Friday, August 11, 2017

Review: The Fosters 5x05 "Telling"

I have been reviewing The Fosters since its premiere in June, 2013.  In February of this year, Tara joined me, sharing her thoughts on scenes involving Jesus, because like him, she also survived a brain injury at age 16. Last month, Tara and I started reviewing the show again, as it came back to start its fifth season.  Since Jesus's brain injury, we have noticed a disturbing amount of ableism being perpetuated each week.
"Telling", which aired on Tuesday of this week, surpassed any previous level of ableism by leaps and bounds.  But unlike conversations about such media as "Me Before You" and "Everything, Everything" we struggle to find anyone else who is discussing the harmful depiction of brain injury survivors on The Fosters.  Which is why Tara and I agreed after finishing this review last night, that we would share it here.
Because media is important.  Media teaches people how to treat those they might have limited contact with.  Please take some time to read, and let's talk about this:


Stef: Speaking of hostile, you’re the one that practically bit [the neighbor’s] head off when she brought up that Educational Plan thingy for Jesus.  How is he today, anyway?
Tonia:  I’m glad you are still thinking about the Educational Plan thingy, Stef.  That’s something.
Lena: Oh, he’s hardly gotten out of bed.  I think these new meds are wiping him out.  I think he’s a little depressed.
Tonia:  Also glad to see that Jesus did get new meds.  My gut says he needs time to adjust to them.  Tara?  Your take?
Tara: There are a lot of things at play here.  I think Lena’s assessment is accurate.
Stef: I’m sure he is!  Stuck in this house all day…which is why we’re sure as hell not gonna let him drop out of school. 
Tonia:  It’s good to see that Stef is sympathetic to what Jesus is going through, but the entire school re-entry conversation was really poorly handled.
Tara:  Yes, where is the follow-up conversation?  I would love to see it.
Lena:  There’s no point in pushing back on that until we know he is well enough to GO back.   And I really think that messing with his meds is gonna do more harm than good…
Tonia:  So….Moms didn’t talk to Jesus’s doctor about him being able to go back to school?  But, Stef and Lena told him in 5x03 that they needed to talk to his doctor before they would know for sure if he could go back.  So, what’s the excuse now?  They cannot keep him in the house indefinitely, until he magically transforms back into “their sweet boy” who they seem to think is missing…
And “messing with his meds” was necessary.  The anti-seizure medication Jesus was taking before was making him depressed and suicidal because of one of its (fabricated) side-effects.  He needed to change his medication.  If the doctor didn’t think it was necessary, he would not have done it.
Tara: ^Preach
Stef: The doctor said it’s gonna take some time–
Lena: He also said they know very little about the brain.  I’ve been looking into homeopathic remedies and talking to some other moms online.  One of them put her son on a gluten free diet to help with inflammation.
Tonia:  You know who should be present for these conversations?  Jesus.  And I doubt very much that a kid who loves food as much as he does is gonna be on board with a gluten free diet…
Tara:  Right, and as [another disabled fan] has said, when you factor in how heavily restricted Jesus already is?  How little control he currently has over anything in his life?  Restricting his diet would be especially cruel.
Stef: Do you really think it’s that easy, Lena?
Lena: Well, I think it’s worth a try!  And I also found this neurologist in Los Angeles who’s doing clinical trials with electrical current to help stimulate the brain.
Stef: You mean like SHOCK TREATMENT?!  No.
Lena: No!  It’s like a low-targeted current.  
Stef: Still.  It sounds scary, Lena.  No.
Lena: Could you just not say no to everything?  We need to advocate for our son here.  We can’t just take Dr. Danville’s word for everything.
Tonia:  There aren’t words to describe how disturbed this exchange, in particular, made me.  Because it’s clear to me that Lena is not coping.  She is not able to accept Jesus as the person he is, brain injury included.  It’s this mindset - this complete lack of acceptance - that is causing her to look at shock treatment as a possible option.  She even rationalizes it to Stef by saying it’s a ‘low-targeted current.’  
This is not a treatment or a cure, nor should it ever be framed as such.  This is a parent discussing frankly on TV, the possibility of torturing her child.
If this were Jude, and Lena suggested shock therapy for him on a network show, geared toward teens and young adults?  There would be outrage (and rightly so.)  Because being gay is not something that requires a cure.  It’s not something that justifies pitching torture as a possible solution.  Because being gay is a part of Jude’s identity.  Because the thing that Jude needs the most is love.  He needs acceptance.  He needs connection to his community.  He needs to be educated.  And he is.  He has all of those things.
