Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: The Fosters 5x09 Prom

It’s the last twin recap of The Fosters 5A.  Honestly, this could not have come fast enough, and neither could the news that “ There’s been some response from people in the disabled community about how we have talked about Jesus and that has really informed how we’re talking about him in the next season, how we have structured his story in the next season,” according to Peter Paige.  

Tara and I are both cautiously optimistic that the change we have seen in the last 24-48 hours with regard to how the writers are discussing Jesus in interviews will translate to the writer’s room, and indicate a more respectful portrayal is on the horizon for 5B…


Tonia: Well, this is just devastating.  I hate it because it just reeks of manipulation to me.  Whether he intended it to come off that way, I don’t know.  But for Gabe to disappear and tell Jesus he needs to go back to school and that “maybe when he’s a senior” they can finish the treehouse?  When nobody even talked to Jesus about any of it?  It’s yet another adult attempting to coercively control Jesus and get him to do what they want.  (Gabe and Moms.)
Tara: The letter, while not overtly negative, does nothing to fill the empty space left by Gabe.  Tonia speaks a lot about abandonment being Jesus’s worst fear, and now Moms are actively engineering it to happen?  
This feels like punishment for “Post-TBI Behavior” because it is (from Moms).  But Jesus will not experience it this way.  He will experience it as his bio father leaving because Jesus as he is now failed to live up to Gabe’s expectations.  
Holding that treehouse as a bargaining chip is just plain manipulative.  
I do not approve.
Mariana: He’s a man of few words.  
Jesus: [defeated] Yeah, he couldn’t even say it to my face.
Tara: Jesus’s face looks so sad :(
Mariana: Look, I’ve learned to not expect much from Gabe and Ana.  They’re not our parents.  
[Lena and Stef walk in]
Lena: Okay, you guys, I’m gonna ask one more time.
Jesus: I didn’t break the model.
Mariana: We had nothing to do with it.
Jude: Nothing.
Stef: Okay.  We believe you.
Tara:  You cannot tell me that Moms don’t know at this point that Gabe left - if for no other reason than they apparently asked him to leave.  They walk into the room, see the twins’ faces, and then proceed to ask about the model?  You made this bed, Moms.  The very least you can do is follow up with the fallout.
Tonia:  I noticed, too, first, that Jesus and Mariana don’t hesitate to talk about Gabe and Ana and their upset in front of Jude.  Because as a fellow adoptee, they know that Jude gets this.  Whereas of course they would not feel comfortable discussing this in front of Moms (or Brandon, I would hazard to guess.)  And, to be clear, it is on Moms, as the parents, to at least check in with Jesus and Mariana about this, if not have a more in depth conversation.
A second thing I noticed was Moms’ quickness to believe the kids here.  I wonder if the scene would have played out the same if it was only Jesus and Moms.  Would they have taken just Jesus’s word for it? Because I can’t help but think that without Mariana and Jude there backing him up, Moms would not be so quick to believe him.
Lena:  It’s not going to be as easy to convince Drew…There is something you’re not gonna like: Drew is cancelling prom.
Mariana: What?
Lena: He thinks that if someone is upset enough to deface school property, that things could get out of hand at a party where some kids might be drinking.
Mariana: That’s bullshit!
Stef: Mariana…
Mariana: Okay well what if we throw our own prom?  Raise the money ourselves?  How can he stop us?

