At the start of this season Stef (Teri Polo) was faced with one of the most terrifying challenges any human could face, cancer. From mammograms, to call-backs, biopsies to surgery the Fosters creative team has delivered a storyline many women and humans alike I’m sure can relate to. Acting as a stimulus for a plethora of soul-enlightening and heart-breaking issues, this storyline has become more than a story about cancer. It has become a journey of rediscovering one’s self, letting go of the subconscious fear that unknowingly holds us back and the opening up to love. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to break the walls once built to protect from the reality of such struggles. The evolution of Stef, along with Lena (Sherri Saum) and the entire Fosters family throughout this latest story arc, is a testament to the honest and committed storytelling of all those involved. This week’s episode, “Rehearsal”, was based around the preparations for Brandon’s (David Lambert) R + J Musical. However, the episode started in a board room where Callie is heard giving a statement on behalf of Daphne – she is petitioning to regain custody of Tasha. Her testimony is heart-felt and impassioned, but with a few tough questions from the opposing lawyer (regarding their past history in juvenile detention), Callie and Daphne are left wondering what’s going to happen.
Back at the house, the Mamas are sharing an open exchange regarding Stef’s appointment to have more saline injections. Obviously a little annoyed at her decision not to get implants straight after the mastectomy – Stef doesn’t really enjoy being filled up like a balloon – Lena offers a calm solution to the problem. Why doesn’t she just not get the implants? This suggestion evidently takes Stef off guard – Teri Polo throughout the evolution of this storyline has done a brilliant job of navigating all the emotions involved. This latest exchange, identifies just how self-conscious Stef is and has been feeling. Stef avoids eye contact, talks down to the floor as to not draw attention to her vulnerability – another stellar move by Polo. Long behold though, she is still the Stef we know and love, with snarky little comments about how their sex life with suffer; she still doesn’t realise just how much her wife loves her and how much Lena would like to have sex with Stef right then and there if she wanted. The ability of both Polo and Saum to balance the heartache of this struggle with light humour, allows the audience to appreciate the human qualities in these characters. It isn’t an issue for Lena, but as the conversation continues, we discover it is more of an issue for Stef; she’s concerned about the comments, and what others will think. She’s already a cop, and now she has a flat chest, how much more “butch” can she get?
Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) and Jesus (Noah Centineo) are willing to help Gabe get off the sex offender list, but with the restraining order still in place, the Mamas need to give the letters to him. When Stef arrives, Gabe seems genuinely shocked that anyone would offer their support, not only that, he seems apprehensive when Stef asks if he wants to get to know the twins. He doesn’t know how to be a parent – Brandon Quinn does a beautiful job of displaying the fear of what being a parent means – however agrees that he does want to know them. The episode sees Gabe and Jesus building the set for R +J together; innocently when Gabe answers a question he states that nothing good came out of him and Ana being together. Noah Centineo is a nuanced young actor whose ability to portray subtle pain is quite outstanding. Elsewhere, Mariana must deal with the continuing fallout from her one-night with Wyatt as the rumor mill gets going, eventually leading back to Nick. To make matters worse, Mat and her are having a hard time separating the past from their current endeavors, with Brandon becoming increasingly annoyed yet protective of his younger sister. Offering some sound advice, ensuring her that she isn’t a horrible person and that we all make mistakes; this quiet moment is a rare but welcome occurrence. Mariana takes the advice on board and confronts Nick – who I must say has matured a lot these lash couple of weeks – he purely states that if she ever wants out just to be up front and honest. He’d rather be hurt than surprised. Touché Nick.
I guess Courtney and Brandon are somewhat official now; when she pops past the warehouse to pay him a visit it becomes inadvertently “meet the parents” time – touché to the writing team for that throwback. With the initial meeting, over and done with Brandon and Court share a goodbye kiss, witnessed by none other than Mama Tiger. Cut to later that day, and it’s Brandon and Courtney intervention time. Stef and Lena plays protective Moms, asking how serious it is, are they having sex and ensuring Brandon is remaining focused and on top of school. The subtle resting bitch face Polo employs for Stef whenever Brandon and dating is involved, is my absolute favourite. It is in the quiet, solitary moments that Stef and Lena have some of their most honest conversations. As Lena brings up that a work colleague has just recently gone through a similar experience to Stef, talk of support groups and talking with others is suggested. In the past, this type of conversation maybe have been a little tense, but the evolution that Stef and Lena have been through allows Lena the opportunity to get through to Stef – “I don’t know what to say or how to advise you.”
