The Fosters often gets lauded for its ability to tackle hot-button issues in thoughtful and complex ways. Season five has already seen some of the Adams Foster clan take on topical subjects like DACA and free speech versus hate speech, among other things. Those story lines are wonderful and necessary. Sometimes, however, we forget that The Fosters can do simple, emotional family drama just as well — sometimes even better. “Chasing Waterfalls” is a reminder.
This episode features several scenes that are low on “message” and full of heart, and they are all knockouts. Should we expect anything less when Lena’s parents are in town? When Dana and Stuart come knocking, answer the door with tissues.
Dana and Stuart happen to schedule a visit to the Adams Foster casa right around the time Stef is reorganizing some of her family’s financials and wants to officially take Stuart off the title of their house. Remember: Stuart and Dana gave Lena and Stef money to purchase their gorgeous home, so he’s always been tied to it, which means they’ve been tied to his money problems. We barely survived #NOTTHEHOUSE the first time, so if Lena needs to have an uncomfortable conversation with her parents, so be it.
The situation is made even more uncomfortable when Dana informs her daughter that the money for the house was a loan, not a gift as Lena previously thought. Now she wants Lena and Stef to begin paying them back — with interest. It seems a little harsh, but it quickly becomes clear there’s some underlying motivation for the sudden need to pay up.
After spending time with Stuart, it’s obvious that he is unwell. It starts with some confusion over asparagus, but really comes to a head when he shows up with a brand-new car for his grandkids. Dana has to explain that they can’t afford to buy Stef and Lena a new car, and that, no, he doesn’t have a bonus coming in because he’s retired. Watching Lena’s face fall as she realizes her dad is showing signs of dementia is heartbreaking; her conversation with her mother, even more so.
Oh, Lorraine Toussaint, you never disappoint. In the span of a short scene, she reveal the layers of emotion Dana is feeling: fear, anger, grief. She’s slowly losing her husband and she’s not ready for that. It’s a powerful moment for both Lena and the audience, seeing such a strong woman be so vulnerable. Only hours ago, Dana was handling a squabble between Jude, Noah, and Taylor like a boss (apparently, there wasn’t enough Jude to go around, but Dana’s strict hangout schedule fixed that), and now here she is in front of her daughter, in need of her help.
Lest you think Dana is the only Adams who can make us feel everything at once, Stuart has some affecting conversations with both our mamas. First, during dinner, Stef tells the story about her father finding her snuggling with Tess and sending her to church in hopes of essentially praying the gay away. When Stuart gets a moment alone with Stef, he tells her how sorry he is that she had to go through that. When Lena came out, all he wanted his daughter to know was that he still loved her because she’s his daughter. And here’s the kicker: Stuart considers Stef his daughter, too. And he is so proud of her. HE IS PROUD OF STEF, YOU GUYS.
The lovely sentiment takes Stef by surprise. It motivates her enough to have that awkward conversation with Tess that she’s been avoiding. She finally tells Tess the real reason she distanced herself in high school was because she was embarrassed and ashamed of her romantic feelings. She didn’t know what else to do. Stef apologizes for letting that shame cause pain for other people. Tess is … kind of weird about it. She makes a point to tell Stef it’s not a big deal because she didn’t reciprocate those feelings. Obviously, that means she did and we’ve got some major drama still to come on the Tess front. That summer finale isn’t far away, you know what I’m saying?
Anyway, Stuart’s display of masculine sentimentality doesn’t stop with Stef — he has Lena to chat with, too. His conversation with Stef has made him think about how he handled Lena’s coming out. He wants to apologize to his daughter for saying, “I still love you.” There’s no excuse for using the word still. He wishes he had simply told her how proud he was and that he was excited to meet whomever she wanted to share her life with. It moves Lena. But being reminded of what a good man her father is makes it all the more difficult to stomach what is happening to him. She thanks him for being such a great dad, both when she was growing up and now. Good lord, if this is what’s happening at the start of the disease, imagine the emotional wrecks we’ll all be as it progresses. Not you, Stu. NOT YOU.
Of course, it’s not just the adults who emotionally gut-punch us this week! Callie usually gets a bad rep on this recap, but not with this story line. Whenever Callie isn’t off doing ridiculous, boneheaded things to save the world, and instead deals with problems all teenagers face, she’s more than tolerable. In “Chasing Waterfalls,” Callie is having a rough go of class critiques over her self-portrait. The other students, quite rightly, think that having other people take photos of her is cheating. Self-conscious or not, it is supposed to be a self-portrait. One student goes so far as to say that all the piece demonstrates is that the artist has no idea who she is. Ugh, there’s always one art kid who has to be a real dick about things.
When Callie and Aaron head out on an afternoon hike, she laments her situation. Maybe those pretentious art kids are right! Maybe she has no voice! Maybe she doesn’t know who she is! Aaron, so patient, tries to quell her fears. He thinks she does know who she is. She just needs to believe in herself as fiercely as she believes in others.
Aaron is so good for Callie, and it seems like Callie realizes that. They make out under a waterfall and then she suggests going back to his place. They’re both ready to take this relationship to the next level. A little mood music and one candle later, Callie and Aaron have sex. It seems like a pretty big deal to have a sex scene featuring a transgender character on this show, but maybe even more important, it’s just nice to have a story about two young people who took things slow until they were both ready to move forward.
Callie’s time with Aaron is empowering. She returns to art class ready to face the haters. She’s upfront with them: Growing up in the foster system means she’s been a lot of girls in a lot of homes, so no, she doesn’t know exactly who she is just yet. That’s why that portrait, taken by someone else, makes sense for her. So, stuff it, pretentious art student! Callie is doing the best she can.
In Other Family News
• Mariana’s gone and done it now. She’s been using the “be a good friend until he sees you as more” tactic with the unavailable Logan, but Logan’s girlfriend, Olivia, is on to her — and she sends Mariana a note to mark her territory. The stage is set for an exciting little meet-up as Olivia is set to arrive in San Diego for prom. Prom drama is the best drama.
• Poor Taylor! She’s very patient with Jude while he attempts to save his relationship, but I doubt the news that the company behind a new game only wants the “GayGuy” half of “GirlandGayGuy” to be a paid video ambassador for them will be easy to swallow.
• Brandon overhears a heated phone call between his girlfriend and her mom, and it’s clear something is going on with Grace. I hope her big secret isn’t anything too crazy — against my better judgement, I’m very invested in these two.
• After quietly seething and then blowing up over Cortney and Hot Dad Gabe’s make-out sesh, Brandon confronts his feelings head-on. Both he and Cort agree that it’s weird to see an ex with other people, but decide it’s normal and doesn’t mean anything more than that. They both want to see the other happy (for Cortney that means leaving, finally). Who is this person having a mature conversation with an ex? It surely cannot be Brandon Foster.
• We’re having an engagement party! A party at the Adams Foster house is always a good time, but it’s especially exciting when the event is tinged with emotional baggage, like Stef feeling guilty for any pain she put Mike through and the whole Ana-Gabe-Twins of it all. See you there!