In this episode, everyone’s looking for a feeling: whether it’s a pop song ideal of love, or a true sense of ‘home’, or even just an end to numbness.
Yet it’s ersatz feeling that’s overrides real feeling in ‘Girls Reunited’, as the characters say one thing while they mean another; reach for one person while they yearn for another. Everyone’s looking for the real thing – in Brandon’s words, “someone who gets you” – but they’re mostly just making do with whatever they can find. Sometimes good-enough really is enough, but sometimes it’ll burn your house down…
In ‘Girls Reunited’, Callie returns to stay at her group home for the weekend. Ostensibly, she’s there to participate in a day of community outreach and to show what a great success story she is. But it turns out not all that much has changed: she’s still unable to open up in group therapy, still inclined to throw herself into reckless situations, and still prone to hiding out from her problems.
Although her time there was far from happy, Callie obviously feels a deep affection for the Girls United house. When Callie says, upon her return there, “I kinda wanna be in my own room,” her phrasing is telling. Her ‘real’ home may be with the Adams Fosters, but it’s clear that part of Callie still resides at the GU house.
Later, this episode begins to resemble Agatha Christie’s The Fosters, but, for viewers, the real mystery is Callie Jacob. Who is Callie? Who does she want to be, and how close is she to becoming that person? To outside observers – notably, the visitors to GU Community Day – she is the girl who has turned her life around. Indeed, this season has shown a mature and seemingly-settled Callie, with friends, a job, a steady (CPS-approved) boyfriend; all of which is a huge contrast to the blow-ups and breakdowns of last season.
Yet Callie is visibly uncomfortable with the label of ‘success story’ and, over the course of the weekend at GU, it becomes apparent that, whatever may appear on the surface, she’s far from emotionally settled. Callie, it seems, needs to get back in touch with her rock-bottom self at GU. She needs a weekend’s vacation to the past, in order to get advice from her fellow “troublemakers” and to be in a place where she is allowed to mess up and learn from her mistakes – before she is able to go back to being Stef and Lena’s ‘good daughter’.
“You’re not the person you wanna be?” Cole asks Callie at one point, sounding surprised. “I’m working on it,” Callie replies. This, I think, is the show’s true strength: its recurring theme that who you are right now matters less than who you’re trying to become. The show shines a spotlight on a simple truism: that being a good person is not an innate quality but hard work, every day.
Callie’s journey to becoming who she wants to be may be figurative, but for Cole, the transition is anything but. Cole is one of the show’s best characters. He’s such a contradictory (yet compelling) mix of warmth and vulnerability and prickling anger, that you’re never sure whether he’ll give you the purest of smiles (actor Tom Phelan has a great smile) or a doglike snarl. It’s too bad Cole has been reduced to a one-episode-wonder, because his story in this episode feels too rushed to be satisfying.
Since we saw him last, Cole has apparently fallen in love with GU’s newest resident, Devani, and feels so strongly for her that he’s willing to forfeit a place at an LGBT home in order to run away with her. When Devani makes a sudden-yet-inevitable betrayal – and it emerges she’s been using Cole for his drug connections – Cole’s heart is shattered once again.
“Will anyone ever love me? Will anyone ever love a freak?” he wonders aloud. Callie tells him she already does. It’s not the same – it’s not what he wants; it’s not his ideal of romantic love – but it’s enough to bring back his gritty resolve to keep on the road to becoming who he is.
(I’ll add my voice to the clamour of fans who’d like to see a Girls United spin-off. How great would it be? So great.)
Becka’s is another storyline with the potential to be compelling, but which ends up feeling a little rushed. We find GU’s sourest resident newly reformed, upbeat and optimistic about the prospect of going ‘home’ – to her mom’s new apartment, which has a bedroom just for her.
Kiara, meanwhile, has taken up Becka’s sour girl mantle. While Becka’s flying high on hope, Kiara’s deep in a well. Since her foster placement fell through, she can’t help but resent Callie, who has not one but two families who want her. Kiara has no one – and nowhere to call home when she’s due to leave GU.
Callie and Kiara’s scenes feel the most emotionally real to me in this episode. It’s a testament to Cherinda Kincherlow, who makes me forget that Kiara and Callie haven’t actually spoken in ten episodes. Their friendship has a real emotional depth to it – and Kiara gives Callie some much-needed advice on coping with the aftermath of her rape: “get some help, girl!” Well said, Kiara, well said.
(Can the Adams Fosters get a bulk-buy discount on therapy? So many of their kids need therapy that they deserve some kind of cut-price offer.)
I said in last week’s recap that all of this show’s storms are emotional, but apparently I was wrong. Because this week we got an ACTUAL fire, in addition to all the emotional fires.
So settle down, amateur detectives, because it’s time for Agatha Christie’s The Fosters, as we set up a slightly unconvincing whodunit. Suspect #1: Steve, the irate neighbour who’s trying to get the GU house shut down. Suspect #2: cold-hearted runaway Devani, who, on her way out the door, levels the threat that she hopes the girls are light sleepers.
But no! The threat is coming from inside the house! Despite Becka’s claims that she has forgiven her mom for letting her boyfriends abuse her, when Mom reveals she has a new boyfriend, all of Becka’s anxieties come rushing back. She seeks solace at the end of a meth pipe, accidentally setting fire to the GU house.
