‘The Fosters’ Review: Battle Lines Are Drawn In the Emotional ‘It’s My Party’
Recap and review of The Fosters – Season 3 Episode 6 – It’s My Party:
Battle lines are drawn on The Fosters this week. And yet, for as high-strung and monumental the drama appears to be, “It’s My Party” dissolves those battle lines just as suddenly. Or, if not dissolve, at least weakens.
The episode centers on a circular series of conflicts that result in explosive clashes at Callie’s surprise 17th birthday party. Brandon (David Lambert) and AJ (Tom Williamson) being at each other’s throats isn’t exactly anything new, but it is somewhat surprising to see them nearly come to blows — for reasons that have nothing to do with Callie (Maia Mitchell). It all stems from Brandon’s inherent mistrust of AJ, a sentiment that isn’t entirely unfounded, considering he caught AJ having stolen his grandfather’s baseball. But here, the conflict arises from Brandon’s desire to protect his dad from harm, and when that act is rejected by Mike (Danny Nucci), Brandon feels resented and unwanted. And it’s a reaction that’s not exactly fair on Brandon’s part. He tried plenty of times to be more involved in Brandon’s life, and was met with the cold shoulder, to such an extent that Mike even had a serious talk with Brandon about how their relationship can’t be a one-way street.
Of course, all of this could be explained as your typical teenage feelings of resentment, coupled with Brandon’s angst over the whole Idyllwild situation. When Mike apologizes to Brandon and lets him know that no one will ever replace him, it’s a poignant father-son moment, and it’s echoed in Mike’s similar talk with AJ. AJ confesses he’s been speaking with Ty on the side, and Mike acknowledges that while he can’t prevent AJ from running, he hopes AJ will keep him in the loop on what’s going on with Ty. Having an adult ally on AJ’s side strengthens the dilemma he faces, in a lot of ways. If Ty wants to run off, will AJ really give up the family he’s developing with Mike, and the connection he’s fostering with Callie? Or will he cling to his closest remaining blood relation (well, outside of his grandmother), and reunite with his brother? Will AJ even get to have that choice? Because the episode puts real doubt into whether or not AJ’s story will have a happy ending. In short, AJ finally kisses Callie…and she responds by kissing him back. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except for Stef (Teri Polo) catching them in the act. It’s the Brandon situation all over again, but this time, the boy can be removed from the equation, if Stef decides to act in the interest of removing any threats to Callie’s adoption. And, right now, that’s more or less what AJ is.
And, in a lot of ways, I would expect Stef to act in the interest of keeping Callie safe, since this episode does a great job of establishing that, right or wrong, this is Stef’s main characteristic. She apologizes to Robert (Kerr Smith) for blackmailing him last year, recognizing that her actions can’t always be justified. Yet it’s Lena (Sherri Saum) who soothes Stef’s wounded pride, letting her know that while, yes, she can take it way too far, it’s those protective instincts that she loves so much. And this, after an entire episode of Stef passive-aggressively sniping at Lena about a “hate list” their therapist is having them fill out, with all the things that annoy them about the other person. Of course, the therapist doesn’t call it a “hate list,” but that doesn’t stop Stef from getting defensive, as it’s gradually becoming her default. It wasn’t the most exciting plotline, but I like how the focus on Stef’s character built organically into the big cliffhanger at the end. We’ve spent an entire episode being told how far Stef will go to protect her family, only to end it on Stef witnessing a kiss that could put Callie’s adoption in jeopardy. The minute we see this, we know what’s going to happen. Or, at least, we know what must happen, knowing Stef. Because there’s simply no way she lets this stand. And, as unfair as it appears to be, some of the blame has to go on Callie for this one.
Callie knows good and well what that kiss will mean if they get found out, but she goes for it anyway. Granted, she only does so after AJ sneaks in a quick kiss first, but she takes the time to consider the action, and decides to go through with something far more passionate and intense. I could easily imagine Stef and Lena being very upset with her over this, considering how much of a headache this situation caused when it was Brandon in AJ’s role. Naturally, it’s not entirely fair to pin this all on her, and I don’t mean to, especially when it’s always been the other guys who are the instigators in these relationships. But, at a certain point, one begins to wonder whether Callie has been living on the edge for so long that it’s the only way she can live. Perhaps Callie was compelled by the speech Rita (Rosie O’Donnell) gave her, about how harmful it can be to spend so much time doing things for other people that you forget to do things for yourself. Perhaps that’s what compelled her to just go for it, to grab something for herself. But I could also see this being the start of a storyline that explores a possibly subconscious, self-sabatoging aspect to Callie’s personality. Or…you know, maybe not. But I think this story, and its complications, will do a world of good for Callie’s depiction as a character. Making mistakes, even after acknowledging that they’re mistakes, makes Callie a more complex character, because she seems driven by more destructive impulses than her better sense should allow. And I’m fascinated by that.
For her part, Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) is also suffering from her own destructive impulses, and from the pain of Callie’s judgment. Mariana tries a risky tactic after Wyatt (Alex Saxon) asks her out. She reasons that if she can get Callie to be okay with the relationship, that’ll mean she’ll be okay with them having had sex. And while Callie initially gives Mariana her blessing to date Wyatt (albeit with hesitation), she later confesses to Lena that the entire thing is making her uncomfortable. Mariana finds out, breaks it off with Wyatt, and the resulting Wyatt rant towards Callie brings everything out into the open. It’s a glorious drama-bomb of a scene, in the most compelling way, since neither side is necessarily wrong for how they feel. On the one hand, Callie doesn’t particularly have any say in whether or not Wyatt and Mariana date, since she isn’t dating Wyatt herself. On the other hand, Callie has every right to be upset about being lied to by her sister. This Callie vs. Mariana battle is made all the more uncomfortable by an off-hand remark causing Jude (Hayden Byerly) to feel that the surprise party he worked so hard to plan for Callie is unappreciated. Ultimately, Callie and Jude make up (in fittingly poignant fashion), but the Callie/Mariana wound is still fresh. Even after Mariana gives a moving justification for why she wanted to date Wyatt (noting that if Wyatt were her boyfriend, she’d have lost her virginity to someone she might grow to love, rather than just some rando), the rift with Callie is still considerably wide. I’m loving that the show is exploring Callie and Mariana’s dynamic as sisters, whether it’s through hanging out, buying a car together, or arguing about romantic complications. It feels natural, and it gives the show another strong relationship to base stories around. On that note, I’m kind of hoping we still check in, occasionally, with Robert and Sophia (Bailee Madison), as that relationship adds to the broader world of characters this show has created that can be added into stories as needed (like the Girls United group, for example).
Ultimately, while we get Brandon vs. AJ, Callie vs. Mariana, Stef vs. Lena, and even Stef vs. Robert, “It’s My Party” is less about the drawing of battle lines and more about how those conflicts are inevitably resolved. But The Fosters doesn’t pretend it can fix everything in an hour. These are broader issues that will remain unresolved, in some respects, even while new problems present themselves. It’s the sort of continuous, adaptive drama that has allowed this season to really pick up steam.
But what did you think of The Fosters, “It’s My Party”? Sound off in the comments!
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And for more on The Fosters, check out my review of last week’s stellar episode!