‘The Fosters’ Season 3 Episode 19 Review: A Tragic Death Ends ‘The Show’
Recap and review of The Fosters – Season 3 Episode 19 – The Show:
I know we’re three seasons in, but “The Show” is in the running to be the best episode ever for The Fosters. Maybe that’s hyperbolic, in some respects, but I really don’t think it is. The way the episode played with structure, allowing us to check in with each storyline without sacrificing the momentum of the framing musical story was brilliant. And that tragic, heartbreaking twist at the end, sealed by an outstanding performance from Teri Polo, put this over-the-top as television worth going out of your way to see.
The notion of doing a Romeo & Juliet rock opera, and having that rock opera take up the lion’s share of the screentime, was a risky endeavor for the show, especially considering how well-worn the Romeo & Juliet story is. But what was brilliant about this approach was the ways in which that Romeo & Juliet story, and the Brandon-penned songs that told it, looped into the overarching stories facing many of these characters. For instance, the story of Juliet’s lost letter to Romeo mirrors Mat’s lost letter to Mariana (Cierra Ramirez), in which he confesses that he’s still in love with her. During the show, Mariana comes to realize that her feelings are resurfacing, and she can’t help but admit she still loves Mat (Jordan Rodrigues). Learning that he still loves her too suddenly changes the nature of their friendship, since Mariana is still in a relationship with Nick (Louis Hunter), and Mat just consummated his relationship with Zoey (Anna Grace Barlow) [though the narrative is somewhat unclear as to whether Zoey was simply lying about sleeping with Mat in order to get under Mariana’s skin]. To make matters worse, Nick isn’t exactly oblivious to how Mat feels about his girlfriend, as we find out that he was the one who intercepted Mat’s love letter from Mariana’s backpack. Nick conceals his angst about it by being overly affectionate with Mariana, but it’s hard to imagine that we’re not in for a similarly Shakespearean explosion of emotions in next week’s finale. Whatever form the drama takes, I thought the show took an interesting route to get there by paralleling that love triangle with the story of Romeo, Juliet and Paris. And it’s not the only romantic parallel we get, nor is it the only love triangle, as Brandon (David Lambert) finds himself struggling to fight off his feelings for Callie (Maia Mitchell), who absent-mindedly muses about what would have happened if they’d told their moms about their relationship. Brandon takes this as a cue to tell them, right then and there, just to get it all out in the open. But Callie’s declaration that it’s too late rings horribly true with Brandon. They clearly love each other, but they’re essentially stuck. Granted, Cortney (Denyse Tontz) isn’t exactly a bad person to be stuck with, but a flashback reveals that Brandon might not be entirely ready for surrogate fatherhood. To put it plainly, Brandon and Callie might be headed back to one another anyway, no matter how hard they try to pretend they can be a normal family without their mutual romantic feelings getting in the way. It’s a thorny conflict, but one of the best in the show, since it throws a wrench into the entire story of Callie’s acceptance into the Adams-Foster family. Can they really go on from here? And what happens if the secret gets out? Does Callie go back into the system? It’s crazy to think that one of last season’s most joyful, triumphant moments could be undone in an instant, but that’s the kind of threat we’re facing here.
