The Fosters – Recap: God-Shaped Hole
Recap and review of The Fosters – Season 2 Episode 17 – The Silence She Keeps:
In some ways, The Fosters parents viewers in much the same way Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum) parent their children. The narrative instills in its viewers the worth of personal responsibility, and how taking up for your own actions has a value that never really diminishes. “The Silence She Keeps” takes this a step further by once again detailing how the need to take responsibility for one’s actions can be cathartic but also complicated.
Callie (Maia Mitchell) feels she’s taking personal responsibility by choosing to live with Robert (Kerr Smith), since she made the choice to help Daphne (Daffany Clark) on Christmas Eve and now has to accept responsibility by finding a way out that will protect the ones she loves. She does enough to sell Jude (Hayden Byerly) on the excuse that she simply wants to be out of the system, but Stef isn’t so easily convinced. Her police instincts serve her well, since something IS going on with Callie. Unfortunately, those instincts lead her in the wrong direction, as she ends up taking out her frustrations on Rita (Rosie O’Donnell), implying that she helped Robert manipulate Callie by playing on her love for Girls United. On the one hand, I could see how Stef would come to that conclusion. I mean, she is desperate and devastated, after all. And yet, I found her immensely unlikable for even going there in the first place. Perhaps it wouldn’t have left such a bad taste in my mouth if we didn’t know this wasn’t the case, if maybe Callie’s secret had been kept a mystery so that there was a shred of doubt in our minds about whether or not Stef could be right. But we know Rita isn’t helping Robert manipulate Callie, and even if we didn’t, we know enough about Rita to recognize that that isn’t something she would ever do to Callie. So Stef comes across as someone who’s way out of line.
Naturally, the story does build a certain amount of drama that makes me really anxious to see how it all plays out next week. Daphne feels guilty after seeing how her decision to call Callie on Christmas Eve has affected her relationship with Jude and the Fosters, so she confesses her role in the kidnapping to Rita, and then confesses to the detectives, omitting any mention of Callie or Brandon (David Lambert). She does this, even while recognizing that she’s facing up to 11 years in prison. It’s kind of a tragic story for Daphne, who has to fall on her sword to protect a friend, when really, this is a situation neither of them should ever have been involved in. But it’s a necessary route for the story to take, since it ties back into the theme of responsibility. In taking ownership of her actions, but exempting Callie from having to do the same, Daphne might actually be doing Callie a disservice, since the tenets of personal responsibility demand that Callie eventually come clean herself. But now that might not happen. And even worse, it’s implied that Daphne’s confession comes too late to prevent Callie from living with Robert, since she’s already at the courthouse and inside the judge’s chambers when Daphne is making her confession. It’s all just a matter of signing the paperwork now. Of course, the drama here does seem a bit false, in that the only reason we should really care that it’s probably too late to stop Callie from living with Robert is because Callie would rather live with the Fosters. But really, it’s no big tragedy that Callie now has two families that love her, instead of just one. As Callie explains to Jude, maybe this isn’t the happy ending they both envisioned for themselves, but it’s still a happy ending. And for that reason, I find it hard to really stress out that Callie might not end up getting adopted by Stef and Lena, because 1) Callie will at least be out of the foster system, and 2) Stef and Lena have vowed to remain by her side every bit as much as if they had adopted her after all. Callie is in the kind of position a lot of foster kids could only dream about, so no matter whom Callie ends up with, I have a hard time feeling a sense of life-or-death anxiety about her situation.
I’m sort of in the same place with Brandon too. He has the choice of going on tour with his band or accepting a prestigious scholarship to Idyllwild Arts Academy. Both choices seem equally appealing to him, and neither choice would necessary be a bad one for Brandon. I suppose you could argue that by choosing Idyllwild, he’d be sacrificing his relationship with Lou (Ashley Argota) as well as the possibility that Someone’s Little Sister could really take off. But he could end up regretting it the rest of his life if he passes up the opportunity to study at Idyllwild. It’s a tough choice, but what’s encouraging about is that it’s framed as being Brandon’s choice to make. As Mike (Danny Nucci) explains, it’s not as if they’re going to take touring off the table if they learn about the Idyllwild scholarship, since Brandon is old enough to make his own choices now. Whatever decision he makes, he’ll be the one who has to take responsibility for it. He’s essentially at an age where he can no longer pass the buck to his parents for telling him “no”. And I love that approach to the story. I also love that Mike is doing his best to take responsibility for his relationship with Brandon.