Fear not, however! It’s SuperCallie to the rescue! Callie risks life and limb to help Rita to drag an unconscious Becka out of the burning house.
Callie may be still trying to become the person she wants to be, but it turns out the person she is now isn’t so bad. Her actions in this episode show her to be fiercely courageous (even if it’s to the point of recklessness). And, like her new mom, Stef, and her surrogate mother, Rita, she loves hard.
While Becka’s finding solace in drugs, Lena’s looking for it in the wild. She spends this episode largely off screen, apparently accompanying the school’s seventh graders on a camping trip. (I’ll say that again: Jude and Connor, camping, together – and we didn’t see it. *rends garments dramatically*)
Lena’s only appearance in this episode is via video chat, making nature-inspired philosophical musings which can’t mask her bone-deep sadness. “Being out here in nature, it’s a good reminder,” she says to Stef. “That nothing’s permanent. Not the trees, not the mountains, not us. Not even our sadness.”
It’s interesting because, written down, these words seem almost hopeful, but on screen, this outpouring is played in a way that sounds almost suicidal to me. Lena’s grief is poignant to the point of being a little scary – which, of course, is exactly what grief is like.
Meanwhile, in this week’s ‘light relief’ storyline, which is still more like a bathroom break, if you ask me…
From her fount of Bad Ideas, Hayley pulls out a new one: she and Mariana will host a double-date dinner party for Jesus and Mat! What could possibly go wrong?
Well everything, basically. Mariana embarrasses herself by trying to cool down soup that’s served cold; Jesus brings up their crackhead mom; Hayley accuses Mariana of lying about aforementioned Queen Crackhead; the truth comes out about Hayley’s manipulations to get Jesus to miss his team dinner.
This should be the signal for Jesus to finally ditch Hayley, but of course, it only reaffirms their dumb relationship.
(On the subject of Queen Crackhead: Ana has written a letter to Stef and Lena, asking permission to see the twins. Oh, Ana. Remember when we all thought that you were dead and we didn’t care at all? Good times.)
The only bright spot of the dinner party is Mat. In this episode, he continues his bid to be everyone’s new TV boyfriend, revealing casual knowledge of fine dining, plus a tragic backstory (his dad left when he was 6) which makes him attractively vulnerable. Judging by Mariana’s reaction when they share their first kiss, he’s probs a really good kisser, too. Swoon.
While Mariana’s hosting the world’s worst dinner party, Brandon’s upstairs brooding in his bedroom. To save him from his misery, Lou climbs out of the Plot Devices cupboard, grabs a vaguely-anachronistic prop and stops by the Adams Fosters’ house.
Brandon and Lou listen to the record she brought over and talk about love songs. (Obviously Brandon has a record player in his TARDIS of a bedroom, along with a couch that I’d never noticed before. Probably there’s a time machine in there somewhere, too.) Lou, a charter member of the Coolly Disaffected Youths Club, is derisive of the overwrought “I’ll die without you” theme of every love song.
Brandon, who probably has notebooks filled with scribbled song lyrics that are just as overwrought, tries to defend them: “We’re all looking for someone who gets us,” he says, “and once we find that person, we just really, really want to hang onto them.”
To the soundtrack of idealized love, Brandon and Lou almost kiss, but the record starts to skip and IT’S A METAPHOR, SEE.
This is another episode where Brandon and Callie don’t have a scene together, but they seem to be on each other’s minds. “You can’t hang onto people,” Lou points out to Brandon and, ohhh, Brandon knows it only too well, clearly thinking of Callie. Brandon has not died without Callie, but it’s obvious he’s not ready to move on from her yet, either.
Over at Girls United, Callie doesn’t mention Brandon specifically, but it’s a good bet to assume he’s on her mind. After all, her time at GU was also the most intense period of her relationship with Brandon. Although what she’s “figuring out” while at the GU house mainly seems be related to Liam and her rape, I’d wager she’s sorting through her feelings for Brandon, too – at least if the way she’s dressed is any indicator. (See: wardrobe notes below.)
Other notes and sundry:
Other Girls, Less Reunited: Great though it was to be back with the Girls United, it’s too bad we got to hear so little about Carmen. And whatever happened to Gabi?
Gold star for the pretty ingenious ways the show is finding to film around Sherri Saum’s maternity leave.
I said a couple of recaps ago that sad, muted stripes seem to have become a visual shorthand for Brandon’s emotional state – it’s his ‘I’m hiding something and I feel bad about it’ look. This episode, Callie wears some sad, muted stripes of her own. In fact, her whole wardrobe – complete with camouflage hoodie – looks ripped from Brandon’s most miserable of clothes racks.
The visual contrast is particularly interesting, considering last week we saw Callie at her preppiest – hair neatly tied back; dressed in pink. Now, this week, she’s back in dark colours with messy hair. It’s a look that’s a throwback to her time at Girls United – and a throwback to when Callie acted like she’d “die without” Brandon.
What do you think? Are you beyond ready for ABCFamily to greenlight a Girls United spin-off? What do you think we missed from Jude and Connor’s camping trip? Am I reading way, way too much into Callie’s clothing choices? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
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