At some point before The Fosters season 5 episode 15, Teri Polo must have tapped into something deep within herself to deliver one of the most powerful, difficult sequences we’ve seen on the series in five seasons. While “Mother’s Day” was an episode of the Freeform drama about many things, it was hers front and center. She owned it.
We’ve been somewhat on the fence about the issue of clarity within Stef’s recent struggles on the series, but this episode started to put everything together. Watching the breakdown of Tess’ marriage wasn’t just about her seeing someone resurface who she used to have feelings for; it also brought her back to a place in her past with Mike when her own marriage was falling apart. She just felt the walls closing in on her, especially with her mother arriving and putting more energy into Tess, a woman she barely knew, on a level far different than what she put into her daughter years before. This was the end result in some ways of Stef’s education — her mother wouldn’t have known how to handle Tess without her — but in the moment the reasoning doesn’t matter. It’s more about the hurt.
Watching Polo dive into Stef’s panic attack was both gut-wrenching but effective in showing how so many different aspects of pain can hit someone all at one — also, Annie Potts more than held her own as her character tried to comfort Stef during her moment of need. This is a character who has struggled mightily and said struggle may be far from over, given the fact that Lena is still not fully aware of everything going on with her.
After watching this part of the episode, the rest of “Mother’s Day” had a lot to try and live up to.
The stronger moments
The writers have found a way to get some fantastic dramatic mileage out of Brandon’s relationship with Grace, even if it’s touching on similar themes to what we’ve seen before. Brandon has always been someone forced to act like someone twice his age, and during this episode he did that as he tried to grapple with some of his emotions when it comes to Grace naming him her proxy if she can’t make medical decisions for herself. We don’t think of this as proof that Grace is going to die, but rather Brandon figuring out more in terms of the responsibility that he wants to have and his ability to help others relinquish pain. This is a way to keep Grace’s mother from suffering more if it gets to where she needs to be allowed to die.
Also, while simple, we rather appreciated the simple message that reverberated through Jesus’ storyline about the need for him to be a man and not to allow either his classmates or himself to harass the women who was brought in to help him with school just because of her physical appearance.
Bumps in the road
It wasn’t so much that revisiting Callie and Jude’s mother in this episode was bad at all — it just came reasonably out of nowhere and felt included in the way that many final-season plots are. The writers clearly wanted to get this part of Callie’s history back onto the show and Mother’s Day felt like the ideal way in which to do that. Beyond that, wasn’t it a little too jarring to have Tess basically threaten Mariana over the decisions she was making in her own relationship? Maybe she’s thinking irrationally because of her own decisions, but it was somewhat appalling to see how far she was willing to go to potentially hurt Mariana, and potentially her own son Logan, just because she didn’t want Logan to know the truth about what was going on with her trying to understand her sexual orientation.
While there were many moments through “Mother’s Day” that stood out, it remains the Teri Polo performance that will linger. The Fosters didn’t need to do this to remind us that she’s a fantastic actor, but it absolutely did not hurt.
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