Tuesday, April 11, 2017

REVIEW: 'Switched at Birth' - The Family Gathers to Celebrate a Special Anniversary in 'Long Live Love'

Freeform's Switched at Birth - Episode 5.10 "Long Live Love"

Kathryn realizes that it's been five years since the switch was discovered and the two families started living together. Daphne competes against Mingo for a paid internship in sports medicine. Bay is celebrated for her tattoo work in a magazine spread, but her struggle to prove herself as an artist to John threatens to destroy their relationship. Toby, Melody, Emmett and Travis make some major decisions about their lives. Regina takes a chance on love.

Switched at Birth took the familiar genre of a family drama and put a new spin on it that focused on a world that previously hadn't been depicted on television. The work this show did to empower the deaf community has truly been inspiring to watch. It was important to see these characters and make them feel normal and special to the audience who didn't know anything about that world. The show has tackled a number of really important and topical issues across its five season run as well - including discrimination, addiction, financial hardships, sexual assault and even race relations. This show took its unique view of the world to examine these issues while making sure the characters didn't have all the answers. It was important that they were simply a family that makes mistakes. As Bay, Daphne and Toby note in this finale, they've made a lot of reckless decisions in the past that have caused numerous headaches for their parents. Some of those were more interesting to watch from a dramatic standpoint than others. But these characters always were the reason to watch this show. They had their ups and downs. It's lovely to be reminded of that journey in this moving series finale. It shows how far they've come and how much further they plan on going.

Of course, "Long Live Love" also brings everything back to the fateful day that the families learned that Bay and Daphne were switched at birth. That was the day where all of their lives changed. It was a tense journey made more complicated by deep, personal secrets. And now, the show reveals an additional twist to the familiar premise. It turns out that John knew that Bay wasn't his biological daughter about a month before the switch was unearthed. That definitely plays as a series finale twist to have everything seemingly go full circle from where the show began. It's what defines John and Kathryn's story in this final episode. She learned he kept this secret for all of these years. She only finds out now because she's being sentimental and nostalgic about the past. But of course, it doesn't change anything. In fact, it only confirms that John loves his family even when he thought Kathryn cheated on him. He didn't leave town like Angelo when he discovered he wasn't Daphne's biological father. This twist is a little unnecessary though. It doesn't change anything in a substantial way. It's just the show providing the audience with one last surprise in regards to the switch even though that event has long stopped being the thing that defines the main story.

And yet, it's incredible to see how close this family has become over the past five years. Sure, John and Bay are still fighting because they have such different views and expectations of the world. Their fight is blown up a little bit too much. They've had this argument before where he wants to know how practical her career aspirations are while she wants the freedom to forge her own path with something she's passionate about. But it's also so moving to see everyone reflect on the past and how much they've grown together as a family. It's still important that they share with each other how much they love and support each other. The family has grown and changed since the switch was first discovered. Angelo returned and died. Toby got married twice and has a baby. John, Kathryn and Regina have had numerous careers. Bay and Daphne have fallen in and out of love many times. But the core dynamic of the family is still strong. It's easy to get swept up into the emotion of that final sequence. It's another one of those classic Kennish dinners. But this time it also includes the family celebrating a once in a lifetime discovery. This time it's a comet flying by overheard. It's a nice metaphor for this family as well.

The ending really works. But it's also fascinating to see the choices the characters make throughout this finale as it pertains to their futures. The final season went into this episode with a couple of uncertainties. Would Regina leave Luca and run away with Eric and Will? Would Travis go play professional baseball in Japan? What will happen in Bay and Daphne's love lives? With Regina, it's frustrating that this final season spent so much time on her relationship with Luca only for it to be completely tossed aside for a different happy ending here. Plus, Eric wasn't even that great as a character. It was problematic that the show always told romantic stories with Regina. That only really worked with Angelo and that's because he had relationships with the other characters as well. The rest weren't all that interesting. But it is rewarding to see Regina move back to East Riverside to raise another kid. She's also expanding her business. So, it seems like she gets the happiness she has always deserved.

With Daphne, she ends the series fighting to prove herself as a capable person despite her disability. It's a fight she has been fighting for her entire life. She's a strong and independent woman who also happens to be deaf. She wants to be a doctor one day. She knows how difficult it will be and how much more work she'll have to put in to achieve it. And yet, she's determined to succeed. She has the passion and drive to make it in this career. That's what makes it so empowering to see her stand up to the closed-minded physician offering an internship in sports medicine. He dismisses her right away because of her disability. It's great to see her so passionate for herself in the end. This is the path she is committed to. She also finally reunites with Mingo. It wasn't clear if that was going to happen this season or if that would even be a good thing. Daphne and Mingo were fun and interesting as a couple last season. But this year, Mingo almost became too toxic to be seen as someone Daphne should date. He was a big part of the race controversy on campus and was willing to cheat on his girlfriend with Daphne. That wasn't behavior that should be rewarded. And yet, it's easy to see him clean up his act here and be a good and supportive guy for Daphne. Their chemistry is still so electric that it does ultimately work in the end.

With Bay, the show really could have pushed the love triangle between her, Emmett and Travis. That was certainly a quality of this final season. Bay and Emmett were the epic love story of the series. They weren't always together but they always seemed destined to be each other's one true pairing. But it's also great that the show recognizes that the two of them simply work better as friends right now after everything that has happened between them. Emmett's depression was shortchanged a lot in this final season. It was important in the season premiere and barely mentioned at all afterwards. He seemingly got the help he needed offscreen. He's better simply because he's in a loving environment surrounded by friends - opposed to the cold, isolating life in Los Angeles. Plus, it would have been weird if the show ended with Bay and Emmett getting back together right after an episode where Bay was really supportive for Travis as he dealt with some major family issues. This season kept Bay and Travis as a stable couple. That's surprising but really welcome as well. It's a character pairing that seemed random when it was first mentioned last season. But this year proved how great the two of them are together. Even though they'll be spending some time apart in the immediate future, it's also great to know that their bond is strong enough and filled with enough respect and trust to truly survive any hurdle that comes their way. It's a nice way to end the show. Romance was a big part of the series. It got the right amount of attention in the series finale. But ending it all on the family was the right way to end things forever with these characters.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Long Live Love" was written by Lizzy Weiss & Linda Gase and directed by Steve Miner.
  • The story with Melody and Natalie helping Matthew after he shows up homeless is a bit random in this extended finale. It shows that not every kid has a supportive family. It shows that the future isn't always brighter. But it's also about people caring about each other and making sure they have the ability to achieve whatever they want despite their differences.
  • Melody was also offered a new job at Gallaudet. It's her dream job. And yet, she gives it up because she still has work to do in this community. She built this program up and still needs to help the kids who need it in this area - like Matthew.
  • Toby finds himself changing career paths as well. He decides he wants to be an advocate for people with Down Syndrome. He wants to create a world that knows how to better interact with these people so that Carlton has the best possible future. He doesn't know all of the details but this is what gets him excited.
  • It's nice to see Ivonne Coll show up as Regina's mother one last time. In the early going, Regina really needed that support to get through everything that was happening. And yet, did the show ever explain what happened to her? Where is she now in the present day?
  • Travis and Emmett spent a lot of this season in a tense dynamic. A lot of it was because of Bay. However, it's so rewarding to see that friendship fixed with the two of them heading off to Japan together. It's because of Bay that that happens as well.
  • Switched at Birth was such a special, unique and important show in this particular genre. It will be missed. I look back on it very fondly and personally. I grew up alongside these characters and feel a close attachment with them. It's sad to see the show end. But this is such a nice and sweet way to ends things as well.