The Adams Fosters go camping! Stef and Lena want the kids to actually experience something, “without tweeting or twerking about it”.
And, oh, the family experiences something, alright – but more time is spent spilling secrets and unloading built-up resentments than singing Kumbaya around a camp fire.
The Stef and Lena storyline has been in an odd place since the death of Frankie: there’s been a lot of sniping over nothing; a lot of arguments that simply faded away, rather than being resolved. Realistic? Sure. Scintillating TV? Not so much.
This episode, however, actually manages to dig into some of their marital issues in a meaningful way: a casual comment by Stef about how Lena always wants to be “nice mom” snowballs over the course of their camping trip.
Despite the self-evident fact that Stef is usually bad cop and Lena is invariably good cop, Lena is offended – and she sets out to prove Stef wrong. When Jesus spills the beans to her about Ana’s pregnancy (knowing “nice mom” won’t punish him for going to the AA meeting without permission), Lena orchestrates a do-over: Jesus will tell Stef; Lena will play ignorant and put on a good show of being tough.
Of course, it doesn’t go according to plan. Stef freaks out about the pregnancy – her mind, like mine, is a continual, rolling capslock of IT’S NOT MIKE’S BABY, RIGHT? – and Jesus can’t keep a secret for more than five minutes. His lack of discretion extends to his Hayley tattoo – a secret which finally sees the light of day.
Secrets laid bare, Lena and Stef finally have a real, long-overdue argument. Stef reveals that she thinks Lena’s too easy on the kids, and she’s sick of playing the “disciplinarian dad”. Lena tells Stef that her intensity intimidates the kids and she needs to work on being softer.
It’s one of those arguments that exists on two levels: it feels true to these two characters (Stef, the cop, raised by a man who prided himself on being tough; hippy Lena, with her PhD in nurturing and buzzwords), but it also taps into a wider issue about parenting. I also can’t help but pump the air a little (mini air pump…?), because… Lesbians! On ABCFamily! Talking about family dynamics! Using the word “heteronormative”! Yessss.
While Stef and Lena are hashing out their issues, Jesus finally gets rid of the biggest issue in his life: Hayley. Stalker in training Hayley decides to “surprise” Jesus at the campsite and – following a comedy of errors where Jesus and Brandon get lost in the dark, looking for her – she becomes an unwelcome guest on the camping trip. However, in a stunning moment of almost-maturity, Jesus breaks up with her, telling her that he doesn’t like the person he becomes when he’s around her.
Unfortunately for Mariana, a scorned Hayley is a scary beast indeed. Hayley, the newest recruit to Mariana’s rival dance team, goes running back to the Heathers – and, the kicker is, she now has inside knowledge of the super-secret dystopian robot dance that Mariana and Tia have devised.
(Thanks, show, for making me type the words “dystopian robot dance”. Ugh, this excitement-free subplot makes me feel like I’m stuck in a dancing robot dystopia.)
Hurricane Hayley also manages to tell Mariana about Ana’s pregnancy in the least sensitive way possible. Mariana is, of course, devastated at the prospect of another unwanted baby being forced to go through what she went through.
While Stef’s keen to make sure none of her kids get eaten by bears and Jesus is escaping the HayleyBeast, Callie and Brandon are dealing with the elephant in the
woods room. Namely, how exactly can they relate to each other in this new and awkward phase of their relationship?
Now that Brandon and Lou are dating, it comes with the inevitability of Callie interrupting their makeout sessions. When she does just this, Brandon is so embarrassed that he can barely bring himself to talk about it. The awkwardness is hardly abated when, during a camp fire singalong, Mariana requests Brandon play “that song you wrote for Lou” – meaning, of course, the song he wrote for Callie, ‘Outlaws’.
Finally, in the quiet of nature, the two of them try and work through some of the weirdness of what they’re dealing with. Brandon reveals how hard it was for him to see Callie and Wyatt together, how he doesn’t want to rub his relationship with Lou in Callie’s face. Callie wants to make it clear that she’s not “pining” after Brandon – she just wants things to return to normal.
It’s hard to get a read on Callie in this scene, and it’s difficult to understand exactly what sort of ‘normal’ they should be returning to. The ‘normal’ of her first few weeks in the Fosters’ home, when she really was pining for Brandon? The ‘normal’ of her post-Padre return to the house, following their Iloveyou-filled breakup? The ‘normal’ of the last few months, when (if we’re to believe what she said at the fundraiser) she was still in love with Brandon, but keeping her distance to preserve her place in the family?
I guess we’re supposed to interpret this conversation as Brandon and Callie trying to reset their friendship. But when, exactly, in their fraught and tortured relationship, were they ever just friends? It’s always been a friendship with an asterisk.
