Boob(s On Your) Tube: “The Fosters” Is Still Sustained by Stef and Lena’s Love and Lesbian Glory

Pretty chill week, eh? Totally normal and none of you have fallen into a stress- or anxiety-spiral, I’m sure. I know I sure haven’t! There were some TV things to love, though. Valerie Anne recapped Wynonna Earp and Orphan Black. The Bold Type is just so very delightful and surprisingly queer and culturally resonant and Kayla is recapping that. Mey chatted up some of the queer cast and crew of Danger & Eggs. Perhaps most importantly Steven Universe released a music video of Estelle performing “Stronger Than You” and it’s everything you’ve ever needed, and especially what you need right now.

Here is some more TV!


The Fosters

Remember that season two murder storyline on Friday Night Lights? No, right? Because for some reason between seasons one and two NBC put their grubby hands all over one of the greatest shows on earth and demanded more scantily clad teenage bodies, sunshine, and INTRIGUE. It was very dumb and when NBC finally relented and told the showrunner to just do what he wanted, Landry’s dad drove his son’s murder car to the desert and set it on fire and literally no one on that show ever spoke of that storyline ever again. The Fosters didn’t go quite that far but they did mercifully tie up a lot of the legitimately bonkers storylines from last season and set them out to sea at the beginning of season five.

The Callie drama, especially, seems gone forever. Well, those specific Callie dramas. The sex worker teen and her abusive pimp and drug deals and guns and jail and drunk driving and vehicular homicide and all that. Some of the storylines just end with Stef declaring them done through exposition and some of them play out in dramatic fashion with Callie and Diamond rushing from a near death experience in a motel room directly into Stef’s arms. On the ride home, Stef tells Callie she’s gotta stop living life like there’s nothing left to lose because there is something to lose, a lot of things to lose, in fact; and also it’s just fucking exhausting to watch the relentlessness of it on TV. The pace of Callie’s bad decisions gives Gossip Girl a run for its money and that show blew through storylines like bubble gum. It’s also a very sweet talk. I cried.

The main teen takeaways from the first three episodes are: 1) Mariana is going to become an even bigger badass by joining a roller derby team. 2) Mariana and Jude have created a rogue student newspaper to spread the truth about their jackass interim principal and it’s called Rise Up! As in, “Just like my country I’m young, scrappy, and hungry and I’m not throwing away my shot!”

Okay, but the moms of course continue to be the heart of this entire show. Let me tell you about Stef’s life before she met Lena. She had a crush on her best friend Tess from high school and when the mood struck her she stole cars to go see Indigo Girls concerts. The reason we know this is because Tess lives next door now and Lena cooked her dinner! Tess, however, was and remains a straight woman. Irredeemably straight. A normal person sees Stef’s haircut and immediately becomes gay. Not ol’ Tess, though. She does have a cute little son that Mariana is into. It’s fine. As long as he doesn’t interfere with her hobbies of dance team, coding, robot building, roller derby, and being the next Lois Lane.

Lena’s not having an easy time of it. She’s fighting the board of Anchor Beach to keep Monte as the principal after Drew’s coup, which has now escalated to him stomping out free speech and surveilling the students and twirling his handlebar mustache and threatening to tie Mariana to some train tracks. Drew is a monster. Obviously he will go down in a blaze of glory, but it’s sad watching Lena be sad about it.

One of the most interesting things happening so far this season is Lena and Stef finally starting to talk about how unbelievably actively involved their kids’ biological parents are in their lives. You’ve got Robert over here throwing Callie a Get Out of Jail party and Gabe living in the backyard and offering up more long lost relatives for Jesus. The thing is that Stef and Lena do want what’s best for their kids. And if Jesus, for example, needs Gabe and his construction connections to work through his PTSD and rage, they’re all in. But it’s not easy for them and it’s nice to see them having conversations about navigating that very complicated reality. This show has gone on and off the rails but Stef and Lena remain one of the best and most important queer couples in TV history.


