‘Peace on earth’ is the theme that the Adams Fosters are going for in their Christmas decoration display (Jesus wants to snag the $250 prize for best-decorated house), but what they end up with is squabbles about money, burned lasagne and hurt feelings. Oh, and also, there’s a not insubstantial amount of casual and unpunished crime that takes place in this episode. Standard Christmas fare, I guess.
Now, let me don my novelty headgear, turn up the Christmas tunes, and we’ll get started with the recap…
We pick up this episode where we left off at the season S2A finale, with a desperatehurtangry Callie kissing Brandon. Despite the fact that, in the finale, Brandon returned the kiss pretty unequivocally, now he’s quick to pull away, telling her he needs to think about this.
Brandon leaves Callie, stumbling away to collect himself. Overcome with emotion, his gaze is drawn to a squat, nondescript building. He immediately realizes that this squat, nondescript building deeply resembles his inner pain (so squat! no nondescript!).
Oh no, wait. I’ve misinterpreted this moment.
He’s looking at the Christmas lights on the tree outside the building, and so we flash back to… laaaaast Christmas, he gave Callie his heart and the very next day she gave it away…
I know from Pretty Little Liars that ABCFamily shows’ timelines can get a little screwy, so I appreciate the attempt to preserve The Fosters’ timeline by flashing back to last Christmas, rather than having this episode float weirdly in time and space. Inevitably, ‘Christmas Past’ does have the quality of a tie-in novel, where Buffy and the Scooby Gang fight demons… but nothing else really happens, simply because it exists outside the scope of the show.
(Yeah, I used to read Buffy tie-in novels. Time well spent! I could have been curing cancer, but those mediocre tie-in novels won’t read themselves! Side note: I’d read a mediocre Fosters tie-in novel… On second thought, maybe not.)
Anyway, by existing at a set point in the canon (post-#1.21, Adoption Day), this episode does fill in some of the blanks of Brandon and Callie’s 2A storyline, as well as laying the groundwork for Stef and Lena’s marital problems and Jude’s selective mutism. It’s elegantly done and more satisfying than your average out-of-scope episode.
Although, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out one glaring omission: Lena was pregnant at this point in the timeline, yet we don’t hear a peep about it. Oh well, I guess I can’t blame the writers for wanting to gloss over that one. Rest in peace, Frankie.
In this Christmas Past, Stef and Lena are full of the kind of brittle, overzealous holiday cheer that’s bottled and sold wholesale to stressed parents at this time of year.
Stef’s dealing with both the absence of her father and the larger-than-life presence of her mother. Sharon, Stef’s mom, won’t stop throwing money around and talking about ‘attracting abundance’. And, as it turns out, she’s attracted a lot of abundance – she inherited a huge wad of money from Stef’s dad, Frank, who never changed his will after their divorce.
Stef’s simmering resentment (that was rightfully her money, she reasons, and she needs it for her kids) comes to a head at Christmas Eve dinner. A nice meal of lasagne and novelty apparel turns into a heated argument, complete with thong-based metaphors that have the kids squirming in embarrassment.
Sharon’s affronted to learn that Stef and Lena hate the bed she gave them; Lena’s in tears after Stef rebukes her gift of diamond earrings. Finally, the truth comes out: Sharon hasn’t frittered away Frank’s money; she’s invested it in college funds for the kids.
(Do I think this neat little conclusion sliiiightly disregarded the all-too-real financial strain of having five kids and aging parents? Yes. Am I a big Grinch? Also yes.)
While Stef’s mom’s a little too present, Lena’s mom, Dana, is notably absent – she and Lena’s dad are spending the holiday with Nathan, Lena’s half-brother.
So I guess we’ve officially reached the point in the show where characters we never knew existed suddenly get plopped into the canon. Welcome, Nathan! Glad to (sort of) meet you! *party popper*
Actually, this brand new character is potentially interesting: we learn that Lena has never got on with her half-brother (who has a different mother and grew up in a different state), especially after a particularly cataclysmic argument where Nathan called Dana a slur. In this episode, Lena pushes past her bitterness, and finally begins to build bridges, calling Nathan to wish him a Merry Christmas.
However, the détente between Lena and Nathan doesn’t happen until after Lena has unwittingly prodded at an all-too-fresh wound of Jude’s. Lena rants to Stef that, as her half-brother, Nathan isn’t her real brother – and Jude overhears. Despite the blandly-smiling contentment Jude exhibits during tree-dressing and Christmas shopping, it’s clear that he’s torn up over learning that Callie is only his half-sister.