There’s also a lot of doublespeak going on here. “Just be honest, Brandon,” Callie implores him… while being conspicuously lacking in honesty herself. “You don’t know what I’m feeling,” she says… and then doesn’t make it clear what she’s feeling. When she says “I’m not pining after you”, it’s hard to take her seriously, so soon after she told Brandon she was still in love with him.
Brandon, also, for all he spends the conversation talking (at Callie’s coaxing) about how pretty and sexy he finds Lou, looks haunted to the point of desperation throughout.
Check out the body language mirroring, too:
(Isn’t it cute how I didn’t think I would have to do #BrallieSubtextWatch this season? And then this turns out to be the subtextiest season yet? I have literally no idea what’s going on in this scene, but it’s at least three layers deep and I’m exhausted.)
I’ll admit to being mildly disappointed that this episode wasn’t just 42 minutes of references to the show’s last camping trip, the fateful seventh-grade camping trip where Jude and Connor shared a tent.
I wanted long montages of Jude staring into middle distance, thinking about Connor; meaningful comments left dangling as Jude says, “you know, the last time I made s’mores…” followed by a big, significant-sounding sigh.
Oh, well. That didn’t happen.
Jude does make one reference to The Fateful Camping Trip Of Yore: “I had fun on my seventh grade trip,” he says mildly. “Mostly.”
Mostly. MOSTLY. M………..osTLY.
On the bright side, this was a great Jude episode.
Due to the undeniable power of Cute Teenage Boys, I recently found out that there’s a neat playlist of just the Jude/Connor scenes of The Fosters on YouTube. I watched the first few minutes of it (for science, etc.) and what struck me is how overbearing Callie seems, when taken out of context.
In the wider context, of course, the incredible love that Callie feels for Jude is very clear and theirs has always struck me as the strongest bond on the whole show. But, nonetheless, her early scenes with Jude are characterized by an unpleasant domineering quality: she tells him what to do, how to act, how to be.
Much of this is broadly good advice – a boy wearing nail polish is a target for getting beaten up; better instead to keep your head down – but it also visibly stifles Jude. After all, he is the boy who’s been forced to downplay who he is for so very long. It must also be galling for Jude that Callie rarely follows her own advice – she never keeps her head down; she always rocks the boat.
The slowburn of Jude’s resentment towards Callie finally comes to the surface in ‘Mother Nature’. Jude just wants to do what the others are doing, but Callie and the rest are continually babying him. Don’t go too deep in the water, Callie cautions. Don’t get too close to the fire, Brandon cautions. Even the way Stef calls him “baby” seems to rankle. He’s not a baby! He’s thirteen years old and he can look after himself!
He finally calls out Callie on her domineering behaviour and, although it’s not a blow-out argument (Jesus and Mariana cause more of a ruckus on a daily basis), the moment has weight. Every time Jude raises his voice, in fact, it has weight.
This is Jude finally breaking out of his pattern of downplaying every emotion, keeping his head down and not upsetting anyone. This is Jude finally feeling comfortable enough to rock the boat; secure enough that his family won’t disown him if he contradicts them. This is Jude finally coming into his own.
I can’t wait to see how this new Jude, this Jude who is more willing to stand up for himself, reacts to the other overbearing presence in his life: Connor.
Other notes and sundry:
Big sigh of relief: THE BABY’S NOT MIKE’S. Well, thank God.
Dude, that’s my sperm (redux): Never forget that I successfully predicted that Timothy would be the donor for Lena’s baby. So now, drunk on power, I’m tempted to predict that Timothy is also Ana’s babydaddy. Maybe every baby born in San Diego has Timothy as a father. MAYBE. You’ve gotta admit, those are great genes to have. (He plays the sitar!)
S’mores with a side of pretension: In teaching Jude how to make the perfect s’more, Brandon uses “architect” as a verb. What a pretentious asshole. I love him.
Okay, princess: I love it when Lena’s upper-middle-class roots come through – however buried beneath her Earth Mother, hippy-dippy exterior they may be. When Jesus protests that he got the tattoo to show Hayley he liked her, she snaps, “That’s what jewelry is for!”
Jude, who generally dresses in green, spends most of this episode in orangeish-red. Is Jude wearing brighter colours a sign of his growing confidence?
Callie continues her trend of wearing pink when she’s trying to be ‘the good daughter’, fitting in with family life:
Brandon’s wardrobe is kind of freaking me out this season. He wears GREEN this episode – he never wears green! He’s also suddenly wearing a lot of sports-themed t-shirts. What’s up with that? Has Brandon ever even been to a football game?
What do you think? What other sociology buzzwords should Lena use in future episodes? What’s going on with Brandon and Callie? WHY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT ANYTHING EXCEPT JUDE AND CONNOR TOUCHING PINKIES IN THE PROMO? *ahem*