Younger

This week’s Younger is the best Maggie episode ever and it deals with Happily Ever Afters (HEAs) while giving us the very most best most happily every after. Let me tell you it: DIANA AND MAGGIE ARE GOING TO MEET. Diana tells Liza to arrange a meeting after reading a New York Magazine article (so many NYM references this week; there’s a Vulture shout out too) about Maggie’s hijinks at an art show in Brooklyn. These are the hijinks: Josh finds out that his new lover Montana is actually named Amy and is a trust fund baby and her deal with art is she gets artists to gift her paintings and then she paints the state of Montana on them and resells them. Josh tells Maggie she’s going to do that exact thing to one of her pieces, because he really is a stand up guy, and so Maggie goes to Montana’s art show and pulls out a switch blade and slashes through the painting. Then she stabs a salami on a tray passing by in a server’s hands, pops it in her mouth, and swaggers out the door. This after telling Liza she keeps a stash of bail money in the Halloween pumpkin in her bedroom.

Hey if you like this show you know what else you’ll like? THE BOLD TYPE.


Queen Sugar

Written by Carmen


First things first, how exciting is Queen Sugar’s season 3 renewal!?!?1 I’m so pleased that this lovingly crafted, rich, introspective piece of feminist art continues to find success. I am ready to follow Ava DuVernay and the Bordelons on their journey, and have implicit faith that in wherever they might take us will be worth it.

That said, we have to talk about this episode: Queen Sugar has a “perfect man” problem.

Up until this point, with the exception of Davis- who is singled out as a villain from the pilot episode- the Bordelon men have been nearly a dream. Ralph Angel, Hollywood, and Remy are all sensitive, smart, with a strong moral fiber, and are almost unflinchingly supportive of the women in their life. These men have been the exact opposite of the two-dimensional portrayals of toxic masculinity that clutters so much of television. And though the Bordelons continues to be haunted by the death of their family patriarch Earnest, patriarchy is a not a word I would have used to talk about the show itself. That is, until today.

Last week we all watched horrified as the Bordelons broke apart, and this week I am disappointed to tell you what we found laid bare underneath: unnecessary manpain and misogyny.

Let’s start with Ralph Angel, who threw a grenade into his family last week when he reveled that he had an addendum to Earnest’s will proving he was the intended sole heir to their farm. There has been some discussion about Ra’s motivations in this revelation, and I maintain that Ralph Angel isn’t nefarious. He isn’t purposefully working to screw over his sisters. I don’t believe that he is trying to rob Charley’s work and get rich quick.

In fact, what makes this so awful is that I agree with Ralph Angel; his manual labor, contributions, and growth are overlooked by his sisters. They still see him for his worst mistakes. I feel for him, and understand his need to prove himself. But, the way he has gone about addressing these concerns is immature, bratty, and short-sighted. Has Ralph Angel- even for a moment- thought about how he is actively ripping apart his sisters and aunt’s lives in his recent turn toward petulance? He’s turned cold. He’s angry and beyond reason. And no one receives the brunt of this pain like Darla.

If you have loved Bianca Lawson at any point in your life- if you still think of her fondly for setting your queer heart aflame as Maya in Pretty Little Liars or as Kenya in Buffy- then you need to see the tour de force performance that she is delivering as Darla right now. Darla finds herself as an unwitting pawn in the argument between Charley and Ralph Angel. Charley needs Darla to continue her job at the mill, and Ra ridiculously sees any work on Charley’s behalf as choosing her side in their sibling war. He makes an ultimatum. Darla tries to reason with him, she works at the mill because they- she and Ra and Blue- need the money. She already lost one job because she came to Ralph Angel’s side when he needed her, and she cannot lose another. Bianca Lawson sells Darla’s impossible choice with shaking hands and a determined, furrowed brow. She knows that her relationship with Ra is still fragile after her addiction, but he has left her with no other option. She goes to work.

Later, Darla comes back to visit Ralph Angel. He can continue to be angry with her, but she will not will let that anger get in the way of seeing her son. If he won’t let her in the house, she will take Blue swimming outside of the house. Ralph Angel is still livid, and Darla reminds him, patiently (much more so than I would have) that no one is punishing him. He is punishing himself. It’s at this moment I realized Ra’s true colors, and how selfish his love can be.

