The Fosters - Recap: Out of the Woods

Recap and review of The Fosters - Season 2 Episode 14 - Mother Nature:

I usually love these more down-to-Earth episodes of The Fosters, less concerned with the serialized plot than with just chilling out with these characters for an hour. But something felt off about "Mother Nature," almost as if its pace was too lackadaisical. The show deals with a host of lingering issues for the family, but in a way that delays most of the developments until the final five minutes or so.

It's a strange approach for a series that's often been far better paced than this. The main thrust of the story is that the Fosters are headed into the wilderness for a camping trip, and their off-the-grid vacation forces a certain introspection that might not have come out otherwise. For instance, because his phone is confiscated before he can reply, Jesus (Jake T. Austin) can't text Hayley (Caitlin Carver) to tell her what a bad idea it is to follow him up to the campsite for the weekend. Faced with a clingy girlfriend who won't leave him alone, Jesus begins to realize that he doesn't really want to be with Hayley, mostly because being with her makes him want to do things he doesn't want to do. It's a decision that's been a longtime coming for Jesus, although it's a needlessly complicated road to get there, as we have Jesus getting lost in the woods with Brandon (David Lambert) while Jude (Hayden Byerly) does his best to keep his brothers' secrets. It's kind of a silly storyline to get to the big blow-up at the end, but even while I didn't enjoy the actual journey all that much, I absolutely loved the destination.

The Fosters - Season 2 Episode 14 - Recap and Review - Mother Nature
Credit: ABC Family

Long story short, Hayley ends up slipping the news to Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) that Ana is pregnant. In a fit of rage, Mariana confronts her Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum), only to discover that they both knew. Worse, not only did they both know before Mariana, they made a concerted effort to keep it a secret from her in the process. On the one hand, it's easy to see why Mariana is upset, since 1) Ana still hasn't proven herself capable of raising a child yet (how long has she been sober now anyway?), and 2) if Ana DOES prove herself capable of raising the child, then that new baby would essentially be getting better than either she or Jesus ever got from Ana, and there's an inherent unfairness to that. Yet it also makes sense why everyone would want to keep it a secret from Mariana, since she's an emotionally fragile person. Yes, she can certainly be strong, but matters related to Ana are particularly delicate for her. So while Mariana is right for being mad, Stef and Lena are right for keeping the secret from her.

The Fosters Lena learns about the tattoo Jesus got
Credit: ABC Family

There's a similar situation at play between Stef and Lena, where both are right in their own ways. Stef feels the kids always take their problems to Lena because she's the "nice" mom, while Stef always has to be the hard-nosed disciplinarian. Lena takes umbrage with this assertion, and tries to spend the weekend being tough with the kids, particularly Jesus. She even has Jesus ask Stef about his Ana problem, believing Stef will appreciate that Jesus came to her first. But it eventually comes out in the climax that Lena was actually the person Jesus came to first. And, just as badly, now Stef must once again play the disciplinarian. Stef feels she once again has to play "the dad," and this offends Lena, who feels this is awfully "hetero-normative" of her to say. In this instance, while Stef is right about Lena always being the more lenient parent of the two, Lena is arguably just as right in her observation that Stef has a tendency to police more than she parents. The couple needs to find a middle ground of sorts, where both can be the disciplinarian without alienating themselves from their children or intimidating them in such a way that the kids will no longer seek their help. It's a touching arc, largely because it centers on the ways in which parents must work together as a team, making tough decisions about how to parent. Do we tell Mariana about Ana, or do we wait until we have a little more information? Do we ground Jesus and confine him to the camp, or do we let him go search the woods for Hayley so he can end things? It's a tough balancing act Stef and Lena must perform, and it's compelling to watch them manage it.

Strangely, Callie (Maia Mitchell) and Brandon recede into the background for much of the episode, although there is a wonderful little scene in which they try to have a conversation as friends, if not brother and sister. They talk about their respective relationships, since things are made awkward after Callie accidentally walks in on Brandon and Lou (Ashley Argota) before the family leaves on the camping trip. It's a frank conversation, as Callie insists that she's not simply "pining away" from Brandon all the time. Brandon, however, doesn't want to feel like he's shoving his relationship with Lou in her face, prompting her to wonder if he thinks she shoved her relationship with Wyatt in his face. This leads to both opening up about their respective love lives, admitting how awkward it's getting, in the process.

The Fosters - Recap and Review - Season 2 Episode 14 - Mother Nature
Credit: ABC Family

It's a well performed bit of teen pathos by both Lambert and Mitchell, finding a middle ground between awkwardness, friendship and longing, as there's a lot going on underneath the surface between Brandon and Callie, even if neither wants to admit just how much. I just love their chemistry, but I also love how their friendship is deepening, in much the same way I love how this episode showed Brandon, Jesus, and Jude acting like brothers in exactly the way brothers would, covering for each other, fighting with each other, giving advice to each other. Jude even gets a solo story in which he grows resentful about how Callie treats him, since it's prompting everyone else to treat him like a kid too. Everyone has something going on, whether it's Stef consoling Mariana about Ana, whether it's Mariana ratting out Jesus for his tattoo, or whether it's Mike (Danny Nucci) asking Ana to move in with him as a friend, even though -- surprise! -- he isn't her baby's father. The script finds a way to make time for everyone, and while that can make for a bit of a cluttered and frustrating episode, particularly since so much of it is spent on lighthearted moments like Stef trying to ascertain the meaning of "twerking," the show still manages to make the stories compelling through a combination of strong dialogue and stronger performances. So while I didn't love "Mother Nature," I still think The Fosters is on the right track when it comes to telling ensemble-driven stories that make time for its individual characters.