‘The Fosters’ Winter Premiere Review: It’s Bad News For Everyone In ‘First Impressions’

Recap and review of The Fosters – Season 3 Episode 11 – Winter Premiere – First Impressions:

The Fosters is back, and the shadows of the storylines from this summer still loom large. In fact, “First Impressions” takes the hopeful ending of “Lucky”, and reveals the tragic layers underneath. Really, the ending of the summer finale was one big hope spot, building up to the crashing reality of the winter premiere. Dramatically, it’s unmistakably compelling, but it’s also kind of infuriating, in a way. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this episode. But it feels like you can only run in place for so long before you start to wonder why so little seems to be changing.

In the summer finale, I could have been Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum) for how relieved I was to hear Stef was cancer-free. Granted, cancer is a problem with which a tragic number of the population can identify, so I can see why this is one of the storylines they were teasing. But cancer storylines are just so emotionally draining that they tend to drag down everything around it. For instance, when one of the main characters on Nashville was diagnosed with cancer, it felt as though the show was rarely about anything else but that storyline, because what else could possibly measure up to cancer, in terms of dramatic import? Basically, I’m worried about what will happen to the show now that Stef, upon getting a second opinion on her mammogram after her mother (Annie Potts) interferes, has discovered she has cancer. On the one hand, the doctor admits it’s “stage zero” breast cancer, with the implication being that it’s eminently treatable. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine this storyline won’t dwarf pretty much everything else on the series. My hope is that this isn’t something protracted, and that we manage to find a resolution soon that helps take us back to the status quo, because I find the show instantly more compelling when it centers on the kids. That isn’t to say that I don’t find Stef and Lena storylines to be compelling, but their marital discord has been ongoing with seemingly no payoff in sight. We see Stef continuing to hold a grudge against Lena over the whole kiss with Monty (Annika Marks), who comes to their home to offer to resign from Anchor Beach. Granted, Stef and Lena don’t go through with forcing Monty to quit, and this has a ripple effect on a later storyline that showed some interesting dramatic synergy. It’s a stronger type of storyline than the cancer plot, if only because this awkward triangle between Lena, Stef and Monty has the potential to be compelling without making every other storyline feel secondary in comparison. This is an ensemble show, and I think one of its biggest strengths is that nothing feels primary. No one person’s storyline is more important than anyone else’s, even at the height of all of Callie’s adoption drama. Of course, these could end up being groundless complaints. Perhaps next week, we’ll find the drama remains evenly distributed. I certainly hope so, because I really enjoyed this episode otherwise.

Credit: Freeform/Tony Rivetti

Credit: Freeform/Tony Rivetti

Other than Stef learning she has cancer, a revelation which serves as a cliffhanger for the episode, there were plenty of other interesting developments to help anchor this winter premiere. Lena and Stef choosing not to force Monty to resign ends up paying off down the line when Jesus (Noah Centineo) reveals that the reason he doesn’t want to go back to the private school is not because he’s flunking out (in fact, it’s discovered he’s actually excelling academically), but because he wants to escape being peer pressured into using steroids by his wrestling teammates. Stef wants Jesus to return to Anchor Beach High, but Lena states there’s a waiting list, and he’s not on it. But Monty is feeling grateful to Stef and Lena, so she gives Jesus a spot in the school once one of the expected newcomers on the list withdraws. Lena is clearly uncomfortable with the favoritism, and I can’t imagine this won’t come back to bite both Monty AND Lena, but it has the net effect of getting Jesus back in the mix with the high school storylines. I like Centineo as Jesus, even though you could make the argument that his interpretation of the character isn’t much different from how Jake T. Austin played him. I feel like Centineo plays Jesus as a bit more mature, whereas Austin felt more like a real teenager. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, and both takes on the character can work in this world, particularly since it doesn’t feel that jarring to see a different actor in the role altogether. It should be interesting to see Centineo’s take on the character in the coming weeks. But for now, he’s mostly relegated to the sidelines as Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) chooses to run for Student Council President with campaign manager Emma (Amanda Leighton), only to find she has competition from a returning Lexi (Bianca A. Santos), who runs for president to get back at Mariana for not letting her be a part of the campaign. This should make for a fun couple of weeks, since I could easily see this election leading to some amusing snark from both sides. Sure, Mariana and Lexi were good friends, but they have the potential to be far better enemies, especially with the possibility of Jesus having his loyalties torn between his sister and the girl he’s thinking about dating again.

