the blog of an aspiring YA author full of book reviews, musings on writing, life and being a young adult with a disability.
Monday, January 5, 2015
Why I Love The Fosters's Callie Jacob
My marathon rewatch of The Fosters has me thinking about Callie’s character, and I’ve been struck on how nice she really is. She’s not at all the callous, oft-times cruel, beat-down-by-the-system foster kid we get a lot in media, and that’s so refreshing.
Hold on, I hear many people say, she called Stef and Lena “dykes” in the first episode! Well, yes. She did. But Callie does very little without reason, particularly at this point in the series, and that reason is easy enough to understand once you accept the way that her primary motivation is manifesting at this point. She wants to protect Jude. In the pilot, that means she has to get to him, and in her mind that means she’ll quickly be leaving this home—where they clearly don’t have enough room for two more kids—and probably the system for good. She can’t get attached, because the last time she got attached was Liam. Talk about betrayal. So, she shuts herself off. She insults everyone, but her put downs are generic—if sassy—and I bet anything she picked them up from people she found dislikable in other homes. And even when she’s being cold, her niceness shines through a little. Something in the way she reminds Brandon and Mariana about what will get them in trouble with their moms. It’s not just that she quickly adapts the title “moms” without any indicator of her earlier homophobia, its in the way that she tries to protect the people who have been her foster-siblings for all of twelve hours, in spite of what she’s suffered at the hands of other foster siblings*. She doesn’t want anyone to get into trouble for her.
Once Jude is safe, her attitude does a total one-eighty. She’s still guarded, but she’s polite. I was struck particularly by her reaction to hearing that Mariana’s friend Kelsey has gone to rehab. She says, “I’m sorry to hear that.” Kelsey framed her and could have gotten her sent back to Juvie, but Callie is polite about her. To me, the fact that it’s a canned response says even more. It says that at some point, probably her first ten years, Callie was raised to say the kind thing. For all that her father drank, we don’t have evidence that he was violent, and I think her home life may have been pretty loving and peaceful—making the shift to the system a huge shock.
Callie’s nice-but-protective persona continues through the season. Her relationship toward Mariana becomes trusting and protective—think of her helping Mari down the steps at the party—almost like her relationship with Jude. And that’s the thing. Throughout 1a, we see that Callie only allows herself to acknowledge two types of love—the kind she feels toward Jude, which leads to self-denial, and the kind enacted by Liam, which she comes to view as corrupt.
And here’s where I may lose some Braillie shippers, so let me say first that the way Callie’s perception shifts after this realization is what first causes her to reject and run from The Fosters, because she no longer knows how to accept walls-down, unconditional mother-love, but the way she tells Stef and Lena she loves them at the end of 1b, even when she thinks Donald is going to take her and Jude away, is a mark of the loving, kind, Callie she’s finally learned to let show even if it means accepting sorrow as well as joy.
Back to Liam. I do not think Brandon is comparable to Liam. I don’t think he’s the anti-Liam, or a proto-Liam, or the nouveau-Liam. Still, if you are 100% pro-Braillie, you may want to get off the train.
I’m not against Brandon. I think he’s very privileged**. I don’t think he truly understands who Callie is now. I do think he loves the person she let him see. I think she will be the supportive, world-wise (comparatively) sister that he needs if things play out the way I hope they will, but I think their romantic relationship was ultimately toxic, primarily because it was not what Callie ultimately needed.
There are undeniable parallels between her relationships with Liam and Brandon, and those are there for a reason. They’re both older, privileged, loved boys who showed Callie affection. It’s easy for her to accept this from Brandon, at first because she only thinks it’s wrong because it got her kicked out of the best foster home she and Jude had ever had. Then she realizes that what Liam did was wrong, and not her fault. And it’s important that this is the point where she begins to accept Brandon’s feelings, because it’s important that she sees that he is not Liam. He is not manipulative.*** He is genuine. His affection for her is the guileless love The Fosters all give in different ways, but it’s close enough to what she knows—what she has had in the past—for her to accept.