Mike recalls how, in AA, they talk a lot about the “God-shaped hole” that addicts try to fill with their vices. And so it makes a certain sense why Mike is in anguish. He’s trying to plug up that hole by helping Ana (Alexandra Barreto), but she doesn’t want the help. And now Mike wants to adopt her baby, but it seems unlikely that she’d go for it, considering he’d be a single father working a policeman’s hours (Ana also seemed fairly creeped out by Mike’s fairy tale vision of them as a family). So, with nowhere else to turn, he redirects his focus on Brandon, despite being rebuffed at nearly every turn. He discovers Brandon gave him a fake excuse to avoid going to dinner with him, and Mike tears into Brandon by saying that their father-son bond is a two-way street. But Brandon lashes back by noting that Mike only ever seems to come around when there’s no one else for him to “save”. Both men have good points about the dereliction of duties in their relationship, as Brandon and Mike both have shortcomings in their approach to this father-son relationship. The episode sees them having an honest talk about Brandon’s musical future, with Brandon confiding in his father that he doesn’t know if he can be as passionate about classical music as he once was. It’s a significant talk, because it depicts both men working their way back to a point where they can have a healthier relationship.
While there was a lot I liked about the episode, the most compelling arc, for me, ended up being one that is relatively minor when set against the scale of Callie deciding to go live with Robert. That arc is the story in which Timothy (Jay Ali) is fired after he refuses to adhere to Anchor Beach’s new standardized testing focus. I used to work in education, so this story spoke to many of my own issues with the system today, namely that a test is held as sacred. The standardized tests are generally seen by the administration as being more important than allowing kids to think for themselves through the study of a wide, diverse curriculum tailored to their needs, and that’s kind of ridiculous when you consider that this test is little more than a ploy for increased funding. Hell, the principal even admits as much this week! It’s an asinine process that’s really hurting the kids who are supposed to be helped by all this.
And so I found it immediately gripping that Timothy sticks to his principles, defying the curriculum and getting himself fired in the process. In leaving, he encourages the kids to stand up and make their voices heard, since this is their school and it’s their education that the administration is screwing with. In the process, he inspires Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) to fight back, to the consternation of Lena, who shouts after Mariana as she storms out of class, with the rest of her fellow students following behind her. It’s a powerful message about the need to take personal responsibility for your future, and not allow it to be dictated by people in boardrooms and meetings. Granted, I’m not entirely sure if a student walkout has the power to affect real change, but it says a lot about how far Mariana has come as a character that she decides to go through with it anyway. Lena might not like it, but this is exactly the sort of person she raised Mariana to be: strong-willed and committed to her own principles. It’s a development that reflects on both Lena and Mariana, in that it shows how Mariana has grown, while also showing how profound Lena’s influence on her has been.
And yet, Mariana still has her flaws. In trying to get April (Ashlee Füss) to join her dance team with Tia (Samantha Logan), Mariana goes a step too far and sends April some mean texts Kaitlyn (Hannah Kasulka) wrote about her. Mariana doesn’t recognize how badly she’s going to look for not defending April at the time the texts were written. Worse, by sending April the texts at all, Mariana essentially shows herself to be as mean (or at least as shortsighted) as Kaitlyn. I think it’s significant that we never actually learn what the texts said, since our imaginations could probably conjure up something worse than the script could have ever provided. And really, April’s heartbroken reaction (played excellently by Füss) tells us all we need to know about just how hurtful the verbiage in those texts were. In failing to take responsibility for defending her friend, Mariana essentially loses that friend, while also losing out on one hell of a dancer. Similarly, Jesus (Jake T. Austin) damn near lets his failure to take responsibility come between he and Brandon. In searching for reasons why Stef and Lena won’t let him go to the boarding school, Jesus would rather blame Brandon for being the “golden boy” than take charge of his own path and tell Stef how marginalized he feels. In fact, it takes Brandon talking to Stef for him in order for anything to change — although I guess that sort of proves Jesus’ point about Brandon being the chosen one. But Stef admits she’s been overlooking Jesus and does her best to accommodate his needs by promising to at least give the scout a hearing. And I don’t believe for one second that Jesus couldn’t have achieved the same result by simply coming forward in an earnest, respectful manner, and discussing how he was feeling with Stef, one-on-one. A little personal responsibility and less buck-passing would probably take Jesus a long way.
All in all, “The Silence She Keeps” is one of my favorite episodes so far this season, as The Fosters continues to prove that it’s as strong thematically as it is narratively.