Fresh Off the Boat
It seems a bit silly for Fresh Off the Boat to dedicate an entire episode to Jessica Huang’s competitive spirit and her staunch refusal to lose, if only because it’s such an innate part of her personality that I’d assumed everyone had already dealt with it in their own way. But “Gabby Goose” uses Jessica’s tendency toward being a sore loser as a nice peg to explore the larger issue of communication and secret-keeping. Who knew a simple game of Charades would reveal so much?
It’s game night at the Huang household, which means a rousing game of Scrabble with Marvin and Honey. Jessica is very good at Scrabble. However, Charades is less than awesome because Louis is objectively terrible at Charades. Marvin somehow gets Honey to guess Tess of the D’Urbervilles by tugging his shirt and miming a tea party, but Louis, when presented with Babe, the movie about that pig, makes a lot of motions that don’t relate to a pig in the slightest. They lose. Jessica excuses herself to the restroom and comes back brushing her teeth in her pajamas. That’s the end of that.
Jessica’s lively competitive spirit is the topic of conversation between Honey and Louis, who run into each other the next day. Isn’t it fun? Her competitive spirit? Isn’t it cool hanging out with a woman who is the sorest of losers? The answer, as you’re surely aware, is no. It’s not fun. It’s occasionally miserable. But Louis has never said anything to Jessica about it because that’s just not how he was raised. Talking about “sensitive subjects” — money, sex, feelings, emotions — it just never happened. But he really needs to talk to his wife because she is piece of work. Honey demonstrates her patented technique — compliment what you want to criticize and then flip that compliment to a critique — on Marvin, who falls for it hook, line, and sinker. Easy as pie.
Armed with this knowledge, Louis tries to tell Jessica that the way she handles losing is detrimental to friendships and game night. She concedes and says that she could try to care about it a little more, a statement I don’t believe for a minute, but all the progress Louis might have made is whisked away when he mentions Honey.
He made their private life public. He shared details about their life — complaints about his wife, who is admittedly a terror — with Honey. Honey will surely tell Marvin. Marvin will tell everybody. Jessica, Louis, and by extension their family will all lose face. Jessica decides to go on the offensive, though she doesn’t clarify what that means. Louis assumes the worst: If Jessica’s mad that her husband aired their dirty laundry, then she will certainly air his in response. Convinced that Jessica is running through their neighborhood telling people that he wears lifts in his shoes, Louis strikes some sort of panicked counter-offensive, running first to Marvin’s office and then smack dab into his wife, who’s power-walking with the gals. Secrets are spilled. And Louis will have to pay.
Jessica’s offensive strategy is actually a charm offensive. Upon hearing that Louis was talking about personal stuff, she did the best thing she could do to counteract the bad: By showing her charm to the neighbors, she actually saves face. The way they resolve this, of course, is game night, with the other couples in the neighborhood. Despite the fact that Louis is still really, really bad at Charades (he takes it way too literally, that’s his problem), he and his wife don’t fight. Everyone else does.
What of the children? Eddie is in deep mourning after learning the news of the Notorious B.I.G’s untimely passing. He tries to fly to Bed-Stuy to attend the funeral, but Jessica nips that plan in the bud. None of his usual favorites (Pop Tarts, Sprite) are working. Even Evan’s teal French-cut shorts, usually a surefire way to cheer Eddie up, have no effect. Nothing will take him out of this funk, which is in part related to Biggie’s death, but also to death and what it means to make a life. B.I.G. was 24 when he died and Eddie’s 13. He could’ve already lived half his life without even knowing it! His existential dread revealed in a hastily cobbled-together group-therapy session with Eddie and his friends in the driveway. Nothing much comes of this, though it serves as a nice way to remind myself of the names of Eddie’s friends.
“Am I ready to die?” Eddie muses. “Are you guys ready to die?” While it’s clear that everyone could and should address these questions in actual therapy, Eddie’s depression remains. Emery and Evan to the rescue! They paint a mural of Biggie on the wall of Eddie’s bedroom, complete with double-wide yacht, featuring Eddie and his brothers hanging out with Big Poppa. Good brothers. Good kids. That’s what family’s for.