Until it comes into conflict with her primary motivation: protect Jude. This happens, and she runs. But once she runs, it becomes clear that the Fosters aren’t going to reject Jude, whatever she does. Her primary motivation, the trait that defines how she interacts with people, has been taken out of her hands. Again, she closes off. Again, her character shines through—she is kind to Cole, explicitly stating a belief that underscores her arc, “what is right isn’t always what is easy.”
Because that’s the thing. It’s easy for her to latch onto Brandon. She latches onto him while she’s at Girls United, because it’s easy. She isn’t expected to protect him, or to have a relationship she’s never had before with him. She doesn’t really have to open up to him. (What does she tell him that can’t be found in her file? The file that Lena says early on shouldn’t define her?) However, once she begins to reveal what she needs—not necessarily from him, but from someone—it’s clear that he’s not ready to provide that. And that’s okay. A sixteen-year-old kid in his position should not be expected to have to prioritize having a kitchen table over killer speakers. But Callie would, if she went into independent living. It wouldn’t be outlaws in love—the show tells us that within the first five minutes, and hits it home in “The Honeymoon.” it would be Daphne’s Kraft Dinner. Some teenagers can make a go at that, but it doesn’t tend to go well on this show, and I highly doubt it would go well for Brandon, even if he and Callie were MFEO. But this isn’t about Brandon. It’s about Callie. What Callie needs in order to be that kind, sassy-and-sweet girl we see glimpses of in passing.
To become that girl, Callie needs a family—parents. She doesn’t realize how much until she lets herself truly remember her mother in “Padre.” Once she does that, once she remembers everything, truth that isn’t in her file, and reveals it to Stef—not Brandon, not even Jude—when she allows herself to be comforted, to be mothered, she really opens up. It’s spelled out—literally, wonderfully—in the next episode. She takes care of remembering Jude’s “secret birthday,” in a way that symbolizes the hiding, secreting, and squirreling away treats and food for him, the way she’s done for six years, and then she shares it with their family. She’s beginning to give over the reins.
It’s not a perfect handover. She still lies to Stef and Lena—almost all in the name of protecting Jude, occasionally Brandon^—but I think the depth of her true emotions can be seen in “Don’t Let Go.” At the point where she tells Stef and Lena that she^^ loves them, she thinks that Donald is going to take her away. And yet, instead of shutting herself off, she opens up. It’s a sign that she knows they will always been in her life, but also a tip-off that she doesn’t want to leave. I think she’s unconsciously afraid of leaving, for her own sake. She doesn’t want to leave them. And it’s not just because with them she doesn’t have to pull strings to make sure Jude is safe or protected. It’s because she is safe and protected. They take care of her, without manipulation, prodding, or condition. And because of that, she can be genuine, kind, and loving. The girl her mom raised.
Now, I’m excited to see the way in which those traits allow her to become the woman she’s growing to be. I imagine in the next season her protectiveness will allow her to step up in the face of Brandon’s injury, helping Stef and Lena with the younger ones, but I also think she’s going to rely on the moms to help her navigate a lot of life and social issues she missed out on by moving constantly and closing herself off. I see them encouraging her to plan for a future she didn’t think she had. And maybe it will involve channeling that love, protection, and kindness into helping other foster kids understand that they deserve all the types of love that the world has to offer, too.
*Some of this may be that she feels culpable for getting Liam “in trouble,” At this point she think it was “her fault,” and she writes about him under the heading of guilt, which may stem from more than just getting herself and Jude sent away from the Olmsteads.
**I want to do a post this week on privilege—everyone’s, not just Brandon’s—and the role it plays in the show.
***Or, at least, it’s not the calculated manipulation of a pedophile, it’s the unknowing manipulation of a privileged teenage asshole, but he does occasionally show signs of actually having been raised by Stef and Lena, and I’m hoping the future gives us a redemption arc of sorts. (Not because of his injury, i hate redemption by injury, just by means of being a person.)
^Part of me wants to say this is residual fear left over from the whole Liam thing, which is a reflection not on Brandon, but on the horror of Liam and the system.
^^And Jude, she still tends to mask true emotion behind Jude