Episode 4: Quincañera
By: Carlos Uribe
The Fosters is a show about an interracial married lesbian couple that raises their biological son and adopted kids.
The Fosters are not made of money. They are currently taking care of five kids, having to pay bills, and they don't have the most glamorous jobs. Stef works as a police officer while Lena is a vice principal. The two might have some savings but they're not wealthy. It is because of their limited resources that they can't commit to taking Callie and Jude on a permanent basis. This is why it's a big burden for them to be throwing a proper quinceañera for their daughter. They not only have two mouths to feed but they have to throw a big party for their latina daughter, Mariana. This involves getting expensive dresses, buying lots of food, and doing everything they can to ensure her party is perfect. It is a major sacrifice to them. They might be able to buy everything they need but that we know it's putting a strain on them helps add to the realism of the show. The writers use money as some small conflict but the real heart of the issue is Mariana. She wants a traditional quinceañera but tradition collides with her family situation. The party custom calls on her to dance with her father or a male family friend but she has two mothers. She's having to try to navigate this desire for a typical quinceañera while living in a household that is challenging the definition of typical. She is able to dance with Mike as a substitute for her father. It's considered a selfish move by her father but I'm more conflicted about the situation. This tear between tradition and her family situation is more complicated than simply defying tradition. There has to be limits, there has to be some respect for the culture, and it's an attempt to connect with her heritage. She does dance with her moms at the end of the episode to try to make up for her action but she didn't have to because they love her anyways. This plot in itself is so full of depth, so complex, I'm not really doing it a lot of justice. An earlier episode brought up that the parental roles of two moms and a dad were complicated and how they have to figure that out. This is an episode that explores what happens when traditional events are in conflict with their family situation. The series manages to handle this very well.
The Fosters is interested in handling tough issues of race but it's not doing this to make people happy. It wants to be an honest exploration and I felt like Lena's mother was a great way to do this. Lena's mom is darker than her daughter. I hope this doesn't sound racist but it's integral to the plot. There is no doubt that Lena's mother came from two African American parents. Lena is different. Her skin color is lighter because her dad was white. She's basically a mix. Her mother assumes that because her skin tone isn't as dark, her daughter doesn't face the same discrimination she did. This is a complex issue on it's own. It's suggesting that the tone of the skin color matters and it's one that has been lobbied at Obama. Some have tried to tear down his success as the first African American president because of his lighter skin. Others try to claim that's the only reason he won. This is still an important issue that is facing the black and half-black community. It is this sense that those who are mixed have it better. Do they really? They still face at least some discrimination from the white community and I would argue Lena felt discriminated against by her mother. The series goes deeper into this issue for Lena. She had a white father which meant that she had a part of two worlds but she never really felt like she belonged in either as she was growing up. It is this war of two different racial identities that drives her desire to give Mariana the best quinceañera possible. It's why Lena is willing to accept Mike as Mariana’s dancing partner. She wants Mariana to be connected to her hispanic roots. This is simply great. A finale note is a moment where the best friend slips up and complains that she's not getting a quinceañera despite coming from a real Mexican family. It's the suggestion that despite this move, Mariana is still separated from her heritage.
The exploration of race and tradition is strong in this episode but we also have the two forbidden relationship arcs take center stage. The one that impacts Mariana is the one between her best friend, Lexi, and her twin brother, Jesus. I think the show falters here a little bit because is supposed to have an issue that the two of them are dating. The problem is that Cierra Ramirez can't seem to actually believe this is an issue herself so she can't sell that Mariana actually has a problem. I think the real issue that Mariana has, as a consequence, is that Jesus was bad-mouthing Mariana and Lexi said nothing to defend her. She has the two closest people to her attacking her behind her back. I think that's the heart of why she won't accept them-it's because the two have betrayed her on a different level. That at least makes the drama more compelling than a selfish girl standing in the way of a teenage couple and makes it more interesting as teen drama. This seems to be the direction that the series is heading but it's hard to tell whether this is just ancillary or not. I'm obviously going to hope there's more to the forbidden love story than the forbidden part since Jesus and Lexi don't share the necessary chemistry to make it work on their own.
You know who else doesn't really have any romantic chemistry? Callie and Brandon. The show seems intent on pushing them together even though they've been forbidden. Wait, is the series trying a second forbidden love story? At least this one actually has stakes that matter. Who cares about Mariana's feelings on who her brother dates? Grow up. I care very much that Callie and Jude get to live in the Fosters household. Brandon and Callie might be just friends right now but starting a relationship would jeopardize that. This is because relationships between foster siblings aren't allowed and because of the jealous (ex)-girlfriend of Brandon. This girlfriend threatens to tell everyone about Liam. This terrifies Callie so she tries to stay away from him. He doesn't let his girlfriend control his life so he pushes back. He ends up breaking up with her even as she warns him about Liam. Only she doesn't actually tell him anything because the writers need to keep the mystery of who he is alive. This seems to imply the now ex-girlfriend will leave them alone but I doubt that's going to happen. As for Callie? She runs away to the pier so she doesn't threaten her living situation with the truth or by being with Brandon. Which could happen if she let her guard down because her brother points out a habit of making stupid decisions. Anyways, even this plot has some depth as it explores the foster family dynamics that can exist between teens.
Quinceañera is a pretty good episode of the Fosters. It's exploration of money, tradition, family, and race with top-notch writing makes this a must-watch episode. The two forbidden love stories are a little mixed. The strong one is the Callie and Brandon one but it also feels a little bit forced. Still, the stakes are strong and it's exploration of foster family dynamics is strong. The weaker one is Mariana and Jesus because it's confusing whether she's upset their together for no reason or she's actually upset about what they said about her behind her back. The former isn't very interesting nor convincing while the latter is compelling.
If Jude keeps it up, he'll know every secret simply by observing.