We learn that Nova isn’t necessarily angry over losing her claim to the farm, but that being removed from the will symbolizes a painful queer longing that I know many of us know all too intimately: Her father never approved of or understood her. She confides in Vi, “Me and Daddy, we always circled back to that same place… When you gonna settle down? Girl, where my grand babies at? … He could never seem to just let me be me”. A single tear falls from Rutina Wesley’s eye at the memory. Earnest Bordelon didn’t see his daughter for who she was. While her sexuality was not directly spoken of, it weighs heavy and colors the ellipses in Nova’s confession.

The dynamics of adult queer children and their parents are not explored on camera as often as they should be. Nova has thus far been presented as confident in her bisexuality, her decision not to have children, and her devotion to her activism. Now we know that Earnest wanted a more “traditional” life for Nova than the one she built for herself. She left for New Orleans as a means of self-preservation. She knows her father loved her, but for Nova being cut out of the farm “seems like he’s judging me” one last time. It’s the reopening of old wounds that unsettle her.

Charley has the unfortunate patriarchal double whammy of having Earnest’s memory used against her by her current on-again/off-again boyfriend. Charley confesses to Remy that she was forced to publicly break the news of her divorce from Davis to a reporter. It was the only way to move the story away from her panic attacks. At her admission, a darkness colors Remy’s face. He tells her of how often Earnest would praise Charley while she lived in California. He would talk about her success as a result of her thoughtfulness. Once upon a time, Remy believed that thoughtfulness to mean sincerity, but now “I wonder if I misunderstood your father. Maybe thoughtful meant calculating”. It’s a cruel break up. There was no other point to the anecdote except to wound Charley, and at a time when she is already vulnerable. She tells Remy to leave, but the damage is already done.

Maybe I would have felt less sour about this episode if every single Bordelon woman hadn’t been disenfranchised and hurt by the men in their lives all at once- even Aunt Vi reveals that she was once part owner of the family farm, before selling to Earnest 30 years ago in order to get out of an abusive marriage- but here we are. Still, I won’t take an errant episode and use it to abandon ship about the feminist politics of the show. After all, that’s part of the problem with “perfect men” to begin with; perfection in any circumstance is not realistic. In life, there are flaws. It’s my hope that moving forward, Queen Sugar uses these newfound flaws to build an even stronger reconciliation for their characters and path forward for the show.

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Heather has written 738 articles for us.

30 Comments

  1. That was a good Moms episode of The Fosters.
    At first I believed Lena when she said Tess was Stef’s first girlfriend
    Glad they’re talking about how annoying it is to have Gabe, Ana and Jack McFather interfering all the time
    And that date was awful but it was nice to see a transman going on a date with the main character of a teen show.

  2. Re: Queen Sugar,

    @c-p I completely agree with you that Ralph Angel is technically in the right, but is just going about it in the absolute worst way possible. I said last week that I agree with him, and do still agree with him this week – especially after Violet read that letter – but his actions this week make it really hard to continue to back him, specifically, the way he treated Darla. I really hope he can get over himself and his ego and let his sisters help him.

    But I do disagree with you about the “perfect men” of Queen Sugar. I don’t think this episode showed newfound flaws in the men. It just brought more focus to the flaws that have always been there. (Excluding Davis, who has been a piece of shit since day one, and Micah, who isn’t technically a man yet, but is still perfect, as evidenced by the hug he gives his mother in this episode.) I don’t think Ra, Remy and Hollywood have been portrayed as perfect men – they’re real men, flawed, and human, and doing their best, but they’ve never been perfect. We’ve seen Ra commit crimes and lose his temper, we’ve seen Hollywood lie to Violet and hurt her deeply, and we’ve seen Remy treat Charley in a very self-righteous, condescending manner. I don’t think Queen Sugar has ever tried to pretend that these men are perfect.

    I agree that it was hard to see all these strong women hurt by men in the same episode. Bu the thing is, I believe the show was on their side the whole time. The show knows that Charley’s calculating nature is what makes her badass; the show knows that Nova’s sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of; the show knows that Darla is in the right and needs to keep her job. Yeah, this episode may have focused a little too much on the men and their man pain, but I firmly believe the women are going to come out on top in the end.

