The Fosters – Recap: Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind
Recap and review of The Fosters – Episode 16 – Us Against the World:
The Fosters has spent much of this half season with its ensemble largely scattered across disparate storylines. This was a risky move for any first-year drama, especially one centered so strongly around the concept of a unified family unit. But it’s a risk that pays off in spades, as “Us Against the World” returns the show to something resembling a status quo. However, it never feels stale, even while many of the characters repeat mistakes of old. This is because even while mistakes are being made, it’s clear that the characters have grown in significant ways. The Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) of last summer’s episodes might have given in to the pressure to sleep with Chase (Garrett Clayton), but she resists, in much the same way Brandon (David Lambert) resists a classmate’s offer to smoke, while also rejecting Talya’s (Madisen Beaty) gossip-mongering. Sure, Brandon is still hotheaded and impulsive, and if anything he’s less responsible now than he was, but that’s the trajectory of his character, and it’s used as a contrast to how everyone around him is growing: Stef (Teri Polo) recognizes her error in lying to Internal Affairs for Mike (Danny Nucci); Callie (Maia Mitchell) understands she needs to earn back the trust of the Fosters if she’s to have a place in this family; and Jude (Hayden Byerly) inevitably learns that having a family means no longer needing to keep secrets. “Us Against the World” isn’t my favorite episode of the season so far, but it’s just such an encouraging hour of TV for the tail end of the season.
So Brandon is struggling in his adjustment to life with Callie as his foster sister. In short, he’s dealing with it by avoiding being under the same roof with her altogether, choosing to move in with his dad until he figures things out. Of course, things are awkward for Brandon right off the bat: he awkwardly has an encounter with his father’s new girlfriend the morning after she spent the night, and he also ends up running into Callie at school. She’s unfazed by all the gossip about her having run off with Wyatt, but Brandon is annoyed that everyone is whispering salacious details about Callie without understanding the real reason she ran off. While brooding on the beach, Brandon is approached by a classmate who invites him to a party at which he’ll be providing the booze, owing to his expertly-crafted fake ID.
The party ends up being the very same cast party that Mariana and Callie are attending, leading to an uncomfortable encounter with a very drunk Talya, who basically rags on him for being attracted to Callie in the first place, using the rumors about Wyatt as one big “I told you so.” But in his frustration, Brandon unleashes the truth on Talya, revealing that the reason Callie left was because they kissed at the wedding — while Brandon had been dating Talya. This prompts the scorned Talya to go off on Callie, warning the other girls at the party to keep their boyfriends away from the “whore,” and really, one of the big stories happening in the background of this season has been Talya’s gradual self-destruction. It’s clear she has an alcohol problem, but she’s also incredibly scornful when she feels she has cause. And, of course, she does, given that Brandon effectively cheated on her. But her methods for airing those grievances exemplify her immaturity, and general inability to handle issues as heavy as these. She’s kind of a tragic character, and I find myself hoping the show would do more with her, as it’s a fascinating little arc that’s happening while no one is looking.
Eventually, Brandon and Callie have a talk outside the party, during which he questions how their breakup could possibly be easy for her. Callie declares that it’s been anything but easy, and it’s a believable moment for the character. Callie is someone on probation not only with the law, but with the Fosters. Sure, they still love her, but their trust is something she needs to win back. And so she plays the good egg, right from the show-opening scene at the Girls Aloud house. It’s a poignant opening, and a pretty touching farewell for these characters, as each tell Callie what they’ve learned from her, and she details what she’s learned from them. Some of the storylines of the other girls have been left unresolved, but it felt like an authentic route for the story to take: we don’t get to stick around for the ending of every story in life, and not all of these girls have the same opportunities Callie has been afforded. I really do hope we see some of the girls again at some point, as I enjoyed the Girls Aloud arc far more than I initially thought I would, particularly Rosie O’Donnell’s warm, nuanced performance (granted, I always knew she could seriously act, but going in, I expected I wouldn’t be able to keep from seeing the actress underneath the character…yet this never became a problem). The Callie and Brandon situation is far from resolved, but both are open to acknowledging that it’s a problem they’ll need to deal with in order to move forward — if not as a couple, then has brother and sister.
The rest of the plots are similarly effective: Stef has to face the possibility she might lose her job after receiving a subpoena to appear in a deposition recounting the night Mike shot Ana’s boyfriend. Why would she lose her job, you ask? Well, Stef has had a wrestling match with her conscience since her initial lie to Internal Affairs about Ana’s boyfriend being armed. Since she’ll be under oath, she doesn’t want to commit perjury, and so she decides to come clean. This will have the dual effect of condemning Mike and possibly costing her the job she deeply loves. Brandon worries that the investigation will lead to his father going to jail, so he gets in contact with Ana (Alexandra Barreto) and pays her the money Mike gave him for lessons as a bribe to get her to recant her testimony. The ploy works, and essentially saves Mike — although Stef already confessed by this point. But thankfully, her boss opts not to fire Stef, since the charges against Mike were dropped anyway. So everything is okay, although it’s far more likely Brandon’s bribe will come back to haunt him. Mike is already on the verge of learning, from Brandon’s former piano teacher, that his son hasn’t been taking lessons for a lot longer than he’s been leading on. Worse, Brandon is now in a lot deeper, as he’s gone into business with his fake ID-making classmate in order to make the money back. It’s an interesting storyline that holds the hour together pretty well.
Ditto, surprisingly, the Mariana storyline, as she takes Talya’s advice and makes a bold move on Chase, stuffing her panties into his pocket at the party — an invitation for him to meet her upstairs. The entire time, Mariana’s hopeless friend, Zack, is trying to woo her. He even tries to confess his feelings to her up in the bedroom, but Chase interrupts and Mariana dismissively sends Zack on his way, in a downer moment. But things quickly shift in tone, as Chase takes Mariana’s invite too literally and tries to force himself on her, assuming she wanted to sleep with him. When she clues him in that she only intended to make out, Chase’s nice guy facade falls away, and he essentially condemns Mariana as a tease before storming off in outrage. Feels about right for what we know of Chase, as Garrett Clayton did a good job at depicting Chase as a secret jerk even when he wasn’t doing anything overtly jerkish. But the real benefit of the storyline is to illustrate the degree to which Mariana has grown, as she’s somewhat less inclined to cave to peer pressure, and has learn to privilege less what a boy thinks of her, over what she thinks of herself. The story is a bit blunt, but it’s incredibly effective. As is the brief storyline in which Callie leaves birthday clues for Jude to put together. Apparently, Jude had been born at home, but his mother flubbed the paperwork leading to his birthday being dated considerably later than it was, and so he and Callie have celebrated his real birthday as a secret between them. But the clues culminate in Callie’s birthday gift, a copy of Hansel & Gretel (a story their mother frequently read to them) along with the knowledge (thanks to a surprise breakfast party thrown by the Fosters) that he doesn’t have to keep his real birthday a secret anymore. He has a family now…and she does too.
“Us Against the World” is boilerplate Fosters, but there’s a reason the show’s formula works. It’s a family drama in which each character could plausibly be the lead of his or her own show, yet their storylines often hinge upon the rest of the family. It’s another solid week for a strong first season.