It is the same for Jesus.  His brain injury is not something that needs to be cured.
And he needs all of those things.  
But he doesn’t have them right now.  Any of them.
No amount of torturing a minor with shock therapy is going to reverse brain damage.  But it will do more damage to his brain.  And it will do untold amounts of psychological damage to him if Jesus ever finds out his mom is seriously thinking about getting him into a clinical trial for shock therapy.
How about, instead of talking to the other moms, Lena talks to other brain injury survivors?  To learn what helped them?  Or maybe, what they wish they’d had?  
I can guarantee you, as somebody who lives with a disability myself, the most helpful thing I can receive from people around me is love.  It’s acceptance. It’s connection to my community and it’s education about any and everything. Love and acceptance for all of me.  Not in spite of my Cerebral Palsy.  With it, because it is a significant part of what makes me who I am.  If disability is framed as part of a child’s identity, it will help the child accept themselves, and it will show the parents (and the audience) that disability is not The Worst Thing Ever.  It is not bad or scary.  It may take some time to adjust to.  Needing time is okay.
Looking into torturous “cures”?  Not okay.
 I’ve never been more glad to hear Stef say no, repeatedly, to something, before.  But honestly, this conversation is so damaging.  It should have never happened in this episode.
I hope Stef never stops saying no to this.  Jesus needs a parent who will truly advocate for him.  Lena is advocating for herself right now, and that is just plain dangerous.  Especially when it involves a plan that will explicitly do harm to her child.
Tara: I’m curious as to what this clinical trial will “stimulate the brain” to do?  Seems like a throwaway term to entice despairing parents.  
It feels as though Lena is grasping at straws here.  She is desperate to heal Jesus, looking for a cure.  I wish instead she would focus on her son as a whole person.
Jesus:  So, Brandon and I are good.  I just wish I could’ve been there for you.  And that’s not me saying what I think you wanna hear.  That’s the truth.  I promise. 
Emma: Thank you.  I miss you at school.  Do you know when you’re coming back?  
Jesus:  I’m not.  I’m gonna get my GED and I’m gonna start working construction with Gabe.  
Emma:  You’re dropping out of school?
Tonia:  I was encouraged to see that Jesus was actually out of bed and talking to Emma.  
Lena:  He’s barely gotten out of bed all day!
Dr. Danville: Let’s try increasing the dosage.
Lena:  How will giving him MORE medication DECREASE his side effects?
Tonia:  I feel like a phone call is jumping the gun here?  Especially as what we have seen of Jesus so far was him not in bed, asleep, but up talking to Emma.  He seems quiet and low energy, but not dangerously depressed at this point by any means…  
When your recovering from a brain injury, you need a lot of sleep. (Ask Tara.)
I get the feeling that a phone call like this (with Dr. Danville giving advice that doesn’t seem sound) is only meant to make Lena’s shock treatment clinical trial feel like a valid option.  When it, in fact, never was, and never will be.
Tara: We see Lena trying to advocate for Jesus’s needs here.  She is completely within her rights to come to the doctor with new or worsening side effects.  This is what she should have been doing last season when she learned of Jesus’s other “side effects.”
She is clearly frustrated by the wait-and-see approach of med adjustment, and seems to need a “quick fix” of sorts.
Mariana:  We should get going if we wanna make that movie!
Jesus: Oh.  Can I go?
Mariana: No!  I mean, you’re not allowed, right?
Jesus: Yeah, but it’s just a movie.
Mariana: It’s a chick-flick!  You don’t like chick-flicks!
Jesus: I don’t really care.  I just gotta get out of this house.  [To Moms]  Come on.  I’ll be sitting down the WHOLE time.  Please.
Lena: Okay.
Tonia:  Having a brain injury or disability doesn’t mean you are required to stay at home indefinitely.  At this point, I’m hard pressed to remember anywhere he’s gone post-injury other than to school for a meeting, and an event, and to the doctor, at least twice.
Tara: Presuming he can’t go to a movie because he has a brain injury? This is maddening. (So is using your brother’s TBI as an excuse so that he will not be your third wheel.)
Mariana:  You CAN’T come with us, Jesus!
Jesus: Yes, I can.  Moms JUST said!
Mariana:  Okay.  Look.  We’re not going to a movie.  We’re going to a party.
Jesus:  Killer!  Even better!
Mariana: You can’t go to a party, Jesus!
Jesus: Okay.  Well, then, neither can you.  Or I’ll tell.
Tonia:  There is something called Dignity of Risk.  It means to respect a disabled person’s autonomy in making choices for themselves.  Jesus deserves the dignity of risk here.  His brain injury does not take away his right to self-determination, and to do something that could be risky if he wants to.  He is still a teenager.  And teenagers go to parties.  Teenagers with disabilities go to parties.
Tara: YES. There is a difference between going to a party and going to a brawl. Let him choose this.

