‘The Fosters’ Review: The Excellent ‘Daughters’ Investigates the Foster System
Recap and review of The Fosters – Season 3 Episode 8 – Daughters:
The Fosters has shown in the past that Callie (Maia Mitchell) is a bright girl prone to bad decision-making. She can be her own salvation, but not without being her own worst enemy first. “Daughters” explores the self-destructive impulses that govern Callie, while also detailing how Brandon (David Lambert) has been suffering from years of being the good guy. It’s a complex episode, and far more fascinating beneath the surface than its twists and turns would suggest.
To be more pointed, much of “Daughters” centers on how Callie and Brandon must answer to the system for their romance, as they need to find a way to get around the existence of that pesky restraining order now blocking Callie’s adoption. In order to do this, Callie and Brandon need to make sure the social workers know that they don’t have any more feelings for one another. Sure, maybe it was love, but those feelings are gone, and they have to be, if Callie is ever going to be adopted. And yet, those feelings are clearly still there, along with a lot of other lingering issues. In short, Callie fosters a deep rage against the system that is blocking her adoption, and it culminates in a rant at the end of the episode that marks one of Maia Mitchell’s best scenes this season. Callie uploads her story to her Fost-and-Found app in order to share it with other foster kids, to encourage them to come forward and hold the system accountable. And yet, so much of the episode is predicated upon Callie’s adoption being halted by her own mistakes. It’s not exactly a new notion, as I’ve hit upon this before, but this is a situation where the narrative openly addresses it. When Jude (Hayden Byerly) confronts Callie about having kissed AJ (Tom Williamson), his disappointment with her is like a knife in the gut. His exasperated “Why do you always do this?” to Callie sounds like a condemnation: “We could have been a family by now, but you keep f***ing it up.” Of course, I don’t disagree with Callie when she states that elements of the system have continually screwed her over, particularly the judge who refuses to take Callie’s desires into consideration. But, once again, from the judge’s perspective, Callie doesn’t appear to know what she wants. One minute, she wants to stay with Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum), and the next, she wants to live with Robert. Callie doesn’t always make the mess she’s in, but far more often than not, she’s the reason it ends up being worse than it could have been, between helping Daphne abduct her daughter, to getting caught in a stolen car with AJ, right down to the ill-advised trip to Mexico with Brandon. Callie’s intentions are good, but the system doesn’t care about intentions. What Callie doesn’t realize is that the only way to beat the system is to make the system work for her.
This becomes cruelly inverted in the case of Rita (Rosie O’Donnell). Callie spends the episode talking about how foster kids don’t have a voice, that their voices go unheard when it’s their word against the system. Yet it’s two foster kids who could end up bringing down one of the few decent places we’ve ever seen for foster kids in this show. Basically, Rita is arrested at the end of the episode when she’s accused of hitting Carmen, one of the kids at Girls United. The incident is left ambiguous, as Rita rushes to break up a fight between Carmen and a new girl named Brooke. We hear the sound of a slap (or punch), and the next thing we know, Carmen and Brooke are claiming Rita was the aggressor. And, once again, it’s an inversion of the usual power structure of the system, as well as a cruelly ironic counterexample to Callie’s claims of foster kids being voiceless. And yet, why would Carmen or Brooke lie? It would make sense for Brooke to make it up, since she basically expresses her hatred for Rita and Girls United every chance she gets. But why Carmen? She’s been with Girls United forever, has worked through the system, and is now about to join the Army, a lifelong dream. What reason would she have to lie about this?
