Monday, June 8, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Fosters' - All of the Fosters are Faced with Choices in the Aftermath of the Car Crash in 'Wreckage'

ABC Family's The Fosters - Episode 3.01 "Wreckage"

As the family deals with the aftermath of the terrible car accident involving Mariana, Jesus and Ana, Stef is determined to find the driver responsible. Callie continues to volunteer at the drop-in center where she meets AJ, a foster teen runaway searching for his older brother. Brandon starts at the Idyllwild Music Program and quickly realizes that he will be faced with serious competition. Jude tells Connor he prefers to keep their relationship private at school.

The cliffhanger at the end of the second season where Mariana, Jesus and Ana were in a car crash was always unnecessary. And now, that is even more so as it existed just to emotional manipulate the audience in the opening moments of "Wreckage." The hour opens at the exact moment the season finale left off with Stef getting the call on the police scanner that informed her of at least one casualty. She arrives on the scene to see Jesus horrifically being transported into an ambulance and Mariana bursting into tears in her arms. The action plays in slow motion while music drowns out the words and noises of the scene. And then, it cuts to Stef waking up a few weeks later. None of that actually happened. The crash did but it wasn't as fatal as the audience was led to believe over the course of the hiatus. What was the purpose of such a cliffhanger then? Shock value is the only easy explanation. The show wanted the emotions to be high throughout the hiatus in order to build up anticipation for the premiere. And now that the resolution has aired, it seems like one big fake out that barely brings any kind of strong emotional material out of the main characters.

Of course, the show does have one major loss in between seasons as Jake T. Austin has left the show as a regular with Jesus being written off as going to that boarding school on a wrestling scholarship. Jesus has always been the weakest character amongst the show's central cast. It has hard to invest in him and his emotional needs because there didn't seem to be a whole lot of meaningful substance to him. It's played off as a joke when Callie proclaims that her phone call with him is the longest conversation they've ever had. And yet, that just highlights a huge problem in that Jesus didn't have that family connection with the rest of the siblings. He had moments with Mariana and Brandon but not enough to truly be invested in.

Mariana and Stef are coping with the car crash in interesting ways. Stef is still haunted by that message declaring one of the victims dead while Mariana has basically given up her life in order to help Ana with her new daughter, Isabella. Both are stories introduced in this premiere and are already having interesting emotional complications for the characters. In fact, Stef gets to let out all of those pent up feelings eventually to Lena. It's that moment where she's telling her wife how she has truly been feeling that showcases the bond between the two of them. It's that moment of catharsis that allows them to contemplate a vacation with just the two of them (because that worked so well the last time they did that). Meanwhile, Ana's injuries aren't extensive enough that Mariana needs to be slaving over her mother and half-sister. Mariana is kinda just throwing herself into the situation. She's reading baby books and learning how to care for this baby. She should be focusing on herself. And yet, when she finally does so, she makes some very horrible decisions.

Mariana finally loses her virginity. However, it's not with her boyfriend Matt before he goes on his big tour for the summer. Instead it's with the surprising return of Wyatt. Wyatt is a character who seems to just come and go without purpose lately. That's likely because of Alex Saxon's regular commitments over on MTV's Finding Carter. But that means he probably won't be around for the lingering complications of this decision. Mariana instantly feels guilt for what she has done. Everyone else in the family has stuff to do this summer. She thought she had that too with Ana and Isabella. When that was taken away from her, she tried filling it up with sex - which is never a smart decision. That doesn't make things better between people. That wouldn't have made sure Matt wouldn't sleep with some random groupie following the band. And yet, it's weird seeing Mariana so reckless about this massive decision. For the first two seasons, she's wanted to lose her virginity but was able to recognize when it wasn't the best time to do so. She doesn't have that moment of realization with Wyatt. And thus, she goes through with it. It's a story that may prove to be interesting later this summer. But right now, it may be too complicated for its own good.

Things also remain complicated for Callie. The uncertainty of her future with the Foster family is behind her. She can finally be adopted. It will be official in just a few more weeks. That's wonderfully exciting. All of those personal struggles are finally over. Now, she just wants to live her life just like any other teenager. Apparently, she really took that to heart by also making one reckless decision. Her job at the foster kid drop-in gave her stability and the chance to graduate on time. It was a good environment for her and she was very good at the job. Sure, it's weird that there appears to only be two employees at the place. But that shouldn't be too concerning because Callie places too much trust in a teen runaway named AJ and ultimately gets screwed over by him. She losses the job because she foolishly put her trust in the wrong person. Now, her life will be a mess yet again. She's not even allowed one moment of happiness. Callie always has to be under threat of losing everything. The show could have turned a corner with her adoption. But things still seem to be working against Callie. At least this time it's because of her own mistake which is technically a type of growth for the narrative.

All of these complications are made apparent in this episode because the show is setting the stage for another season. Perhaps that's why the episode's most simplistic plot is also it's strongest. Or perhaps it's just because the relationship between Jude and Connor is just so culturally relevant and important while also being so effortless. They still have their own struggles. In the premiere, it's the decision on whether or not to take their relationship public at school. But those moments have this weight to them that is incredibly complex and emotionally resonant for both the characters and the show. Jude doesn't want to be labeled as gay. He just wants to be happy in his life and in his relationship with Connor. He does like Connor in that way. He just wants that happiness and his identity to shine through. Connor is willing to stand up for the relationship. Everyone is fine with the two of them dating. Jude just doesn't want that part of the conversation to be so important to the community around them. He just wants to be Jude which is the most powerful and declarative part of "Wreckage."

Some more thoughts:
  • "Wreckage" was written by Bradley Bredeweg & Peter Paige and directed by Peter Paige.
  • Brandon has also started his summer at the Idyllwild Music Program and spends most of the episode complaining about being in the composer program and not the piano performance one. It was a story that didn't make a whole lot of sense nor did it do a great job of introducing that setting as a place where he'll be spending a lot of time this summer.
  • There is now a gaping hour in the middle of the kitchen ceiling at the Foster house because of some plumbing problem. If money wasn't tight before, it is now.
  • Still not a fan of either of those two girls who Jude and Connor are still hanging out with. They just feel like a forced part of that otherwise great story.
  • Someone finally asking the important question to Wyatt - how does he get his hair to be so gorgeous?