Jesus:  This is SICK!
Mariana:  Hey.  You.  No dancing.  No drinking.  Just find a place to sit.  And watch.
Jesus: [shakes his head no]
Tonia:  I understand telling your twin don’t drink, but to tell him not to dance at a party?  The implication here seems to be that dancing will bring on a seizure.  But Tara, you were on anti-seizure meds for a year and no one told you not to dance, right?  (Not that you ever had the extra energy to do such a thing, LOL.)  Please share your thoughts.  I’m so curious…
Tara: I was on anti-seizure meds for a year. No one ever cautioned me not to dance. My parents drove me to a graduation party after a day in the ER five months post-injury.  I was encouraged toward activity (as tolerated), not away from it, as a means of promoting healing and social interaction.
And Mariana, your brother remains the same age as you. Kindly stop talking down to him. Thanks.
Tess:  You’re in touch with the birth parents!
Stef: Yep!  Every single one of them!  It’s fine, they just come with a lot of baggage…
Lena: They can also be quite helpful at times.  Gabe is building a treehouse with Jesus for a school project.
Tess: Oh!  Jesus is back in school?
Lena: Not yet…
Tonia:  Are we still telling that lie, Lena?  The treehouse isn’t even for Jesus’s school project, because the new principal decided after meeting Jesus one time that he wouldn’t be a senior next year.  And he approved the project for Mariana.  Jesus and Gabe are working on Mariana’s school project.  No school in sight for Jesus, because getting a GED is apparently not a valid option either…
And it irks me that Gabe and Ana “come with baggage” but Robert is actively sought after when Callie becomes “too much” to handle…

Poppy:  Do you wanna dance?
Mariana:  No!  He doesn’t!  He can’t.
Jesus:  Yeah, no, I got a concussion a little while ago, so I gotta take it easy.  But I’ll watch YOU dance!
Poppy: [smiles]  Why DON’T you?
Tonia:  There’s that pesky dancing again.  Can’t let the brain-injured kid do that. <– Sarcasm  
But I did love how Jesus handled that, sharing only what he was comfortable with.  He even made it sound like watching Poppy dance was something he got to do, so she was not insulted, and he was empowered.
Tara: To be clear, Mariana, Jesus can dance.  I know you’re scared, but stop micromanaging him.
Callie: So, you came with Logan?
Mariana:  …And Jesus…
Mariana: He made me!  Don’t worry.  He’s not gonna dance, all right?
Callie:  You sure about that?  
[Callie and Mariana spot Jesus dancing with Poppy.]
Mariana: I’m gonna kill him.
Tonia:  Okay but why is it such a shock that Jesus is at a party?  Because he is disabled?  (Also, the way they keep saying ‘brought Jesus’ makes him sound like a pet…)
Tara: Yes, Callie. I’m shocked to see Jesus out in public too.  But he only has a brain injury - he is not dead. ;)  He is still plenty able to attend parties and even (gasp) dance.
For the record? None of the triggers of neuroinflammation listed in this article include dancing.  Many articles I’ve read actually encourage dance to promote healing after a TBI.
I would see dancing in this context to be more of a concern if Jesus’s balance continued to be affected, but as he has made a near-miraculous physical recovery, I do not think this level of panic is warranted.
Callie [to Mariana]:  I can’t believe you brought him!
Jesus [to Callie]:  What are YOU doing here?
Mariana:  Jesus!  You can’t SCRAMBLE your BRAIN like that!
Tonia:  Mariana needs to stop perpetuating this nonsense that dancing is going to scramble Jesus’s brain…  Dancing is not nearly as dangerous as…oh, I don’t know…shock therapy…
Tara: Seriously.

Callie [to Mariana]: What are you doing?
Jesus: I think she’s trying to stop you from seeing that [video of Mariana practicing with the roller derby team]
Callie: Did you know about this?
Jesus: No.
Tonia:  Two blessed seconds where Jesus is treated like a human being by a family member.  Hallelujah.  (I’ll take anything at this point.  Really.)

