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‘The Fosters’ Season 3 Episode 13 Review: ‘If and When’ Explores Issues of Trust

Recap and review of The Fosters – Season 3 Episode 13 – If and When:

Which friends and family members can you trust? The Fosters explores this question with a compelling episode that comes at this issue from a variety of different angles. In some cases, choosing whom to trust could be a matter of life and death; in others, it can be a difference between freedom and imprisonment. And in others still, it could be the difference between one awkward situation and another. “If and When” is a fascinating episode for The Fosters, because it provides further insight into the rough decisions these characters have to make: decisions both big and small.

On the big side of the decision-making this week, Stef (Teri Polo) has to determine whether or not she wants to stick with Lena’s (Sherri Saum) suggestion of the lumpectomy, or if she wants to go with the suggestion of her mother, Sharon (Annie Potts), and get a double mastectomy. Both sides make compelling arguments, as Lena doesn’t want Stef to suffer unnecessarily with a surgery she might not really need, whereas Sharon wants to eliminate all risk of Stef’s cancer returning in either breast. Granted, some of the narrative import of Stef’s decision is removed when we learn that Stef has inherited the cancer gene, meaning it’s only a matter of when, rather than if, she’ll get cancer. In this case, Stef ultimately decides that it’s better to be safe than sorry, although it’s not a decision she comes to lightly. The best thing that this storyline is doing is not allowing it to consume Stef’s entire arc. This is as much about the state of her marriage with Lena and her relationship with her mother as it is about her health. Trust is a difficult thing to cultivate, and Lena has lost some of Stef’s trust over the Monty incident, whereas Sharon has been invasive in Stef’s life, treating her like a child in many respects. While Sharon’s nosiness did lead to the potential cancer threat being discovered, it still amounts to a violation of Stef’s boundaries, so it’s understandable why she’s having trouble fulling embracing her mother’s suggestions. Stef’s eventual decision to go through with the double mastectomy is powerful, because it illustrates Stef choosing the path of least resistance, even if it’s the harder path to take. With the lumpectomy, her mother would never stop worrying, and it’s doubtful Stef would ever stop worrying either, considering her genetic history. The double mastectomy will take Lena’s objections off the table, and keep her mother out of her hair. While this is a decision about her physical health, it’s also a decision about her emotional well-being as well. As we see here, she has other matters on her plate other than cancer.

Credit: Freeform/Eric McCandless

Credit: Freeform/Eric McCandless

So AJ (Tom Williamson) is still on the run with Ty, which is a major thorn in Stef’s side, even though she now has Mike (Danny Nucci) admitting that AJ may be lost to him for good. Although Stef has shown mercy in the past, she adds AJ’s name to Ty’s arrest warrant since he’s now guilty of aiding and abetting a fugitive. Matters get complicated further when Callie (Maia Mitchell) gets a call from AJ, learning that he’s in Arizona. This brings Callie to a critical decision of her own: trust Stef or trust AJ to know what’s best for himself? Phrased this way, the decision is a pretty easy one, yet Callie doesn’t recognize the potential consequences of her action in telling Stef. It never occurs to her in a million years that Stef would want to arrest AJ, since she doesn’t know that Ty was the driver who nearly killed Ana and the twins. So Callie is making a decision without having the full picture. And yet, we know Stef as a character. She’s a hardass, yes, but she can be reasoned with. It’s no real surprise when she chooses to show mercy to AJ and spare him from being arrested, since she can understand as well as anyone the difficult hold family can have on a person. Hell, AJ is a mirror to Callie, in a lot of ways, what with their vagabond upbringings. But I couldn’t see Stef ever arresting Callie, no matter how straitlaced a cop she is. And so it is here, as AJ gets spared, albeit at the expense of Callie’s trust, since she flips out when she learns what Stef had initially planned to do in Arizona. It’s an interesting conflict for the show to explore as the season rolls on, if only because we don’t always get to look into the mother-daughter relationship between Stef and Callie (or Lena and Callie, for that matter). Callie doesn’t feel like a properly-adopted member of the family yet, but stories like these will go a long way in integrating her into this familial construct, so that she feels more like a daughter and less like that girl who spent two-and-a-half seasons waiting for paperwork to clear.

Credit: Freeform/Eric McCandless

Credit: Freeform/Eric McCandless

Of course, Callie has other issues of trust facing her. In addition to the matter with Stef, she’s finally beginning to realize just how strange Jack Downey (Tanner Buchannan) truly is. After defending the kid to Jude (Hayden Byerly) early in the episode, noting that they were once seen as weirdo outsiders themselves, Callie discovers that it was Jack who’s been messaging her on the Fost-and-Found message boards. This adds a whole new layer of creepiness to the kid, who seems to just hover around Callie and Jude like some sick puppy dog. While I certainly hope we get a happy ending in which Jack gets the help he clearly needs, I fear this story is going to end in tragedy, whether that means Jack kills himself, or Jack snaps and takes somebody else with him. Maybe that’d be too dark for this show, but The Fosters is often one of the more daring family shows on television, so I wouldn’t put it past the series to address a story of this magnitude. Either way, I’m nervous for our characters, to say the least. I’m similarly nervous for Jesus (Noah Centineo), surprisingly, as his story ventures into potentially dangerous territory. Basically, Jesus gets a job in construction that will bring him closer to his birth father. This, despite Jesus not knowing a whole lot about this man in the first place. Jesus hasn’t always shown strong reasoning skills, and it’s arguable that this would play out the same way for Jesus whether he confronted this man as a teenager or as an adult. But I just get a bad feeling about this story, and what’s in store for Jesus.

Credit: Freeform/Eric McCandless

Credit: Freeform/Eric McCandless

On the lighter side of things, Brandon (David Lambert) is having trust issues, but not over anything as severe as arrest, cancer or biological parenthood. Rather, his is an issue with trusting Mat (Jordan Rodrigues), who somehow manages to loop Brandon’s ex, Talya (Madisen Beaty), into the lead role of Juliet for Brandon’s Shakespeare-themed rock opera. I’d always wondered what happened to the character of Talya, and I’m glad she’s back, even though it’s a relatively brief return. This show has a pretty deep bench of secondary characters with solid backstories and rich histories with our current characters, so I like seeing them get used. It just makes this show’s world seem bigger, along with giving the notion that there are people with stories that exist outside our frame of view. Brandon and Mat are at odds, but things get considerably more awkward once Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) enters the fray. She and Mat haven’t really solved matters between them following their break-up, which makes Mariana replacing Talya as the lead in Romeo and Juliet deeply uncomfortable, to say the least. Granted, there’s no reason this storyline has to veer into melodrama, but I think the show has a certain quota of romance storylines to fulfill each season. And hey, when you do young love as well as The Fosters does, I don’t really mind it. All in all, I felt like “If and When” was one of the more nuanced episodes of the season so far, offering up subtlety and thematic complexity in situations that might not necessarily call for such detail.

But what did you think of The Fosters, Season 3 Episode 13, “If and When”? Sound off in the comments!

And for more on The Fosters, read our review of last week’s stellar episode!

TV 2016RecapReviewThe Fosters

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