‘The Fosters’ Review: ‘Jonnor’ Relationship Anchors the Excellent ‘More Than Words’

Recap and Review of The Fosters – Season 3 Episode 4 – More Than Words:

The Fosters has dealt with some heavy issues, but rarely so many at once. “More Than Words” is a positively stacked episode when it comes to character-shifting drama, and it’s a welcome change when other shows would simply take it easy at the start of the season.

Of course, this approach isn’t without its own problems. The looming threat of a Callie (Maia Mitchell) and AJ (Tom Williamson) romance hangs high over the closing moments of the episode, and this wouldn’t be so problematic if the episode itself didn’t make such a strong case for why Callie, as a character, needs time to herself. In rejecting former Girls United housemate Cole (the wonderful Tom Phelan), Callie states, “What, am I supposed to date every single guy I know?” She says this in response to Cole’s bitter accusation that she doesn’t see him as a real guy, and she’s right to say it, since his accusation was unfair. And yet, she immediately follows it up with, “You know what I really don’t need right now? Is a boyfriend.” Law of drama basically decrees that anyone who says this is no less than two episodes away from a relationship, and while I’d love to be wrong about this, the show is already laying the foundation for the inevitable love triangle, as AJ lets a flattered Callie know how jealous he felt to see her going to the LGBTQ prom with Cole. And in the middle of it all is Brandon (David Lambert), who doesn’t trust AJ one bit, due in large part to catching him returning the souvenir baseball he took. It’s all a lot of heady, romantic drama in a storyline that really doesn’t need it. My issue with the potential relationship has nothing to do with AJ himself, but rather the fact that Callie is in the midst of establishing her independence. Sure, Callie has only ever had two boyfriends, but it seems as though she’s always had them. When she tells Cole that the last thing she needs is a boyfriend, it felt like the honest declaration of someone who really wants to take the time to figure things out on her own, which is why this possible love triangle doesn’t sit well with me. That said, I’m condemning the story far too early, considering AJ and Callie haven’t actually done anything yet, nor has Callie, outside of defending him to Brandon or blushing at his jealousy, given any indication that AJ’s feelings are reciprocated. But I’m uneasy, nonetheless.

The Fosters AJ and Callie

Credit: ABC Family/Eric McCandless

But ignoring all that, this was a wonderful episode for a variety of reasons. Namely, the LGBTQ prom that serves as the major setpiece of the episode. The most engaging storyline of the week centers around Jude (Hayden Byerly) and Connor (Gavin MacIntosh), and this is because the conflict between the two is so immediately understandable. Neither Jude nor Connor is wrong to feel the way they do, but it all boils down to a difference in how identity is perceived and projected. The long and short of it is this: Cole invites Jude, Connor and Callie to the LGBTQ Prom he’s helped organize, and once they get there, Connor and Jude have to field a bunch of questions from curious attendees who want them to identify by sexual orientation. Connor has no problems saying he’s gay, whereas Jude struggles, saying “I’m just Jude.” On the one hand, I can see why Connor would see Jude’s reluctance as doubt about their relationship, especially since he’s uncertain how to navigate these waters alone. Worse, one of the guys at the prom starts feeding Connor lines about how Jude must not be committed, since he isn’t willing to put a label on his sexuality. In a lot of ways, it’s easy to see why Connor would be upset, and why he would doubt Jude. On the other hand, I feel like Jude is completely within his rights to reject the other attendees’ attempts at labeling him. Why does he need to state “I’m Jude and I’m gay” like he’s at a support group? Can’t he just introduce himself as Jude? Can’t he just be a person first, and not a label?

The Fosters - Jonnor at the LGBTQ Prom

Credit: ABC Family

Jude doesn’t appear to be questioning his relationship with Connor so much as he’s questioning the societal implications. Jude wants to be with Connor without anything changing, without having to become a label or symbol himself. And yet, as Cole explains to Jude, there’s power in labels too. If Jude is confident in who he is, then the label shouldn’t be an issue, since the label on its own wouldn’t change him. It’s among the most powerful scenes of the episode, and really, what made this such a fantastic plot was the work of the actors at its center, as they provide an organic quality to this coming-of-age tale that makes it feel more honest and real. MacIntosh plays Gavin as a confident kid who’s suddenly had that confidence shaken. He’s used to being the popular, well-liked, charismatic guy, but now he’s essentially starting over from scratch, and it shows in how uncertain he is when he’s away from Jude. Byerly, meanwhile, portrays a Jude who’s still attempting to pin down just what his sexual identity means, and whether he’ll be giving up his own individuality by embracing it. And in the middle of it is Phelan as Cole, someone who’s literally transitioned into a different gender, and who is discovering that he still has a long way to go, even despite the more accepting attitudes of today’s society. It’s a trifecta of subtle, engaging performances that helped the “Jonnor” storyline continue to blossom. I can’t say there have been many moments in recent episodes as beautiful as Jude starting over with Connor (“I’m Jude and I’m gay.”) and sharing a slow dance together to a particularly gorgeous cover of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Matt Alber.