Tess:  So, I feel like I overstepped.  When you had us over.  About Jesus’s situation.  And I want to apologize.
Lena: There’s really no need.  
Tess:  If there’s anything I can do…
Lena: No.  But I appreciate that.  Honestly, I don’t know WHAT to do.  His doctor doesn’t.  He’s not very reassuring.  He’s got Jesus on all these meds.  What do YOU think about a gluten free diet to help reduce inflammation?
Tess: Well I think it’s a great idea.  I’m a big believer in a more holistic approach to healing.
Lena: I’ve been trying to get him in to see this specialist in LA.  Dr. Rundle.  He doesn’t have any openings for a year.  
Tess: DALE Rundle?
Lena: Yeah.
Tess: He and I went to John’s Hopkins together.  I can totally put in a call.
Tess: Mm-hmm.  Absolutely.  What are friends for, right?
Lena: Thank you!
Tonia:  So, in this edition of What World Am I In Right Now?  
Tess is apologizing for ‘overstepping’ (which is apparently what it’s called when you suggest a 16 year old, months post brain injury, bored at home, and expressing an interest in going back to school should go back to school.
Lena is seeking medical advice for her son who has a brain injury from an orthopedic surgeon.
Lena is talking at length with their new neighbor about possible treatment options for Jesus.  And who is completely out of the loop about this?  The person it directly concerns: Jesus.  At 16, he is definitely old enough to weigh in on these conversations (like does he even want to go gluten free?)
And just a reminder?  That ‘specialist’ Lena is talking about in LA?  Dr. Rundle?  Is the same one running the freaking shock therapy clinical trial!  Lena is not only disregarding Stef’s no (twice) on this, but she’s bringing it up to the well-to-do neighbor, who likely has no idea (God I hope she doesn’t…) that Dr. Rundle wants to shock Jesus’s brain.  
This episode (and in particular, this aspect of this episode) made me feel nauseous.  Disabled people are still subjected to shock therapy today.  It is not as old-timey as you might think.  This is reality for us.  
This episode made me afraid of things I did not even know to fear.  I never imagined this would be discussed (not once, but twice) on screen, rationalized, and encouraged as a valid ‘treatment option.’
(And the idea that dancing is what is being pushed as the dangerous thing here, and Mariana’s being painted as the bad girl for ‘bringing Jesus’ to a party while Lena is at home legitimately talking about ways to make the year-long wait to go faster so she can go get her son’s brain shocked is just ludicrous to me.)
Tara: Again, for the people in the back: ECT (or the low targeted current that Lena speaks of) is the same treatment that is used in conversion therapy for gay people.  It is to be used as a last-resort method, as ECT can result in permanent memory loss.

Mariana:  Where the hell is Logan?  Should I call him?
Jesus: No, Mariana…relax.  We…parked…really… [Jesus stops talking.  He’s having what appears to be an absence seizure.]
Mariana: Jesus?  One-Mississippi.  Two-Mississippi.  Three-Mississippi.  Four-Mississippi.  Five-Mississippi.  Six–
Jesus: …Why…are you…counting?
Mariana: Moms told me to time your seizures!
 Jesus:  …What?  …Where are we?
Mariana: Um…  Okay.  We just left a party that you blackmailed your way into.  We need to get you home!  Moms are gonna freak!
Tonia:  Mariana handled this really well.  She recognized the seizure.  She timed the seizure, just like she knew she needed to.  And she answered Jesus’s questions afterward in a straight forward, honest manner.
I’ve read a review with the title: “Did Mariana Put Jesus in Danger?” and I’ve read a comment about how watching Mariana count during Jesus’s seizure made them think of “how much pressure is on the siblings” because of Jesus’s TBI.
When, honestly, did she do everything right tonight?  No.  But when it counted, she came through.  She did everything that any twin would do to keep their twin safe. So I hate to see her blamed for this.  
And counting during your twin’s medical emergency is basic human stuff.  No, it’s not fun seeing your twin having any kind of crisis, but when your sibling has a disability, you learn on the fly how to adapt for them.  Counting out loud is a small thing.
Tara: I have witnessed a seizure, and they are scary to watch.  Nice job here, Mariana.
Jesus: No.  No!  We cannot…tell them!  They’re never gonna let me out of the…house again!
Mariana: Well, maybe they shouldn’t, Jesus!  With how stupid you’ve been acting tonight!  These are serious things!
Jesus: I’ll tell them about roller derby!
Mariana: Go ahead!  I was gonna tell them about it anyways!
Jesus: Okay!  Well, then, I’ll tell them that you brought me to a…party and let me dance!
Tonia:  Again we have the rationalizing keeping Jesus in the house indefinitely and dancing framed as the culprit.  Does no one remember that he just switched anti seizure meds?  And that he is (presumably) back on ADHD meds as well?  It seems much more plausible that the med adjustment is the cause of the seizure than the dancing.  And not saying so, and perpetuating that Jesus shouldn’t be allowed out ever is just irresponsible.
Tara: Let’s also look at Mariana’s use of the word “stupid” here.  What I saw was Jesus dancing and enjoying himself.  Not drinking.  Not endangering himself or others.  To call his actions stupid is to diminish him in this moment.  To insinuate a lack of intelligence.  It is words like this that hurt the most when you have a brain injury. 
And to say that, because he had a seizure that Mariana presumes happened due to Jesus’s lack of common sense, he should not be allowed out of the house? Let’s just back the overreaction bus up, and calm down.  To be clear, Mariana has every right to be frightened here. But making her brother even more of an invalid is not the answer.
They’re both clearly in survival mode right now, blackmailing each other left and right. :(
Callie: Mariana, you took Jesus to a party and put him in danger because you were so desperate to get a date with Logan.  At least when I lie, it’s to try and help someone!
Tonia:  Also, by piling all the blame for ‘taking Jesus’ to a party on Mariana, it takes away the fact that Jesus made his own decision.  Both Jesus and Mariana are very good at manipulating in order to get their way.  It’s a survival skill both have learned well.  
Jesus wanted to get out of the house.  When he found out Mariana was going to a party, he found a way to come, too.   He did that.  He’s not an infant or a pet. 
Tara: And she did not put him in any danger!
Mariana: Jesus had a seizure last night.
Tonia:  You know I would be the first one to talk about medical privacy issues being breached but this is something Moms needed to know, for Jesus’s safety, and I’m glad Mariana knew that.
Tara: Yes, Mama needed to know this.