This entire Rita debacle is a complicated situation because, for as implausible as it seems that these girls would lie, it seems equally implausible that Rita would hit Carmen in the first place. The episode tries to plant doubt in our heads by showing Rita instinctively slap her daughter, Chloe, when she blames her mother for her father’s suicide (more on that in a bit). And before the slap, we hear Carmen call either Brooke or Rita a derogatory term, indicating that perhaps Rita flew off the handle without realizing what she’d done. If nothing else, the episode explains just how much Rita is going through when the show introduces her bipolar daughter, Chloe. Chloe resents Rita because she views her mother as the cause of her father’s suicide. To make matters worse, Chloe discovered her father’s body, and has been a complete wreck ever since. This sheds new light on Girls United, as it becomes a monument to Rita’s attempts at a do-over, to be the good mother she couldn’t be with Chloe. This makes Rita’s arrest all the more sad: whether she hit Carmen or not, her good intentions (much like Callie’s) don’t mean much against the power of the system.
Similarly, Brandon is struggling against the hypocrisy in his home life. For as good as a kid as AJ is, deep down, it’s clear that the Adams-Foster household is being severely inconvenienced by his presence. It’s not really his fault, but AJ has caused certain long-brewing problems to boil to the surface, namely with Brandon. In short, Brandon blows up at Stef and Lena when he learns that they lied to him about the reason Callie had to go stay with Rita. He’s livid that they took out a restraining order against him for kissing Callie, yet AJ makes out with her and they don’t lift a single finger. It’s an amazing scene for David Lambert, who allows Brandon’s resentment to feel real, and long-simmering. He states that they never take his feelings into consideration when bringing in kid after kid to live in the house. He then rips into Stef and Lena for doing such a lousy job of hiding the problems in their own marriage, saying that everyone can hear them bickering all the time. Brandon is sick of it, and he decides to pack his things to stay at Idyllwild until this all blows over. But this is the rare emotional outburst that affects real change, as Stef tearfully admits that she’s shown more compassion to her adopted children than she has to her flesh-and-blood son. She apologizes, and then — in what amounts to a pretty huge moment, in my opinion — promises to back him up if he decides to tell Mike not to foster AJ. Stef is essentially saying she’ll support Brandon, should he decide to give his father an ultimatum between himself or AJ, and while I’m sure Stef didn’t mean for it to come to this (she seems like she really likes AJ), she understands that it’s a sacrifice she has to make for Brandon’s sake.
Of course, there are other consequences to Brandon’s outburst, as Jude now thinks Stef and Lena are getting a divorce. This makes him moody and rude (Rude Jude? Nah, too easy), and causes him to skip out on a math test. Meanwhile, Lena continues to feel dismissed by Stef’s calm reassurances that trouble in any relationship is normal. This, despite Stef refusing to go to any more couples counselling. Stef also hires a lesbian contractor to fix their bathroom — a contractor Lena didn’t approve. Basically, the troubles are piling up for this marriage, and they’re made all the worse by Monty insisting that Lena shouldn’t take the possibility of divorce off the table. It’s an interesting storyline, although I feel as though there hasn’t been all that much progress in one direction or another. If nothing else, it feels like the narrative is biding time until the summer finale. Another way the narrative appears to be biding time is through Stef’s investigation into the crash that nearly killed Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) and Jesus, as she gets AJ’s help tracking down the driver at the scene of the hit-and-run. All we know is that he’s black, and knowing how these sorts of stories work out, I’d bet all the money in the world that it’s AJ’s brother. But Stef does get another lead related to the actual owner of the car involved in the accident. This investigation ultimately ended up feeling like it was out of another episode altogether, so I felt a bit of a disconnect between this story and the more interesting one about Callie, Rita and the foster care system. It simply felt like the episode was trying to do too much. Still, it’s all clearly leading somewhere, and I completely anticipate it’ll be worth the build up.
“Daughters” is a terrific episode for The Fosters, exploring the intricacies of the system, and the hypocrisies involved. I’d love for more social commentary, as it’s among the best things the show does. As for now, I’m endlessly intrigued by the storyline possibilities as we barrel towards the summer finale.
But what did you think of The Fosters, “Daughters”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Fosters, check out my review of “Faith, Hope, Love”!
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Thanks for reading!