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 AND LENA - KITCHEN:
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.
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 AND EMMA - HIS ROOM:
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 - ON THE PHONE WITH DR. DANVILLE:
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.
JESUS AND MARIANA - DINNERTIME:
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.
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.)
JESUS AND MARIANA - ON THEIR WAY TO THE DOOR:
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 AND MARIANA - AT THE PARTY:
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.
STEF AND LENA, TESS AND DEAN [neighbors] - STILL AT DINNER:
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…
JESUS, MARIANA AND POPPY - AT THE PARTY:
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 AND MARIANA - AT THE PARTY:
Callie: So, you came with Logan?
Mariana: …And Jesus…
Callie: You BROUGHT 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.
JESUS, MARIANA AND CALLIE - AT THE PARTY:
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…
JESUS AND CALLIE - AT THE PARTY:
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?
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.)
LENA AND TESS - CLEANING UP DINNER:
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?
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.
JESUS AND MARIANA - IN THE ALLEY OUTSIDE THE WAREHOUSE:
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 AND MARIANA - THEIR ROOM AFTER THE PARTY:
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 AND LENA - IN THE KITCHEN THE NEXT DAY:
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.
JESUS AND LENA - HIS ROOM:
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
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 AND EMMA - VIDEO CHATTING:
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 AND STEF - KITCHEN
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. :(
JESUS, LENA AND STEF - HIS ROOM
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.