The Fosters: (S3E16) “EQ”

Review:

What do you get when you combine creative writers with depth-defying actors? That my friends would be The Fosters. On this week’s episode, titled “EQ”, the entire cast dealt with situations involving just that – emotional intelligence. Understanding emotional intelligence can be done by breaking it into five categories – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. With each characters situation a little different from the other, we got a deeper glimpse into how each individual Foster handles stress, trauma and disappointment as well as understanding the emotions of others. Not only that, this week’s episode shed light on suicide, both in teenagers and the wider population. After 3 seasons we know that The Fosters don’t shy away from the important issues, the ones that need to be talked about and given a voice; and tonight’s episode was another beautiful example of that.

Opening the episode on a family breakfast, spirits seems high (apart from Jesus) and as Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) nearly spills orange juice over some books the usual Foster breakfast chaos ensues. Stef (Teri Polo) has taken a volunteer position to teach a youth outreach program about emotional intelligence. What is that you ask Mariana? As she somewhat turns her nose up at the idea, Stef reminds her that not all kids have parents that teach them this stuff; that some children don’t have the opportunity to learn how to properly deal with their emotions. Brandon (David Lambert) walks in, a sense of pride in his stance, as he unveils the poster for his “R and J” musical. The celebration is swiftly cut off with Mariana throwing shade (shielded jealousy I think) about Mat and his current fling. And when questioned about her date with Nick, well let’s just say she hides the true nature of the “disaster date” quite well.

For Mariana, this week’s episode follows her and the fallout from that disaster date. Nick is one persistent guy and at times seems to have so much game, and at others just has no idea how to “woo” a girl. Their first exchange is hilarious; the comic genius Cierra brings to Mariana is everything – “still an idiot?” – And not only that, quoting the emotional intelligence line was just pure gold. Poor Nick. However, when it seems that he is stalking Mariana, she’s had enough even threatening to get a restraining order. But long behold, Nick is actually looking out for Jesus (Noah Centineo) who is currently in a downward spiral following his confrontation with Gabe. After earlier being seen mixing himself a nice bottle of vodka and orange juice, Jesus is drunk and throwing up. With a swift diversion (thank you Mariana), AJ (Tom Williamson) and Callie (Maia Mitchell) successfully get Jesus into bed.

Stef and Lena (Sherri Saum) are in full “Mama” mode this week trying to guide, educate and discipline their children all at the same time. This type of episode really brings home the premise that family is what it is all about. Lena is tasked with helping Brandon fight to keep “R and J” afloat when it is met with challenges from students feeling that it romanticises suicide. After ensuring Brandon that she will handle it, he still goes ahead and confronts Sally about her complaints subsequently leading Monte (Annika Marks) to leave the decision in the hands of the honour board. Unfortunately, after an impassioned speech (paralleling his relationship Callie), the board returns a vote against having the musical at school. Meanwhile, Stef has her hands full with her “EQ” class when she is met with resistance in the form of teenagers thinking the “T” in her name stands for “tits” – you have nice tits. That line, although the kid unknowing, hits a nerve. What nerve it hit comes to light later in the episode when the mom’s discover the watered down vodka – who could it be? A knock at the door sounds, and after a slow build, we have the face-to-face encounter with Gabe. After a drunk Jesus has shown up again at his workplace, Gabe has had enough. Acknowledging his mistakes but also making a point of not wanting to see his children, he leaves but not before running into Mariana on the way out. Be still our beating hearts. No words, just a look. What a gut punch.