Stef [to Jesus]  Hello, handsome!
Lena: You look like you’re going to a firing squad, not a prom.
Stef [to Lena] Hey!
Tonia:  A tiny moment, but this made me cheer a little bit inside.
Jesus: Yeah, well, I don’t have a date, I can’t dance, and I’m probably gonna see Emma, so I wish I WAS going to a firing squad…
Stef: Funny!
Tonia:  I find it interesting that last episode nobody even answered Jesus about whether he could go to prom, and here, the expectation is very clear that he go, even though he doesn’t want to.  
Also, Stef?  He’s not trying to be funny.  
Tara: At what point will this arbitrary dancing ban be lifted from Jesus?  As a brain injury survivor who was never steered away from activity during recovery, I’m asking.
Also Moms?  Please take Jesus seriously when he references wishing to die.  :(
Lena: Let’s take pictures!  Okay everybody!  Say cheese!
[All except Jesus]: Cheese!
Stef: [scolding] Jesus, you didn’t say cheese!
Jesus: [defeated and still trying to smile] Cheese.
Stef: [chastising] Jesus!
Tonia:  Nothing in Jesus’s storyline this episode got to me quite as much as this sad, quiet, matter-of-fact “cheese” Jesus says.  It actually makes me scared for him.  That he is clearly depressed and no one around him seems to notice.
Tara: Perhaps instead of insisting that Jesus hide his unhappiness for your sake, you talk to him about how he’s doing?
He has had to adjust to a life-changing injury.  He broke his engagement with his girlfriend (his only visitor) after learning that she accepted his proposal just to urge him back to school.  His biological father left unceremoniously, and the treehouse which was his only hobby is now on hold indefinitely.  
This is too much for any 16-year-old to take on without the support of parents or concerned adults.  But Moms have wanted a lot of this to take place, while actively avoiding having conversations with Jesus for fear of his “outbursts.”
The way this storyline is progressing, it is far too easy to see why disabled people are 2 to 10 times more likely to experience depression than the nondisabled population.  
One fan’s idea that Jesus not saying “cheese” might be aphasia-related is also worth noting.

