Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Fosters

The Fosters
Episode 3: Hostile Acts
By: Carlos Uribe

The Fosters is a show about an interracial married lesbian couple that raises their biological son and adopted kids.

Spoilers Ahoy!

The Fosters forces the two parents to have their own crisis that called into question their integrity as parents and their individuality as people. The biggest one is Stef Foster who gets blindsided when Mike asks Brandon to move in with him. Her reaction is an understandably human one. She wasn't consulted, she's his biological mother, and she wants Brandon to live with her because she loves him. The very idea of giving her sixteen year old son the choice to live with her or with his dad is beyond her. She's the adult, she's his mother, and there should be no question about it. She can't lay down the law because she soon finds that it's to the very limit of her authority. Brandon is growing up and with that comes a sense of independent thought that makes him have his own desires that can contradict her own. He wants to be able to chose where he lives. He doesn't see why he should just follow his mother blindly when it affects his personal life. He gets his way when Stef gives him the choice. Suddenly, he finds that having a choice can be worse than having no choice. In this matter, he risks disappointing his mom or his dad. He doesn't want to do either and it's complicated for him. He's happy living with his two moms, he likes the family setting, and it's the house he grew up in. He has an emotional connection to the place. He does have some drawbacks as the house is too large for the current family but he could suffer through that. Moving in with his dad has some attraction as well. He might be missing the family unity that his moms offer but he would be able to connect with his dad. He discovers this week that there's a whole aspect of his father that he had never learned. Brandon finds himself with a choice that no sixteen year old is really mature enough to handle. Stef was right that he shouldn't have a choice but she was wrong to try to take it away when it was given to him. Brandon decides to stick with the moms for complicated reasons. Stef tried to put on her best front but he knows that he hurt her when he tried picking his dad. Here is where the show puts the conflict on Stef: she has to basically pick between being allowed to wallow in her feelings or having to suck it down and support her son even when he's picking his dad over her. It's a simple message that Lena is giving to her partner: buckle down because it's Brandon who matters at this point. The conflict came a little out of nowhere. I would like to know where Mike got the idea from. I think it's implied he discussed it with Lena but it was never actually confirmed. The conflict's origins could have been handled better but it was masterfully handled for both Brandon and Stef. Brandon in having to make his first adult choice in his life and seeing the ramifications for them and Stef having to deal with her own personal feelings while remaining a mother.

The crisis Lena face as a parent is of a different kind. Jude has been attending a private school but he hasn't taken the placement exam. The school board isn't too happy with this so their forcing him to pass the exam or he'll have to go to a different school. The stakes are set at the moment even if Lena feels the need to explain them to the principal (and therefore the audience). This is slightly where the show Parenthood comes to mind because this is the kind of plot that it would throw at it's characters. What's interesting is the different way that the Fosters handled it. Parenthood would have centered more around tutoring the kid and finding a way for him to pass. The Fosters does that a bit but the real moment in the episode comes when Lena is grading it. I'm not sure it was wise allowing the foster parent of a child she had been championing towards the school board to be the one who grades the test but what do I know? Lena grades the exam but she realizes that Jude only needs one more correct answer to barely pass the test. Suddenly her professional ethics are in direct conflict with her parental desire. Does she compromise her ethics and change the answer to allow Jude into the school? Does she subtly change the answer so that he gets the 65 that he needs or does she allow him to fail? It's a great question for the character and it's great and sad that she picked to help Jude out. It's great because she did the right thing as a parent but bad because she compromised her integrity as an educator. It's doubtful this will come back to haunt her in the future but it was a tough choice and she chose to be a parent first. Just like how Stef had to chose to be a mother over Brandon over being allowed to be disappointed over her son's choice. Just like Mike had to do the same as Stef when his son ultimately chose to stay with his moms. The way the show handled the Jude plot was organic in nature as it made sense that it would come up.

The two main plots involving Stef and Lena were strong. I wish I could say the same for the sub-plots. They weren't bad but they were definably weaker. The Callie sub-plot of the week involves having one of those typical English teachers that's passionate about the subject. He assigns Cassie to write about something she's guilty about. She avoids doing it because she has self-esteem issues but he manages to inspire her to put words on paper. She writes about Liam but then freaks out when she thinks Marianna read the assignment. It looks like this Liam character is yet another mystery in Callie's backstory. Her foster family doesn't know about this yet as Marianna hadn't read the assignment. It was Brandon's jealous girlfriend who is clearly approving less and less of the time that Brandon is spending with Callie. This promises drama in the future but it's hard to understand what's at stake when all we have is a name. She does destroy the assignment before the teacher can actually see it to try to minimize the audience of what she wrote. This is meant to help build up the mystery over Liam, along with Jude's surprise that's what she wrote about, but it just doesn't feel very insignificant at this time. I guess my problem is that I'm not sure what's at stake and it doesn't have such a strong central question behind it. What's the core of the story? It currently doesn't have one which makes it difficult to truly jump on board. Don't get me wrong: I'm intrigued. I just wouldn't miss the plot if it was quickly forgotten by the show.

The worst plot of the week has to go to Jesus and Lexi. The two are trying to start a romantic relationship but the most obvious obstacle is Mariana. Jesus doesn't think that his twin sister is going to take kindly to him dating her best friend. It makes logical sense but she didn't really give that vibe when she broached the subject halfway through the episode. She actually seemed open to the idea. I'm not sure whether that was just a failed execution of the scene or if Jesus is just really bad at reading his sister. I'm also not sure why he really cares what she thinks. He just took the fall for her over the pill situation. She doesn't really have any right to stop him from dating Lexi. Jesus is willing to allow Marianna to come between them because he's trying to be a good brother. He's happy he took the fall for her because he wanted to protect her and he thinks she learned her lesson about how bad their birth mother really is. That is until he reads that Marianna is still in contact with their birth mother. Jesus decides that he'll pursue a relationship with Lexi. I guess his motivations make sense but it's just so hard to care about typical teenage drama romance. The Fosters could potentially go somewhere great with this forbidden, secret relationship but so far it's turning out to be as by-the-numbers as you can get. Which makes it really hard to care about. It's not a bad plot but simply one that is so average that every other plot easily overshadows it.

The Fosters presents a very good third episode. Hostile Acts is great when it comes to it's two main plots. The whole Brendan having to chose where to live was simply a great question to give him and a well-used way to generate conflict between Stef and him. The way it dealt with a sixteen-year old having to make that type of decision while having to deal with how a parent has to face down any disappointment was simply fantastic. The whole question could have been worked into the show a bit better. The other main plot, with Jude, was more organic and it was just as good at creating an inner conflict between Lena as an educator and Lena as a parent. It's the sub-plots where the show stumbles. The teenage romance between Jesus and Lexi is by-the-numbers while the whole Liam plot remains too much of a mystery to really sell itself. Hostile Acts might not be perfect but it's still a great episode of television.

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