Monday, October 3, 2016

Fresh off the Boat 2.24: "Bring the Pain"

“It’s a Chinese polite fight. You’re never supposed to give in. These things can get hella intense.”

I think “Bring the Pain” is the best episode of “Fresh off the Boat” that I’ve seen in a while. In the season finale, Ken Jeong guest starred as Louis’ brother Gene, and the result is fantastic. Nice parallels were drawn between Louis and Gene’s relationship and the relationship between Eddie, Emery, and Evan. We learned much more about Louis’ past back in Taiwan and his family life, which I enjoyed. It does, seem however, that the show has pretty much completely deviated from the real Eddie Huang’s life. The real Louis Huang was a “gangster” back in Taiwan as Eddie Huang describes in this book. I can’t imagine the loveably doofy Louis as played by Randall Park having a criminal past. Anyway, there were also some especially great pop culture references in this episode, which I’ll hit as I talk about what actually happened. I can forgive the fact that one of them was definitely an anachronism just because both were awesome.

As the episode opens, Emery and Evan are watching Square One, presumably on PBS. This is the pop culture reference that is both awesome and an anachronism. I remember watching Square One when I was little (probably around 6-7 years old), and I’m closer to Eddie’s age (one year younger, to be exact) than Emery or Evan’s age. I loved the Mathnet segment, even if a few of the more intense episode scared me. It was, however, only on PBS from 1987 through 1994, and this episode I believe is supposed to take place in early summer 1996. Anyway, Eddie interrupts his brothers because he wants to watch the new Chris Rock special, Bring the Pain. The Huangs don’t pay for premium cable stations, but it just happens to be a free HBO weekend. Alison is leaving for band camp in two weeks, and she and Eddie had planned to both watch the special and discuss it before then. As someone who was in marching band in high school, it kind of irritates me how pop culture always gets band camp wrong (I’m looking at you, “American Pie”). For me, band camp was doing drills in my high school’s parking lot (or gym if it was raining) for a week. It wasn’t some sleep away camp.

The boys get into a complete knock-down-drag-out fight over the remote control, and just as the fight has reached its zenith, Jessica and Louis arrive on the scene. Louis tells the boys that they’re brothers and they should act better to each other. He doesn’t walk the walk, though, as he makes Jessica take the phone call when his own brother, Gene, calls. Jessica informs the family that Gene is coming to town the visit. Grandma Huang is thrilled to see her other son, but Louis is not. Louis and Gene had a big falling out over something that happened at “the hot springs” years ago, and we’ll find out more about exactly what that was by the end of the episode.

The dysfunction between Louis and Gene is apparent almost from the moment the family picks Gene up from the airport. Louis makes a show of wanting to carry Gene’s suitcase, and Gene makes a show of not wanting to let him carry the suitcase. Eddie calls this a “Chinese polite fight.” It never gets too loud, but it is intense. We also learn why Jessica has her own issues with Gene. Apparently he lent her $200 to buy Louis’ wedding ring after she had blown all her money on fake Jordache at the Taipei night markets. She’s been trying to pay him back for years, but he never accepts the money. As Jessica explains, in Chinese families, you’re never supposed to owe anyone anything. It’s impolite. When she finds out about this, Honey suggests that Jessica try to repay Gene by giving him an object worth $200.

The second “Chinese polite fight” happens when the family all goes to an Orlando themed (I didn’t realize such a thing could exist) called, what else, Orlando’s. Jessica really wants to pay for dinner, but Gene gets to it first. Later that night, Gene catches Jessica cutting into his suitcase so that she can hide $200 in it. At that point, once Jessica reminds him about the Jordache/wedding ring incident, Gene finally says he’ll just take the money. Jessica is very pleased that she finally owes him no debt.

Meanwhile, not seeing “Bring the Pain” is really harming Eddie’s social life among his friends at Abraham Lincoln Middle School. All of Eddie’s friends are sitting in lawn chairs with stunned looks on their faces, and they tell Eddie that “Bring the Pain” just completely blue their minds and made them think about race relations in a different way. Alison is also there, and she starts retelling one of the jokes from the special. Eddie begs her to stop because he wants to experience the jokes fresh and not be spoiled. Instead, the group makes him leave so they can keep gabbing about the show. Eddie makes several more attempts to watch “Bring the Pain,” but Jessica has deputized Emery and Evan to keep Eddie from watching (she thinks it will cause a “race riot” in her house), and they take this responsibility very seriously. To the point where it’s really annoying and almost ruined the good vibes I felt from this episode. They even taped over a recording Eddie had made of the show!

Anyway, Louis gets pissed off when he finds out that Gene took the $200 from Jessica, because he’s been sending Gene money for years. This leads to a big blow up between Louis and Gene where we finally learned what happened at the hot springs. Their father announced that had made enough money to send one of them to the United States, and in the ensuing Chinese polite fight, Louis was the first to break and say he would take the opportunity. The rest was history. Louis moved to the United States and eventually met Jessica, started a family, and became successful in the restaurant business. Gene bounced around from bad career idea to bad career idea. Now he finally is working for an airline, and he’s engaged (that’s the main reason he decided to visit the Orlando Huangs – to invite them to the wedding), but it took him a very, very long time to get to that point thanks to not having the opportunity that Louis had.

Eddie does eventually find a solution to his dilemma. He invites his brothers to sneak-watch “Bring the Pain” with him. The three are watching when Jessica and Louis discover that Gene has left for Taiwan, leaving only a note behind. Seeing her sons happy together, Jessica decides to let them finish watching the “race riot.” Also, Louis announces he needs to make a call to the airline, because the whole family is going to Taiwan for Gene’s wedding, regardless of how Gene feels about them at the moment. That should make for a super fun season premiere in a couple weeks. And I have to give a shoutout to the final scene, where the boys are all standing around as Trent is burning his Cleveland Browns jacket. Because the Browns have just left Cleveland to become my two-time Super Bowl winning Baltimore Ravens! Cleveland would eventually get another iteration of the Browns – no need to feel too sorry for them.

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