The Fosters Episode 211 Recap: Cotton-Headed Ninnymoggins

Welcome, everyone, to a recap of the Christmas episode The Fosters, a television show about how tricky it is to keep your scissoring game going strong when you and your wife share a queen size hospital bed and live with one dozen teenagers, two of whom keeping making out every time you even blink. Before I weave you a yarn about what happened on last night, I want to say two things:

1. I owe so much of my love for The Fosters to Lucy Hallowell, who has been a tireless advocate for this show from the moment JLo conceived it into her brainspace. I think half the reason gAyBC Family has stuck with it is because of Lucy’s influence and evangelism. Lucy, you know I love you like a Judicorn. (She also coined the word “Judicorn.”)

2. I owe the other half of my love for The Fosters to Norman Buckley, who directed this episode and also so many episodes of so many of my favorite TV shows. He is a bright light in a dark world, an artist and a storyteller I admire so much. Norman lost his husband a few weeks ago, and so I hope you will hold him in your heart with me and wish him so much warmth and affection this Holigay season.

And now, to the recap!

Callie and Brandon are doing smoochy-face stuff and breathing real hard and talking about how probably it is better that she didn’t get adopted so they can still make out whenever they want without their moms reminding them it is incest. Callie wants to take it to second base, right there on the street corner, but Brandon needs to stop and think for a second/the first time in his life. He takes a walk and plops down on the sidewalk like ten feet away from Callie, before spying some broken Christmas decorations and drifting into a holidaze flashback about Callie and Jude’s first Christmas was the Foster-Adams clan.

It is Christmas. The Foster-Adamses are decorating the tree and also Annie Potts is there, which is more than any of us deserve for all the Christmases in our lives combined, to be honest. Brandon and Jesus and Mariana all have “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments from their first holiday season with Stef and Lena, and so of course Jude and Callie get ornaments too. Stef says that is all anybody is getting anybody else, except for one small secret Santa gift, because when one mama is a teacher and another mama is a cop, it’s not like they’ve got the money to be buying everybody personal rocketships.


I can spend money on whatever I want, Stef! My sweater is potholders!

Grandma Sharon thinks that’s the dumbest thing she’s ever heard, which is why she has ordered an entire sleigh’s worth of presents for everyone, and also is happy to give Jesus one million dollars to buy decorations to win the neighborhood decorating contest.

One fun thing I like to do when watching The Fosters is take a drink of some liquor every time Stef makes that face that indicates that her calm is being damaged, and then see how drunk I am by the time Lena is putting Stef’s exploded brain back together like a Lego set.

Things get awkward when a social worker lets herself right on in the front door and gives Callie a donated present and tells her she hopes she’ll one day find her forever home. Callie’s face is embarrassed. Mariana’s face is, nbd, just put it under the tree and don’t be weird. And Jude’s face is like, “I am an angel from the actual heavens and will overcompensate for getting adopted by crafting a miracle from the ether and giving it to my sister on Christmas morning.”


I wish my mom was here instead of lying dead on the side of the road after breaking out of prison and getting smashed by a van being driven by a whole other escaped prisoner.

Stef: I wish my mom would stop buying Christmas presents!
Lena: Your mom is Annie Potts, though; she does what she wants.
Stef: Did you notice we are surrounded by my dad’s old bank statements? I will open one up and see if — thundering typhoon! He had amassed one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in cash money before he died! I’ll bet you my mom inherited it and spent it on rocketships!


Sometimes I remember I was married to Ben Stiller in two different movies.

Grandma Sharon: What do y’all think of these rocketships?
Grandma Sharon: OK, but please don’t do that thing where you start hurting everyone’s feelings on purpose.
Stef: That is exactly the thing I am going to do!

Callie and Jude and Brandon go to an antique shop for some reason to buy presents for their teenage siblings. Callie spots a one hundred dollar bracelet she likes, and — while Brandon tries to convince her she’d rather have a table to put in the kitchen of an apartment she no longer lives in, due to “flat surfaces” reminding her of him (I honestly don’t know) — Jude thinks long and hard about pickpocketing it. He does not, though, because his insides are made of cotton candy and his hair is licked into place each morning by hedgehogs.


I got “armchair” in BuzzFeed’s “Which Living Room Apparatus Are You?” quiz.


Oh my god, can anybody talk about anything other than furniture right now?

The only person who really understands Callie is Daphne, so Callie takes her a wind-up toy dog to help her get over her fear of wind-up toy dogs. And hey! Daphne has a gift for Callie too! An application to work at the same food truck/diner as her, so they can make money and be awesome together! Everything is coming up Daphne, apparently. Her bestie is going to be her new work buddy, and also she’s been spying on her daughter (who is in foster care) at the park. Callie explains that this is a Bad Idea. A No Good, Very Bad Idea.

She says Daphne has got to absolutely not kidnap her own child, but instead keep her head down and keep working hard and everything will be okay. Daphne’s like, “Yeah, the way everything keeps being okay w/r/t you getting adopted/un-adopted ten times per week?” But she knows Callie is right.

