The Fosters – Recap: We Are Family
Recap and review of The Fosters – Episode 15 – Padre:
One of the central theses of The Fosters is how everyone needs a family, or at the very least some kind of family structure, whether it’s friends, trusted advisers, somebody. No one can endure the business of life alone. But what if you’re faced with the choice between embracing a family structure that is all too willing to accept you, or rejecting that family in order to pursue a relationship with someone you love? That’s the conflict facing Callie (Maia Mitchell) in “Padre”, and it’s a conflict informed by Callie’s own troubled, guilt-ridden past. Of course, Callie’s past is contrasted with Stef’s (Teri Polo) present, as both must negotiate their feelings of regret over things left unsaid to the parents they’ve lost, while gradually coming to the realization of just how deeply they need one another. It’s an absolutely beautiful episode anchored by one of the strongest final ten minutes this show has produced. In short, there was almost nothing about this episode I didn’t love (and even the Ouija stuff was inoffensive and brief).
The funeral and wake for Stef’s father is an opportunity to place the entire family back under the same roof for what basically amounts to a bottle episode, since, save for a brief bit at the church, we never really leave the Foster residence. This means there are plenty of ancillary stories circling around the big ones: Emma (Amanda Leighton) stops by to offer Jesus (Jake T. Austin) her condolences (and also kugel!), but things get a little awkward when Jesus video chats with Lexi (Bianca A. Santos) and she notices Emma is there too. Jesus is able to keep things from getting out of hand with Lexi, but as Emma leaves his house after the wake, it becomes noticeably apparent that she’s into him in a big way. He leaves things with an incredibly uncomfortable goodbye, since the only alternative would have been to kiss her, at least by the logic of an ABC Family drama. I do like Jesus and Emma’s cute flirtations, but it almost seems out of place in an episode with this much emotional weight. Ditto for the Ouija board stuff between Jude (Hayden Byerly), Conner (Gavin MacIntosh), and Mariana (Cierra Ramirez), which basically exists to give Jude peace of mind about his decision to be adopted by the Fosters, asking his late mother’s spirit if it’d be alright for him to move on (of course, she says “Yes,” although how weird would it have been if she’d said “no” and it prompted a personal crisis for Jude? Okay, that would have been terrible, admittedly). It just doesn’t feel of a piece with the rest of the episode, which has far greater dramatic stakes.
The episode provides us a window into Callie’s guilt over the night her mother died. In a series of flashbacks, we see a young Callie growing cold towards her mother for going out yet again for another night on the town with their father. Her mother asks her for a goodbye kiss, but Callie stubbornly refuses, not wanting to give her mother the idea she’s forgiven for leaving her and Jude at home again. And so Callie’s mother leaves…and dies in a car accident. Apparently, Callie and Jude’s father was drunk behind the wheel of the car, and the resulting car crash not only killed Callie and Jude’s mother, it also killed several other innocent drivers. A series of flashbacks reveal that, upon learning their mother had died, Callie discovered Jude in her room, which had been utterly torn apart in an act of grief. She’d always blamed Jude for the outburst, but as the episode proceeds, we see that Callie is far more attached to the memory of her mother than Jude, going positively apoplectic when she loses her mother’s necklace, the sole remaining artifact she has of her. She even lashes out at Lena (Sherri Saum) for implying it could be replaced. A talk with Lena’s mother, Dana (Lorraine Toussaint), suggests that Callie is being shortsighted in rejecting the family the Fosters are offering. Callie tries to explain that she doesn’t need to be adopted since she’s almost eighteen anyway, to which Dana poignantly observes, “A family doesn’t stop at 18.” This talk, coupled with Callie’s flashbacks and the loss of her mother’s necklace, compels Callie to begin reconsidering whether or not she wants to live on her own.