The Fosters - Recap and Review - Season 3 Episode 4 - More Than Words

Credit: ABC Family/Eric McCandless

But past that lovely moment, there was a lot of tension. For one, Lena (Sherri Saum) is preparing for a visit from her mother (Lorraine Toussaint), stepfather, and step-brother Nate. However, Lena is plagued with anxiety over the fact that Nate never apologized for an incident years earlier in which he used the N-word against her mother. Worse is the realization that Lena’s mother doesn’t seem to want to address the issue. It’s a terrific showcase for Saum and Toussaint, who’ve really made their mother-daughter relationship feel fiercely realistic. As we learn, Lena’s mother didn’t want to address Nate’s possible racism because of her fear that her husband would never forgive his son. She turns out to be right on this score, as Lena’s Stepfather essentially disowns Nate once he founds out what his son had done. In response, Nate tearfully accuses his father of always siding with Lena and her mother, perhaps revealing the true root of his use of the N-word. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Nate is racist, and I’m not sure we were ever meant to read him that way. He’s simply bitter in a way that’s destructive. Granted, this isn’t much better, but it provides subtle insight into the root of the conflict, and allows for a more cathartic resolution. Sure, the relationship between Nate and Lena’s stepfather might be irreparable, but it was important for Lena and her mother to address the situation, in order for their own relationship to recover. It’s a great storyline, and it makes the rest of the episode hard to live up to.

The Fosters - Season 3 Episode 4 - Recap and Review - More Than Words

Credit: ABC Family

Yes, Brandon gets kicked out of Idyllwild over a stupid plan in which he presents an obscure work of Bach as his own, in order to prove to his instructors that Kat will say anything of his is crap, even when it’s an acclaimed genius such as Bach. The two are given one last chance: if any of the others in the program volunteer to work with them, they can stay. If not, Brandon and Kat must leave. And, sure enough, both Brandon and Kat have burned their bridges with their classmates over their lousy attitudes, leaving Brandon to return home in a huff. Only Callie knows the truth, but I doubt it’ll stay that way for long. Ditto the secret Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) has been keeping from Mat (Jordan Rodrigues) and Callie.

The Fosters - Recap and Review - Season 3 Episode 4 - More Than Words

Credit: ABC Family

On the one hand, it’s kind of unfair that Mariana doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of having slept with Wyatt (Alex Saxon), instead deciding to break up with Mat to prevent him from being hurt any further, and also out of her own sense of betrayal, as she believes Mat came all the way home just to have sex with her and then go back on the tour. A tour which, by the way, has just been extended to last the entire summer. On the other hand, it’s hard to say Mariana isn’t still dealing with the consequences of her romp with Wyatt. She’s living with the guilt every day, and the shadow of the secret looms large over her sisterly relationship with Callie, which is probably far more important to her than the relationship with Mat, after all. So it’s not like Mariana is getting off scot-free. And even if she were, it’s not as if it’s something she needs to be condemned for. She made a mistake. We all make mistakes. But the measure of a person’s maturity is in how they deal with those mistakes — or, alternately, how they learn from them. I feel Mariana is still in the “learning” phase of this mistake, as she attempts to figure out how to move forward. If nothing else, it should be interesting to see how she reconciles her actions with her need to move on with her life.

“More Than Words” is my favorite episode of the season so far. It’s rich with depth and crammed with great performances, and while there are some story directions I’m nervous about, this episode generally got me more excited for this season of The Fosters than any of the previous three. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

But what did you think of “More Than Words”? Sound off in the comments!

Also, for more articles, news and reviews, follow me on Twitter: @NickRomanTV

And for more on The Fosters, check out my exclusive interview with Hayden Byerly, as he discusses Jonnor, Jude’s development, and filming the LGBTQ Prom!

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