Switched at Birth bids farewell with a moving send-off for the Kennish and Vasquez families.
When what was then ABC Family and is now Freeform premiered a little show called Switched at Birth in the summer of 2011, no one really knew what to expect. This was the network that housed the bonkers Pretty Little Liars, for crying out loud. And with a title fit for a Lifetime movie, Switched could’ve easily been one of those “it’s a hot mess but I can’t stop watching” types of shows.
But those who tuned in discovered that under the guidance of creator Lizzy Weiss, it was not, in fact, a hot mess. Instead, the story of Bay Kennish and Daphne Vasquez — teens who, thanks to a high school biology project, come to learn that as babies they were sent home with the wrong (OR RIGHT, AM I RIGHT?) families — was something special. If you stuck around for five seasons, you learned that Switched was about much more than its gimmick-y premise. With a hopeful worldview, it earnestly dealt with identity, mother and daughter relationships, first loves, parenting a child with Down syndrome, marriage, class and race politics, date rape, alcoholism, and depression, and, most importantly, it gave a loud, clear voice to the sorely underrepresented Deaf community (if you missed the show’s all ASL episode in season 2, stop what you are doing and go watch it now). Also, you learn a lot about managing a franchised car wash. So, there’s that.
Switched certainly suffered from some uneven patches, but it never lost its earnestness. And it was just so gosh-darn nice, it was hard to be mad at it for too long. It is with that same earnestness that Switched at Birth says goodbye in its series finale, “Long Live Love.” Because we’re all aware it’s the finale, much of the dramatic tension is lost, but it’s nonetheless satisfying. The episode sets aside time for all of the major relationships to have some closure, as well as some touching nods to the pilot, visits from old friends, and familiar music cues. And there’s a Wilke shout-out! In short, it’s a very fitting way to go out. I mean, if you didn’t think this thing was going to end with tears and hugging and happy endings, you really haven’t been paying attention.
It’s been five years since the Kennish and Vasquez families learned of the big switch that completely changed the course of everyone’s lives — five years since Daphne and Regina moved into the Kennish guest house so that everyone could properly get to know each other. (Serious question: Has Constance Marie aged at all?) Now that Daphne and Bay have moved into their own apartment together, Regina knows it’s time to go. This end of an era sends Kathryn into a nostalgia frenzy.
Kathryn goes digging through “switch” mementos to put a gift together for Regina and comes across papers for a separate DNA test John had done, proving he was not Bay’s biological father, a few weeks before they found out about the switch. It would be a dramatic reveal if we didn’t know that J and K would never go out on a sour note. No, instead, once Kathryn calms down a little bit, she realizes this test means that John thought she cheated on him and he knew was not Bay’s father, but he was going to stay with them and never say anything. When she comes to him, moved, he simply responds that they’re his family. Kathryn and John have shared some lovely moments together over the years, but they saved the best for last.
Regina, our other parent-in-residence, gets her happy ending, too. She’s got Eric on the brain ever since that steamy make-out session — it was so good, apparently, that Regina contemplates joining Eric and Will for a life on the run in Belize. She comes to her senses, makes an impassioned speech to Eric, and convinces him to turn himself in, do a short stint in prison, and then come home to her. In the meantime, she’ll take care of Will in East Riverside. It’s all very romantic — I mean, aside from the hard time.
The parents aren’t the only ones who get closure. Toby has become disillusioned with his DJ life (bless this show for enabling me to write sentences like that one), and thanks to an inspiring run-in with two adults with Down syndrome, he decides to become an advocate for people like Carlton. Travis and Emmett finally patch things up thanks to Bay’s intervention. When Travis tells Bay he’s going to Japan to play professional baseball and Emmett admits to wanting a change in his life, she convinces Emmett to tag along on Travis’ adventure. It is a nice nod to one of the show’s central themes — that blood doesn’t equal family — to have Bay point out that Travis and Emmett are brothers, just as she and Daphne are sisters. So sentimental, so, so Switched.
Speaking of Emmett, going into the finale, I was concerned that we’d have to suffer through some convoluted re-coupling of Bemmett, but Switched at Birth is smarter than that. It gives some satisfying closure to the biggest romance on the series while being respectful of Bay and Travis’ relationship. As Bay and Emmett say their good byes (praise be! One more shot of Emmett on his bike!), their entire love story flashes by, and both acknowledge that they were each other’s first love and they’ll always be tied to one another. Maybe I openly wept during this montage. I’LL NEVER TELL.
And what of our ‘switchsters’?
Although Bay contemplates going to Japan with Travis for a hot minute, it’s an obvious ‘no’ for our budding tattoo artist, looking to grow her business in Kansas City. Anyway, Bay’s big dramatic story line for the finale has more to do with her relationship with John than any of the boys in her life. John is still giving her a hard time for her career choice, and Bay believes it all ties back to him wishing she were more like him — more of a Kennish. It’s an arc that has run throughout the entire series, so it was nice to see it confronted in the finale. Father and daughter have a heart-to-heart in which John admits to feeling helpless since he doesn’t understand her world, but she assures him she’ll be just fine because she’s both a Vasquez and a Kennish. And then she calls him “Daddy” and they hug and I don’t know what else is happening because I can’t see through my tears. Switched at Birth is playing all its cards because, well, it can.
Daphne’s final story is also very much about her identity and using that to make her way in the world. Okay, she ends up reconnecting with Mingo, which: Why? But more importantly, she is faced with one last jackass trying to hold her back, when she applies for a prestigious internship with a renowned orthopedic surgeon and he repeatedly tells her that a person cannot be both deaf and a doctor. It’s hard to watch, but it reminds Daphne how lucky she is to have so much support in her life. It also fuels her passion, and she goes back to confront that terrible doctor person with an epic speech about never letting her deafness be the reason she’s “unqualified” for something. So, suck it, doctor!
Once everybody seems like they are on their way to bigger and brighter futures, the Kennish and Vasquez families get together for one final dinner before Regina moves out — it’s DNA themed because… well, Kathryn is Kathryn. Watching it, it feels like some of the actors’ real emotions over the ending of their little show are bleeding through, but maybe that makes it all the more heart-warming. There are hugs and “I’ll always be proud of you” speeches and “I want to call you mom, too” requests, and also Toby is there. They all realize what we’ve known for some time — that what was at one time the scariest, most painful moment in their lives turned out to be the greatest gift.
And now that all the crying is out of the way, the big, happy family heads to the front yard to take in another thing of rare occurrence: a comet passing. They lie on the grass, and Daphne and Bay lie with their heads together, mimicking the original Switched at Birth poster. And all is well with the world. Why? Because this is a nice show, and that’s how nice shows end.