Lena:  What the hell were you thinking?  Going to a party?  Trying to hide a seizure from me again?  
Jesus: What are you gonna do?  Are you gonna ground me?  It’s not like I can go anywhere anyway.  
Lena:  Do you know how hard I’m working?  Calling doctors.  Reading up on treatments.  Trying to help YOU get better?  And then YOU go and try to pull something like THIS? So, no, you can’t leave the house.  And no one’s coming over, either.  Including Emma!
Tonia:  Wow…a guilt trip and complete social isolation all in one fell swoop.  
And “something like this” is Jesus going to a party and choosing not to tell Lena about a seizure.  If Lena wants to ground him (and Mariana) for going to a party at a warehouse without her knowledge?  Go for it.  Especially as Mariana lied about where they’d really be.
But to make Jesus’s lecture all about how hard his injury is on Lena and the revoking of Jesus’s single visitor (especially as he is not in school yet) feels like it definitely crosses the line into emotional abuse.
Tara: I don’t know what he was thinking, Lena.  Perhaps that he has been under lock and key for months with not even the social interaction that school provides?  Perhaps that sometimes kids go to parties - even kids with head injuries?
Maybe if you treated him like a human being and not a pile of symptoms to be managed, he would not be so reluctant to tell you about his seizures.
Also, this might come as a shock to you, Lena - but Jesus’s TBI and seizures?  They are not all about you.  And there’s the whole “Getting Better” notion again - how about getting him some counseling? For him and you and Stef to start?  Because you all really need to start communicating again.  
Going to a party is not some slap in the face - it is not some wildly unnecessary risk - it is normal teenage behavior.  
And yeah, restricting Jesus’s only visitor?  So not cool.  Coercive control, anyone?
Jesus:  What?   No!  That is…not fair!
Lena: There are going to be consequences for the behaviors you CAN CONTROL, Jesus!  And lying is one of them!
Tonia:  I love how lying has gone from being dishonest to “a behavior” now that Jesus as a brain injury… <– Sarcasm
Tara: ^Truth
Jesus [grabs his phone off the desk and brings his arm back, ready to throw it, but doesn’t]
Lena:  You throw that–!
Jesus: AND WHAT?
Lena: There are inpatient programs!  Hospitals with intensive behavioral therapy!  YOU continue to act out like this, and that’s exactly where you’re going!
Tonia:  This was the second aspect of the show that made my jaw drop.  Threatening Jesus with institutionalization is so devastating. 
Disabled people have a long history of abuse and institutionalization.  
When we were born, it was still commonplace to institutionalize your disabled babies and children.  The only reason we have the life we do is that our family went against the grain at the time and made the decision to raise us at home.  They wanted us.  They valued us.  So, today, we live on our own (together).  We help each other.  We adapt for each other.  And after watching this?  When we were deeply upset and it had been hours since this scene aired?  We made a promise that we would never institutionalize each other.
Also, Jesus’s biggest fear (we see it in 4x12) is being abandoned.  He and Mariana spent their early years neglected and abandoned by their birth mother.  Lena knows this.  To threaten an adopted child that he will be sent away (and without his twin no less) is just plain wrong.  She has a Ph-D in something child-related.  She and Stef have had to take classes to be foster parents.  They’ve learned about how all these kids come from trauma.  How they will use lying to get what they need or when they feel backed into a corner.  That is not to say, don’t ever punish an adopted kid from a traumatic background for lying, but threatening to institutionalize him if he doesn’t act the way his parents want him to act?  That crosses the line.
People can and do send their kids places when a situation calls for it.  We know that.  But to threaten to send your kid away for having a brain injury?  A kid who’s been neglected and abandoned?  Who was in foster care for years and didn’t have a stable home til he was 8?  He’s only known stability for as many years as he has known instability.  I just can’t wrap my mind around how someone like Lena, with her background, could say this to a child with Jesus’s background?
Tara: Okay, and I have seen many fans state that Jesus is going to throw his phone at Lena.  Having rewatched it, I can confirm this is not the case.  His entire body was facing toward his bed, not Lena.  And when he made to throw the phone, it was toward the bed as well.  (We see him do just this later after hanging up with Emma.)
Who hasn’t thrown their phone on their bed when they’re angry?  (I’ll wait.)
I will not allow the show to frame this as grounds for institutionalization.
Jesus:  So, my mom, like freaked out!  And now you can’t come over AT ALL!  I mean, it’s bullshit!
Emma:  Why?  What happened?
Jesus: I literally just went to a party with Mariana.
Emma: Well…I can understand why they’re upset.  You could’ve gotten hurt.  
Tonia:  OMG Emma!  Again, I say, he is not an infant!  If he wants to take the risk of going to the party and getting grounded, he should be allowed to do that.  Respect him that much at least, please!
Jesus: Can you, like, JUST be on my side?
Emma: No!  Not when you’re going to parties and dropping out of school!  Why are you DOING these stupid things?!
Jesus: You know what?  Maybe it’s a good thing that you can’t come over ‘cause I don’t really wanna see you anyway.
Tonia:  He’s going to parties because he’s a teenager and that’s a thing teenagers do.  He did it all the time pre-TBI and Emma didn’t call him stupid for it then.
And he wants to drop out because it seems like the only option he has to having every single aspect of his life controlled.  He’s trying to take control back with this one thing.  Also Moms took zero action toward actually re-enrolling him and show no inclination to even talk to him about it now.  
What else should he do?
Tara: Why is going to a party stupid?  When you go to a party to dance, Emma, is that stupid? 
Did you even once have a conversation with Jesus to ask him why he is dropping out?  Or did you just assume that his decisions have no merit?  
Listen to yourself and challenge these ableist concepts.