Heading Lena’s advice, Stef sits down with two breast cancer survivors – one who opted for reconstruction, the other went “flat”. If there is one thing I am sure of, it is the Fosters ability to shed light on issues in the most honest, real and humanly possible way. As the survivors tell their story and Stef listens on (feeling a little awkward I think), she’s given a first-hand look at her options. When I say first hand, I mean first hand. This scene is ridiculously beautiful and shows us the importance of keeping a sense of humour and maintaining the ability to laugh at yourself. As Lena and Stef inspect each option – literally, dimensional tattooed nipples and all – I’m sure the audience is trying to keep a straight face (I sure was). Saum and Polo not only delve deep for the highly emotional scenes, but bring light and joy to the more laid back ones.
In addition to helping Daphne this week, Callie is busily trying to get her senior project underway. From this week, it can be assumed that she is interviewing Justina (Kelli Williams) as a part of it. As the interview begins, Justina tells Callie a little bit about herself before telling a story about why she wanted to work with Foster Care programs. Kelli Williams delivers a heart-breaking monologue about her young friend Lizzie who was placed back into the system after being removed from her mother’s care countless times. The emotion is genuine, the pain is felt; but can we really trust Justina? Callie, at times during the story looks suspicious but nonetheless ensures Justina what she is doing is amazing. As the episode continues, Callie tries to do some further research into Justina’s background, and with a little help from tech-wiz Mariana comes across a video. Justina is telling Lizzie’s story, but as her own. Hang on, wait. Is this really happening? Callie eventually confronts Justina about her lies, and even though she remains stoic in her delivery the manipulator in Justina has had too much practice. After lying for so long, and for money, Justina has become a pro at blackmail; offering to get Daphne a job if Callie remains quiet and on board. No, Callie don’t. After overhearing the conversation earlier between Brandon and Mariana Callie confronts him (after already grilling about Court and her baby) — I wasn’t talking about you. He comes clean about having sex with Dani; Maia Mitchell continues to go from strength to strength and is a powerhouse in those quiet, emotional moments. She shares more information and feelings regarding her experience with Liam, trying to ensure Brandon that it wasn’t his fault. Not only that, telling him that being with him was the first time she could be with someone without the pang of shame and guilt. She doesn’t want to have regret that; he doesn’t ether.
The long awaited, and highly-anticipated reveal of the new hair-do occurred just minutes from the end of the episode, with a somewhat uneasy Stef standing in the middle of the kitchen, trying to get her wife’s attention. The direction and shot of this scene is beautifully crafted by Norman Buckley and captures Stef in a new light. The shock, surprise and pure joy that Saum creates through Lena is infectious and undoubtedly genuine; with a little bit of concern still remaining, Stef questions whether “she hates it”. Of course not, she loves it. This scene is an example of art is to life, with a chemistry unparalleled in television today, Saum and Polo exemplify pride and love and adoration. Not only that, the monologue Stef delivers in explaining the choice to cut her hair is one of those that reach the corners of our soul. Resonating with all those who have ever felt held to a certain standard by predisposed stereotypes, or those who have felt fear in the face of possible judgment when truly speaking their truth, and being who they are. As Lena stands, in awe of the woman she loves, The Fosters once again bring to the forefront the importance of being who you are, loving who you are and celebrating who you are. That no fear, and no societal norm or standard should dictate how women, or any human should look. Teri Polo eloquently delivers these words with a visceral and honest tone; as we watch Stef take the next step in her journey. Letting go of the fear, and accepting all that she is and all that she has been through, she has never felt more feminine. In addition, she is going to the get the implants but not because she feels like more of a woman with them, but because she likes boobs. Lena radiating what can only be described as utter love, can’t keep her hands off the new-look wife in front of her and after a heartfelt exchange of “I love you” it is up to the bedroom.
Other key points
- After tripping the silent alarm, Gabe gets arrested in the closing moments for being around Mariana alone
- Mat and Mariana share a kiss in rehearsal – with definite unresolved tension
- Callie and Brandon hug – again another moment of unresolved tension