Saturday, May 5, 2018

Recap: The Fosters 5x17-5x19 (Grace)

So, it's been a while.  April was novel-writing month - and as the novel is huge, it's not done yet.  But Tara suggested we try to get the Grace recap done, as the final 3 episodes of The Fosters are looming in June.  As we did with Stef, we'll be answering a few questions about what we thought about Grace's storyline overall.  (And I will do my best to find some clips from the episodes, so you can see what we are referring to):

In 5x17, Grace and her mom go to the spa together.  Grace has one scene with Brandon at the beginning of the episode where she asks him what he's planning to do with his life, because "time is precious" and he can't just wait around when he can make things happen.  She comes back at the end of the episode and Brandon has decided to go to film scoring school in LA.

In 5x18, Brandon's waiting outside Grace's doctors appointment:

She tells Brandon that she is in remission and her T-cells are working.

They go to LA so Brandon can do his interview.  While there, they are super cute, taking pictures next to all the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Then, Brandon and Grace do some busking on Hollywood Boulevard, singing one of their original songs.  Grace talks to some kids who give them money.  Brandon notes she's good with kids.  Grace tells him because of the chemo, she won't be able to have kids naturally.  Brandon says he's always wanted to adopt.

They watch the sunset and Grace loves it.  Says it's so beautiful.  Brandon says he is more of a sunrise guy.  He likes beginnings.  Grace gets chilled.  Brandon goes to grab her a sweater.

They meet up with her mom, where Grace tearfully tells Brandon that they can't do their gig.  She's not actually in remission.  She said she was so that he'd still go to LA for his interview.  She tells him to go home, graduate and go to college, and that he can visit her on weekends.  But that she is does not want more treatment.

Stef meets Brandon as he is about to drive home and rides with him.

In 5x19, Brandon visits Grace.  We see she's weak and tired.  Her mom wakes her.  When Brandon asks how she's feeling, she says "like a million bucks," but then she proceeds to cry quietly while apologizing to him that they could not do their gig.  Brandon jokes gently that "We'll always have the bagel shop."  Grace also shares that she and her mom had a long talk and Grace made her mom her proxy because "she got it."  That "it was the right thing to do for her, and for you."

Here, we see Grace's mom by her bedside.  Her dad's in the room, and Brandon's there too, with his guitar.  He starts to play their song, while Grace's mom checks her pulse.  Her mom backs off suddenly, crying, and Grace's dad comes and holds her mom.  Grace has died.  Brandon keeps singing to her.

Did you like Grace's cancer storyline?  Why or why not?

Tonia:  I liked Grace as a character so much.  I was especially fond of her at the beginning of 5B where she had a voice and was finally permitted to advocate for herself and make her own medical and personal decisions.  It made her more dimensional, relateable, and it made me root for her, personally.

So it pains me to say that I really disliked the cancer storyline.  People do get cancer.  They go through treatment, but having seen the entire arc of the storyline?  It feels a bit like Grace only existed as an object or a plot point.

Instead of being able to exist as the lovely person she is, to get to learn and grow beyond 19 years old, she will be remembered in The Fosters fandom as "the one who died of cancer."

Tara:  To be completely honest, while I very much liked Grace as a character, I hated this storyline. Yes, young people with terminal illnesses exist. Yes, they deserve representation in the media. However, I resent that Grace existed as a character TO die and teach Brandon a lesson.

That said, the writers were able to give Grace more backbone and autonomy than I expected.  We saw her make her own medical decisions, including the choice to stop treatment.  We saw her withhold her personal medical information from her significant other (which she did not owe him). We saw her making end-of-life decisions, such as who would be her proxy. These are small steps toward good representation.

Did you notice any harmful disability tropes, inspiration porn themes or other stereotypes in Grace's portrayal in 5x17 - 5x19?  If so, which ones?

Tonia:  Oh, so many...  I have a list:

Inspirationally Disadvantaged Type C:  Grace (super pure) existed in The Fosters, it seems, only to inspire Brandon (white and male) on to the future he was meant to have.

Throwing Off Disability:  For 5x17 and most of 5x18, Grace, for all intents and purposes, "threw off" cancer.  It was a nonissue.  She could go have a grand old time with Brandon in LA, with almost no remnant of cancer at all, but for a minor chill.

Nondisabled Heroes:  This story was very much about how selfless the people around Grace are.  It's meant to show, in particular, just how great  a boyfriend Brandon is, for staying with his girlfriend who has cancer.

People as Props:  Grace, as alluded to in the first harmful disability trope, existed largely to prop Brandon up.  She was a plot device, essentially, to get Brandon to film-scoring school.  To encourage him to a future.  She was his stepping stone.

Bury Your Disabled:  Such a common trope that I did not want to have to write about here, but The Fosters went there.  Grace only existed to die.  As so many disabled characters on television do.  She did what she was meant to do as a support for Brandon.  And when the storyline had no more use for her, she died.  Which is super problematic.  And which makes me super angry but I don't have the energy to devote to a proper rant.

Tara:  Oh goodness, sooooo many...

1. Obviously, DISABLED LOVE INTEREST where she is indeed only ~temporary.

2. Grace also has a DREAM-CRUSHING HANDICAP - Cancer will not allow her to have a happily ever after, a music career, or children of her own.

3. ILL GIRL - Right down to the "sympathetically cute" part.

4. My least favorite, BURY YOUR DISABLED. Where the disabled person exists to be killed off. :/

5. And finally, INSPIRATIONALLY DISADVANTAGED.  "[T]here to be a good influence and teach the non-disabled lead, who is often white and male (but with some exceptions), a Very Special Lesson. Quite often, the person who is Type C Inspirationally Disadvantaged is Too Good for This Sinful Earth."

And this is what irks me the most about this storyline - Grace exists simply to teach Brandon a lesson and then die.

Would you have done anything differently with Grace's cancer storyline?

Tonia:  I think it would have been interesting to keep the storyline as it was before Grace relapsed.  In that way, cancer still is a part of her, and her experiences very much would have affected her going forward, but she would have been allowed to have a life.

Tara:  I would have consulted with actual pediatric cancer survivors whose cancer went out of remission in adulthood.

I would have made sure that Grace existed as her own person independent of Brandon, especially toward the end of her life. I would ensure that the story in Grace losing her life was ABOUT GRACE and not centered around her loved ones.

What did you think about Grace's storyline in the last three episodes?  Did you notice any disability tropes?  Would you have done anything differently?  Let us know in the comments.


  1. Nice to finally see this recap ladies! Well done! I was very disappointed to find out Grace died in the series despite the fact that based on their writings and the fact that The Fosters is not getting renewed that they would kill her off. :( I'm sick of the disabled dying tropes in particular especially since I know so many disabled who are survivors. Really hoping the end of Jesus's story is more satisfying. Once again thanks for these reviews as they assist me with my writings about disability tremulously! Thanks for mentioning how you would improve the episode.

    P.S PLEASE tell me you are publishing the novel! :D

  2. So glad you're enjoying the recaps. We were so disappointed by Grace's death, too. We're glad if our recaps can help you in your media endeavors.

    P.S. Nope, no plans to publish, but your enthusiasm makes me happy <3

    1. Darn it, was really hoping you would publish. You're very welcome!