Lena:  If you wanna save all the kids in the world, fine!  But we have a kid here, at home, who’s sick!  And he needs saving, too!  And I feel like I’m the only one who cares!
Stef: I care, too.
Lena: Then why do I feel like I’m in this all by myself?!  You told me when you took this job that you were not going to disappear!  [cries]
Stef [hugs Lena]:  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I’m here.  I’m here.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.
Tonia:  Honestly, the only way Jesus needs saving is from you right now, Lena.  
His brain injury does not make him broken, damaged or “sick.”  He does not need to be fixed.  He needs to be heard.  He needs to be respected.  And accepted.  And loved.  For all of who he is right in this moment, right now.
Also, it hurts my heart that Lena gets hugged and comforted and apologized to repeatedly and assured that she is not alone more than once because while this is happening, Jesus is alone, thinking that one wrong move is gonna get him sent away.
Tara: The use of the word “sick” gives us insight again on Lena’s mindset.  Because when someone is sick, it is for a period of time.  And then, they get well.  Also, contrary to popular belief, TBI and mental illness are not one and the same.
Also, her use of the word “saving” - she is trying with everything in her to keep him safe.  (Misguided though her attempts may be.)  But in doing so, she is causing him harm. :(

Lena [to Jesus]: You know how much we love you, right?
Tonia:  The way Jesus just looks at Lena and Stef.  Sits up and waits for them to speak.  The expression on his face is wary.  He’s afraid.  And then, Lena sits down next to him on the bed and Stef follows suit.  But all we hear is Lena’s question.  We don’t Jesus’s answer.  We don’t even see his face when Moms join him because at this point the scene is being shot from behind.  It’s brutally short and the way it ends feels almost cheap, given the horrendous abuse that was discussed during this hour.  Given that the last interaction Lena and Jesus had on this day ended with her threatening to institutionalize her son if he did not stop ‘acting out.’
Lena, we guarantee you, as disabled adoptees ourselves, Jesus does not know you love him.  Not after how you threatened him, guilt tripped him and pursued a legitimate torture method to cure him (even after Stef said no twice!  Even got a doctor on board without fully informing her why you wanted Jesus on his waiting list in the first place.)
Watching this episode made us seriously question if this was a show we could keep safely watching.  The ableism in this hour was nothing short of terrifying and we do not use that word lightly.  It scares us, as disabled women.  As women who live with different extents and presentations of brain damage and brain injury.  It made us know for sure that The Fosters is no longer a safe place for Jesus.  Or for us.  It was the first time we actually warned fellow disabled fans about the content in advance.
Tara: This scene was the equivalent of a Bandaid covering a bullethole.

