Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is why I feel what I feel when watching TV. If I’m laughing, what’s causing me to laugh? If I’m crying, what is it about the moment that’s driving me to feel that emotion? Is it a genuine outpouring of feelings, like what happened at the end of this season of “Orange is the New Black,” or is the show deliberately pushing me into feeling to the point where I can see the metaphorical hand driving me in that direction? With “The Fosters,” it’s very hard to tell which category some of their emotional beats fall into. Sometimes, they do an excellent job leading up to their emotional payoff. Other times, it’s just there for the sake of having it, with no story or effective drive toward it.
The teen drama’s season premiere falls more into justifying their emotion. In the episode, Nick (Louis Hunter, “The Secret Circle”) brings a gun into the school where Lena Adams (Sherri Saum, “In Treatment”) works and her kids go to school. This causes the school to enter a full lockdown, where emotions and tension run high as the police try to find Nick in the school and safely get the students out.
In a situation like this, where students are locked in the classrooms, not knowing anything, and parents outside of the school have no idea whether or not their kids are safe, fear runs rampant, and “The Fosters” did an excellent job showcasing that fear. As the episode cut between students in classrooms, a substitute teacher panicking, Stef Foster (Teri Polo, “Meet the Parents”, Lena’s wife who was one of the police officers called to the scene) worrying about her daughter, or Lena taking refuge in the office while trying to communicate with the students, it was able to maintain a palpable amount of tension. Though there are artificial act-break cliffhangers (like one where a gunshot right before the act-out only to show it was the substitute reacting to SWAT entering the room by firing the gun in his bag), they found a genuine place to build anxiety.
And when they finally reunited the Adams-Foster family in the parking lot, I couldn’t help but shed a tear. The family embraces one-another as they’re brought out of the school, and completely loses it when Mariana (Cierra Ramirez, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”) is finally brought rescued from hiding alone in the bathroom. Even though I know the show wants me to cry and is doing everything it can to push me there, there’s something genuine about watching the family reunite that made me forget the manipulation.
Still, “The Fosters” is a teen drama, meaning it needed to double-down on romantic storylines, including the overplayed romance between Brandon (David Lambert, “Aaron Stone”) and Callie (Maia Mitchell, “Teen Beach Movie”). Their romance has been a crutch the show has leaned on since its first season, where the drama has used it to prevent Callie from experiencing anything more than fleeting moments of happiness. Not only is there something inherently gross about two foster siblings getting together (even if they’re not related by blood), they’ve never really had strong romantic chemistry and have never been used well as a couple. It sounds like Stef and Lena finding out about the night they had sex will be the last major arc in the storyline. If that’s the case, it should be over-with at the first possible second. There’s also the romantic entanglement between Nick, Mariana and Mat (Jordan Rodrigues, “Faking It”); Nick spotting Mat and Mariana kissing while she was with him causes him to bring the gun to school out of anger in the first place. This arc has not been interesting, so the romantic payoff of Nick getting angry just doesn’t register heavily.
Still, despite some unintelligent romantic storylines, the tension and drama around the lockdown was enough to salvage the episode and remind me why I watch “The Fosters” in the first place. While the series might be a bit overzealous in the bigger points it tries to make, the fear around the school lockdown landed with grace and tact.