Meanwhile, Stef is dealing with guilt of her own over how she parted with her father. The episode begins with a touching dream sequence in which Stef recalls better days with her father, hanging out in the den and making jokes. It’s a wonderfully filmed sequence, playing upon a dreamy, ethereal quality (complete with a snow softly falling inside the room) to illustrate the softer ways in which Stef will choose to remember her father. In fact, much of Stef’s personal journey is in coming to the recognition that every personal relationship is fraught with complication. Did her father agree with her homosexuality? No. In fact, he even sent her to his minister to pray away the gay, which makes it all the stranger when Stef decides to invite the same minister to deliver her father’s eulogy. Yet it’s the minister who ends up giving Stef peace, making a salient point: is Stef going to remember her father as an intolerant man, or will she remember him as a man who questioned the fundamental principles of his faith, and reconsidered his own religion, out of love for his daughter? Stef recognizes that every person is a mixture of traits that will prompt us to love and hate them in seemingly equal measure, yet we shouldn’t let those contrasting emotions dull our regard for them. Or ruin the beautiful memories we have.
This is a statement that comes out in the climax, which represents some of the most emotionally satisfying storytelling the show has yet done, as Stef comforts Callie after Jude reveals that it was actually Callie who destroyed her own room. Stef explains that even though she lost her mother’s necklace, she didn’t lose her mother, since she still has the memories of her, and those can never be lost or misplaced. I don’t think it gets stated enough just what a terrific performance Teri Polo so routinely delivers each week, as she’s very much the heart of this show, in a lot of ways. She’s stern when she needs to be, but she’s also remarkably warm when the situation calls for it, a difficult line to properly toe. And Maia Mitchell acquits herself quite well, as she breaks down and confesses her regret for not kissing her mother goodbye.
It’s a tender moment, and the tearful embrace between Stef and Callie pretty much cements the teen girl’s decision: she needs the Fosters as her family, and if that means giving up Brandon (David Lambert), it’s an unfortunate but necessary consequence. But while a lesser show would wring drama out of Brandon refusing to accept the end of the relationship, he completely understands when Callie tells him that while she does love him, she needs a family. Brandon, who found Callie’s necklace and returned it to her, admits that he never realized how selfish and unfair he was being in asking her to give up a family just to be with him. It’s a moment of immense maturity, sealed with one of the more charged embraces on the show, as Callie and Brandon have a goodbye hug that’s as potent as their “Thank God it’s you!” hug from a few weeks back outside the Girls United group home (which was sorely missed this week). When Jude finds his sister after she’s ended things with Brandon, he finds a completely different Callie. She’s pure joy, enlivened by the relief that comes from knowing you have a soft place to fall when everything goes awry. As Callie and Jude embrace, it’s paralleled with a flashback to the moment they learned they would be entered into the foster system, staying with families until they could find one to take them in. And that’s exactly what they have now with the Fosters. A real family, and a real home.
“Padre” features a storyline in which Lena reveals to her mother her plans to have a baby, despite not having told Stef about those plans just yet. When Stef discovers a pregnancy test among Lena’s things, she confronts her only to learn that Lena is attempting to protect another secret from her: apparently, an article has been released in the newspaper implicating Mike (Danny Nucci) as the ringleader of police brutality, due to the suspicious nature of the shooting death of Ana’s boyfriend. Mike could now be facing criminal charges, in addition to the loss of his job. The intersection of the Mike plotline with the Lena baby story is a welcome bit of narrative economy, as both stories keep moving. There isn’t much to Mike’s story just yet beyond learning from his Captain that he might need a lawyer, but there’s plenty with Lena’s storyline. Not only is Lena tasked with convincing her mother to stay out of her business, she’s also stuck trying to find the right way to broach the subject with Stef. It’s all effective stuff, and well-plotted. Lorraine Toussant is great as Lena’s mother, in the minimal screentime she’s given, as she reveals to Lena that she’s proud of her daughter, and didn’t mean to cause offense. But while the mother-daughter issue was resolved quickly enough, the spousal concerns are far from finished, as the episode ends with Lena finding Stef in the Toyota her father gifted to her last week (which she’s deciding to keep), only for Stef to finally broach the subject of the baby, leaving Lena stunned. And the plot thickens.
“Padre” is as good as the show has ever been, providing a window into the backstories of both Stef and Callie, while illustrating the emotionally complicated nature of their present circumstances. The Fosters really is one of the best first-year shows on TV, and I can’t wait to see how it grows.