The Fosters – Recap: A Part of This Family
Recap and review of The Fosters – Season 2 Episode 18 – Now Hear This:
How far does our love extend for other people? Is it really unconditional? “Now Hear This” gets into those questions, as The Fosters delivers an episode that is unmistakably poignant, thanks largely to the performances at its center.
Now, I admit that for much of the runtime of the episode, I found myself wondering why we were spending such a disproportionate amount of time on the student walkout storyline, or Brandon’s attempts to sell his grandfather’s baseball to pay for the tour. But both of those seemingly disparate storylines inevitably connect to the broader theme of whether a family’s love is unconditional or not. For example, the most affecting story this week centers on Kiara (Cherinda Kincherlow), who’s resorted to prostitution in a bad part of San Diego, in a desperate attempt to avoid being returned to the system. Callie (Maia Mitchell) does her best to reach out to Kiara through Rita (Rosie O’Donnell), but Kiara is essentially a different person now, having put up walls to prevent herself from getting hurt. Although Rita tries to get her to return to Girls United, Kiara spits in Rita’s face to get her to leave before her pimp returns. When Callie confronts her later to get her to return to Girls United, Kiara wonders whether Rita will even want her anymore, after what she’s done. Kiara views herself as damaged goods, someone beyond salvaging.
Maybe it’s not an ideal family, but Kiara views her pimp as good enough, considering he puts a roof over her head and buys her nice things. He’s ruthless, sure, but Kiara’s definition of a family has little to do with unconditional love. It has to do with what people can provide for each other. Neither Callie nor Rita can offer guarantees, only their love and the promise that they’ll work with her to help her realize her goals. Because that’s what family really is, to Callie. So, when Kiara tries to go back to her pimp anyway, it’s Callie who calls Stef (Teri Polo) and Rita to stop that from happening. Faced with the reality that Rita’s love for her is unconditional, Kiara tearfully embraces Rita and abandons prostitution. It’s an absolutely heartwrenching moment, and offered up some of the best work Kincherlow and O’Donnell have delivered in the series. O’Donnell, in particular, continues to be a real asset to the show, in my opinion. I love that Rita — she isn’t a character with all the answers, but she’s someone who’s willing to try to help you find those answers. She has her moments of doubt, but ultimately, Rita is someone dependable in a world of increasing uncertainty.
Similarly, Stef proves herself to be Callie’s rock. Yes, Callie has finally come clean to Stef about having helped kidnap Daphne’s kid, tearfully explaining that she kept it a secret because she feared that Stef and Lena (Sherri Saum) wouldn’t want her anymore if they found out she lied yet again. While it may be unthinkable to us, the viewers, that Stef and Lena would ever turn their backs on Callie (seriously, I can’t even imagine what such a scene would look like), Callie doesn’t have that same certainty because she’s been jerked around so many times by the system. One minute she’s wanted, the next minute, she’s discarded and shunted off to the next home. The beauty of Mitchell’s performance here is that Callie’s confession unfurls in a manner that suggests that even she didn’t realize why she went to live with Robert until that moment. It plays out like a cross between catharsis and a panic attack, as Callie states that she decided to go live with Robert because if it were here decision to leave, then it would hurt less when Stef and Lena decided they didn’t want her anyway. But Callie realizes now that it hurts just as much, if not more, since she’s denying herself the family she’s always wanted.
Polo steps up to the plate and gives Stef one of her best moments in the series, as Stef comforts Callie and tells her that there’s absolutely nothing — not a thing in this universe — that Callie could possibly do that would make them not want her. It’s a line delivered with real conviction, enough that you could practically see the weight lifting off of Callie’s shoulders as she recognizes the family she’s found in the Fosters. There are literally no conditions on their love for her, and although Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) might be upset at Callie, it’s only because she’s going to miss her big sister more than she can find the words to say. And while Brandon (David Lambert) might be in trouble for helping Callie kidnap Daphne’s kid — an action that could end up costing him the tour — he’s quick to explain to Callie that he’d gladly give up the tour, and anything else, for her “to be a part of this family.” He says he hoped she would know this by now, but when you’re not used to someone sticking by you even when it gets harsh out there, you sometimes need reminders that unconditional love is something that isn’t make-believe.
The rest of the episode extends this theme a little farther, as Jesus (Jake T. Austin) opts not to go to the boarding school so he can prevent Mariana from feeling like the family is splitting up. However, when she finds out what he’s doing, she encourages him to go. The understanding here is that while she might not want him to go, it’s something Jesus has to do for his own good. Mariana views family as people who are always around each other, owing to her abandonment issues. She expresses concern to Brandon that the family will soon go their separate ways once everyone goes off to college, yet isn’t until she speaks with Jesus that she seems to recognize that families don’t simply stop being families when they’re not together. Mariana may still have some abandonment issues, but these are people who — despite going away — are not abandoning her. They’re her family, and she seems to get that now. At the very least, she seems to understand it enough to allow herself to start healing. In some ways, it’s similar to how the principal at Anchor Beach explains to Lena that you can’t force major life changes. Upon learning that Lena miscarried prior to being offered Ana’s baby, the principal tells Lena that she needs to allow herself time to grieve and heal before facing such a daunting possibility as adopting a newborn. Rejecting that possibility now doesn’t mean she doesn’t still want that family for herself down the line, it simply means she isn’t ready right now to be the kind of mother she would need to be for that child. It’s a touching lesson, and it makes plenty of sense as something Lena would have to consider.
But not all love is family love. In one of the more intriguing stories of the episode, Connor (Gavin MacIntosh) and Jude (Hayden Byerly) are having trouble figuring out exactly what they are. Connor stays with the Fosters while his dad is out of town, and while they have a fun weekend together as best buds, Connor ends up offending Jude when he considers bailing to go hang out with his girlfriend. He tries to apologize, and we finally find out what really happened in that tent during the camping trip: Connor kissed Jude. The mixed signals Connor has sent since that happened has left Jude questioning not only himself, but Connor as well. Granted, Connor doesn’t exactly make things any less confusing by kissing Jude again, but this isn’t the same as familial love. It’s not love of an unconditional variety. This is two boys trying to figure out who they are and where they stand with one another. Obviously, there are feelings there on both ends, but I find it to be a relatively mature take on a young, gay love story that this isn’t played like some big soap opera development. The relationship being built here feels far more earnest and genuine than all that.
“Now Hear This” keeps the streak of solid episodes alive, as The Fosters nears the end of its second season. And I’m guessing things are about to get pretty explosive, considering Stef outright threatens Robert (Kerr Smith) in the cliffhanger to this episode, telling him that he’ll regret it if he ever advises Callie to lie to them again. She also vows to continue fighting, even though Robert tells her to give up. It’s really the first time Robert has ever come across as a villain, since he makes a point of stressing, “She’s MY daughter,” despite having not been in her life any appreciably longer than Stef and Lena. The implication is that Robert feels his biology is what makes he and Callie family, yet, if this episode taught us anything, it’s that biology doesn’t always make the family. As corny as it sounds, it’s the love you feel for others that makes a family. A saccharine sentiment? Yes. But one that The Fosters manages to make resonant. And that’s the real success of this episode.