Jesus really wants to win the neighborhood decorating contest, man. His moms won’t give him money, though. And his moms won’t let him take Annie Potts’ money. So, when Mariana dips her head in the room to give him a list of things she wants for Christmas that cost less than $40 and are not an electric toothbrush*, he asks for her artistic expertise. She says she will help him decorate if she gets creative control, 10% of his winnings, and doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting. He agrees because Mariana actually might be a Jedi Knight. I will continue to look for signs to prove this theory in the second half of the season.

*I forgot to tell you there was a vibrator joke in the opening scene! It was like Mariana going, “Jesus got me a vibrating toothbrush last year.” And Brandon was like, “Are you sure it was for your teeth and not for your clitoris?” And everyone was like, “OMG Brandon!” And he was like, “It’s not weird to talk about clitorises with your sister!” And everyone was like, “Yes, it is.” Even Callie was like that.


I just think Taylor Swift’s pop album is more retro-derivative than retro-genius.

Anyway, so in the kitchen, Stef is still carrying on about her dad leaving that money to her mom and how you know Annie Potts is just going to spend it all on blow and hookers or whatever. Lena wants her to cool her jets and listen for one single second because she’s having a hard Christmas too. Her half-brother, who has been known to use the word “dyke” to slur her, is getting to spend Christmas with her mom who is not even his mom, and her dad who also is his dad. I’m actually going to blame Stef for the fact that Lena starts yelling, “HALF IS NOT THE SAME AS WHOLE! HALF IS HALF AND WHOLE IS WHOLE, SIBLING-WISE! HALF IS NOT WHOLE!” (I am blaming Stef because Lena wouldn’t have to shout about anything if she would just hush sometimes!)

Obviously Jude hears this and believes it 100% because Lena never hollers like this, so he walks the saddest walk of sadness out the door and sadly pedals his sad bike off down the street to become a criminal. Stef watches him go.




No. Fuck this.

When Lena comes back into the kitchen, Stef is like, “Well, the tenderhearted cherub we adopted definitely heard you screeching about genetic fractions, so.”

Jesus and Mariana are doing their decorating when that grizzled old coot from Home Alone hobbles into the yard to yell at Jesus for slashing his inflatable snowman. Jesus says that he did no such thing and Old Man Marley says yes he did and don’t forget that at night he shovels salt onto the snow and the salt is made from the victims of all the people he axe-murdered. Mariana would like to renegotiate the terms of her contract.

Jude’s bedroom:


I just love the players, mom. And they love the game.

Lena: Listen, I know it’s usually your other mom mouthing off and hurting people’s feelings on accident, but today that was me, and I want you to know I don’t believe all that “half isn’t whole” stuff I was saying.
Jude: Why did you say it then?
Lena: Because my half-brother was a racist, homophobic dick at one point, and I was just blowing off steam.
Jude: I understand. Because I am literally perfect.
Lena: Yes. You are. What did you get Callie for Christmas?
Jude: A very fancy bracelet.
Lena: For 40 dollars, little puppyhead?
Jude: Ummm mmm hmm.
Lena: Well, just remember it’s not your responsibility to be anything other than who you are, which is honestly the spirit of Christmas personified every second of every day of your life.

Jude runs right back to the antique store to confess to stealing the bracelet, because of course he does, but the stern lady behind the counter says he probably just forgot to pay and the bracelet is only $40 and not $100, because his adorable face counts as a 60% off coupon. Jude is very thankful. He smiles sweetly. I smile back. The whole world smiles back. Do you think maybe Jude is Mr. Rogers’ son, you guys? I kind of do.

Daphne goes to the park to watch her daughter play, even though Callie told her not to, and it is the most heartbreaking thing. She practically has to sit on her hands not to reach out to her little girl. Probably she sits on her hands and imagines Rosie O’Donnell yelling at her. That’s probably a very good behavioral deterrent. But even that doesn’t work. She calls out to Tasha in a whisper and Tasha looks right up at her.


Everyone at the Foster-Adams house gets a holiday thing to wear at the table, including reindeer antlers and bowties, but Lena has something special for Stef and it is diamond earrings. Stef Stefs it so hard. First she says they’re fake. Then she says they better be fake. Then she says they promised not to get each other things. Everyone starts squirming in their seats and Lena’s face just gets more and more dispirited, and finally Grandma Sharon tries to break the tension like, “Hey, well, at least someone is in the holiday spirit like me!”

It is not the correct thing to say.

Stef: No! No, mom! You overspend and overgive and just so you know, that crazy memory foam hospital bed you got us nearly murdered our sex life!
Kids: [horror faces]
Grandma Sharon: What murdered your sex life is your sensible cotton underwears, which I noticed when I was folding your laundry!
Kids: [even more horror faces]
Stef: I guess you could buy me one hundred thousand thongs with all that money you inherited! If I wore thongs! Which I do not do! Because they are not comfortable and I am an officer of the law!
Grandma Sharon: I wear thongs and who would like to see them?
Kids: [absolute most horror faces]

Things go from awkward to awful because Lena starts crying because Stef is being a jerk and also she burned the lasagna because she didn’t hear the timer because her wife and her mother-in-law were yelling about their sex life in front of the children. And that’s when the carolers show up at the door.

