‘The Fosters’ Review: An Excellent Season 2 Finale Changes the Show Forever
Recap and review of The Fosters – Season 2 Finale – The End of the Beginning:
Brokeback Mountain is one of my favorite short stories (and movies, to boot), and in that film, one of the big arc lines is “If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.” It’s a story about control, and what measure of control you have over your own life. The Fosters tells a similar story with an excellent Season 2 finale, as “The End of the Beginning” takes control away from the characters, and changes the show forever in the process.
Let’s say Jesus (Jake T. Austin) isn’t the fatality in the car wreck that closed out the episode. Maybe it was the other driver. Maybe it was Ana (Alexandra Barreto). Or maybe it was Ana’s baby. Or maybe Stef (Teri Polo) was called to a completely unrelated wreck. It’d be a cruel manipulation of our emotions, but it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility. But still, let’s just say it isn’t Jesus who was killed: the show is still going to change irrevocably regardless. Earlier tonight, Jake T. Austin confirmed in a series of tweets that he’s leaving the show, and that this was his final episode as a series regular. Now, the show allowed for the wiggle room that Jesus could simply be leaving for boarding school, that he survives the accident and simply goes away to study out of state. But even if that’s the case, the show is fundamentally altered, as the chemistry of the cast changes. In one of the more poignant scenes of the episode, Ana warns Jesus against leaving his family too soon, since she made the same mistake as a teenager. She’s warning Jesus about boarding school, but this line takes on a chilling significance if Jesus dies, since it will leave a crater at the center of the Adams Foster family that can’t be filled. In short, if Jesus dies, The Fosters becomes a darker show. And it can be hard for even the best family series to recover from such a fundamental change in its DNA. Because, really, it’s going to be a very long time before the show can believably go back to being the lighthearted series a lot of viewers fell in love with if we’re killing off a principal character in his teen years.
And yet, part of me struggles to suspend disbelief enough to buy that Jesus even would have survived a wreck like that, having been hit head-on. At the very least, I doubt he’d recover from it in time to make the first semester at that boarding school. It’s even less likely that Stef and Lena (Sherri Saum) would let their recently-traumatized son leave if he did. And since boarding school is really the only way to write Jesus out without killing him, it’s looking less and less likely that he survives this. On the one hand, I get that the creators’ hands were tied by Austin’s decision to leave. On the other hand, killing off a character doesn’t always have to be the answer. If there’s any comfort to be taken in all this, it’s that series co-creator Bradley Bredeweg posted a tweet saying “not everything is what it seems on The Fosters,” so perhaps this is a cruel red herring, meant to capitalize on the news of Austin’s exit, and Jesus is really okay? For the sake of the series, I hope this is the case, if only because I imagine a tragedy of that level would essentially transform The Fosters into a different show, where everyone’s problems matter less against the enormity of losing someone so young. Perhaps it could be a teaching moment, and yeah, this happens to families all the time. But while The Fosters offers up some salient, insightful observations about the changing definition of the American family, it’s also an escapist series in many respects, offering a comfortable world in which to hang out on Monday nights. For all I know, it could be for the best, but to me, killing off Jesus allows the real world to impinge upon the series in a way that detracts from it. Yes, these people live in the real world, where these sorts of tragedies happen, but if this is only happening because Austin wanted to bail, and not because there’s a story somewhere in there worth telling, well…I know I’ll be disappointed, since I know it’s going to be ages before we can believably have moments as fun as Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) generating a sixth dancer for her team using computer coding. Everything in the world, whether it’s high school, marriage troubles, dance team rivalries, or young romance is just going to seem small in comparison to the family’s attempts to move on from the devastation the accident left in its wake.
