Leave it to The Fosters to explore even more uncharted territory for teen shows. Gun violence is an ever-present issue in our society. Between accidental gun deaths, mass shootings and street violence, everyone has an opinion on guns these days. Some people call for more distribution while others fight for gun control.
The Fosters chose a third option by teaching two teenagers the power and humbling fear that can come with holding a firearm.
Still reeling from last season's shooting, Jude can no longer stand the sound of gunfire, even if it's coming from a video game. He came so close to being shot and to losing Connor or one of his friends that the danger of guns is all too real for him now. Connor seems unaffected by what happened, even though he was the one who was shot and this makes Jude feel ashamed of himself. This simple setup led to a truly amazing story.
The show wisely brought Stef in on the story line. Stef has been on both sides of a gun. As a police officer, she has discharged her weapon in the line of duty and as an officer she was also shot. There wasn't a great amount of focus on how Stef processed her emotions after her recovery, although Lena's fears were touched on. Circling back to have Stef discuss the dreams and fear she experienced when she held a gun again was powerful.
I am inclined to think she knew exactly what would happen when she agreed to take Jude and Connor to the firing range. In their own ways, each of the boys needed to face what happened to them the night of the shooting and there was no better setting than the range, even if the site of two young teens holding guns made you cringe.
For Jude, processing his emotions meant holding a gun and choosing not to shoot it. By intercutting the scene with the sound of the gunshots that rang out the night Connor was shot, the editing combined with a wonderful, subtle performance from Hayden Byerly conveyed Jude's understanding that he did not need to prove anything by pulling the trigger.
On the flip side, Connor had to shoot the gun to move forward and begin to deal with the emotional ramifications of what happened to him. Seeing his mood change so quickly from excitement ("it's just like the game") to a fearful acknowledgment that the reality of pulling the trigger is nothing like a video game was sobering. The Fosters effortlessly weaved the themes of video game violence and gun safety together in what was easily one of their best story lines.
The final scene between Stef, Jude and Connor was particularly affecting. Connor finally broke down and had an honest conversation about the night with Jude and Stef. The young relationship between Connor and Jude becomes more and more fortified with each passing episode, and so far, every step in their relationship has felt organic. Seeing them both be honest with each other about what that night meant to them was incredibly moving.
My hope is the sweet moment won't come back to haunt the boys and Stef. Right now, Connor's father Adam is dealing with Connor and Jude's relationship. He is even allowing Jude over to the house, but it is entirely possible he could take what was a poignant teaching moment for his son and turn it into something ugly.
Adam gave Stef permission to take Connor to the range but given the emotions it stirred up for Connor, the possibility Adam will use Stef's trip against her in the future is real. Even when he is not on camera, Adam is a tricky character to understand. The closer Jude and Connor get, the more unpredictable I fear Adam will become.
For now, the trip to the range stands out as another landmark moment for the show. It neither demonized nor glorified the use of firearms. Instead, it emphasized the need for safety, respect and knowledge where guns are concerned while primarily proving choosing not to shoot or own a gun is a perfectly valid decision.
Where teens are concerned, it is likely the best decision. At the very least, every child should know real guns are not like video games, and mindlessly shooting at zombies is nothing like aiming at a human target.
The Fosters pulled off a very special episode topic without it feeling cheap or exploitative — as usual, the show tackled a hard topic with grace and maturity. I've come to expect nothing less from The Fosters.
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