As the Adams-Fosters grow up, together and separately, this season has focused less on misunderstandings and historical trauma, and more about summoning courage: Both to ask the hard questions, and to hear and tell the hard truths.
As ever, we’re reminding that running away from reality is a guarantee we’ll make things worse for ourselves and everybody else — and explore different ways that, even knowing this consciously, it can still sometimes feel like the best of bad options.
When Stef (Teri Polo)’s mom Sharon (the always effervescent Annie Potts) breezes into town, we oh so briefly imagined this might be the elusive comic-relief “Fosters” episode that might grant us all a much needed breather… Haha, nope. Well, not entirely. Sharon and her way-chill hippie boyfriend Will (Rob Morrow) announce they’re getting married… While later, Sharon reveals she only agreed because she couldn’t bear to tell Will no. It’s nothing against Will — what’s to dislike, in a hopelessly romantic guy who can’t stop adoring you? — but simply that marriage is an institution our free-spirited Sharon sees as a bit of a bummer. (Bringing that crap into the household of a committed couple of parents who only received the right to that “bummer” about five minutes ago is… The privilege of straight people, but also the exact kind of awkward mom-ness we’d expect from old Sharon.)
As Sharon confesses this to Stef, it’s ever clearer why Stef grew into such a law-and-order, rules-and-regs kinda woman (and mother). We love her, somehow, even more after glimpsing the degree to which Stef’s always had to be the voice of reason. When her mom asks her to break the bad news to Will, Stef declines: “You’re a grown woman, kind of,” an exasperated Steph reminds her, but Sharon is still stalling even as a hippie woodland altar is under construction in the backyard, and massive batches of hors d’oeuvres are lining up on platters.
But waaaaaay worse than the prospect of hundreds upon hundreds of vegan appetizers going to waste is the brief threat of Sharon’s risk aversion having a particularly horrifying trickle-down effect on another volatile storyline: Emma (Amanda Leighton) can’t bring herself to tell Jesus (Noah Centineo) about the abortion face to face, but knows his Spidey senses are tingling, so she writes him a letter, which of course Brandon (David Lambert) hand-delivers, because God forbid he stay out of this minefield. Jesus hasn’t admitted that his post-brain trauma reading skills are pretty much nonexistent, and asks grandmother Sharon for an assist.
Sharon, delightful chaotic mess and moral weakling that she is, just can’t bring herself to read the oh-so-crucial abortion paragraph out loud — leaving Jesus with the impression that Emma had merely crafted a “It’s not you, it’s me, sorry I’ve been distant” note. (Anybody else hear Ozzy Osbourne’s old trademark Shaaaarrrrrooon! reverberating in their head right about then?) Fortunately, when Emma shows up for the wedding, Sharon at least confesses that she omitted the most crucial detail from the letter when she read it to Jesus — so the ball’s once again back in Emma’s court, which sucks, but at least it’s not a blindside. And when Jesus fails to make sense of their place cards at the wedding table, Emma figures out Jesus isn’t going to be reading it any time soon.
Most of us have, at one time or another, been in the position both women are in here — having to tell someone a hard truth, but feeling unable to face the prospect of breaking another person’s heart. We know perfectly well that Emma delaying this can’t really have any upsides: A hard truth covered up by drawn-out secrecy pretty much always amplifies the inevitable pain. And sure, it’s not the time or place — why ruin his grandmother’s (ahem) wedding? But that’s a slippery slope: No time or place will ever feel like the perfect time to devastate someone else.
But we’re only as sick as our secrets, as they say, and hopefully Emma can find the courage to tell him sooner rather than later. We hate to see her weak or less than superheroically brave — in the exact same unrealistic, silly way we hate it when Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) displays any character fault whatsoever… Or God forbid, when Jude (Hayden Byerly) gets in one of his moods.
Callie (Maia Mitchell) is understandably freaking out about her potential prison sentence, so she ropes AJ (Tom Williamson) into some impromptu Sherlock action, investigating Troy (Levi Fiehler)’s alibi further: They show up at Troy’s alleged place of work, only to very uncomfortably discover it… Actually is his place of work. The plan was to have AJ pose as a former co-worker looking for contact info for Troy’s alibi, Vanessa, who it turns out is in fact his girlfriend. Nothing like a solid conflict of interest to make Troy look that much guiltier!
Unfortunately, Troy follows AJ back to the car, and we get yet another glimpse of Troy’s psycho side as he threatens Callie with harassment charges. What follows is a surprisingly heavy argument between AJ and Callie, which regrettably includes the “I don’t have a rich daddy to bail me out” card — but AJ’s point is technically valid: He is a young black man with a juvie record and a brother in jail, he can’t get caught stirring up even the slightest bit of trouble.
Unlike Sharon and Emma this week, AJ is fully prepared to tell Callie the hard truth: In AJ’s case, he’d be gambling with his future and his freedom otherwise. Callie and AJ both have valid perspectives, but telling a hard truth means facing the worst-case anyway and seeing what happens. And just as with Aaron (Elliot Fletcher) back at the beginning of the year, it’s a great reminder of why we love Callie when she’s presented with these experiences that are outside her own: Even when she doesn’t get it right away, she is committed to understanding what it’s like to be people who are not Callie — a responsibility that doesn’t need to fall on her alone, but is after all the burden of every person alive.
In happier storylines, the mamas’ LGTB sex ed class proves more successful than anticipated. Only two permission slips were returned from interested students, leading Lena and Stef to conclude that their good intentions didn’t amount to much. Instead, they’re surprised to find a dozen or so kids have shown up… Which shows Lena the obvious flaw in her plan: Teens who haven’t yet come out to their parents would obviously find the whole permission slip routine unacceptable.
But the really great part is when Noah (Kalama Epstein) shows up — with lots of questions. Jude is a little slow in realizing he may have taken something for granted: The extent of Noah’s sexual experience. Yup, Noah is a virgin, too. (Noah’s willingness to ask the embarrassing questions and talk openly just made him about fifty times more adorable, didn’t it?) It’s a graceful and realistic note on a complicated aspect of growing up, across the spectrum, but especially for gay kids, who have no reason to question their assumptions — and no social framework to pick up those subtleties and nuances that prepare straight kids for every step in the growing-up process.
Other great news: Will didn’t take Sharon’s eventual confession badly at all (and for what it’s worth, Brandon kissed that music teacher) — but the biggest heartstring-tugging celebration of love by miles and miles was a surprise wedding we didn’t even realize we needed, or wanted till it was sprung upon us.
Earlier in the episode, Stef and Lena’s “fake” divorce papers come through: Fake by intention, that is, for purposes of saving the house, if you’ll recall, although the legality of this divorce was painfully real. While watching her mother run screaming in the opposite direction at the mere mention of marriage, Stef couldn’t help but wonder if Lena would marry her again, given the chance. And she poses this question in the most beautiful way possible, while also making some quality points about marriage equality in the process.
And then there we were, getting all teary-eyed as Lena and Stef are the ones to step up to the altar and reverse that fake divorce. For purposes of this episode, it was heartwarming to be reminded that asking the hard questions doesn’t always end in heartbreak, and that honesty doesn’t always have to be brutal or have devastating consequences. Sometimes quite the opposite.
Problem is, you have to step up, take a deep breath and be prepared for either the best or the worst outcome: The most important things in life are hard, and yet you still must do them. Speaking your truth is always the worthwhile course of action, wherever it winds up taking you.
“The Fosters’ airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform. Only four episodes remain before Season 4 ends — but Season 5 begins July 11.