Jude shoplifts an expensive bracelet for Callie. But, after a heart-to-heart with Lena, who emphasises that Callie is still Jude’s real sister (just as Nathan is her real brother), Jude realizes he doesn’t need to win Callie’s love with gifts. He returns the bracelet to the store, where the hipster clerk cuts him a break and offers to let him buy the bracelet for a reduced price.
This is a relatively quiet storyline (Jude’s always are, aren’t they?), but it’s probably my favourite of the episode. Lena never learns of Jude’s shoplifting, but it’s her thoughtful guidance that nudges him back on the right path. Hayden Byerly also plays the scene with the store clerk wonderfully: Jude is such an old soul, super-serious as he nervously returns the stolen bracelet, but Hayden also slips in small moments of childishness (for a second, Jude seems to genuinely believe the bracelet is on sale 60% off) that make Jude seem like such a sweetheart.
Regardless of anything else that happened this episode, I think it’s important to note that my Christmas wish came true, because… Daphne actually got a storyline! (Now if we could just find out where Wyatt was living for the entirety of S2A, or how Timothy felt about Lena losing the baby, then my weird obsession with Fosters secondary characters would finally be satisfied.)
Daphne has been working hard at Magritte’s Burger Stand, staying on the straight and narrow, but she still isn’t even allowed visitation with her young daughter, Tasha. Frustrated, Daphne has taken matters into her own hands. She sneaked a look at Tasha’s file on her social worker’s desk and found out the address of her foster carers. She has since been hanging around the park nearby, to get a glimpse of Tasha.
However, when Tasha is left unattended in the park, a glimpse is no longer enough for Daphne – and she abducts Tasha. Daphne, immediately regretting the decision, calls Callie for help. Callie shows up with Brandon in tow, and the three of them run through their options. They decide there’s nothing to do but take Tasha back to her foster carers’ house. Which they do. And it’s all fine.
This whole subplot is honestly a bit of a misfire. There seem to be minimal consequences to what is basically CHILD ABDUCTION. There are no cops at Tasha’s house. No cops at the burger stand. I guess the cops in San Diego don’t work holidays. This brings me to my idea for a new San Diego tourism campaign…
Come to San Diego! No one will arrest you if you steal a child! Stealing a bracelet is also fine! Crime is awesome! Merry Christmas!
While all this bracelet theft and child abduction is going on, the Adams Fosters’ neighbourhood is also hit by some inflatable snowman murder. Jesus is competing with his neighbour to win best-decorated house, but local kids are stealing decorations and wreaking havoc.
Jesus enlists Mariana’s help to turn the house into a winter horrorshow wonderland, and he even camps outside in order to better protect his decorations. But no Christmas-themed episode would be complete without a grumpy old neighbour who turns out to have a sad story and a heart of gold.
After having a heart-to-heart with his own grumpy old neighbour – who has won best-decorated house three years in a row – Jesus decides to let the old man have the prize.
I’ll continue to do my song and dance routine about how Cierra Ramirez is an amazing comic actress and I wish she got more comic scenes to do. She shines at every opportunity here, humorously negotiating terms for helping Jesus, before putting in a tearful performance as she recalls painful holidays spent with Ana.
However, in general, this Mariana-Jesus subplot feels underplayed. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have seen Mariana directing the construction of this Christmas-themed monstrosity of a display. A missed opportunity for comic greatness.
Well, that didn’t last long.
This episode’s flashbacks find Brandon and Callie spending more time together than at any point in S2A: they go Christmas shopping together (with Jude); they work together to bail Daphne out of trouble; and, when Brandon’s deep in a Joni Mitchell sort of funk on Christmas Day, Callie’s the one to pull him out.
Callie called Brandon her best friend in the previous episode, but S2A really saw more bickering and sorrowful/subtextual conversations from them than actual friendship. So it was nice to see the two of them as honest-to-god friends here. However, their dynamic in this episode is also rife with subtext. While Brandon as we saw him in #2.01 seemed defeated, hollowly observing Callie’s relationship with Wyatt without comment, when we see him here (a couple of months beforehand?) he’s noticeably… flirty.
Brandon draws Callie into a conversation about what type of jewelry she likes, even though he isn’t her Secret Santa. Then he suggests a kitchen table is the gift for her. If that reference to their conversation about independent living (together) wasn’t anvil-sized enough, he explicitly brings up how “comfy” the floor was when they were rolling around on it together.
This is not the Brandon we saw in S2A, who seemed to be continually checking himself around Callie. This is a Brandon who wants her attention; he wants an affirmation that, yes, their relationship happened, and, yes, they both felt it. Callie doesn’t rise to the bait, shutting down the conversation, but look at her reaction. Look at it!