    • When I’m using “perfect men” here, I definitely didn’t mean as in without character flaws. You’re right, we’ve seen Remy’s condescension, Ra’s temper, and even Hollywood lie before (though I contend that Hollywood was in an impossible scenario last season).

      I mean “perfect” as in, thus far devoid of the troops of toxic masculinity (for a counter example, I present: all of the men of The Fosters). I don’t think that any of the character flaws of the men of Queen Sugar have thus far made them complicit in patriarchy, or in trying to laud their masculinity over the women in their lives, if that makes sense?

      And that is part of why I was so disappointed in this week’s episode. Like I said in my review, I probably would have been more independently patient about *any* of those storylines if they hadn’t all happened at once. And if they they all hadn’t happened at the exact moment when life is spinning out of control for so many of the Bordelon women.

      By the time we got to one of the episode’s scenes, when Hollywood and Ra are sharing a beer together outback and Ralph Angel confides that he thinks he really screwed up with Violet, I knew that the episode had exhausted all the rope I had given it. Hollywood’s advice to Ralph Angel? “Go back to work, raise cane, be a good father to your son, and this will all boil over”. Which is good advice in and of itself, but how about APOLOGIZE TO YOUR GIRLFRIEND FOR BEING AN ASS? I was sort of surprised that Hollywood, who has proven to be so sensitive up to this point and has shown numerous times that emotional intelligence and masculinity don’t have to be the opposites they are socialized to be, didn’t even think to suggest it.

      I had similar problems with Aunt Vi and Earnest’s backstory. I get that as a older sibling Earnest would have wanted to protect his younger sister from her abusive marriage, but was also uncomfortable with the “savior trope” that they put on him. If he wanted to help protect Vi, would he have really bought her half of the farm from her? Why not give her the assistance without gaining the land in return? That cuts off future financial independence. Violet says that she didn’t mind the sacrifice, because in exchange for the farm she got her “independence, freedom, and most importantly my brother back” after their years long feud– but I found the entire thing to be uncomfortable.

      Ultimately, I know you are right: “The show knows that Charley’s calculating nature is what makes her badass; the show knows that Nova’s sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of; the show knows that Darla is in the right and needs to keep her job. Yeah, this episode may have focused a little too much on the men and their man pain, but I firmly believe the women are going to come out on top in the end.”

      And I would even go further to say, I think that it’s probably for the long-term best of the show that we did this deep dive into some of the less favorable traits of the Bordelon men. But, this foray into manpain was nonetheless painful for me as a viewer.

      • Okay, I definitely misunderstood what you meant by “perfect men”. No, I agree, Ra, Remy and Hollywood have never really showed any of those specific character flaws prior to this episode. But Ra and Remy definitely make that transition here. In Hollywood’s defence though, I don’t think he knew about the fight with Darla? He wasn’t there when Darla showed up to take Blue swimming, so he didn’t really know how bad it had gotten.

        As for Ernest, I found that story from Vi really interesting, especially in an episode that also gave us Nova’s backstory with her father. I think we’re beginning to learn that perhaps Ernest wasn’t as good a man as we’ve always been lead to believe he was? Because we STILL don’t know the deal with Charley’s mom. Though I did love Charley confiding in Violet about feeling like an outside in the family growing up, and I like that we got some exposition about how much time she’d actually spent in St. Jo’s.

        I keep saying this, but I REALLY hope they explain the mystery of this family eventually. It’s becoming a little silly. What could be so big or so bad that they’ve been hiding it for a season and a half? I just don’t understand why they’re making it so mysterious, dribbling out the truth in drips and drabs.

      • So, I’ve been reluctant to comment about this episode of Queen Sugar because it felt like the first episode of the show that I didn’t really like…I think, in part, because it felt too heavy. Much like Grey’s Anatomy did last season, when you have all the characters fighting all the time, it becomes very taxing to watch.

        Like you both, I feel like Ralph Angel isn’t totally in the wrong, but he’s handled this in the worst way possible. As much as Ernest’s letter is a blessing to Ralph Angel it’s also feels like a bit of curse because RA has become so singularly focused on achieving his father’s vision. Build a home here. Build a family for you and Blue here. Build our cane here…, it’s all he can think about..and it’s why he can’t see the pain he’s causing Darla. I don’t see it as a function of some deep held misogyny, I just think this is how his grief is manifesting itself.