[Seated in a chair, he scans the warehouse for Emma]
Tonia:  Jesus’s POV here is literally mine at most social gatherings.  I find a chair and I sit.  And I people-watch.  It’s isolating, but it is also my choice.  The difference is, Jesus is being forced to sit out, when we know he and Poppy had a good time together last party.
Tara: Jesus was literally me at every social function post-brain injury.  On the outside looking in.  Feeling separate.  Having no energy for interacting.  Being deeply and quietly depressed.
I think the combination of having a seizure after the last warehouse party, Lena’s warnings about inpatient institutionalization, Stef chaperoning the event and his overall depression has lead to Jesus sitting on the sidelines almost the whole night.  (Note that while Stef is there, she never checks in with him as he is Being Good - never mind that he is miserable.)
Poppy:  Do you want to take a picture with me?
Jesus: Uh…yeah.  Sure.  
Tonia:  I like that Poppy seeks Jesus out here.  How it’s clear she’s attracted to him.  I actually like all of Poppy’s interactions with Jesus.  Because she knows a little about his injury, but mostly she knows him, and treats him as she would anybody else.  Not with kid gloves.
Tara: It says something, though, that Jesus - who previously got along and had a good time with Poppy - will now only grudgingly interact with her.  :(
Photographer: [to unsmiling Jesus]  Smile!  You’ve got a beautiful girl on your arm!
Jesus: [looks at Poppy and both smile at each other]
Photographer: That’s it!  [Snaps pictures]
[Emma looks on as Jesus and Poppy now pose back to back.  Emma is not happy.]
Tonia:  I know this is not necessarily what this scene was going for, but the photographer telling Jesus to smile really reminds me of The Face that many disabled people must wear in public.  The photographer doesn’t know Jesus from anyone.  Jesus’s disability is invisible.  But it doesn’t change the fact that he does have one.  
Existing in public is a tricky thing when disabled.  Either people find you “so inspiring” for showing your face in stores or at social gatherings or they assume your life must be “so tragic.”  Either way, the inclination is there to always smile.  As a disabled person you are vulnerable and your smile can be your only weapon to diffuse a situation.  To soften words that nondisabled people may need to hear but will not like.
Smiling is protective, and the fact that Jesus can’t smile genuinely right now just speaks to his level of sadness, and vulnerability here.  Existing in public while disabled, we very much exist for the Nondisabled Gaze. Because whether seeing us “inspires” a nondisabled person or whether they feel awful for our “tragic” life, the end result is the same:  The nondisabled person comes away feeling better about themselves. 
That is spoken to here in an indirect way, because just like earlier, when Jesus was asked to smile a certain way to put Moms at ease?  Here, he’s asked again to smile, to put the photographer at ease, as well as Poppy.
Jesus’s depressed demeanor is uncomfortable, so he must smile.  Fake it.  To make those around him comfortable.  
Because as is often the case: a nondisabled person’s comfort - their feelings - are placed at a higher level of importance than a disabled person’s safety.
And if he can’t express his unhappiness even through a reluctance to smile, where do all those negative feelings go?   
In my experience?  It just makes you hate yourself more.  Because you’re trying to live up to this expectation that is impossible.  And you know that if people around you know you’re disabled?  They will assume that is the single reason you are depressed. When in reality?  In addition to adjusting to his new disability, Jesus has broken up with his girlfriend, Gabe has left, and Moms are controlling everything he does, even down to how he smiles.
It’s more than just disability, which can take time to adjust to.  It’s the way you’re treated by people who don’t even know you, and by your friends and by your family.  Sometimes, it can feel like there is no escape from it.
That’s why I’m so worried about Jesus.
Tara: Repression of negative feelings leads to either breakdown or outburst.  Sadness or anger.  Sometimes both at the same time.
After I went back to school post-injury, I became a subject of interest to an adult studying brain injuries.  She met with me on a few occasions.  Asked where I struggled academically. About my physical limitations.  But when she asked about how I was impacted socially, I broke down sobbing.
This was significant because, post-injury, I felt an intense disconnect with my emotions.  Everything felt distant and deadened.  As if my entire being was trapped in cotton batting.
Did that mean that I never had an “inappropriate outburst?” No.  I had a few.
You might say that breaking down in front of a relative stranger in an academic setting is inappropriate in and of itself.
The fact remains that the social impact of a brain injury cannot be understated.  This is also why Moms meddling unnecessarily with Gabe and the treehouse is so harmful.
Olivia: Is THAT Mariana’s date?
Jesus: No. That’s–that’s her ex.
Olivia: They’re back together.
Jesus: They are?
Poppy: Oh!  Yeah!  They’re TOTALLY back!  That’s her prom date.
Jesus: Wait. Really?  She’s back with Mat?
Poppy: [to Jesus]  That’s not Wyatt?
Jesus: No.
Tonia:  I liked this conversation, because, for once it wasn’t people actively lying to Jesus.  Poppy doesn’t know all the details of Mariana’s past relationships and Olivia knows even less.  So any faulty information Jesus gets here is purely accidental.
Mariana:  What is so important?
Poppy: Jesus told Olivia that Mat’s your ex, so she think’s HE’S your prom date!
Mariana: Well, maybe he WILL be…
Poppy: Well, he’s hot!
Tonia:  And again here.  It’s clear that Poppy’s not reporting back to Mariana that Jesus’s brain injury made him irrational and so he told Olivia Mat’s her ex.  It’s just stated as fact.  
Likewise, Mariana’s reaction isn’t to blame Jesus’s TBI either.  She says maybe Mat will be her prom date!  (This suggests, that at least in this moment to Mariana, Jesus’s words have weight.)
Jesus: [Watches Mariana and Emma dance with each other.]
Poppy: Is that the girl you just broke up with?
Jesus: How do you know I just broke up with someone?
Poppy: Because you’re SO miserable, and I’m SO hot, and you haven’t even noticed!  
Jesus: I–uh…  I’m sorry.  You look nice.
Poppy: Gee.  Thanks.
Jesus: [Still watching Mariana dance with Emma]  I didn’t even know they were FRIENDS again…
[Later, Jesus is still watching.  Poppy is still sitting with him.]
Jesus: Why are they slow dancing?
Poppy: Because it’s a slow song.
Tonia: What strikes me here is that Poppy has sat with Jesus at this table all night.  But it isn’t because she pities him.  It’s because she’s hoping he’ll ask her to dance.  She finds him attractive.  She likes his personality (what she saw of it at the last party, for sure.)
I also love that she just talks to Jesus like he’s any guy.  She answers his questions, but she’s still a little annoyed that he won’t ask her to dance.  (I want him to dance, too, Poppy!  He should get to have fun!)
Tara: Most proms last a good 6 hours.  And Jesus is sidelined for 99% of it.  And no one is concerned.
Jesus: Hey, Emma.  So…are you and Mariana friends again?
Emma: We’re lovers.
Jesus: [squints]  
Emma: Just PRETEND lovers so that your neighbor’s girlfriend doesn’t think that she’s after him?  Whatever.  I have to get back to my girlfriend.
Jesus: Hold on.  Emma, hold on.  Look, I–I love you.  Okay?  I love you and I am an idiot.  I don’t care if–if you don’t…want me forever.  All I care about is right now.  And, I– I know that I haven’t…been…myself…lately but I WANT to be me again.  For me.  And also…for you!  I–I wanna be the man that you deserve.  Would you please just give me another chance?
Tonia:  This part really bothered me.  Mostly because Jesus had finally gotten to speak up for himself.  Have his own thoughts and feelings that were not dictated by those around him.  And here he is like days later, taking it all back. 
I can justify it, given his character, to a point.  Does it make sense that he would want to get back with Emma, especially after Gabe left, so that way at least he’ll have someone?  Yes.
But all I can hear in his plea to Emma is the writers, okaying one more instance of Jesus being degraded because of his injury.  The fact that nearly an entire episode passed with no one calling him “stupid” and then he calls himself an idiot?  Proving Mariana’s words about him were right all along? 
Tara: But if enough people call you stupid, or an idiot, or the R-word - or do not refute the notion - you will eventually begin to see yourself that way.  And in Jesus’s case, he already felt that he was not smart.  
Tonia: And for Jesus to be so hung up on “wanting to be the man Emma deserves” with the strong implication that Jesus must change himself in order to be loved or lovable?  It’s just difficult, in these moments, to ignore that nondisabled writers are at the helm here, and that - at this point at least - it feels like their own ableism informed most of this speech by Jesus. 
This is the last thing the audience hears from Jesus.  The message they will carry about him for months until 5B airs.  That not only do people around Jesus think he’s irrational, aggressive, ridiculous and stupid - Jesus actually feels this way about himself.  
In an episode that was mostly free of ableism (in his storyline at least).  This was the parting message and Jesus is saying it out loud, just drives home what everyone else has already said:
“I’m an idiot and I need to be nondisabled - to ‘get better’ - in order to have a prayer of being loved.”
Maybe it’s because it’s the last episode, which means it’s the ninth week in a row we have had to hear these types of sentiments, but this one was just one too many for me :(
Tara: I want to focus on this part of Jesus’s speech:  I know that I haven’t…been…myself…lately but I WANT to be me again.  For me.  And also…for you!  I–I wanna be the man that you deserve.
To me, this feels as if the writers have attempted to envision what Jesus is going through and how he would feel - perhaps by likening it to a person dealing with substance abuse.  Because with substance abuse, there can be a stopping.  
There is no stopping when you’re living with a brain injury.  
Do I understand Jesus’s sentiment about wanting to be himself again?  Absolutely.  I grieved my former self for years.  However, this speech implies more than wanting.  It implies choosing.  It implies, once again, that if Jesus only puts in the hard work, he can fully heal his brain.  And this is not the case.  
I have thought many times, “I wish the injury hadn’t happened.”  “I wish I was the person I was before, because who I am now feels strange and new and different.”  But saying it out loud would have felt futile.  Because no amount of work was going to change the way my brain thought, the way I experienced things, the way I felt my emotions.  My brain injury changed me on a fundamental level.  
And wanting to be the man Emma deserves?  This implies that Jesus is not enough or whole as he is.  And if he continues striving toward impossibility - becoming nondisabled again - instead of taking small steps toward self-acceptance, he will only persist in hating himself.
Olivia: [To Mariana] Where’s your girlfriend?
Mariana: She’s in the bathroom.
Logan: Isn’t that your girlfriend kissing your brother?
[camera pans to show that Jesus and Emma are kissing]
Mariana: [Smiles for a split second before feigning outrage] MY OWN DAMN BROTHER?!  This is the worst prom ever!
Tonia:  Mariana’s comic timing here was everything.
But there are so many loose ends.  So many things left unaddressed.
1) Jesus is still not back to school (this will be covered in 5B, according to interviews)
2) Moms are still planning to take Jesus to LA for shock treatment “in a couple weeks.”
3) Moms still operating very much out of treating Jesus like “symptoms” rather than their son.  I would love to see them having a conversation with him.  Listening to him.  Just generally, I’d love a decrease in the ableism by 100%.
4) Moms need to acknowledge their part in Gabe leaving.  Talk about it with Jesus and Mariana.
5) Jesus is depressed.  I’d like someone to notice.  Be there.
6) IMO, Lena’s threat to institutionalize Jesus has never been appropriately addressed.  As an adoptee, this would have struck lasting fear in Jesus (which Tara referenced earlier in this recap.) It’s not just going to vanish because they gave him a hug.  (I know, as adoptees ourselves, Tara and I are still holding our breath each week about the possibility of Jesus being sent away.)

