Monday, June 20, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Fosters' - Nick Brings a Gun to School Which Forces a Lockdown in 'Potential Energy'

Freeform's The Fosters - Episode 4.01 "Potential Energy"

Callie admits her past relationship with Brandon to her moms. But before Stef and Lena can even process the information, the school goes into a "Code Blue" lockdown when it's discovered Mariana's boyfriend Nick showed up with his father's gun after seeing her kiss her ex-boyfriend Mat.

School shootings are a very topical and important subject matter. They have been a staple of the teen drama genre for many years. And yet, they get increasingly more emotional and resonant with pop culture because of the vast amount of shootings that happen in real life. "Potential Energy" airs just eight days following the tragedy that happened in Orlando. The show addresses that fact with a PSA from the stars to accompany this episode. It's devastating to think of how much reckless violence there is in this world. So any show that wants to devote an entire episode to a shooting that affects the main characters, it needs to do so with purpose. This subject matter is just way too important to waste it. If it needs to happen, there needs to be a point behind it. It's just hard to figure out what The Fosters is trying to do in this hour. It's a muddled mess that makes no sense whatsoever. It only focuses on the procedure of this experience. It's main goal is to unsettle the audience with cheap thrills. But nothing really happens. So again, why did the show need to devote this entire premiere to such a stunt? Especially in a time where a serious conversation needs to be had about guns in this country.

It's not all that surprising that "Potential Energy" plays out in this way either. The motivation behind this stunt wasn't all that clear or earned. Nick showed up to school with a gun after he caught Mariana and Mat kissing and his one-note caricature father disapproved of his recent choices. That was the big cliffhanger for the season. It was lame then and it's even more lame when it's expanded to an hour long plot. Nick just wasn't that captivating of a character during his half season on the show earlier this year. He became friends with Jesus and started dating Mariana. But so much of that was muddled by the fact that Mariana still had feelings for Mat - a character who has been on the show for much longer. Nick was just there to add tension to that dynamic. But it was a relationship that already had tension because Mariana cheated on Mat. That was an interesting storyline. And then, Nick was introduced solely for Mariana to have a new boyfriend. These characters don't need to constantly have love interests to center their stories around. And yet, that has always been a huge proponent of the show - even though it's rarely the most interesting. Honestly, the only relationships that have really worked are Stef & Lena and Jude & Connor. That's because the show took the time to truly flesh out those characters and what a relationship means to them.

None of this is present with Nick. He's simply a plot device so that the show can do this stunt. The lockdown is much more important than where Nick is and what he plans on doing with the gun. It's tense in the beginning solely because it's unnerving to know that he has it and can use it at any point in time. When Nick first shows up at school, he's in a class seated right behind Mat. When Jesus walks by him in the hallway, he bumps the bag with the gun in it. When he finally confronts Mariana, the gun is tucked into his jeans. The imagery and knowledge of the gun is more important than the character wielding it. That's very problematic. Nick disappears for the majority of this episode. None of the characters nor the audience know where he is. It's important that Stef and Mike are competently able to deduce that he was behind the fire at the warehouse and may have brought a gun to school. It shows how smart they are despite going up against a pretty laughable obstacle in Nick's father. But again, all of this happens so that the school can go on lockdown.

Nothing happens during the lockdown either. It's tense because Stef and Lena are trying to find all of their kids and make sure that they are safe. It's weird that they actually take Jesus back into that dangerous situation. They learn Nick has a gun after they catch Jesus and Emma trying to leave school with Nick's car. So why do Lena, Stef and Mike bring both of them back into the school while they go on lockdown? That's weird and meant to ramp up the stakes for the entire family. The other kids don't have much better stories either. Callie and Brandon find themselves locked in a room where they are essentially the adults in charge. The teacher is a substitute who doesn't know the procedure. Meanwhile, the other students are junior high kids frightened by what's going on. Meanwhile, Jude is in a classroom with Daria and Taylor. He reaches out to Connor but it's Taylor who helps him get through this experience. So, that's only going to further expand on this weird story of him questioning his sexuality once again. That is so unnecessary but it's something the show is doing nevertheless. The majority of the tension of the lockdown comes from Mariana getting locked out of all of the classrooms. She has to fend for herself in the bathroom. It's a scary prospect. But again, nothing really comes of it.

