The Fosters Tackles Mental Illness

ABC Family/Adam Taylor
ABC Family/Adam Taylor

For most shows confronting a serious issue such as mental illness during one hour of television would be a challenge, and more than enough for one week. I think we’ve already established that The Fosters is not most shows. The question co-creators Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg constantly ask viewers is “why stop there?” Instead, this week’s episode also went and threw in problems with the foster care system, blended families, child abuse and marital issues. They all came together to make of one of the most emotionally powerful hours of television you’ll watch this week.

First up was Rita and Callie, which meant more of guest star Rosie O’Donnell–always a welcome sight in my opinion. She and Maia Mitchell have great chemistry together and I am always yearning to see more of these two together. It felt especially rewarding that we, and Callie, finally got to know more about Rita when her daughter Chloe appeared asking for money. From the moment Rita laid eyes on Chloe she was clearly unsettled by the girl who suffered from Bipolar Access 1 disorder, meaning she has manic episodes when off her medication. After withstanding several attacks by Chloe in an attempt to get money, Rita finally snapped and hit Chloe, something that unfortunately Callie had to witness.

Rita was right, you’d like to think that after standing up to hundreds of foster care kids who have given it to her much worse, even punching and hitting her on occasion, and not reacting with violence, why did she snap at her daughter? One reason for sure was the fact that Rita still carries so much guilt about the suicide of Chloe’s father. I’m pretty sure O’Donnell broke all of us our hearts when she told Callie, “she is right about one thing. I am a terrible mother for letting it get to this point.” However, everything changes when it’s your own daughter and even Callie couldn’t blame Rita completely for her actions. I really hope that Rita didn’t snap and hit Carmen, but there’s definitely a chance that she did which is something I wouldn’t have told you before this episode aired.

Learning more about Rita’s history and showcasing her daughter’s mental illness in such a positive light is exactly what The Fosters does that makes it so important. People will always be afraid of the unknown, and positive portrayals such as this one help show that those suffering from mental illnesses should not be feared. Sure, mental illness does not rationalize bad behaviour, but it also doesn’t always make someone prone to violence either. Education and awareness are the key, especially when we have so many people suffering from the disease. Sensitive portrayals such as the one this week are key in promoting better understanding, changing people’s opinions and maybe even leading people to seek help.

ABC Family/Adam Taylor
ABC Family/Adam Taylor

But again, why stop there? The Fosters also addressed the long history between Callie and Brandon as the two teens were interviewed about the restraining order. This brought up all of Callie and Brandon’s feelings for one another and it’s clear neither one of them are over the other quite yet. Admittedly I’ve not been the biggest fan of Brandon’s this season, but he made me really feel for him this week as he confronted Stef about always having to go along with the foster children she’s brought into the house. Teri Polo and David Lambert gave some pretty stellar performances and broke my heart a bit as Stef finally admitted to Brandon that she should’ve been there for her only biological child.

It’s a good thing at least her relationship with Brandon is settled because her wife Lena continues to internalize the issues she has with their marriage. I hate seeing any kind of tension between these two but realize it’s not realistic to be happy 100 per cent of the time. While I do agree with Stef that “it’s good for them to see that couples fight,” I wanted to jump through my TV when Monte advised Lena to put divorce back on the table. Thank goodness Lena realized that she is unhappy and needs to finally be open and honest with her wife about that fact. Communication is key to any successful marriage and hopefully Lena realizing that will start to get these two back on track. I’m not sure my heart can take it much longer if they don’t.

Elsewhere in Fosters-land

  • Callie giving Rita’s own advice back at her was great. Another example of how good these two are together and I’m really glad O’Donnell was given this bigger arc to explore Rita.
  • If you’ve read my reviews before then you know my favorite scenes are the ones with the whole family gathered around the table. I love that we got a bonus one of those this week at Girls United.
  • I think we all loved Jillian Armenante as the plumber Shaz who had a big crush on Stef. Also let’s also agree with Shaz that Teri Polo does indeed look hot in that uniform!
  • Another key moment in this episode that got neglected by my review was Jude’s mini freak out. How perfect was Rita’s advice that “parents don’t love you more because you’re biologically theirs,” but instead, “they love you because you’re you.”
  • Callie’s story is a very powerful one and I’m glad she’s sharing it. She’s right, foster kids deserve to be happy too. But I can’t help but also side with Jude and say that I’m a little worried about her calling people out.
  • Stef may have told Mariana that “unfortunately justice is not always served in this world,” but it looks like she may finally have a real lead in the hit and run case. Anyone else worried she’s going to get herself into trouble here?

What did you think of this week’s The Fosters? Did Rita hit Carmen? Sound off in the comments below.

The Fosters airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET ABC Family and ABC Spark.