You know those moments in television where you hang on every word. You’re in the room. In the story. Well this week’s episode of The Fosters, “Under Water”, submerged our souls in a way our hearts won’t soon forget. Written by Executive Producer Joanna Johnson, it was through her words and the eloquent, committed performance of Teri Polo and Sherri Saum that The Fosters once again delivered an episode worthy of all the praise. And then some.
As we open, Callie (who is still having some difficulty with the Adams Fosters surname) has gone to visit AJ in juvie. But upon arrival discovers that she is not on his visitor list. We cut to a doctor’s office where both Stef and Lena sit, listening to the doctor go through the upcoming surgery. What can only be described as subtle brilliance by Teri Polo, Stef sits, fairly motionless, blank faced as the doctor drabbles on. As she transitions from reality to insular, Stef imagines herself in a pool, naked. Beautifully shot and edited, this scene demonstrates the intrinsic workings of someone whose world has dramatically shifted.
The moms arrive home to an always, seemingly positive Sharon (Annie Potts) who asks how it went and when the surgery will take place. “Fine” states Stef. Note the small glance between Lena and Sharon, they know what’s up. Before the conversation can really even begin, Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) storms in demanding the truth from Lena about a so-called rumour – “Are you having an affair with the principal?” Can anyone say awkward (bumping booties = HILARIOUS)? The mom’s do a brilliant job of diffusing the situation but long behold, Monte (I swear she has a sixth sense) calls. Really? And to add insult to injury, Callie arrives home from trying to visit AJ and delivers some pretty nice shade Stef’s way. She thought she was coming to her as a mother not a cop and her attitude is totally off the charts. Maia Mitchell plays Callie so understated but when required can absolutely throw shade and humour in all the right ways. Speaking of humour, Sharon exits shortly after insisting Lena return that call she missed.
This week Jesus (Noah Centineo) spends quite a bit of time navigating his current endeavour to get to know Gabriel. He’s working on the construction site with Gabe with obvious ulterior motives, and it isn’t long before Gabe picks up on it. Stating there is no room for chit chat. Throughout the episode Jesus grapples with whether to come clean or not, and with a little persuasion from Nick (in the form of high-speed burnouts), Jesus agrees to confront Gabe. This all goes south when Gabe hands Jesus his old tool-belt and the sentimentality gets the better of him. The timing just isn’t right. Noah Centineo continues to shine in the little silent moments of this story. None more so than when he coyly asks Mariana her opinion on their birth dad. Stating the obvious, that Jesus never wanted anything to do with Ana so why be interested in finding their dad, he continues to struggle with what to do. Eventually, he does come clean with the reaction from Gabe quite intriguing – “I can’t legally be around you” – there has to be a story there, right?
When we check back in with the mom’s Stef is seeking solace in Mama Sharon. Stef asks whether Sharon would be willing to be her power of attorney. This coupled with a mother’s intuition leads Sharon to question whether there is more to what is really going on. Is Lena really having an affair? There hasn’t been much affection between the two. As only a mother can when it comes to their child, Sharon offers Stef some sage advice in not pushing Lena away. That she knows her daughter, and right now building up those walls is the last thing she should be doing. Doesn’t help, that in the next beat Stef observes Lena and Monte alone in her office (Lena has broken down about Stef). These two women cannot seem to catch a break, and Monte seems to always pop up in the worst possible moments.
Mariana this week is doing all sorts of things. One of which involves attempting to avoid any situation with Mat (Jordan Rodrigues) which proves difficult seeing as they are Romeo and Juliet. It is her first official week on the Honour Board, and her first point of business is voting on what type of punishment Nick will receive after his stunt with the burn-outs. Prior to this, Nick made a play for Mariana (their banter is so flirtatious) saying how beautiful she was. Was it all a ploy to downgrade his punishment? Turns out, no. He just seems to get flustered, and somewhat corny when she’s around. After making a good argument, Mariana agrees to go out with him (maybe).
Brandon (David Lambert) is now playing the piano at Courtney’s bar, where he also spends a lot of time drinking many a “Shirley Temple”. I have to applaud Brandon is his attempts to move on from Callie. These last few episodes have really seen him develop a bond with Courtney that could hold strong – I guess all that depends on whether he is ready. Also, if he’ll be able to put aside the fact Courtney has a 2 year old son. What? Talk about dropping a bomb.
