“Switched at Birth” returned with the all-new episode “Tight Rope Walker” on Feb. 25.
Over the past few season two episodes, we’ve watched Carlton run a pilot program to integrate hearing kids into the school. Bay (Vanessa Marano) and her new boyfriend Noah (Max Lloyd-Jones) are two of the entering hearing students.
In this week’s emotionally intense installment, the deaf Carlton students, led by Melody (Marlee Matlin), attend a school board meeting to protest allowing any more hearing students to enroll in the program. They argue that their comfort zone and ability to just “be themselves” and not feel like “the deaf kids” is compromised by adding more hearing kids to their school.
A School in Crisis
Melody and Kathryn (Lea Thompson) don’t see eye-to-eye on the two groups of kids coexisting at the school. Kathryn thinks the two groups should be able to get along fine. Melody insists the deaf kids shouldn’t be put in the position to have to try.
Daphne speaks for the students at the meeting and makes a heartfelt plea to the board about prioritizing their money. The board ultimately votes to close Carlton altogether, with students being dispersed to other mainstream schools in the fall. Daphne is devastated. Katie Leclerc shines in this sequence. We feel Daphne’s pain and we wish things had turned out differently.
“Switched at Birth” is tapping into a valid hot button issue with the Carlton crisis. Shutting down schools for the deaf for budget cuts is a real concern. According to the National Association for the Deaf website:
“Schools for the deaf have been considered during state budget cuts, but often the costs are significantly higher to provide educational services in other settings. Placing deaf children in their respective neighborhood schools with the provision of communication access services can be extremely costly and, in some locations, simply not feasible due to limited human resources. There are barely enough qualified teachers of the deaf and qualified educational interpreters to meet current needs, and not nearly enough of such professionals to serve every neighborhood school that has a deaf child residing in the district. Placing every deaf child in their respective neighborhood school is not practical, economical, or educationally beneficial. In many states, there are large geographical areas with a small deaf student population, making schools for the deaf a cost-effective means to optimal educational services.”
On the other hand, Kathryn’s wish that the hearing kids could peacefully coexist with the deaf kids is a valiant wish. As a society, we’ve gained a lot of ground in tolerance for people with differences in race, religion, sexual orientation and disability.
The entertainment industry’s use of the powerful mediums of film and television have been instrumental and influential in their effort to effect some of this positive social change.
SAB creator Lizzy Weiss joins showrunners Ryan Murphy (“Glee”/”The New Normal”/”American Horror Story”), Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy”/”Private Practice”/”Scandal”) and Jason Katims (“Parenthood”) in their dynamic inclusion of characters with various forms of disabilities.
Rhimes, for instance, featured Michael Patrick Thornton as Dr. Gabriel Fife, a leading medical researcher, who was also a paraplegic on “Private Practice.” “Grey’s Anatomy” star Jessica Capshaw’s character, Dr. Arizona Robbins, lost her leg in a plane crash and is currently navigating recovery as an amputee.
Murphy’s series-turned-cultural-phenomenon “Glee” features Kevin McHale as Artie, a paraplegic student. The characters and actresses Becky (Lauren Potter) in “Glee” and Addie (Jamie Brewer) in “American Horror Story” both have Down Syndrome.
In “Parenthood,” Jason Katims features Max Burkholder as Max Braverman, a teen who has Asperger Syndrome.
While the percentage of actors and characters with disabilities featured on the big and small screen is still low, progress has been made. Weiss, Rhimes, Murphy and Katims are setting great examples of inclusion and their efforts should be applauded.
SAB is a front-runner with its use of ASL and the way the deaf community and culture are a large and central part of the story. On Mar. 4, the series will air a television landmark episode: The entire story is told in ASL.
SAB creator Lizzy Weiss talked about her excitement for this groundbreaking event on the show’s website. She said:
“I’ve been wanting to do an all-ASL episode since the series began, and the storyline we’ve been focusing on this season gave us the perfect opportunity,” said series creator and Executive Producer Lizzy Weiss. “It’s an exciting, visual, empowering story of kids, who are different, fighting back, and it allows our audience to experience the world as our deaf characters do. We’ve been building to this for 39 episodes, and we’re all thrilled to be the first to try this.”
The Carlton students are going to protest the shutdown in what is certain to be a very powerful episode. Will their effort save Carlton? We’ll have to wait and see …
Will Daphne and Noah Find Themselves Fighting an Attraction?
It’s obvious that Daphne and Noah are getting closer. She’s playing Juliet opposite Noah as Romeo and they’re going to have to kiss more than once. If their acting sparks a real attraction, how will Daphne handle it? If things progress with Noah, will Daphne cause an irreparable rift between her and Bay?
Many fans are vying for Bay and Emmett to reunite. Emmett doesn’t think Bay is genuinely over him. Bay seems genuinely attracted to Noah. But, is Emmett right? Does she still have feelings for him? If so, will she be in any position to judge Daphne if something does happen between her and Noah?
Whatever happens, let’s hope the emotional fallout is minimal for all parties involved …
Will Regina Keep her Promise?
Constance Marie delivers a heartbreaking performance as Regina lashes out at Bay for telling Zane that she’s an alcoholic. Her words are biting and cruel. Bay is hurt and shocked and we ache for her.
Families of alcoholics and addicts can suffer great emotional pain and trauma when trying to persuade their loved one to seek help. Ultimately, the alcoholic must recognize their destructive behavior and make a decision to stop ingesting alcohol, which feeds their brain disease.
Regina comes back and apologizes to Bay. She also asks her not to tell Daphne or her parents she’s drinking again and she promises to call her sponsor and go to the first available AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting.
Constance Marie and Vanessa Marano do an outstanding job conveying the emotional weight of this moment for both Regina and Bay. As her child, Bay wants to help her mother and believe that she’s going to keep her promise. As a recovering alcoholic, Regina knows the seriousness of her slip and she seems genuinely pained that she hurt Bay.
Regina has been dealing with a lot. She lost her job, she can’t use sign language due to a debilitating disorder with her hands, and Angelo (Gilles Marini) got a virtual stranger pregnant. Unfortunately, she used alcohol as a means of drowning her sorrow and escaping her problems. She seems sincere in her conviction about seeking help.
We cringe, however, when she leaves a voicemail for her sponsor and then chooses to delete the message without sending it.
Uh oh. If Regina continues down this reckless trail, she’s going to hurt herself, Bay, Daphne and everyone who cares about her. We hope she gets help before her drinking leads to some kind of terrible consequence. Will Bay and Daphne get hurt by Regina’s backslide? Will Angelo discover Regina’s problem and try to convince her to get help?
Overall, “Switched at Birth” continues to be a gripping drama that brilliantly shows how the love at the heart of every family is the one thing that will help all of us through the most difficult circumstances. Right now, emotional stakes are high for Daphne and Bay on several levels and we’re rooting for them to come through all of the challenges they face with a minimal amount of heartache.
“Switched at Birth” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC Family Channel. Click here for a Flint area channel guide.