Monday, August 29, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Fosters' - Callie, Stef and Mariana Find Themselves in Some Dangerous Situations in 'Collateral Damage'

Freeform's The Fosters - Episode 4.10 "Collateral Damage"

Callie sets up a "Justice for Jack" booth at a music festival to gather signatures to stop Justina's foster care bill, but her persistence in advocating for Jack and Kyle lands her in a dangerous situation. The tension between AJ and Aaron comes to a head. Mariana sees Nick and runs away from the festival, sending the family into a frantic search. Stef discovers that her inquiries into Kyle's case will have repercussions at her job.

This has been a weird season so far for The Fosters. The opening two episodes that had the school on lockdown and the threat from Nick weren't effective at all. Callie trying to be a detective has just been silly and sometimes ridiculous. Brandon continues to be the absolute worst. Mariana and Jesus' actions have become more dictated by plot than proper character motivation. Stories start and stop at awkward times. There are things that happen in this midseason finale that haven't been important for this entire season so far. That's just an awkward way to develop narrative stakes. The show frequently likes using a big event that can bring the entire family together in one physical space for its finales. It's a formula that has worked well in the past. And yet, the first few minutes of this finale are spent setting up why everyone is at Bay Fest. None of it particularly feels like a culmination of everything that has happened this season. So that makes some of the twists and turns that happen afterwards seem less genuine.

Callie really hasn't really had to deal with any fallout from Justina. The Fost and Found app went under. Callie has been able to become a more regular teenager again. The show just decided to completely move past all of that. It was great that the storytelling wanted to look at privatization of the foster care system on a macro level. But the show is frequently at its best when it focuses on the micro. The details of this family's lives are what makes the show so special. They are all motivated to do something to stop Justina's bill from becoming law. They all have that personal attachment to Jack who was a victim of the failed system. He was always more of a plot construct than a character when he was alive. And now, he's even more so in death. All it takes is one character bringing him up for everyone to rally around this cause. It's easy to understand why. It's easy to back Callie and her desire to fight against privatization. It's just awkwardly integrated here because it literally hasn't been important for this entire summer run of the season. Sure, it sets up a precarious future for Callie. Her determination for this cause could bring legal action against her. That certainly could complicate her life in ways that aren't solely connected to her love life or her fear of being ripped apart from her family.

The need to collect as many signatures as possible for Jack's Law distracts from the show providing any kind of resolution to the murder of Mrs. Johnson. It hasn't been a great story this season. It's simply the latest cause Callie has gotten overly obsessed with - to the detriment of her own judgment. It's predictably caused tension in her relationship with AJ and forced her to act irrationally. And honestly, it's about time the show has moved past using those types of actions to define Callie. She has always been reckless with her passions. It's a consistent character detail. But it's starting to seem like she has learned nothing from past mistakes. Instead, she's just breaking into murder suspect's houses and stealing DNA samples. Plus, it doesn't seem like the show knows how to be subtle at all with this story. It's laughable whenever the curbside painter appears on the screen. So much suspicion has been obviously pointed in his direction. He's guilty because he's the weird, anti-social guy who doesn't care for his house and creepily keeps a collection of every newspaper clipping about this case. That's such cliched writing that has no place being on any show in 2016. But here, it is. The audience is suppose to be worried about Sophia when the suspect corners her in the bathroom mistaking her for Callie. But it's so laughable because Sophia hasn't been around at all this season. It's just a narrative trick the show pulls out here again to create tension without it being deeply rooted in genuine character stakes. Plus, it's not surprising at all that this man isn't ultimately the killer. No, that honor seemingly belongs to Mrs. Johnson's grandson. A character who didn't even exist until this episode. That's just not the proper way to craft a compelling mystery. And things aren't even resolved in the end either. Instead, Callie actually gets into a car with the killer. It's a cliffhanger ending! Ugh, that's just so unnecessary and really off-putting.

