WARNING: This story contains major spoilers from Monday’s episode of The Fosters. Read at your own risk!
From its serious look at the foster care system to featuring the youngest gay kiss ever on television, The Fosters never has shied away from relevant, buzzworthy storylines, but tonight’s season premiere, featuring a student bringing a gun to school, was easily — and unfortunately — its most timely.
After seeing his girlfriend Mariana (Cierra Ramirez) kissing her ex in the season 3 finale, Nick (Louis Hunter) burned down his father’s warehouse and then turned up at school with his father’s gun tucked into his jeans. Those who saw him, including Mariana and her brother Jesus (Noah Centineo), didn’t know what was going on, just that he was acting “super weird.”
The all-too-real storyline was something the show had been planning for a while, executive producer Peter Paige, who wrote the episode, tells EW. It’s also one he feels needs to be discussed more now than ever.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How do you feel about this gun storyline airing in the wake of the Orlando shooting?
PETER PAIGE: It made me more proud than ever that everyone at the show was willing to wade into the conversation. I think it’s so important. That and global warming, I think, are our two biggest national security crises, so it makes me super-proud of the show, of the network, of the people involved, that we were all willing to really try to look at what it is we’re asking of our kids.
When you started planning for this episode, was there any pushback from the network or others involved?
No, there really wasn’t. There was concern about how we handled it. People wanted to hear what we were thinking before they signed off on it, because there are certainly other ways to do this kind of a story that could be far more sensationalist and salacious. That’s never what we want to do with The Fosters, but with a topic like this, I think everyone wanted to be extra careful. Once everyone heard what we were thinking, everyone was on board right away.
Nick gets the gun from where it was locked in his father’s trunk, and his father makes the comment about having the license for it. Are you intending to make a statement there?
We’re making a statement about the unbelievable ease of access that people have to firearms in this day and age.
And there was no fear at all from the network, even about that?
Literally there was not one moment that we got pushback on. They were supportive the whole way. We did really copious amounts of research to make sure everything we were showing was rooted in reality. The entire lockdown procedure is taking from procedures at various high schools and school districts around the country. It’s all very, very real and all real stuff that’s happening somewhere in the country probably today.
Yeah, it seemed like this was a drill like a fire drill that the students had practiced before — they knew what to do. In your research, did you find that this is something a lot of schools are doing or still a small percentage?
Almost all, in our research. We didn’t survey every school in America, but we didn’t reach out to one school that didn’t have a procedure like this in place. Think about that! It’s heartbreaking.
What was the hardest scene to write?
I don’t know. I just remember shaking with adrenaline as I was writing it… My heart goes in my throat the minute they figure out that Nick has the gun in the school. That’s the moment that it all shifts for me, but there was a lot about this episode that was challenging.
For me, one of the most harrowing scenes was Mariana and Nick in the courtyard, with him circling her as they talked, and the audience seeing the gun even though she couldn’t. What would have happened if the janitor hadn’t interrupted?
I don’t know! Maybe it all would’ve gotten sorted out. Mariana makes a pretty compelling argument when allowed to, so maybe she would’ve been able to talk him down before things escalated… I personally don’t think Nick ever really intended to hurt anyone else. He was always much more in danger of hurting himself.
Shifting gears a bit, Mat was quick to run to Mariana’s side when she came out of the school. Once the dust settles from all this, is there hope for them?
I certainly think you can’t look at those two and not believe that they really love each other. So, for me, there’s always hope when there’s real love afoot.
Are we supposed to assume that Emma and Jesus really did have sex?
I don’t know what they did; I wasn’t there. But they left campus with a plan to have sex and then they came back. It seems like they might have.
What can we look forward to now that the moms know the truth about Callie and Brandon’s relationship?
In a way, this episode marks the moment the world changed, both for everyone inside Anchor Beach but also for everyone inside the house. The secret’s out, and that makes everything different. Forever.
The Fosters airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Freeform.