yet, that doesn't completely undercut the message the show is trying to deliver. Kathryn is told to sex it up in order to impress one of the department's biggest donors. She needs to make her case in order to afford all of the new equipment needed for the teams. She is put in an awkward position where she has to choose between getting what she wants for the job or standing up for her personal beliefs. She chooses to stand up to this donor and his flirtatious ways. It's amusing and powerful. But it also means the department has lost money that she'll have to work without. It's a complicated situation. The audience should feel great that she stands up for herself at the diner and with her colleague later on. But just because she did that, it doesn't mean that things will magically work themselves out with the problems in the department.

However, this episode is a little awkward as well because it balances these discussions of serious issues with the romantic angst of the Bay-Travis-Emmett story. That's simply not as serious as the stories going on with Daphne and Kathryn. Travis is worrying about his placement on the baseball team and dealing with newcomer Chris who continues to be a massive jerk. Emmett is just bored at home trying to find something exciting to do again. And then, Bay is trying to be there and supportive of both of them but ruining both friendships in the end because she's not completely honest. Plus, it's hard to tell if the show is pushing for Bay and Emmett to get back together. For a long time, they were the main couple of the show. They are who the audience was rooting to get together and last as a couple. They did and were great together. But their breakup happened for understandable and mature reasons. But more importantly, Emmett really shouldn't be getting into a relationship right now. He really hasn't done anything to address his depression. Yes, awareness and acceptance of the condition is a major first step. But that's about it. He shouldn't move forward on anything romantic until he has his own life figured out. It doesn't seem like that has happened yet. Plus, that would be so tragic for Travis if Bay left him for Emmett. Nothing seems to be going well for him at the moment. He needs some happiness. He shouldn't be destined to be second fiddle to Bay and Emmett's great love story. His bond with Bay is important too. They have trust that could build a future. But it's still up to Bay if she's going to ruin all of that for something that may not be much better. Right now, it just seems like she's creating a lot of problems for herself. At least, she does the right thing in pushing Emmett away. Hopefully, that won't lead to a much darker and tragic twist with him though.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Relation of Lines and Colors" was written by Linda Gase & J.R. Phillips and directed by Carlos Gonzalez.
  • It's understandable why John benches Travis in favor of Chris. Travis simply isn't at the same level he was when he left for China. He's still working to get back there. It's just slightly problematic that Travis makes such a big deal about being replaced and never being good enough.
  • Bay not telling Travis about giving Emmett a tattoo is also the thing that ruins his friendship with Emmett. Travis was willing to take that first step back to normalcy. But after learning the truth, he no longer wants to be around Emmett as a friend.
  • Bay also learns that Noelle has copied her tattoos. That's a big shock to her because in her mind Noelle is this great artist who doesn't steal. Of course, it's just suspicion right now. Bay doesn't know what Noelle's intent was going to be with the artwork. This could be a big misunderstanding. Or a wake up call to the realities of the business.
  • It's nice having Toby back in the Kennish household. And yet, that largely just leads to him being around as a friendly face and not with much importance. He's there for Bay and Daphne with advice but that's about it.
  • When Kathryn is agonizing over what to do, she confides in Regina and not John. John probably would have blown up at Kathryn's colleague who told her to dress sexy. With Regina, she helps justify the action even if it doesn't ultimately make them feel better.
  • Doesn't it seem like Daphne is the last to know on just about everything relating to the race story? She doesn't know the punishment of the cotton ball guys right away nor does she know what happened to the person who actually threatened her until Sharee tells her.