For more:  Disability on The Fosters


  1. Hi ladies,
    I don’t follow this show but as a disabled person who creates media I found your review very helpful. The idea that dancing is dangerous pisses me off too. If anybody reading this wants to see a brain injured(has CP) professional dancer watch “Enter The Faun” Dancing is almost the best thing for brain injury! I have to wonder if the “shock treatment” is a reference to a real life thing called a “thalamic stimulator”, the problem is that this device is only for people in comas with no other option, and I think its off limits to people with sezuires, so the writers clearly did not do their homework. If the writers also need or want to keep the scenes with the parents discussing the condition in the episode in some way, they could keep it in and then have a separate scene where they discuss the same stuff with Jesus.

    1. Margot,

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I'm glad you found this helpful. I have seen Enter the Faun before, too, so I know what you mean. It seems clear more research is needed on the part of the writers, and I like your suggestions for including Jesus - there is always a way!

    2. Ohh, you finally saw the full "Enter The Faun" movie? Did you like it???
      Yeah it wouldn't be hard at all to include Jesus and provide some character development through doing that by showing more of his personality and preferences. Another interesting perspective on brain injury is the book "True Strength" by Kevin Sorbo. It kinda explains the use of the word "sick" vs disability as the commenter below mentioned...for him he was constantly dizzy and wanting to throw up as a direct result of 3 strokes so the term "sick" was more appropriate at first... it also explains the fatigue. Sorbo also had sensory overload in movie theaters which is a common stroke thing so the movie theater concern voiced in this "Fosters" episode wasn't totally wrong but they could have just said something as simple as "it may give you sensory overload" to explain the fears but then they could let Jesus go to a movie anyway since most people with these types of injuries need to try things to see if they are actually a problem, and that may have raised awareness of the invisible part of brain injury if it had been done correctly.

    3. I'd seen it a long time ago, actually. And it honestly gives me mixed feelings? I thought it was really cool, but I felt...conflicted about the fact that the very thing that inspired the creation of the character (his unique CP gait) was eventually trained out of him. IDK if that makes any sense...

      Lena's use of the word "sick" is different than somebody with a brain injury choosing the word "sick" to describe themselves, IMO.

      I've not heard of that book, but I'm pretty aware of some of the vestibular symptoms and filtering issues you describe. But being around too much sensory input (while this could contribute to a seizure) isn't like having a seizure in and of itself. Again, a moment where I feel like the mark was missed in the episode. I feel like it's safe enough to perhaps assume his seizure was a result of his recent switch of anti-seizure medication.

      I wish, too, so much, than brain injury portrayal was done correctly. So much less damaging that way.

    4. Hi Tonia,
      I see what you mean about "Enter The Faun" if you watch the scenes closely Gregg and Tamar feel conflicted too. Neither one wanted Gregg's CP gait to disappear as it is part of Gregg's personality and his connection to his body for acting but he needed better alignment for dancing as well as, frankly, pain relief and the change in his gait was pretty accidental especially in the beginning. That's what in my opinion makes the film so honest. (I'm bias since I know them LOL) Do you think you might ever review "Enter The Faun"?

      Read that book!

      Yeah I see what you mean about Jesus using the term vs Lena for sure. I think for someone not familiar with the permanent nature of brain injury(Cerebral Palsy,stroke,TBI) the term "sick" may be kind of reflexive in their mind since a lot of able bodied people equate "disability" with "illness" when in reality it is not the same thing. Yeah sensory input wouldn't cause seizures in and of itself unless the person has photosensitive epilepsy(some movies have flashes people with seizures have to be careful of) or severe sleep deprivation. Another seizure trigger can be low blood sugar but that might only to be true of certain diabetics. I think the dialogue just needs to be improved or they could make a new episode later showing how wrong Lena is and debunking the stuff in this episode as a follow up.

    5. Hey Margot,

      Yeah, it's been a long time (I want to say a few years) since I've seen Enter the Faun so it's hard to remember the nuances. A couple of scenes do stick out in my mind but not much more than that. And I don't think I'd review it honestly. It was interesting to watch once, but not something that really caught my fancy.

      And, not to keep saying no to your recommendations - I do love recommendations) but books about brain injuries can be hard for me to read just due to experience. You never know just how detailed someone is going to get in a book, and it easily could veer into traumatic territory for me.

      Lena has previously exclusively said "He has a TBI" about Jesus. So her use of the word "sick" here was noticed by us because it was so different from language she had previously used about him.

      And as far as I can recall Jesus's seizures seem to be brought on by either medication changes or stress. And as he was just having fun at a party, having fun, we dismissed the possibility of the seizure being caused by stress.