Tonia and Tara:  Also in this episode, we learned that Brandon’s girlfriend, Grace, has leukemia for the third time.  As seems to be the case whenever there is another story featuring a disabled/chronically ill character, whichever is less “tragic” at the moment seems to take a back seat. IMO a big reason we did not see many of the Unaddressed Things get addressed with Jesus was because Grace’s storyline took priority over Jesus’s.
(And quiet parts of us are adding that Disabled People Hurting never matter as much as How Disabled People Hurting Make Nondisabled People Feel.  That will always be the story.) 
Unlike with Grandpa Adams, we won’t be contrasting Grace with Jesus.  we’ll be comparing them:
In the episode, Brandon tries to figure out why Grace has to move.  When her mom is reluctant to break her daughter’s trust, Brandon says he will ask Grace himself.  Mom outs Grace’s medical information, telling him Grace has leukemia.
Compare:  Brandon once outed Jesus’s medical information to Grace.  Moms have outed Jesus’s medical information to Tess and Dean and the other kids, outside of Jesus’s presence.
Brandon is not honest with Grace about what he knows.
Compare:  Brandon’s not honest with Jesus about things that concern Jesus.  The family is not honest with Jesus.  This is framed as okay because Nondisabled People Know Better.  And we can just see Brandon’s respect for Grace as a whole person fading, as he is overwhelmed by her illness.
Grace is a plot device.  It’s not about her.  It’s about how losing her is making Brandon feel.
Compare: Thus far, Jesus’s TBI has also been little more than a plot device to talk about how hard it is to live with a disabled person.  It’s not about Jesus, but how Jesus is making his family feel.

