Switched at Birth: At the First Clear Word

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SWITCHED AT BIRTH: 4.05 “At the First Clear Word”

Last night’s episode of Switched at Birth was meant to start a conversation.

That’s not an easy thing to do. If you’re going to tackle a tough issue, you have to do it well. You have to raise awareness by showing people what they don’t want to see. And honestly, you have to go into places that people probably don’t want to spend their time. And I think Switched at Birth did a commendable job.

It certainly wasn’t an episode I was looking forward to. In the hours leading up to airing, I kept saying how it was going to make me sad. Why sad? Well, because it’s taking on an issue that too many people face today in college campuses. It’s going to be emotionally heartwrenching for Bay. And it’s going to take good ol’ Tank and put him in a very dark light.

And it did all that. We started with Bay waking up naked, next to Tank, wondering what happened. She knew something didn’t go as planned, but she didn’t remember. And, of course, her mind first goes to Emmett, worrying that she cheated on him.

I must applaud the show. It was 25 minutes into the episode before the word “rape” was used. But as viewers, the idea of it hung in the air, so that we were all kept wondering if that’s really what happened. It came as such a surprise when Bay herself heard it and digested what might have happened — what she had a feeling did happen.

And even by the end of the episode, we still don’t really know. We’re not meant to. In situations like these, when it’s a question of drunkenness and he said/she said, we may never know. And I have a feeling that Bay never will (though I suppose that we’ll have to wait until next week to know for sure). We just know it was a bad situation, there are too many shades of gray, and something wasn’t right.

Now, at first, I was a little hesitant that we put Tank in the center of this scenario. But as I think about it more and more, I think it was a fantastic choice on the writers’ part. It’d be easy to assign some nameless, one-episode character to be the one that Bay spent the night with. But in a situation like that, you’d be left thinking that of course it was his fault. He’s just clearly a bad guy.

But in this situation, we know Tank. We know Tank’s not a bad guy. Heck, Travis even said so in last night’s episode. We don’t want to think that Tank was capable of crossing a line like that. And Tank doesn’t think he did. She was into it, he said. She kissed him, he claimed. She didn’t say no.

But what this episode wanted you to take from it was that not saying no isn’t the same as consent. Bay asked, “Did I say yes?” To Tank, this was just a drunken night. To Bay, it was clearly something else.

I must say, I appreciated how they did the flashbacks in this episode, displaying Bay’s fuzziness in blurred vision. And showing the scene in the bedroom was especially effective, using similar dialog but different intonations to indicate the differences in perception and understanding of the situation. It was tense and uncomfortable.

I’m sure many people are standing on both sides of the line, saying that either Bay just got drunk and it happened, or that Tank took advantage. It’s a debate that many people have outside of the Switched at Birth world. Clearly, neither of them were in the best frame of mind that night. But in the end, we’re left with Bay’s lasting message to Daphne: it didn’t feel right. Something felt wrong.

There’s a lot of ways this could go. I can imagine that since she doesn’t know for sure, Bay won’t want to do something to hurt Tank if she’s wrong. But then again, can you just let it go? And while I’m sure we’ll cover Emmett’s reaction, it’s the one I care least about. True, I like “Bemmett” as much as the next guy, but this is about more than that. I care more about what this will really mean for Bay in the long run.

Fortunately, of all people on this show, I know that Vanessa Marano is one that could handle whatever is thrown her way. It’s not going to be a comfortable thing to watch, but if in the end, it does, in fact, start a discussion and raise awareness, it looks like the show’s done its job.

*Photo by ABC Family

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