‘The Fosters’ Season 3 Episode 14 Review: ‘Under Water’ Tests Relationships In a Big Way
Recap and review of The Fosters – Season 3 Episode 14 – Under Water:
The Fosters has hit a new high this season with “Under Water”, which just might be the most emotional episode of the season so far. It’s certainly the most emotional episode since the show’s return last month, due in large part to the overarching storyline of Stef and Lena’s marriage. These are two characters who, unlike a lot of other couples on the show, have a connection that is exceptionally easy to root for. Between Stef’s cancer diagnosis and Lena’s difficult situation with Monty, it’s been a long road to this point.
Naturally, the best part of all this is the payoff for all these endless months of marital discord between Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum). Stef reveals she’s been distant because she’s worried that Lena won’t find her attractive anymore after the lumpectomy. Shocked, Lena tells Stef that she loves her mind, her spirit, and her laugh, and that she’ll always find her sexy. Lena then apologizes for ever allowing Stef to feel like she could ever not be beautiful enough for her. Lena asks how she can make it up to Stef, and the answer is surprisingly straightforward. She wants Lena to take her swimming, which is exactly what Lena does, as they break into the school swimming pool and have a romantic escapade that essentially mends the damage their marriage has suffered over the course of Season 3 as a whole. This feels like the payoff to months and months of concern over whether or not these two would actually make it. And from that standpoint, it proves well worth the wait. Polo and Saum are never better than when they’re portraying the complexity of Stef and Lena’s marriage, primarily the fact that these are two people who clearly love one another, but who still have doubts about just what their love can withstand. Stef is worried about her upcoming surgery, sure, but she’s more concerned about how she’ll be perceived by Lena. In fact, she’s so concerned about it that she signs her power of attorney over to her mother rather than Lena, out of concern that Lena may fall out of love with her. It’s downright heartbreaking to see someone so strong brought so low, and it tells us a lot about how vulnerable the character is right now. Seeing her have some semblance of unity with Lena, in spite of the doubts over Monty, is just the right amount of uplifting to keep this storyline from feeling wrought with despair. I mean, for crying out loud, this was an episode where an e-card accusing Lena and Monty of having an affair goes viral on Twitter, causing the entire student body to whisper about the two (and as crazy as it sounds, even in light of Lena’s desperate accusation in the principal’s office, is there any way on Earth that Monty ISN’T the one who tweeted that e-card?). It’s a nightmarish scenario that would have pushed this episode into over-the-top melodrama. But we don’t focus on it, because Stef and Lena’s marriage is more grounded in reality than all that. This felt honest, like two women trying to figure out how they still fit together, and if they still get together, and if they even should still be together. It’s beautiful in how truthful it is. And luckily, this episode illustrates that there’s hope for Stef and Lena, and there’s hope for this family.
Of course, it’s not all romantic swim sessions and hopeful embraces, as Callie (Maia Mitchell) is still angry with Stef over the whole AJ issue, particularly since he’s now no longer speaking with her, refusing to put her on his visitors list at juvie. This has the result of making Callie bitter for damn near the entire episode, not only lashing out at Brandon (David Lambert) when he doesn’t want to let her use the car, but getting angry at foster kid Jack (Tanner Buchanan). However, with Jack, it’s more than justified, since she learns he’s the person catfishing her through Jude’s computer. And yet, even Callie’s anger over that is mitigated upon discovering that Jack is actually the victim of severe abuse in his foster home. While it’s probably not the popular sentiment, my favorite version of Callie is the Social Justice Warrior version of Callie, who fights like hell for foster kids and tries to stick up for their rights. That’s why I enjoyed what Callie got to do this week, even though it ultimately failed. She gets Justina (Kelli Williams) to help get Jack placed in a new foster home, away from the boys who’ve been beating him up regularly, and she’s even willing to accompany Jack to a hearing over his placement alongside Jude (Hayden Byerly). But Jack suddenly changes his mind at the last minute, opting not to go through with the new foster home placement, since the boys who’d been abusing him have now promised to act as his protectors now. Granted, this comes only after they’ve broken his arm, but Jack still feels this is his best chance at a stable home life, as he feels he has power now within the house. But Callie is right on th emoney when she declares that while Jack is gaining power for himself, he’s taking power for the other kids. And yet, I can see why Jack opts to stay in the abusive home. From his perspective, it’s easy for Callie to say he should be brave when she’s already been placed with the perfect family. Jack doesn’t fully understand her struggle, or how it can inform his own. He doesn’t see a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for himself. For better or worse, he just doesn’t have the strength to go through years of toil. It’s a sad story, really, but not all that surprising in an abuse victim. Jack prefers the path of least resistance, even if that path represents a serious injustice. For her part, Callie is disappointed in Jack’s choice, but she doesn’t seem to dwell on it too long, instead choosing to take control back in her life by trying to reach out to AJ through Ty. It’s a smart move, particularly when she frames it as a choice Ty has to make: he can either allow AJ to sit in juvie for the rest of his youth, or he can give AJ the permission to finally go along with a foster family who loves him, since AJ has refused to be roped into a family out of the promise of being reunited with Ty at the end of it all. If Ty can give AJ his blessing and promise they’ll still be brothers when it’s all said and done, perhaps AJ can finally start to move on. If nothing else, AJ deserves the chance to find happiness somewhere in his life.
Hell, I’d be hard-pressed to argue that any of the characters on this show don’t deserve happiness. The problem is that happiness always comes with a catch. Brandon finally makes a move on Cortney (Denyse Tontz), only to discover that she’s mother to a young child. In much the same way Stef and Lena’s relationship is tested by the Monty business, Brandon finds his potential new relationship tested by the strings of Cortney’s past. Similarly, Jesus (Noah Centineo) reveals his true identity to biological father Gabe, only for the man to freak out and tell Jesus he can’t legally be around him. This prompts Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) to do some research online, and her discovery is the big shocker of the episode, as it turns out Gabe was previously arrested for “lewd and lascivious acts with a child.” Was it a legit arrest or something spiteful Ana did to keep Gabe away from his children? Like with Brandon, a shocking twist tests a bond that has yet to form, and I think that’s a smart choice. At the very least, it’s more interesting than Mariana’s budding relationship with Jesus’s friend Nick, whom I don’t trust one bit. Or her jealousy over Mat (Jordan Rodrigues) hitting it off with his Romeo and Juliet co-star. The research into the true identity of hers and Jesus’s birth father gives Mariana a more narratively rich storyline to work with, since questions of personal identity are still very much an issue with her. Whether she fully realizes it or not, Mariana still needs answers beyond what Ana can give her. Both she and Jesus need to get to know their birth father somehow. And that possibility is exciting.
Ultimately, I felt “Under Water” was the best episode of The Fosters so far this season. The way relationships and bonds were tested made this an episode of considerable narrative and thematic depth. I also really loved the performances, particularly from Teri Polo and Sherri Saum, who continue to be the arguable anchors of this ensemble. Hopefully, with Stef and Lena coming to a sort of harmony in their marriage, we can put the spotlight on some other significant stories in the coming weeks. Either way, I trust it’ll be compelling.
But what did you think of The Fosters Season 3 Episode 14, “Under Water”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on The Fosters, read our review of last week’s stellar “If and When”!TV 2016RecapReviewThe Fosters