“The Fosters” is, and it never lets us forget, first and foremost a story about luck: It isn’t that Callie (Maia Mitchell) isn’t wonderful, because of course she very much is, or that Jude (Hayden Byerley) isn’t magical, what a ridiculous thought… It’s that their greatness absolutely does not, cannot, matter.
They aren’t saved by virtue of being worth it, because all children are worth it: They’re saved by being in the right place at the right time, after a succession of deeply horrible places and times. Total, hideous, absolute chance. The show’s (life’s) cruel determinism is always there, written into every interaction, but as the most heartwarming and intimacy-inspiring show ever created, always appears in composition with the relief that Callie and Jude fell through the cracks until they landed somewhere safe and alive.
(And ditto the Twins [Cierra Ramirez & Noah Centineo], of course, and everybody’s various biological parents, and their exes, and their exes’ exes, and their parents’ exes, and so on: We take “hideous chance” and rewrite it as “fate” whenever we can, because it helps us get past our hurt feelings and grudges against both.)
“Diamond in the Rough” (March 21) is one of those episodes about the kids who aren’t so lucky as to encounter a Stef and Lena at a crucial juncture in their lives: We meet Diamond (Hope Olaide Wilson), a teenage prostitute whom Stef (Teri Polo) encounters on the job, and Stef being Stef, Diamond is soon in a group home and doing community service, and we brace for impact of whatever horrible thing will next befall her…
But it takes us right back, in a new way, to that favorite of “Fosters” motifs: Its
San Diego liberal guilt mindfulness about the kids who aren’t starring in a show about radical and transformative love, who don’t have a Stef & Lena (Sherri Saum) to catch them when they fall, who don’t receive the dedication of a parent leading them quietly and confidently back into the light and healing from their trauma, whatever it might be… And as usual, it’s so heartbreaking that we find ourselves understanding once again exactly why Stef can’t seem to stop adopting children. We want to save everybody, too.
This takes us to an interesting exploration into how to “save” the kids who are deep in chronic damage, trauma, and exploitation: Stef intends to go after Diamond’s pimp, and while good intentions are certainly an important first step, in this case they lead to a rather radical misstep, too. Diamond admits she’s afraid for her life — but yet, there’s no way to definitively remedy this for a girl who has no one looking out for her full-time, 24/7. It’s exactly what made her easy pickings for a pimp in the first place.
So Diamond opts to save herself the only way she knows how — striking a deal with her pimp (via Callie’s temporarily stolen phone) and agreeing to bring another girl from the group home into his fold, in order to make up for having been caught by the police. Worse, Diamond already seems to have set her sights on the next victim.
It’s a gutsy storyline that brings up an oversized, overwhelming moral dilemma — between the concrete reality of trafficking, everywhere at all times, and the extremity of the questions it asks, this feels somehow less like a “Fosters disaster” storyline or out of character for the show, and more — the dark secret it’s been keeping from us all along, if that makes sense.
The San Diego of the Adams-Fosters is scary and violent and full of predators, but it’s also sunny and full of hugs and works with you toward your own redemption: It’s not where you come from, it’s where you belong.
But what if you don’t?
At one point, Stef laments to Mike that she can’t save them all — and he offers up the consolation that saving one is still something. But in Diamond’s story, we’re faced with what an exhausting uphill battle it is to save even that one. This is where and why apathy is born in many people, the infinity-minus-one people who are not like Stef: Because the bigger picture is so horrifying, so near to hopeless, and any amount of good intention only scratches the surface. But it’s exactly why we’re hopeful that this storyline will dive deep anyway and explore the shadows where the less lucky kids live.
Meanwhile, Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) has fully activated her Wonder Twin powers to be a third mama to Jesus (Noah Centineo), and it’s as heartwarming as ever. While the Mamas are caught up in the usual spectrum of issues (because that’s life, unrelenting), Mariana intends to give Jesus her full attention — admittedly, it’s attention he desperately needs right now, and their iron-clad sibling bond is deeply moving — and as we all know, Mariana’s “full attention” is a supernova compared to anyone else’s.
Mariana even has a go at Brandon (David Lambert) — finally! — for meddling in the Emma (Amanda Leighton) pregnancy situation, and spearheads a potential senior project for Jesus, the better with which to distract him from how awful he really has it… And how frighteningly uncertain his prognosis remains.
And while it was clearly inevitable that Lena (Sherri Saum) would face blowback for the gay sex-ed meeting and the permission slip issue, it was Monte (Annika Marks) who actually called it, when she projected that she’d be the one facing the consequences — the higher-ups are actually asking for Monte’s resignation.
We feel badly for holding Monte’s whole deal against her, of course — the show has always tried to make her as decent as possible, whether it’s being caught in her ongoing middle-management for-profit school hell, or smearing her coming-out journey all over the Adams-Foster marriage — but it was going to take a lot for Lena to see her as a normal human again. Schoolboard politics are the worst, charter and private schools even moreso, but this is getting full “Gladiator” — “Are you not entertained?”
Mike (Danny Nucci) and AJ (Tom Williamson) talk about his adoption, and AJ finally confesses that he can’t let his brother down — ever the good egg, Mike hides his disappointment as best he can, and comes up with a solution: AJ will stay with him until Ty is out of prison, while Ana and her daughter stay in the apartment down the hall. Then, once Ty is out, Ana will move in with Mike, and AJ and Ty can live down the hall. Easy, right? (Well, we know it won’t be — but we love Mike for trying. It really does make sense on paper — and it’s exactly the sort of “everybody wins” situation that the show tries to demonstrate for us in every conflict.)
While Mike is, as usual, the prime measure of stability for AJ, he’s also suddenly inspired to let go of his other good thing: Callie. Callie glimpses AJ kissing that cinnamon bun girl we all knew was trouble, and true to form, she pulls out all the stops trying to own her part in the relationship’s difficulties. Keeping her hurt in check, trying that much harder to see things from AJ’s side, is exactly the Callie we’ve come to expect, and it’s the most intensely loveable thing about her.
But again we see the cold equations at play: Callie’s greatness doesn’t mean she deserves a family like the Adams-Fosters, because that’s not how that works — and Callie’s EQ and maturity might make us love her more and more, but that has bupkus to do with romance. AJ’s ability to tell the hard truths cuts both ways, and this breakup is brutal: He tells her point blank that the relationship is too hard, that Callie is too hard — and in direct contrast, being with the other girl is easy.
It’s the type of blow strong women, nasty women, are often dealt, and could be Callie’s next challenge: Having had to fight so hard for her place in the world that she’s become a warrior, she finds herself displaced by a girl with less edge. How she rallies will be something to behold.
“The Fosters’ airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform. Only three episodes remain before Season 4 ends — but Season 5 begins July 11.