Finally, Grandma Sharon puts an end to everyone’s misery by plucking a box out from under the tree and forcing Stef to open it. Inside are savings accounts for all the kids’ college funds. All five of them, including Callie. Grandma Sharon says she spent Stef’s dad’s money on that, and actually it was her money because she’s the one who invested it on the ground floor of the Dot Com boom. Also, she invested her own money, so she’s all set for forever, and so CALM DOWN, STEF. GOD.

Stef apologizes to Lena and Lena smooches her and the kids smile and try not to think about all the sex things they just learned about their mothers.

fosters211-2 fosters211-1

After a dinner of burnt lasagna seasoned with Lena’s tears, Callie and Brandon rush off to help Daphne, who kidnapped little Tasha after all. They contemplate the ways they can get the baby back to her foster home before Rosie/the police find out she’s stolen, and decide to set her free at the foot of the driveway where she lives. Tasha is tiny. She cannot talk. But she toddles up to the doorbell and knocks on it — but not before she waves back at Daphne in the most heartbreaking moment on this show ever, including when Stef almost Stef’d her own wedding. Tasha’s foster dad opens the door and hilariously just goes like, “oh hey tasha.” And Daphne runs off.


But how DO you beat Candy Crush level 130?

Jesus decides to sleep out on the lawn to make sure no one, including Old Man Marley, terrorizes his Christmas decorations. Mariana brings him some hot chocolate and tells a sweet story about how their mom left them alone when they were five years old to go get high on Christmas Eve, and even though Jesus was probably scared and sad, he kept Mariana from feeling that way, and that’s the best Christmas present anyone has ever given her. After she goes inside, Jesus dozes off … until he hears vandals messing with his snowmen! He rushes out of the tent, but Old Man Marley is already beating them away with a baseball bat!

They sit on the porch and have a chat:

Old Man Marley: When I was growing up, all families looked like Family Ties, but thanks to ABC Family, I’m seeing all these blended families with kids of different ethnicities and sexual orientations and gender presentations, and there’s lesbian moms and lesbian ghost ninjas and lesbians who are only really people wearing masks of lesbian faces and I think it’s pretty great. My kids don’t come home much since their mom died.
Jesus: You’re all right, Old Man Marley.
Old Man Marley: Yeah, well.

When Marley goes back home, Jesus takes down the sign in the yard that says he’s entered in the neighborhood decorating contest. He decides to give the win to his new buddy Marley. Both of their houses looks fucking insane.


On Christmas morning, everyone gets their rocketships and their college educations and Stef gets nice underwear for sexual seduction purposes. Jude raises a mug of warm cocoa and says, “God bless us all, everyone!”

And so we are blessed.

There’s a flash forward to the present, but I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to end on Stef and Lena in their matching pajamas and Jude’s smiling, elfish face.


No one look at my new Straddle This briefs. These are not for you.

The Fosters (and these recaps) return on January 19th!

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1719 articles for us.


  1. Well this was brilliant.

    Thank you for the Ben Stiller joke. And thank you for ignoring the flash forward and making this just a recap of the time when Jude was Tiny Tim and Lena cried at carolers and then everyone loved each other over scissoring sweatshirts at the end.

  2. But wasn’t Jack McPhee gonna pay for Callie’s college education? If so, why won’t Grandma use the 30k to send them all to Hawaii or Disneylnd or Europe? I like it when TV shows go on trips….
    Also also also I really missed that song… “Its not where you come from, its where you belong…”

  3. When I saw the outrageous light display, all I could think was, “Holy buckets! That energy bill is going to be through the roof! Why didn’t Stef and Lena think about that?”

  4. I loved the Christmas special so much. I teared up when:
    1. Stef and her mom’s fighting made Lena cry
    2. Mariana and Jesus had that moment
    3. Tasha turned around to wave at Daphne before knocking on the door
    4. Jesus took down his sign so his neighbor could win.

    Basically, I was a mess. (Could have done without the Brandon/Callie make-out session, but I guess we can’t always get what we want)

  5. Thank you for this! I’m glad you’ll be covering this show. I used to recap The Fosters for another site and it was actually the hardest show to cover since its tone is so… “lovely,” for lack of a better description? I found it a hell of a challenge to find ways to be funny about it (other than just constantly making fun of Brandon), and here you managed to do so throughout. So I’m psyched! (And I admit defeat!)

  6. I don’t think this title was *meant* to offend and I understand that the longer phrase comes from “Elf” but it comes across a lot like a racial slur… Who in our society has hair like cotton and is often portrayed as stupid?

Comments are closed.