Of course, there are weightier issues than separation going on here, as we get our first major death in a long, long time. Stef (Teri Polo) and her partner receive a call to an incident at the home of Callie and Jude’s (Hayden Byerly) former, abusive foster home. There, Stef finds the foster father pacing back and forth, gun in hand, clearly experiencing concern over something he’s done. When Stef finds out that the man’s wife isn’t in the house with him, the question turns to who, exactly, is the injured person in the house. Stef decides to make her move, bursting through the door, and shooting the man in the shoulder. She handcuffs him, and then turns her attention to the kitchen, where a body is covered by a sheet. She steps on a pair of glasses upon entering the kitchen, and that tells us all we need to know about whose body is under the sheet: it’s Jack (Tanner Buchanan), who’d finally gotten out of the abusive group home, and who was looking to make a fresh start. It’s doubly tragic because you could make the argument that if Callie and the others hadn’t forced his group home to be shut down, Jack never would have been placed with the foster father who ended up killing him. However, you could also make the argument that this is more a byproduct of the system failing yet another teenager, since there really is no reason this man should have been able to keep his foster license after the way he treated Callie and Jude. But another element that ups the tragedy factor is just how much character development we got from Jack this episode. I’ve spent the better part of this season second-guessing Jack’s motivations, expecting he’d lead to some sort of tragic outcome for Callie and Jude. It turned out I was right, but not for the reasons I expected. I feel pretty bad about ever doubting the kid, as this episode shows him to be a sweet, if somewhat typically troubled, teenager. When Jude breaks down in tears after a therapeutic screaming session, Jack decides to kiss Jude. Although he admits to Callie later that he isn’t gay, Jack states he simply wanted Jude to feel better about this whole Connor situation. And, sure enough, Jack’s kiss allows Jude to realize that there can be a love life for him after Connor, even if it’s not necessarily with Jack. It’s one of the most heartfelt bonding moments of the season, with Jude getting Jack a pay-as-you-go phone so they can talk whenever he wants, going as far as to offer to pay for Jack’s minutes out of his own allowance. This moment of heartwarming levity makes the final, cruel twist at the end of the episode all the more shattering. Although the episode doesn’t show us how Jude takes the news of Jack’s death, Stef has a hard time holding it together herself. One of the things I love about Stef is her incredible capacity for empathy. In effect, all children are her children, because her kids aren’t that far removed from the circumstances of kids like Jack. This could easily have been Callie or Jude, Jesus or Mariana, or even Brandon. Polo’s performance is so raw that it amplifies the emotional punch of a death that probably shouldn’t be as affecting as it is, considering how briefly we’ve known Jack. But Jack’s death is orders of magnitude beyond what I ever could have expected from the show. It’s a shock of hopelessness, and the threat that not everyone gets a happy ending. I was just so deeply moved by this, more so than just about any moment this season.
But there’s more to recommend about “The Show” than just tragic moments, great performances, and parallels between the show and the show-within-a-show. There’s music! Seriously, the songs featured here are great, and the structure of the Romeo & Juliet show is such that I honestly wouldn’t have minded the entire episode focusing squarely on the play itself. This is due in large part to how it provides a platform for the cast to show off their wide range of talents. I mean, it’s not really a big surprise that Cierra Ramirez, Jordan Rodrigues, David Lambert and Maia Mitchell can sing, but it’s great to see them get the chance to really show what they can do with those talents. Hell, we even saw some familiar faces such as Ashley Argota as Lou (I didn’t realize how much I missed her until now), and some new faces such as Corbin Bleu playing the student in the role of Mercutio. The play had some wonderfully-staged moments, such as the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt, which uses a darker, hard rock reprise of the song Romeo and Juliet sing to one another upon first meeting. While the score is a bit heavy on the love ballads, I thought all of them were terrific, particularly the one song Romeo sings to himself that sounds like a repurposed version of “Outlaws,” the song Brandon wrote for Callie. I can’t imagine it wasn’t intentional, since it ties directly into the arc of Brandon still thinking about Callie. It’s a point which comes up later in the musical when Brandon imagines himself having a duet with both Callie and Cort, whose faces change back and forth with each movement of the camera, mimicking the uncertainty of Brandon’s decision. I haven’t been this in love with an episode of any show in a long time, and the musical format was a large reason why this worked as well as it did. There’s something to be said for structure in a melodrama, and while The Fosters isn’t exactly freeform (no pun intended) without this context, the play helped bring out the inherent drama of each of the storylines thanks to the well-placed music and the fitting thematic parallels.
To say this was my favorite episode of the season would be a vast understatement. Even minor, dialogue-free, visual subplots such as Lena (Sherri Saum) worrying about Stef, or Mike (Danny Nucci) finally taking Ana’s (Alexandra Barreto) hand in his own are solid storytelling. The Fosters may have delivered my favorite episode across three seasons, the more I think about it, as “The Show” is ambitious, bold, and a compelling, successful departure from the norm. It’s not the kind of episode the show can do every week, but it’s the kind of episode that helps the series standout among dramas of its ilk.
But what did you think of The Fosters Season 3 Episode 19, “The Show”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Fosters, read our recap and review of last week’s stunningly emotional “Rehearsal”!