Callie and Jude (Hayden Byerly) spent the majority of the episode attempting to help Jack find a safer group home after they discover he has been beaten. With the help of Justina (Kelli Williams), who I still think is super shady, they successfully find Jack somewhere to move to. However, after all that, Jack (after having his arm broken) says he’ll be fine to stay where he is. When Callie passionately states that “everyone wants to be saved. They just sometimes need permission” she takes another trip to juvie. This time she is let in to see who we assume is AJ, but turns out to be Ty. She tells him to give AJ permission; permission to have a foster family that will love and care for him while he serves his time.
In what may be one of the most soul-reaching scenes The Fosters have delivered, Teri Polo and Sherri Saum as their respective characters, share a conversation that touched upon issues that women, couples and humans alike, face daily. As they briefly exchange remarks about the still lingering Monte situation, more serious subject matter is at hand. With talk about wills and personal affairs and power of attorney (which Lena aptly mentioned) we start to witness the walls Stef has so strongly built up, coming down. Questioning Stef’s decision about power attorney, Lena learns she was only trying to save her the pain of having to make the tough decision (if it ever may arise). Teri Polo has beautifully inhabited this storyline in a way that we as an audience feel the pain in every word she speaks, but also the hesitation she feels when deciding whether or not it is ok to let her guard down. But with a single admission and laced with undeniable fear, Stef’s deepest concerns are uncovered.
“What if you fall in love with her (Monte) because I’m ugly?” – Stef Adams Fosters
The physical and emotional manifestation of this fear is obvious, as Stef sits there arms crossed, head down, barely making eye contact with Lena. Behold the genius talent that is Teri Polo. Lena is admittedly shocked to hear such a question. She would never. And as Stef continues to list all the elements that follow such a surgery – decrease in intimacy, scars, fake breasts, and tattooed nipples – the waterfall of emotion that has been bubbling away inside both women finally runs out. And I have to admit the genuine chemistry these two actresses share off-screen translates on-screen, and lifts such a story to levels I find hard to describe. With the realisation that her wife is hurting deeper than she ever thought, Lena offers a rousing, devoted and depth-defying proclamation to the woman she loves.
“You’re not gonna lose me. And what’s beautiful about you is so much more than your body. It’s your heart and soul. Your mind. Your laugh. Your courage and your compassion. Honey, I love this life that we’ve built together. Our kids. Our family. You’re my home. And I am so sorry that I said anything that made you feel like I wouldn’t… I would ALWAYS find you attractive. Because I will. I always will.” – Lena Adams Foster
Sherri Saum delivers a performance with the perfect balance of vulnerability and strength, with a power in her words no one can dispute. The focus and willingness to go to such lengths to portray pure, visceral emotion are abilities Polo and Saum share. Abilities that have made their work some of the most inspiring to date. They commit to telling these stories whole-heartedly and honestly, and do so with nuance and grace effortlessly giving all of us moments and experiences to relate to. When Stef admits she is scared, Lena assures her that that is ok. That needing support, is ok.
“What can I do? To help you?” – A line, first said by Sharon and now by Lena that effortlessly leaves all Fosters fans reaching for the tissues.
The words Joanna Johnson has used to craft this episode bring to the forefront the power of true, undying love and what it means to fight. Not only that, The Fosters continue to respectfully portray stories and issues so prevalent for so many people. The reach and effect this show continues to have is incomparable.
As the episode closes, Jesus comes clean to Mariana about Gabe before being ushered downstairs for a family meeting. The kids are finally told about the breast cancer, and in true Fosters fashion our hearts jump out of our chests once again. The group hug is everything and more, as we continue on this journey with our favourite family. Lena makes good on Stef’s request as they playfully trespass and skinny dip. The affection, and tenderness that follows is one of beauty. Transitioned with Brandon solemnly looking at a photo with Stef, and Callie and Mariana researching mastectomies, the situation is no longer in the shadows. It is real. It is happening. To say I could talk about this for hours would be an understatement, the respect I have for the work that Teri Polo and Sherri Saum continue to deliver is out of this world. And Joanna Johnson, as an aspiring screenwriter, I dream and aspire to deliver a script with such depth and rawness.