        I thought Remy was uncharacteristically cruel–even if he didn’t know the specifics about what happened at the memorial, you don’t bring the Charley’s dead daddy into it–but I didn’t find him condescending. I think there’s a natural tension that comes from the way of operating that Remy’s used to–his word would’ve been enough to secure Mr. Duvall’s place in line–and Charley’s new way and that’s going to lead to fights. I wish they’d done more to build up that tension–or included it in a different episode–because it felt very forced.

        As for Nova, I just don’t know what to think about her. We’ve been with these characters for a year now and I feel like I don’t even know who Nova is. It’s one thing to reveal her layers, slowly, as the show progresses, but this feels like a clumsy unspooling. I’m confused about why cutting her out of the farm feels like a judgment to Nova, instead of Ernest’s way of letting her be her, which is what she said she wanted.

        (Also? Her criticism of RA still bothers me (even if it’s, clearly, rooted in things far beyond this conversation), not just because of her past advocacy, but because we know she sells weed in New Orleans (and that she’s sold it in front of a police officer that happened to be her lover).)

        • Thanks for the tag @pecola!

          I agree with you about Remy and Charley’s fight. That really felt like it belonged in a different episode, because there wasn’t enough buildup to get to a point where Remy could say something so needlessly cruel. I do think Remy has at times been condescending to Charley, but you’re right that they just have very different ways of operating, and that could have been interesting to explore more fully, but instead what we got seemed super rushed.

          The mystery behind WHY Ra was in prison is another thing I’d like the show to clear up soon. Blue is about 5 years old, right? And I think we can assume that Blue was at least conceived, if not born, before Ra went to prison. So Ra couldn’t have been in prison for more than 5 years. So what could he possibly have done to make Nova criticize him this way, especially with what we know about her own criminal activity? I’ve always assumed it was some kind of robbery, like what he pulled in the pilot, and probably unarmed, because otherwise he likely would have gotten a LOT more time. And we know it’s nothing drug-related, because his parole officer said so. It’s very unlikely he actually hurt anybody, so what the hell is Nova’s problem!?

          I like your interpretation of Ralph Angel’s actions a lot – selfish, and self-centred, but not necessarily misogynistic. I’d prefer to think of him that way. He is the baby in the family after all, and from what Charley said, apparently he spent a lot of his life being babied by his family, since his mom died when he was so young.

  3. After reading about “Queen Sugar” on these pages, I bought season 1 DVD ($10.00) and received it yesterday. I’ve watched the first three episodes so far. This IS quality television. Thank you, Carmen, for letting me know about it. I do not watch any TV and so would have never known of this without your words.

    I have a question, though. Do you have a reason for spelling the late father’s name as Earnest instead of the usual Ernest?? The wiki page and IMDb both have the conventional spelling. I can’t find a reference on the DVD print portions and haven’t remembered to look in credits. This catches my eye every time in your posts because my late father’s name was Ernest. Whenever my mother would see it misspelled with an “a” she’d read it ear-nest and snicker.

    • Jo Jern! THANK YOU!! This is truly awesome!

      I’m glad you are enjoying the show so far. Feel free to drop in the comments and let us know your reactions to season 1. I’d be happy to chat about it with you.

      And, to your question, I have been spelling Earnest that way because I honestly did not know better. The only Earnest I have known personally was a good friend from college, and that was how he spelled his name. I double checked the spelling of Charley and Micah (and if Ralph’s angel was one word or two) before starting the recaps, but it never occurred to me to double check “Ernest”.

      Thank you for the heads up! I’ll definitely be spelling it the correct way from here on out.

      (*blushes embarrassingly* but it happens to the best of us, I guess)

      • @c-p Carmen, it’s not your fault. Oscar Wilde wrote a play about a guy who pretends to be “earnest” by pretending to be a dude called “Ernest” and called it “The Importance of Being Earnest” and thus confused the shit out of people for 120 years.

