In the spring of 1999, an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was scheduled to air that focused on finding a school shooter. The episode was ultimately pushed back several months after a real shooting, at Columbine High School, happened the week before.
As TV shows tackle gun violence, initiating discussions around shootings and gun ownership, they do so in a world where real-life shootings seem very likely to occur between an episode’s wrap date and its air date. This means that viewers will be seeing the violence portrayed with slightly different eyes than the writers could have anticipated.
Last night’s episode of The Fosters addressed the issue, and it aired just over one week after the deadly shootings in Orlando. And while the episode saw every student in a school-wide lockdown eventually get out safely, it did illustrate a painful generational divide in how the threat of a school shooting is handled.
In a school-shooting scenario, going into whichever classroom is closest after an announcement of a lockdown is standard (this is not a drill). The Fosters' Callie and Brandon, both seniors, duck into a middle school science room being handled by a twentysomething substitute teacher. The sub is frantic, flipping through a binder on school-shooter procedure, not sure how to handle his students or his classroom. The two 17-year-olds know exactly what to do, barricading the doors with a collection of tables and chairs and directing the younger, more panicky kids to stay quiet on the floor. It’s a reminder that these older teens, who would have started kindergarten in a post-Columbine world, are as familiar with school-shooting drills as they are fire drills, and with just a little maturity are able to carry out the plan automatically.
The sub is obviously not great under pressure, showing absolutely no leadership skills or ability to reassure the kids under his care. But he does feel confident that he's prepared for a day at an American school: He's brought his own gun. The pistol ends up nearly getting him killed when he mistakenly pulls it on police, not the potential shooter. But however stupid a decision it is, it has a chilling implication — he feels his life might be put in danger as a teacher. And he isn't wrong.
The Fosters clearly isn’t done talking about gun violence — the potential shooter, who’s motivated to take his father’s gun when he believes his girlfriend, a Foster, has cheated on him, is still out there and is able to sneak into the Foster house. What this season premiere clearly illustrates is the fact that, while the threat of gun violence is always terrifying, to a bunch of teenagers, it's nothing new.