Nikki of ‘Switched at Birth’

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.

8 thoughts on “Nikki of ‘Switched at Birth’

  1. As far as I know, one has to go to writers like G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald and other Christian writers from the British Isles in order to find Christian characters done right. Otherwise, one might want to stick to modern hagiographies–older ones are good too, though those authors have a tendency to forget their subjects’ human side.

  2. What was the video? I’m curious what show you were referring to, what other Christian character you didn’t like on an ABC family show. I haven’t watched every ABC Family show, but I enjoyed ones like Kyle XY which had Amanda as the religious girl… I don’t know. 😉 I wish you had mentioned in written text whatever it was so that now even with the video taken off YouTube (presumably for copyright infringement) I’d know what you were referring to.

    I’m very curious what you thought of the way Toby & Nikki’s whole relationship played out – them breaking up over his lack of faith, them getting back together because he has faith “in them” being able to survive their spiritual differences, the whole missionary thing, her crisis of faith when she learned the truth about her father, her ultimately having sex the day before her wedding and then the whole end of the marriage. Lol. Because her Christian faith was prominent in all of those storylines.

    • Ah, the video was a scene from ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager’ in which a character insists to her mother that her father’s death is due to her engaging in premarital sex. Had it been handled by better writers it could have been a realistic portrayal of the guilt a person of faith can have when feeling they’ve fallen off the path God wants for them, but the dialogue was so atrocious it actually featured the line “He had a horrible death because I had amazing sex”.

      Unfortunately I’ve gotten very busy with my job and haven’t been watching S@B as faithfully as I used to, so the only plot points of those I’m familiar with are the sex the day before marriage and the divorce.

      I think the first was handled decently and shows how a Christian can sometimes follow the spirit of the law without necessarily following the word of the law. As I understand it, (and please recognize that I’m not trying to speak on behalf of any religion. I have zero authority to speak to God’s word and am only giving my understanding of it.) the rule against sex outside of marriage is primarily about keeping that sexual union sacred and exclusive. The two of them being less than 24 hours away from making their vows indicates that they are committed to each other deeply and aren’t having sex for fun, but rather as a show of love and devotion to each other which is in line with God’s teaching. The actual marriage ceremony may not have occurred but they were essentially married in their hearts. I think Nikki recognizing this showed her growing into a more mature understanding of her faith.

      I didn’t actually get to see the events leading up to the dissolution of their marriage, only the end result that they were no longer a couple. I can’t say how it worked out in regard to their individual characters, but I mostly credit it to the fact that the writers didn’t want to keep their marriage in the story and were likely planning their divorce at the same time they were writing the marriage. I had no expectations that their marriage would last until the end of the series, especially once they sent her on her repeated missions, so I don’t see the divorce as a natural development based on character choices so much as the writers making things happen regardless of what the character would actually want.

      I must ask though, what was the truth about her dad that shook her faith?

      • Well, as it turns out, her dad was not shot because he was mistaken for someone else, he was shot because he actually was a drug dealer, and Nikki had no idea but her mom had known and had kept that truth from her. Nikki was heartbroken and in season 2 episode 19 “What goes Up Must Come Down”, 2 episodes before their wedding (and sex) actually happens, this conversation plays out. Nikki comes over to the house and starts kissing Toby really passionately and then, implying she no longer wants to wait for sex:

        Nikki: I don’t want to wait anymore.

        Toby: What? I I can’t believe I’m saying this, but are you sure? Because I know how much this means to you.

        Nikki: It doesn’t mean anything anymore.

        Toby: Nikki, what are you-?

        Nikki: -I went and I talked to Reverend Steve today. Do you know what he said? That I’m closer to God right now than I’ve ever been.

        Toby: Well, maybe he meant if you were-

        Nikki: -God is nowhere. He wasn’t there when my dad was selling drugs.
        He wasn’t there when my mother lied to me about it, and he definitely wasn’t there when that guy-

        Toby: Hey hey hey. You’re obviously upset.

        Nikki: Toby, I don’t I don’t want to get married in that church.

        Toby: We don’t have to decide anything right now. I mean, there’s so much going on, let’s just take a second.

        Quoted from here: 😉

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