All of this is suppose to prop up the message of sticking to one's morals no matter how much it many ultimately cost you in the end. Callie doesn't want to back down with Jack's Law or stop fighting for Kyle despite threats from both Justina and Mrs. Johnson's grandson. It's a lot for her to deal with. But one pep talk with Stef is all it takes to re-motivate her to do so. It's fitting that it comes from Stef because she has her own dilemma with the case. She knows Detective Grey is a corrupt cop who let a child molester go in order to make a case against Kyle - or something like that. She wants to go to Internal Affairs with this information. But if she does that, he'll tell them about the time she lied in order to protect Mike after his shooting of an unarmed suspect. How he knows about that is anyone's guess. If that were to happen, she would lose her job and the family would be in even more financial risk. Callie's problems get Stef to stand firm with her own morals. But all of this could come at great expense of their personal relationships. Stef makes that decision without talking about it with Lena, who has some legitimate concerns about it. Meanwhile, Cassie's obsession with Kyle's case has brought her closer to Aaron and further away from AJ. It's not surprising that the tension finally blew over here. It just wasn't all that narratively interesting though. It was mostly just a chance to talk about Aaron being transgender again and whether or not Callie would actually want to date him. These issues eventually just fade away by what happens later. But they will still be important moving forward. Callie could achieve all of these dreams but by pushing away all of these people in order to get them.

And then, there's Mariana's tragic downward spiral into drug abuse in order to cope with everything about Nick. It has been a fairly clunky story as well. When she first took Jesus' ADHD pills, it made some sense. She was just looking for that edge to help with the robotics competition. But then, she had a nice chat with Emma and decided to stop. And yet, she didn't and it was never abundantly clear why not. It's whole purpose was so that she would spiral out of control here. Her fears about Nick have been very genuine and meaningful. The show's insistance on keeping Nick as an important character following the lockdown has been very questionable. It was only two seconds after that that he was claiming his treatment made him better and he's okay now. That seemed a little too unlikely. It's been a very accelerated recovery. He's out now and on house arrest. That's what got Mariana so afraid for her life in the first place. That combined with the medication she shouldn't be taking forces her to hallucinate him at Bay Fest. It's a pretty laughable moment played completely straight. The show isn't trying to fool anyone into believing that Nick is actually there coming to get her. But it is over-the-top in the way that basically tells the audience to just say no to all drugs. Again, a powerful and important message but it gets lost in the specifics of the situation. Mariana going missing forces everyone into action and gets almost every plot point to be dropped entirely. But it's even more ridiculous when Nick actually shows up. He seemingly comforts her. And then, he gets into a fight with Jesus. It shows just how protective of his sister Jesus is and his willingness to fight Nick to defend her. But it also showcases that he hasn't yet accepted his new reality of needing to avoid physical altercations because of his new risk for seizures. He doesn't listen to that warning because he gets caught up in the moment for Mariana. But it too could have grave consequences because one punch to the face is enough to knock him unconscious. A precarious way to end the season but one that once again values shock and surprise over genuine character action.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Collateral Damage" was written by Bradley Bredeweg & Peter Paige and directed by Peter Paige.
  • Brandon gets into Juilliard and it's a cause for celebration. Later on though, Lena informs him that the college board found out about him taking the SAT for someone else. So now, he won't be able to go. At first, it seems like a way to keep Brandon on the show and not off in New York living a new life. But it also feels like him getting exactly what he deserves. Last week when his new friend was talking about the discipline it takes to study at Juilliard, that didn't describe Brandon at all. He has the skills to get accepted but his past actions rightfully keep him from doing so. This may finally be the thing to get him to stop being the absolute worst.
  • Also, there's absolutely no resolution to that breakup letter that Brandon sent Cortney from New York. That's been a fairly significant story this season. It seemed completely ridiculous that he would actually mail that letter to her. But now, the show just wants to make a clean break which is just so unrealistic.
  • How in the end did Nick break his house arrest and get to Mariana at Bay Fest before anyone in the family could find her? Does he live that close? Or was it just too important for the narrative stakes?
  • Jude got into some major trouble by getting caught smoking weed with Noah. And yet, their relationship still seems strong. Noah makes his way to Bay Fest and the two are able to hang out completely oblivious to everything else that is happening with the family.
  • Okay, we get it The Fosters! Maia Mitchell and Bailee Madison look alike. You don't have to bring it up every single time they are in the same space together. That just further drew attention to the later mishap that happened with the creepy guy.
  • Mat hasn't been that important of a character either this season. And yet, his return and acceptance into Berkeley College of Music is just one more thing for Mariana to get worried about.
  • Lena putting on Stef's uniform and seducing her in the bedroom was incredibly hot and sexy. Those two really do have such an incredible and realistic marriage.