Tonia:  Though not disability related, I have to say, before I go, that choosing to humanize DREAMers like Ximena, who received DACA as a child could not have come at a more (sadly) perfect time.  And seeing Ximena find sanctuary in the church, brought this clip from The Hunchback of Notre Dame instantly to mind (from around 2:00-2:30) but if you’re like us, you’ll want to listen to the whole song.
So powerful to see this.  I do hope Ximena is okay.
And I hope that my desire for a more respectful, less ableist 5B is not unfounded.
Tara: Thank you all for reading along.  This half-season has been a rough one, and it is so heartening to know that there are people out there who care.  Who want to learn.  
Please know that the comments section is always open for discussion or questions - we would love to hear from you!

PS From Tonia and Tara: After sharing this recap with the writers last night, we received the following response from Bradley Bredeweg (writer and executive producer on The Fosters), which reads:  
we appreciate all of your thoughts this season and we continue to discuss a new path forward for Jesus.  Consider us enlightened


  1. Great review as always ladies! Sadly I know many disabled guys who say things like that about themselves. Does that depression statistic mention that now depression is sometimes considered a disability in and of itself? Or is it in relation to other disabilities?? Just curious. NOT a criticism.

    1. I'm sure many do. My issue was more that I knew his words were coming from nondisabled writers, so it did feel more like an excuse for them to pigeon-hole him into this limited TBI-stereotype. And IDK about the depression statistic, you can click on it yourself and find out, though! Thanks for reading!

    2. Gotcha. It looks like the stats are for other disabilities. Fascinating.

    3. Tara found it, and I don't often click her links, but I'm sure it is fascinating!