      Somebody sure should debunk this nonsense, and fast!

    6. Hi Tonia,
      No problem. I thought maybe you saw the recent March 2017 PBS airing of "Enter The Faun". My bad!

      As for the Sorbo book "True Strength" it didn't seem to go into trauma territory in my opinion, but there are some detailed descriptions of his dizzy spells. For me these descriptions were helpful when a friend of mine had a similar brain injury that they got dizzy from. Mainly how Sorbo stated how he did not want pity and wanted to handle his symptoms in his own way without being fussed over and how most of his symptoms were entirely invisible to others. His able bodied wife is also totally supportive and is not ableist at all in my opinion, and the book covers the birth of their children, so that was cool. Are there other brain injury books you really loved? Particularly ones about stroke?? Let me know?

      I don't know "Fosters" as a series so I didn't know what Jesus's seizure triggers might be. Was just a theory. That's interesting that her wording changed it may be revealing to how she really feels.

    7. I don't really love any books about brain injury to be honest. Like I said, it's a tough subject for me all around. My favorite book about disability, though is Messenger by Jeni Stepanek. I also love all of her son, Mattie's books. (Both are/were disabled.)

      Yes, it was really a noticeable change. I've been thinking of posting the rest of The Fosters reviews (that relate to this storyline - earlier ones) here. Something you'd be interested in reading? Or not really?

    8. Thanks Tonia! I'll have to look into those books. I will warn you that I'm not into books that 100% advocate "social model of disability" as I have had some really bad experiences with that so I understand you not wanting to read TBI related books.

      Yes, please do post those reviews! I'd love to read them! I'd like to see your thoughts on the other episodes and perhaps a comparison between an older episode and this one, since it really helps me with my disability related film writings to hear your thoughts!!!! I always like to see media discussion on disability. Your "Speechless" reviews are what made me follow this blog regularly. :) I haven't seen "Speechless" in a bit btw, is that between seasons now?

      On a side note, the gluten allergy reference in "Fosters" seems more like the writers were thinking of autism more than TBI with that line. Also when my friend had their brain injury they were not "gone" as some of the lines suggest. Gone is being dead. Not being disabled.

    9. Margot,

      Well, Mattie was a child when he wrote his books, so I don't think his push any particular model of disability and I didn't get that sense from his mom's book either. It was more like, "We are people. Treat us like people." And "health care for kids needs some updating," which are good things, I think.

      I will work on posting some of the others in this arc. Since this is a disability blog, though, I'll probably only go back as far as the onset of Jesus's TBI. I'll make sure and link you so you know where to find it. And...I gave up on Speechless. Not the show for me so I have no idea where they are in it currently.

      Apparently (according to an autistic fan - the one Tara referenced in our review actually) there is some crossover there. (She said: "Moms of autistic kids definitely talk to Moms of kids with brain injuries.") So that could also explain the overlap.

      I know, the whole notion of wanting Jesus "back" is so harmful. He is right there.

    10. Hi Tonia,
      Thanks I’ll look into it. I know “Speechless” was renewed for season 2 but I wasn’t sure if it had started yet. I don’t mind peaking in on “Speechless” now and then but my long term issue with that show was how they would spilt the plot up into 2 subplots that were almost never connected and wasted time on what could have been better episodes by instead having a single plot to deal with for the 22 minutes. Yeah your right. Autism and brain injury share similarities. I noticed the people with autism I know personally had most of the proprioception issues I had from CP. Here’s some interesting films by an autistic film maker if you are interested

      Sounds good to me! I look forward to those reviews! When my friend had their brain injury some ableist people tried to scare me about their injury by saying they were “gone” . I got so pissed! My friend was alive,that was all that mattered.

    11. I mentioned to Tara I wanted to cross post some of our other reviews and she was not comfy with that. But I messaged you on Tumblr and linked you to where they are there. Hope that's okay!

      And that is terrible! There's so much ableism and ignorance around brain injuries, which is why portrayals like The Fosters is doing do not help anything in that regard :(

  2. Hi,
    I know someone with TBI and their is a small period of a few weeks where they were told to rest,as they would tire very quickly and felt weak, but then they became very active again after a month or so. Re: “sick” some brain injuries like the one my friend had are life threatening at the beginning of the recovery and the person does feel “unwell” then later on it just becomes something they grow use to and the language changes to “disability”. The dislike of getting a GED by the parents angers me since I have one! Good review.

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Yes, that's why we said that Jesus's low energy etc seemed typical, because that is how it seemed to us. But I have never heard of anyone with a brain injury referring to themselves as "sick" before, so Lena's word choice stuck out to me there.