Monday, November 7, 2016

Fresh off the Boat 3.02: "Breaking Chains"

“So, you wane be what everyone what everyone though I was when I walked in on the first day. You want to undo all the work I’ve done over the past two years . . . They’re ignorant about who we are and where we come from. Why shouldn’t we take advantage of that?”

“Breaking Chains” was yet another episode of “Fresh off the Boat” that I think tackled immigrant/minority identity in a way that Eddie Huang would appreciate, even if it didn’t have the rough edges of Huang’s real life. It’s the first day of school, and Emery has been promoted to middle school. Both Eddie and Emery have to deal with what this means for both of them, since Eddie has spent his first two years of middle school using his Taiwanese status to make life as easy for himself as possible. Eddie hasn’t done what he did just to be lazy, though; he’s trying to break the chains of Asians being the “model minority.” It’s something the real Eddie Huang is very passionate about, too. Emery has the interests of the more stereotypical Asian (loves academics and wants to learn photography and violin), and the two brothers have to figure out how they can reconcile their divergent worldviews and still be themselves. There’s also a rather silly B story about Jessica freaking out when Louis hires a cleaning lady, which doesn’t have nearly as much depth, but the questions asked by the main plot make up for that.

The episode opens with the Huangs dining at a very busy Cattleman’s Ranch. They’ve installed TVs over the bar, and everybody is happily watching the 1996 Atlanta Games. Jessica is rooting for a Nigerian athlete who is the best at her event instead of someone from Team USA or Chinese Taipei because, as she puts it, she “roots for the best.” The next day, Jessica and Louis celebrate their business success, but the celebration is cut short when Grandma Huang points out that there is a collapsed watermelon in the living room floor. Eddie was supposed to take the watermelon into the kitchen, but he never did. Jessica says she’ll clean it up, like she cleaned a stain out of the couch, but she also remarks that it would be nice to have help sometime.

Next, we cut to Eddie and his buddies sitting in their folding chairs enjoying the last day of summer break before they start eighth grade. The boys compare their summer stories until they ealize that because they’ll be eighth graders, they don’t need a cool story. They’re at the top of the heap by age alone. They imagine themselves as boy band model types looking down on the lowly sixth graders. They are interrupted by a soon-to-be sixth grader, Emery. Eddie says that Emery has nothing to worry about – he has blazed a great trail for him in middle school. The biggest problem seems to be Evan, who is taking not being in the same school as his brother anymore pretty hard. He’s laying on the front lawn moping.

Finally, it’s the first day of school. After the kids leave the house, the doorbell rings. Jessica answers it to find Mary, the housekeeper Louis just hired. Jessica is not pleased, and she accuses Louis of stabbing her in the back. A stunned Mary just stands in the doorway and awkwardly asks if she should get started. Jessica and Louis have a very loud argument, where Louis keeps reminding Jessica it’s supposed to be a gift. Louis eventually convinces Jessica to let Mary clean one room. Jessica hovers over Mary the whole time. She critiques how she cleans the table and a tableau of figurines on a bookshelf. Mary says she doesn’t think it’s going to work out, and she’s going to leave just as soon as she gets a ride home.

Meanwhile, Eddie starts showing Emery the ropes at school. He has written out a huge notebook of all the lies he has told in the past two years about Chinese culture about which Emery is going to need to back him up. Emery is not amused. The lies include “Harvest Day” on the first Friday of every month, doing everything at the last minute per Chinese superstition, and taking a ten minute nap every morning to see if Taiwan is safe or not. Eddie tells Emery he has to go along with it so he (Eddie) doesn’t get in trouble. Emery feels a little better when he sees all the clubs he can join, but Eddie says it’s a no-go on clubs too. Meanwhile, Evan is having trouble adjusting, too. A kid wants to sit next to him on the bus, but Evan won’t let him because it’s supposed to be Emery’s seat.

While the web of lies made Eddie’s life in middle school awesome, it keeps having unintended bad consequences for Emery. Emery gets his locker moved to what should be a better location, but it is away from a cute girl who immediately starts dating someone else. Then he wants to sit near the front of the class and participate, but he’s stuck in the back behind a very tall guy who “runs hot.” He really wants green beans in the cafeteria, but the lunch lady insists he needs to eat double tater tots instead because per Eddie, Asians can’t process chlorophyll. The final straw is when Emery is told he can’t take a shower after gym class. Gym showers are awkward, but Emery feels gross and wants a shower. He ends up telling the truth to the gym teacher.

Eddie realizes Emery’s treachery after his own gym class, when he is told he has to go get a shower, too. Eddie finds the shower experience horrifying. After school, Eddie confronts Emery about ruining their sweet set-up. Emery insists he doesn’t want to live up to Eddie’s low expectations. He wants to learn and join clubs. When prompted by Eddie, Emery says he’d like to learn the violin, and that just sets Eddie off. He accuses Emery of undoing all the work he’s done to keep everyone on edge and dispel the myth of the model minority. Emery doesn’t quite know how to respond to that. Later, he tells Evan he misses elementary school, and middle school is more complicated than he thought it would be. Evan sits down for a brother chat. Then he goes and confronts Eddie, accusing him of crushing Emery’s spirit. He tells Eddie to stop making Emery feel bad for being who he is.

Louis calls Jessica down to Cattleman’s Ranch and tells her that he got a phone call from Mary about what happened. He implores Jessica to give Mary a chance and not hover. Mary has agreed to come back as long as Jessica isn’t there. In fact, Mary is cleaning the house while they speak. Jessica is furious, although she respects the trickery. When Louis and Jessica arrive home, they see that Mary has done a fabulous job. She got a bleach stain out of the couch and even repaired one of Jessica’s knickknacks. Jessica’s still not happy, though. She thinks family should do things for each other instead of hiring it out. She doesn’t want to run their house like a business, and cleaning makes Jessica feel needed. Louis says he’s sorry, and Jessica wins, although he’s still a bit confused.

The next day in school, Eddie signs Emery up for karate club, and Emery thanks him for it. Eddie says Emery can be himself, and he (Eddie) will keep working on cracking the jade ceiling. They do agree to keep Harvest Day, though. Also, Evan finally lets the new kid from Indiana (who likes Evan because he reminds him of his Chinese best friend from back home) sit near him. He can hang out with Emery at home after all, even if they aren’t in the same school anymore. He has, however, set up a little Emery memorial on the bus seat, though, which freaks out one girl who thinks that means Emery is dead.

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