Upstairs, Stef lays down the law to Jesus in a way that would have anyone shaking in their boots. The vast ability of Teri Polo and Sherri Saum to cover every emotion from stoic to vulnerable, helps the audience, at one point or another to relate to their characters as either women, professionals, parents or just simply human. Noah Centineo and Teri Polo were MVP’s throughout this episode, portraying the evolution of the parent/child relationship. A great balance of teenage angst and attitude with parental disciple and protectiveness. Followed up by the silent moment between Mariana and Jesus; where Noah has us all feeling Jesus’ heartbreak – “He’s tall like you…” After another heated argument in which Stef threatens to kick Jesus’ arse, Lena steps in to take control. With a tone that says “don’t mess with me” she asks Stef point blank what’s going on. From her answers it is obvious that Stef has been residing in the stage of anger; at the world, at life, at cancer, at it all. Lena knows all too well what’s going on, and she knows that Stef is struggling but right now she’s crossed a line. A season ago, this exchange would have had Stef interrupting or disagreeing, this week she is stopped right in her tracks. Lena has found her voice. Maybe it is the thoughtful reminder at the end that this is not a criticism, but that is comes from a place of tough love. Bravo to the writers on delivering an episode so poignant; its moments like these that the title of an episode has never been more accurate. With everything that is thrown at these women and their family, individually and collectively, they persist, they show up and they fight.

Callie receives a phone call from Chloe (Rita’s daughter) in which Chloe asks her to say goodbye for her, and to tell her I’m sorry. The emotion written all over Maia Mitchell’s face tells the story; she can tell something is just not right. Paying Rita a visit, Callie expresses her worry about Chloe encouraging Rita to reach out; that maybe this time it is all different, the possibly Chloe could really need her help. Rita is strong in her position, stubborn, and knows her daughter well enough to know that this is just history repeating itself. Callie however believes differently, and in the same breathe throws a line at Rita that we as an audience could hear cut. When Callie starts to realise that maybe Rita is right; that maybe Chloe hasn’t changed she rejects her call. However, shortly after receives another one in which Chloe’s speech is slurred, Callie knows something just isn’t right. Cut to the hotel she is staying at, to a passed out Chloe and an evidently distraught Callie outside.

After that stern talking to from her wife Stef has returned (with Jesus in tow) to the youth outreach program. What Teri Polo does so wonderfully with Stef is balance the strength and determination to hold it together with the visceral, physiological need to also express her pain. As Javier walks back into the classroom, after previously being kicked out by Stef, something happens for her. It is subtle, and it may be one of those lightbulb moments where we realise how we have been behaving prior to this very moment, just is not working. That something has to change. This my friends is an example of emotional intelligence. Of acknowledging, understanding and being self-aware. Stef begins to break down her walls by telling her story, openly and honestly, which allows for the students in that room to realise she also is human. That although she may seem completely put together, she too has experienced hardship and heartbreak. Noah Centineo is breathing life into Jesus, and as he sits at the back of the classroom, listening to his mom speak her truth, he has a quiet moment of clarity. The next scene compounds the utter brilliance of this cast, with Maia Mitchell and Rosie O’Donnell delivering a soul-crushing exchange. After the heated discussions over the last couple of weeks, the event of Chloe attempting suicide has put it all into perspective. Rita hopes that maybe this time, Chloe got her own attention. Watching Rosie inhabit this storyline has been stellar and as a mother herself, she has brought a deeper level to Rita’s anguish I’m sure all parents can relate to. Callie and Rita agree to disagree over the Foster Care reform bill, with apologies from both, Rita assures Callie that no matter what she needs to know, just how proud she is of Callie and the woman she is becoming.

In the closing moments, AJ offers Callie the support in the most understanding of ways; you don’t want to talk? Ok, well I’m just going to sit here. There is an undeniable spark between these two and I for one am excited to see where it goes. Brandon, who is off in the distance, doesn’t seem too pleased. Cut to the next day and Sally is walking through the school teary-eyed. With a little remark from Brandon about not being beaten, she arrives at Lena’s office, nearly inconsolable. With our hearts in our throat we are waiting for her to admit what is wrong… Monte kissed me. Um, what?

Key Notes:

  • Brandon and Callie share an awkward conversation when he finds out she is dating AJ
  • Mariana and Nick are now a thing