'The Fosters' Winter Premiere Review It's Bad News For Everyone In 'First Impressions'

Credit: Freeform

Unfortunately, the romance scene isn’t nearly as bright for Jude (Hayden Byerly), who tries to stop Connor (Gavin MacIntosh) from moving in with his mother. Turns out, Connor wants to stay, but simply feels he can’t, due to the feeling that his father will never truly understand and accept him. When Jude laments to Lena that Connor’s dad is the reason he’s leaving, Lena makes a plea to the man on Jude’s (and Connor’s) behalf. But it’s too late, as Connor’s father can’t get him to change his mind. This results in one of the most emotional moments of the season, and certainly the most poignant of the episode, as Connor’s dad approaches Jude and tearfully apologizes for “not getting it”. Jude, with teary eyes of his own, hugs Connor’s father as the two reach an understanding of one another. It’s beautiful, and it’s the type of storyline the show does exceedingly well — people learning to understand one another, or at least finding acceptance in the process. Of course, things seem a bit iffy for Jude right now, and not just because of Connor. He becomes friends with a really intense foster kid named Jack, whom Callie (Maia Mitchell) tries to help out. When Callie’s help ends up getting the kid moved from a foster family to a group home, he seems even more resentful than he did when he thought Callie and Jude were ignoring his pleas for help. It feels as though Jack is jealous that Callie and Jude survived the system and found a loving family. At the very least, he seems bitter about his own situation, and I’m legit worried about what he might do if he snaps.

Credit: Freeform/Tony Rivetti

Credit: Freeform/Tony Rivetti

As far as uneasy drama goes, it seems there’s a lot to go around between Jude and Callie. On the one hand, Callie’s Fost-and-Found app gets a proposal from a major investor (Kelli Williams), but it seems virtually impossible that she’s not just trying to screw Callie out of the business, simply from how shady this woman seems. But let’s pretend this woman is somehow legit, Callie still has a lot on her plate. AJ (Tom Williamson) asks her out to a comic convention, leaving her uncertain if they’re friends or something more. She’s pretty much in the same place with Brandon (David Lambert), who has his own story this week about getting a job as a lounge musician to help pay his way through Julliard. One minute, he’s telling Callie how they should tell one another if they end up going out with other people, so they don’t have to hear it from third party sources; the next minute, he’s becoming cold and standoffish when Callie tells him something might be going on with AJ. It’s a complicated line for these two characters to walk, since so much of their relationship is ill-defined. Hell, one of the big cliffhangers for the episode is Callie going onto the Fost-and-Found message board to discover an anonymous message that states, “Callie, is it true you had sex with your foster brother?” It would appear someone knows the truth about Callie and Brandon, unless they’re referencing Callie being assaulted by Liam. Either way, this isn’t good news for Callie, not by a longshot. And it’s probably going to get worse once she discovers AJ has bailed with his brother, Ty. Apparently, Mike (Danny Nucci) had a friend run the DNA on the pen Ty used to sign himself into the retirement home to visit his grandmother, and the test came back proving that Ty was driving the car that nearly killed Jesus, Mariana and Ana. Ty gives AJ the ultimatum to either leave town with him, or never see him again, since Ty has no desire to go to prison. Ultimately, AJ chooses blood over foster family, since Ty is basically the only blood relative he has left, now that his grandmother has passed away. The show does a good job of explaining AJ’s motivation, although I think if he were an adult, he might realize that it’s untenable to live the rest of your life wondering what B.S. your brother is going to get you into this time. Ty does nothing but let AJ down, but he can’t bear the notion of being separated again. It’s a tragic story, in a lot of ways, when you consider the stability AJ is giving up with Mike. And it’s difficult to imagine Mike won’t beat himself up for refusing to arrest Ty until after his grandmother’s funeral. He had his chance, but didn’t take it, and I think Stef is going to be absolutely furious with him. And rightfully so. Good intentions or not, Mike really blew it here. But hopefully, AJ isn’t gone forever. I’ve really warmed to the character over the course of his time on the show, and I think Tom Williamson is an asset to the cast, thanks in large part to his charisma and his value as an outlet for a story the show wouldn’t tell otherwise (that of a kid learning to adjust to a stable life after having lived moment-to-moment on the streets). I’m anxious to see where this is all headed, to say the least. All in all, this was a solid winter premiere, and I’m optimistic about where this is all headed. But then, The Fosters always inspires a certain amount of optimism in me, even when I’m not absolutely floored by an episode. Deep into Season 3, this is still quality television, and among the best shows on Freeform.

But what did you think of The Fosters Winter Premiere, “First Impressions”? Sound off in the comments!

And for more on The Fosters, relive the highs and lows of the summer finale with our review and analysis of “Lucky”!

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