  4. I’m just going to go ahead and assume that Drew was able to find the money to put in all those surveillance cameras by cutting the funding to all those clubs he doesn’t agree with. Otherwise, it makes no sense he would get them approved and installed so fast. I know pretty much nothing about school administration but is he allowed to just run that school like a dictatorship the way he has?

  5. Queen Sugar- It is great to see this family drama. Charley is a great character. I don’t think ‘perfect men’ was the only episode that was steeped in patriarchy and misogyny. All the episodes have a little bit of them throughout.

    Ralph Angel- I saw him as a whiny, selfish, one note character right from the first episode and the actor has one note voice. Every line he delivers is whiny and filled with self pity and an inert & inherent rage towards his sisters. Am surprised that the reviewer saw him as sweet. Except his sisters, all of them indulge him, it is grating to watch.

    Nova- Rutina Wesley is just perfect. though way her bi-sexuality is presented is very dicey. Of course i only know of the one heart-felt relationship she had with the married cop and the superficial, lackadaisical one she had with another activist. The difference between the two is in your face. Obviously bi-sexuals will always end-up with a man. I am waiting to be proved wrong on this.

    Charley- Dawn-Lyen Gardner is again, perfectly cast.

    Aunty Vi- Tina Lifford has amazing legs!

    Darla- Bianca Lawson is again, perfect. why is she wasted against Ralph Angel?

    I watched only the 1st series. Started the 2nd, left it into 2 episodes.

  6. For most of networks, summer represents a downtime. It’s a simple concept, really: as the weather warms up, people go out more and devote less time to watching TV, so instead of producing new dramatic content, networks rely on reruns and cheaply produced games and reality shows to get them to the fall season. This, however, is not true for daytime television who sees summers as an opportunity to grow their viewership. They think, particularly, about young people, who are out of school for the summer and who, if given the right story, might roll out of bed and turn on their program. So, friends become lovers, kids become teenagers and, yes, some characters become queer.

    Turns out that two soaps will be going the latter route this summer:

    This week, General Hospital announced that Ashley Jones will return to Port Charles as Parker Forsyth, the lesbian English professor that bedded her former student (Kristina, Lexi Ainsworth). We haven’t seen Parker or any evidence of Kristina’s sexuality (with boys or girls) since last summer. The storyline was actually pretty compelling until TPTB at General Hospital dropped it and it earned Ainsworth an Emmy win.

    You can catch up on Kristina and Parker’s entire storyline, here, and look for Ashley Jones to reprise her role, on-screen, during the week of August 14.

    As I mentioned last week, daytime’s #1 soap, The Young and the Restless, is finally welcoming a queer couple to the canvas. Mariah (Camryn Grimes) and Tessa (Cait Fairbanks) both have boyfriends but after what seemed like a near kiss moment, both of them seem to be thinking a lot about each other. They’re off to a music festival next week in San Francisco, with their boyfriends in tow, so we’ll see if any anything develops between the pair.

    I’m still not sure about this pairing, mainly because Tessa’s a relatively new character, but I’m excited by how the actresses are embracing the storyline. Also? Sara Bibel rejoined the Y&R writing team back in January and she’s always been a fierce advocate for telling LGBT stories on soaps…so I’m thinking (hoping) that she’ll guide this story in the right direction.

    Anyhow, I’ll keep my eyes on both soaps and report back on what happens. Hopefully, we’ll see one of these shows willing to break out of daytime’s queerbait-y habit.

  7. I’ve watched The Fosters from Day 1, “bonkers storylines” and all. I stuck with it solely because of Jude (well, Stef and Lena, too…let’s be real). I think he’s unappreciated and underused. I’d like to see him really take an interest in something–maybe the rogue paper–and become more than the phone-addicted teenager that they’re turning him into.

  8. I should really watching those 3 episodes of the Fosters if I want to be able to comment on it. It just seems like once 1 thing is resolved the show does something to annoy me 3times more.

    How great was that episode of Younger? Was it just me or was something off with Charles? I don’t know how I feel about Kelsey and Chest Peckwell (that was his nickname on Greys, didn’t catch his character name here). Like he seemed really nice and sweet until they talked about that author and he was like “he’s your problem now, you’ll see”. Like first with Colin walking over Kelsey to now this guy.

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