The Fosters sometimes feels like it exists in a progressive utopia, with its warm multiracial, blended family, led by two very in love women. But, the show always has a way of bringing us back to reality. The family drama kept up that streak with "Dirty Laundry," where we meet the parents of Callie’s transgender friend Aaron (trans actor Elliot Fletcher).
Viewers get a hint something is wrong between Aaron and his family at the very beginning of the season 4 episode, when he asks Callie (Maia Mitchell) to tag along for a trip back home to act as a "buffer." When the will-they-or-won’t-they pair arrives at the Baker family residency in L.A. it’s obvious there’s a vast amount of tension bubbling below the surface.
Aaron’s mom is overjoyed to see him, yet she still calls him "Alison" the moment he walks through the door. At dinner, Mrs. Baker reveals why she keeps making the unintended hurtful mistake: Alison was her own mother’s name. While it’s clear Aaron’s mom is mourning the loss of the daughter whose photos cover her home, she’s working hard to accept and love her child’s new identity. The same can’t be said for Aaron’s father.
Mr. Baker makes a mean "joke" about Aaron never joining a sorority before his anger really comes to the surface. Aaron’s dad criticizes his son’s tattoo, saying he’s “mutilated” himself enough. Callie goes off, reminding the oldest Baker man Aaron’s outside now simply matches his insides. Mr. Baker doesn’t take Callie’s defense to heart and cruelly says, "Let me tell you something, underneath all of this is my daughter, Alison."
At least Mrs. Baker manages to add some humanity to the family with a nighttime heart-to-heart with Callie. The older woman reveals how deeply she’s grieving for "Alison," whose future she had imagined since birth. Mrs. Baker shares how sad she is she’ll miss the grandmother milestones she always dreamed of, like teaching her daughter how to change diapers and deal with teething babies. Although she could still technically be a grandmother, Aaron’s possible future wife will have her own mother to help her through these big moments.
Mrs. Baker also shows how guilty she feels for causing Aaron any childhood pain by making him do traditionally feminine activities like ballet and the Girl Scouts, things she thought would make her child happy. The conversation is a heartbreaking portrait at a transgender person’s parent coming to terms with their new child and trying to love someone they never expected to meet.
In some good news for Aaron, the visit ends on a hopeful note, as Mrs. Baker hangs up the first photo of her "handsome" son on the family mantle. After such an emotional episode, it's important to see things can improve between the Bakers, as long as Aaron's parents slowly let go of missing Alison and start appreciating their son for who he is. Let's hope there are a lot more photos of Aaron on that mantle the next time we see it.