I wanna talk about Switched at Birth again because something happened on this week’s episode that I was honestly shocked by. Legitimately shocked; I did not expect this to happen and I had no way of prepping for it.
Last season a character named Nikki was introduced, played by Cassi Thomson. The character is a love interest for Toby who meets her at church and the two start a Christian rock band. Nikki has taken a purity pledge and this coupled with her strong faith are points of mild contention for Toby who is not particularly religious. I expected very little from this character because the last time ABC Family tried to give us a Christian character concerned with chastity this is what we got:
^I stopped watching that show a long time ago so I don’t know if it ever got any better. I kind of doubt it.
Now it’s not like the shows are written by the same people or anything, and I have already been proven wrong by this show’s handling of potentially difficult themes, so why was I so quick to judge? I think because Christians are hard to write because they’re either sanctimonious paragons of virtue (a la 7th Heaven) or wicked, hateful stereotypes. Whether the writer is trying to portray them in a positive or negative light, they almost always become two-dimensional caricatures rather than worthwhile characters, so when this show introduced Nikki and her primary characteristic seemed to be “Christian with a capital C”, I was concerned.
Actually, I was the opposite of concerned. Really, I was bored. I pretty much checked right out of her story rather than investing anything in her character which I was sure would offer no surprises. Once again, however, Switched at Birth pulled a fast one on me.
In the latest episode the band is working on recording some tracks when the drummer informs Toby that someone posted a topless photo of Nikki on their website. Of course, Toby is displeased. How dare this “pure” girl allow herself to be photographed in such a manner? Full of righteous anger he confronts Nikki about it and Nikki, to my unending surprise, refuses to apologize for the incident. She explains to Toby what the situation was and though her reasons include emotional stress and alcohol, she never uses them as an excuse or blames them for her choices. She tells Toby flat out that if he expects her to apologize for or be ashamed of her past then they don’t need to be together.
I can’t stress how much I did not expect this outcome. When the picture was brought up I figured the conflict would end with some tearful apology on her part or the character being written out of the story for being a hypocrite. I never expected to see the show go the anti-shaming route and I am so happy that it did. It wasn’t perfect and it was probably resolved too quickly and cleanly, but the fact that it was even taken in that direction showed me that these writers have a progressive outlook on the issues they discuss and are looking to make strong changes in the way they are presented on television.
I’m looking forward to seeing this show do more and go deeper into the tough issues it addresses. It does a very good job of exploring disabilities, privilege, and discrimination and I hope it will focus more on these areas rather than some of the more tired dramatic plots it often employs.