The big twist that happens during the lockdown is that the substitute teacher also had a gun and fires at the door when SWAT arrives. It's thrilling when gunshots are heard. But then, the reveal of what really happened is very lackluster. Again, the show loves the conceit of this hour without actually doing anything of interest. The twist means the show can judge another character for also bringing a gun to school. He's essentially an extra. But it doesn't even open up a conversation about how other citizens being armed in this situation could help lessen the threat that the shooter poises to the entire school. It's a sensationalized moment that doesn't mean anything. It happens and it's more of a distraction to the emotional issues going on with Brandon and Callie. They were in a really vulnerable spot during the last episode. Callie opened up to Stef and Lena about everything she did with Brandon. It was her finally being truthful about everything that has happened in her life. But again, that act of confession only further showcases just how convoluted and complicated the show's plotting has been for the last year or so. Callie detailing why she thought she'd never be adopted and then slept with Brandon is so completely ridiculous. It continues to showcase that moment as something the show did to surprise the audience. And now, it's just a detail that won't go away. It's continuing to threaten everything that Callie and Brandon hold dear. That's a lot of weight and consequences for two characters simply having sex.

But the show doesn't adequately delve into all of the emotional issues Callie, Brandon, Stef and Lena are feeling right now either. It's important that Callie confesses. But that is quickly overshadowed by the lockdown. And then, it's just an hour of cheap tension with no indication that anything is actually going to happen in this lockdown. Nick is nowhere to be seen once the doors are closed. It's emotional watching Stef and Lena reunite with all of the kids. And yet, it's more important that a mystery is set up regarding what happened to Nick. He wasn't at the school. So, where did he go? He went back to the Fosters house to wait for Mariana there or something. But then, when Stef shows up and checks the house first, he is no where to be seen. Again, it's the show being very manipulative of the audience. It wants the viewers to be constantly unsettled by Nick's presence. But the show hasn't earned those feelings. It's tense because of the gun. But it's still so uncertain what Nick is actually planning to do with it. That ending because ensures that he will remain a threat to the family for the foreseeable future. The episode doesn't even offer resolution to the lockdown story. That's such a peculiar choice. It will continue to affect the lives of these characters. But to what end? If this is all just a way to bring Mariana and Mat back together, it's just a lot of hassle that is potentially destroying the rest of the show as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Potential Energy" was written by Bradley Bredeweg & Peter Paige and directed by Rob Morrow.
  • So, was the substitute teacher afraid that he was the reason why the school was going on lockdown because he brought a gun to campus? That's why he was freaking out reading all of the details of what to do? Again, it's just a really annoying plot detail that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
  • It's important that Mariana drops her phone in the toilet to make sure that she is cut off from all communications. But that is literally never important at all after it happens. It just adds to the atmosphere of uncertainty. But that's all that it is: atmosphere and not action.
  • So, Connor doesn't text Jude back until after the lockdown is over with and Jude underplays the whole experience. Connor doesn't know what happened and Jude doesn't tell him. He got through the day because of Taylor. But again, a romantic dynamic between the two is only bound to go wrong any number of ways.
  • Callie gets a brief taste of all of the mean things that are being said about her on her app. Justina turned them against her by releasing this story. But how did she find out in the first place? Again, the plot is pushing so much of this story forward.
  • The police were really carefree in enforcing the boundaries of this lockdown in the safe zones right outside of the school. It's important that Stef and Mike follow procedure. But then, all of that is thrown out the window when it comes to the family. So, Stef hugs all of the kids as they are released from the building. And then, Lena is just able to hang out on the frontline as well. Then, Stef is able to run into school and all the way to the substitute's classroom. Then, there's a big family reunion that is suppose to be very emotional but isn't because it impractically happens right outside the building and Mat literally jumps over caution tape to reunite with Mariana. It's all just a little too much.