Later, Callie re-establishes what the stakes are for her. It’s kitchen table (romantic relationship with Brandon) vs. people to sit around that kitchen table. And she’s chosen the latter. In the present day, we see her waver on that decision. Her motivations for kissing Brandon are clearly muddy: “I’m not getting adopted,” she almost snarls, followed up, softly softly, with, “I love you, Brandon… I love you.”
It’s what Brandon’s been waiting to hear, isn’t it? Maybe the Brandon out Christmas shopping with Callie would have kissed her back. But this is a different Brandon. And this Brandon’s remembering a pinkie-swear that he and Callie made on Christmas Day. In flashback, we see them swear they won’t let each other give up on their dreams. Callie won’t let Brandon give up on piano and, implicitly, Brandon won’t let Callie give up on getting adopted.
I saw a criticism of Brandon and Callie recently that stuck with me. The criticism was: they’re in such different emotional places. Indeed, we saw two very different emotional trajectories for Brandon and Callie in S2A. Callie began to open herself up, dealing with the emotional wounds of her rape, and, prompted by her therapist, learning to trust herself. Brandon, meanwhile, was healing as well, but healing differently; there was a sense at the end of the season that he had begun to harden his shell, protect himself from further pain by taking his heart off his sleeve.
Ironically, at the moment when Callie’s ready to show her feelings and open herself up, Brandon has begun to close up. So, yes, Callie and Brandon are in different emotional places, but I don’t find that disconnect a cause for criticism – I find it a compelling reason to keep watching.
The episode ends with Callie and Brandon hearing sirens. For regular people, sirens are cause for mild concern, milder curiosity. They usually belong to someone else. But, for Callie – magnet for bad luck; the girl whose life has been shaped by emergency rooms and jail cells – sirens are calamitous. She starts running toward the sirens.
And, indeed, they belong to her. She’s going to have to face up to the earth-shattering consequences of what she said to Sophia.
Other notes and sundry:
Timothy sightings: 0. I bet Timothy spent Christmas helping orphans in Africa before composing a sonata for the sitar and polishing his latest literary masterpiece.
Line of the episode: When Mariana complains that Jesus’s present to her last year was a vibrating toothbrush from the 99 cent store, Brandon cuts in with, “Are you sure it was a toothbrush, though?”
Gift round up:
Callie gave Brandon: a cheesy piano tie… and a metronome
Jude gave Callie: a bracelet
Lena gave Stef: diamond earrings
Jesus gave Mariana: cash
Sharon gave Stef: new underwear (lolololol)
Wyatt gave Callie: HIS MEMORIES (a.k.a. the mural he punched out of the wall of his childhood home)
Callie gave Daphne: a wind-up dog (“I thought this could help you get over your fear of little dogs”)
Not that I’m obsessive, but I would like to know what Mariana, Stef and Brandon gave for Secret Santa.
Christmas with the other Foster: I guess we have to assume that Mike spent this holiday with Dani, probably eating nut roast and salad washed in the tears of underaged boys. Creepy.
Take note, canon addicts: I’m not sure we knew before this episode which neighbourhood in San Diego the Adams Fosters live in, but it appears to be Mission Beach. We also find out that Stef’s maiden name was Cooper. So now you know.
This episode’s wardrobe notes belong to Stef and Lena with their matching pajamas, embroidered with Mom and Mama.
It’s hard to do my usual, obsessive colour analysis of people’s outfits this episode, since the whole gang mostly dressed in festive red and green. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brandon’s horror of a paisley-patterned maroon shirt (which he wears with a waistcoat, good lord).
We already know that, sometime around the time he started falling for Callie, Brandon went to Men’s Wearhouse and said, “Give me all your most depressing dark red shirts! From burgundy to maroon to carmine, give them all to me! I want to permanently dress like my heart is bleeding out of my chest!” But really, the combination of maroon and a hideous pattern is a new low. Styling misery-o-meter: 10, code maroon.
Sticking with Brandon and Callie wardrobe subtext: PANDA SHIRT KLAXON! In one brief scene, while talking to Daphne, Callie wears the infamous panda shirt that she wore when she and Brandon were rolling around on the “surprisingly comfy” floor in S1. I’m not saying this is a sign that Callie still spends all her time wanting to make out with Brandon, but… *whispers* yeah, I’m saying exactly that.
What do you think? Did you buy that Brandon would be so quick to push Callie away? Do you think we’ll get to meet Lena’s mysterious brother? Are you planning a crime spree in San Diego? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.