“You’re not my real mom.” It’s a phrase so overused – a soapy line reserved for bad TV – that it’s almost hard to take seriously. In ‘Mother’, however, The Fosters returns the phrase’s potency. Lena reveals her worst fear: that one of her adopted children will one day dismiss her with that very phrase: “you’re not my real mom.”
Not coincidentally, this episode’s subplots pair each of the Adams Fosters’ blood relatives. Jude and Callie are joined in their shared struggle to speak, to open up. Brandon wrestles with the secret he’s keeping from Stef and Mike. Jesus and Mariana simply bicker.
This bickering provides the episode’s white noise. It’s a continual reminder of the bond blood relatives share. When you’re related, you can tear strips off one another and still be safe in the knowledge that you love each other. Lena, we learn, is acutely aware that she lacks that sense of safety: “sometimes I’m afraid that they won’t love me as much as I love them, because I’m not their biological mom.”
Of course, as the episode painfully emphasises, real moms are those that love their children enough to sacrifice for them.
Jude cuts a sad, almost eerie figure in this episode, silently wandering the house unheard, like a cat without a bell. He overhears conversations about himself – Jude’s working through things in therapy, the moms emphasise – and stumbles upon situations he’d rather avoid, like Callie’s tête-à-tête with her brand new sister.
The causes of Jude’s silence remain cloudy. Stef and Lena give the family a cribsheet on selective mutism that sounds like it came from skim-reading Wikipedia. (I know this, because last week I Googled it and skim-read the Wiki entry on selective mutism. Ahem.) It’s an anxiety disorder, they explain; he’ll speak when he’s ready.
Connor, of course, blames himself. He thinks it’s because he told Jude his dad wouldn’t let him sleep over anymore because he thinks Jude’s gay. Callie also blames herself. She thinks it’s because she went to see Sophia, effectively betraying her bond with Jude.
It’s Wyatt who gives perhaps the most convincing theory on why Jude won’t speak: “You two have been through a lot of bad stuff,” he tells Callie. “You’ve been jerked around. Never known where you’re gonna live or for how long. Maybe not talking is [Jude’s] way of finally feeling like he’s in charge of something in his life.”
Control – being in charge of your own life – hums beneath the surface of this episode.
The show’s theme song may tell us “it’s not where you come from, it’s where you belong,” but this episode is nonetheless pretty preoccupied with where you come from.
Callie gets to know her biological father and half-sister, while Jude is quietly devastated by a sense that he means less to Callie for only being half a brother. Timothy’s insistence that he should be a part of his biological child’s life continues to wreak havoc on Stef and Lena’s happy pregnancy bubble. Even Brandon is caught up by the biological vs. chosen family dilemma, revealing an obvious and continuing internal battle over whether an adopted sister is a “real” sister.
Love may be what makes a family, but in this episode, everyone’s preoccupied with DNA.
‘Play’ takes a classic teen show trope – the parents are out of town; let’s have a party! – and gives it a wry remix, using it as lens through which to view The Fosters’ changing characters and relationships.
This episode is probably the show’s funniest to date, with lots of visual comedy and plenty of opportunity to use Maia Mitchell’s expressive face to full effect. The humour is a relief following the misery of season 1b and its fallout, but ‘Play’ still manages a few poignant moments where the laughter falls away and we’re reminded: oh yeah, life’s not a rom-com.