Tuesday, February 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Fosters' - Brandon Helps Emma While Jude Gets in a Precarious Situation in 'Sex Ed'

Freeform's The Fosters - Episode 4.15 "Sex Ed"

Brandon supports Emma through a difficult situation, which makes Jesus suspicious about their friendship. When Jude learns that LGBT sex is not covered in his sex education class, he tries to gain knowledge through a dating app for adults, putting himself in a potentially dangerous situation. Callie uses her foster care experiences to create a provocative art installation as her senior project, but the school administration asks her to remove it before the open house.

The Fosters has a really strong and emotional center right now with Jesus' recovery. It's probably the most important that character has ever been on the show. In the early days, it was hard to care about him at all. Sure, this arc at the moment is more about the other characters reacting to him than his struggle to get back to normal. But there are some really strong emotional and poignant beats that come out of his injury and recovery. It's been a fascinating journey so far that has opened the show up to new character pairings. Emma and Brandon as friends is a pairing that could seem completely random. And yet, it works because they have to rely on each other for this big secret between them. Emma being pregnant with Jesus' baby could have been just one more melodramatic twist on top of a pile of them. It really isn't though. This episode may be a little too crowded with stories. But the show provides some strong character beats as Emma and Brandon deal with this information in a way that they think is best for everyone involved.

So, Emma gets an abortion. She doesn't tell anyone besides Brandon that she's pregnant. It's a decision she keeps to herself because she doesn't want to add to the stresses of the Adams-Foster family. But that opening scene where she questions if she's doing the right thing is very powerful. No matter what she chooses she thinks she's betraying or hurting someone by being selfish. In that moment, she's looking for a friendly voice to tell her what to do. Brandon is the only person she has. He doesn't know her that well. He doesn't understand the complexities of the situation as well as she does. He doesn't know how Jesus would react if he knew the truth. He seems to be putting some of his own feelings into the situation as well. He knows that he isn't ready to be a father yet because of everything that just happened with Courtney and Mason. That was an eye-opening experience for him. He doesn't know what Jesus' opinion would be on the subject. So right now, he's simply being the protective older brother doing what he thinks is best for the family and Jesus. It's a decision the audience is suppose to agree with. But again, that doesn't make it any less heartbreaking as Emma goes through with it and she and Brandon have to continue to carry this secret.

Because the two of them went through this together, it creates a new kind of intimacy between Emma and Brandon. It's not romantic in the slightest. They don't see each other that way. Brandon was simply there for Emma in a time when she really needed it. And yet, Jesus doesn't know any of this. All he sees is Emma constantly coming around to see him but not have sex with him. He sees her running off and confiding in Brandon. Of course, Jesus' over-the-top reaction could be part of his traumatic brain injury. It plays into the melodramatic beats of this story. Brandon's interest in the music therapy classes have the same effect. Those moments don't carry the same amount of emotional or personal weight as the stuff between Emma and Brandon. However, the show shouldn't just keep putting them together because they had an interesting dynamic for a couple of episodes. Plus, Brandon isn't able to keep their secret for very long. He tells the truth to Mariana so she would stop accusing him of betraying Jesus by sleeping with Emma. Of course, Mariana makes it all about her afterwards which is more than slightly annoying. But it's also just fascinating to see Brandon try to do the right thing but it being so difficult to do even after the hard part is over with.

Brandon and Emma's story works incredibly well in this hour because it had the proper buildup and a nice resolution. With Jude's story, it largely just feels like an episodic plot to keep things tense and secretive with him as well. It's a little cringe-worthy too. There were portions of his story that I was definitely watching through my fingers. And yet, all of it makes sense too. Just because LGBT people have more rights now than ever before, that doesn't mean that things are suddenly simple and uncomplicated. Jude has questions about sex and there really isn't an environment for him to get those answers in a healthy way. Sure, he gets a hookup app and makes plans to meet up with a stranger largely to give the story some drama. That seems a little out of character. He would more likely just go to Stef and Lena and ask his questions - even though they may not have the best answers. They've always been upfront about sex questions with the kids. Plus, it's great to see Lena be an even bigger advocate for her kids now that she's no longer their Vice Principal as well. Of course, her passion doesn't lead to much. The curriculum goes unchanged because of fears some parents might have. But it also feels like this story has too neat an ending with Lena putting up fliers for LGBT sex education off campus. Jude's questions about sex will likely continue - possibly building up to him having it with Noah. But the details of this story were just a little too broad and cheap to fully work.

Meanwhile, Callie is in a fight with the school administration as well. She has finally completed her senior project. It's a very provocative art installation about her time in solitary confinement while in juvie. It touches on how a person's file defines a person even though the words on the page don't get into the complexity of the individual. It's a piece that moves people and changes minds. Plus, it's a simple and more grounded story for her. She's no longer investigating a murder, breaking into people's houses and getting into accidents. Her legal problems seem behind her. That's why the audience is able to relax into this story and embrace it for what it is. Callie did a great job with this project. And yet, the administration wants to silence her in order to seem better to prospective families during an open house. It's something that Callie and Lena can understand. But it's also just really powerful when her classmates decide to protest. Sure, most of that action happens offscreen. It would have been better to see Callie and Talia interact more. That's another random character pairing that could be intriguing with more focus. But it all just seems like everything happens to have a nice and simple resolution. She puts the installation off campus and impresses a college scout. And yet, things can never be simple with Callie because her legal problems are far from over. That's not surprising. She'll be back in court soon since her case won't be settled. That could be compelling to watch. But this episode proved how great and interesting she can be when she's just a teenager trying to find her voice.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Sex Ed" was written by Kris Q. Rehl and directed by Michael Medico.
  • Stef decides to teach Mariana some self-defense. That seems long overdo considering everything with Nick happened at the start of this season. Sure, it's unclear how much time has passed in the show's timeline. But it also just feels like an amusing story for the two of them. It's largely about yelling but it also has a powerful message as well.
  • Mariana is using Twitter in order to have a voice for herself and promise to the world she's done keeping secrets from the people she loves. And yet, it seems like an idea that can easily backfire on her. That final response about Emma seems very narcissistic about her.
  • If the episode wasn't busy enough, AJ gets his own story as well about his future being up in the air. His brother could be getting out of prison earlier than expected. Plus, Mike wants to adopt him. Of course, that's complicated further by Mike largely wanting to do that just so Ana can move in with him.
  • It's just odd that Taylor says Jude should have a practice run of sex before doing it with Noah. That's just horrible advice. If that's what she got from sex ed, she must not have been paying that much attention if want Lena says is true about the students being told what to do but not to do it until they are older and ready.
  • Seriously though, what is with Brandon's music rehab story? Yes, it feels great for someone to call out Brandon for every single mistake he makes. And yet, it also just feels like the umpteenth time that his story is defined by a woman who could become a future love interest. That's just boring to watch now.