The momentousness of Jesus’s possible death is enough to hang a cloud on just about everything else that happened, actually. Before this point, it was one of the best episodes of the entire season. Hell, it still ended up being a fantastic hour of television, but it’s simply hard to think about anything else. That said, I loved the story in which Callie (Maia Mitchell) tells Robert (Kerr Smith) that he will always be her father, and that she wants him in her life as her dad. It illustrates just how easily this entire befuddling mess might have been solved if Callie and Robert could have just had a frank discussion with one another at some point. Of course, Robert’s epiphany is driven by the recognition that he’s becoming eerily like his father, Robert Sr. (Patrick Duffy), who essentially manipulated him into staying with the family against his will. So I’m guessing this is something that needed to happen in order for Robert to realize he needed to sign away custody once and for all. It’s a neat, elegant solution to the storyline that doesn’t diminish or minimize the journey we’ve been on this season with the Callie/Robert arc, and I thought both Maia Mitchell and Kerr Smith did a great job playing on the emotional conflict between the two, since Callie clearly loves the man, but she doesn’t think of him as “home”.
It still wasn’t as poignant, however, as Jude (Hayden Byerly) finally coming to the realization that Connor (Gavin MacIntosh) is his boyfriend. I’m not sure there was a more triumphant moment this episode than Jude standing up to Connor’s father at the hospital, struggling to get in to see his friend. When Jude later meets with Connor, and Connor sees that Jude’s fingernails are painted, Jude’s response that the nails are “War paint” is just such a perfect little codicil on this entire arc. Jude stood up for himself in a major way, not only acknowledging what Connor means to him, but also acknowledging his sexual identity once and for all. There’s no more confusion in Jude. He knows what he and Connor are now, and realizing that Connor has come to the same realization galvanizes him to act. It’s just such a beautiful progression, and I think Jude and Connor really are the stealth Couple of the Series. However, with Jude and Connor’s reunion comes trouble in paradise for Stef and Lena. I thought it was a bit forced to have Monte (Annika Marks) make a move on Lena after she breaks down in tears over the rough patch she’s facing in her marriage, if only because it didn’t feel natural for the story. It felt simply like something the writers were doing to drive a wedge between Stef and Lena, when really, Stef’s repeated tendency to make decisions without consulting Lena was doing that all by itself. In short, I didn’t really see a reason to introduce infidelity into the equation, and although Lena flatly rejects the kiss, I was less interested in the physical act than in Lena’s admission beforehand that part of her fear stems from not really wanting Ana’s baby. THAT was an interesting through-line that I wish the show had explored a bit more.
But, at the very least, it seems Lena won’t have to worry about that anyway, since Ana is considering keeping the baby now that Mariana has given her blessing (at Jesus’s insistence, and at the suggestion of her grandparents, who want the child to stay in their family). Unfortunately, with the accident, that’s now entirely up in the air. I think Mariana is the only person we can trust is okay. But for all we know, the fatality could be Jesus, it could be Ana, it could be her baby, and…ugh, thinking about it is stressing me the hell out. I know it’s just a TV show, but this series really has worked its way into my life in a big way. Hell, I even found myself worried for Brandon (David Lambert), as his lateness nearly costs him his audition with Idyllwild. The show delivers a fakeout by making us think Brandon has ditched the audition after Lou (Ashley Argota) confesses her love and tells him about an A&R guy who wants to see them on the tour. But Brandon’s priorities remain focused on classical music, and he attends his audition — although he does have a sixth sense moment, as he’s interrupted mid-audition by a sinking feeling that occurs simultaneously with Jesus’s crash. And I suppose that’s the big takeaway from this finale, more so than the attempt to regain control over one’s life, or to control how you react to difficult situations. It’s that, in Season 3, whether he’s dead or not, all things are inevitably going to loop back to Jesus, at least for the first half of the season. And that could leave us with a very different Fosters than the one people have grown to love. But it’s a Fosters I’m still willing to watch. Because this show is about life, and how we have to take the good with the bad, even if the bad is unthinkable. That, for me, is the real triumph of “The End of the Beginning,” and of The Fosters as a whole.