Fresh Off the Boat Recap: Master Debater

Fresh Off the Boat

Pie vs. Cake
Season 3 Episode 21
Editor’s Rating *****
Stan Lee as himself. Photo: Richard Cartwright/ABC

At what point do children stop needing their parents? This question weighs heavily on Jessica Huang’s mind, and it’s evident by the way she parents her children. By proving that her input is necessary, her kids will need her more. They’ll stay by her side and they will never, ever stray. Mommy always knows best, after all, even when you’re an adult perfectly capable of making your own decisions.

It should come as no surprise that Jessica is one of those people who will drag a used pair of socks she bought five years ago to a store to try to return them, wreaking havoc on the lives of retail employees everywhere. She demonstrates her ability to argue her way into anything by successfully returning said pair of socks that the kids turned into a puppet — and getting not just store credit, but cold, hard cash. Bravo, Jessica.

Some children might find this habit embarrassing, but Evan is inspired. At school the next day, he realizes that his dream in life is to join the debate team. They wear kicky little blazers, do extra schoolwork, and argue with people for acclaim. Jessica has three good reasons why he shouldn’t: It’ll cost money, it’ll take time away from his schoolwork, and she’ll have to spend time driving him around to debate tournaments. But! The counterargument is that debate team will look good on his transcripts and will help him when he inevitably becomes Dr. President sometime in the distant future. Jessica just debated herself … and Evan somehow won. He gets to join the debate team.

No child has ever been more prepared for debate than Evan Huang. He’s got the look and he has his secret weapon in the form of Jessica’s best debate advice: When arguing with someone, be sure to use their own words against them, trapping them in a prison of their own design. This comes into play at dinner at Cattleman’s the next night, as Jessica and Evan debate the merits of pie versus cake. I’d argue that the pineapple right-side-up cake on offer at Cattleman’s sounds more alluring (and also more cost-effective) than one slice of key-lime pie with five spoons, but I’ll let Evan handle this one.

Jessica’s argument for pie is valid, but Evan’s argument for cake trumps it in a heartbeat. Cake is good! It’s joy! It exists for milestones and occasions! If you choose life, choose cake! In a speech that moves the patrons of Cattleman’s to vigorous applause, Evan has clearly lapped his mother. Jessica recognizes that her youngest son is now her most formidable enemy.

If you don’t believe that an 8-year-old can be better at arguing than his mother, please see the following for evidence: When Jessica attempts to return a five-year-old phone she bought at a RadioShack in D.C. to a store in Orlando, she fails miserably. Enter Evan, who spins a sob story that rivals Don Draper’s Kodak Carousel pitch for emotional manipulation and effectiveness. Good-bye, telephone. Hello, victory.

Sitting alone in a darkened kitchen (the lights are off because that’s how Evan wanted it), Jessica realizes that her reign as arguing queen has ended. Louis attempts to reason with his wife: Of course you want your child to be better than you, but maybe not while they’re still in elementary school. As Evan has now surpassed his mother in arguing skills, he doesn’t need Jessica anymore. In an attempt to prove her own worth while also proving that she’s the better arguer, Jessica positions herself at the dining room table with two root vegetables in front of her, lying in wait for her baby. She’s ready to fight to the death, but it looks like she’ll need her skills for something much more worthwhile. Alas, Evan isn’t allowed on the debate team because he’s too young.

Here’s her moment to shine. In the debate classroom, Jessica makes such a compelling argument for Evan’s inclusion that the debate teacher has to step aside and cede the podium to her. “I believe the children are our future,” she says, quoting a Whitney Houston song that is useful in almost every situation. “Teach them well and let them lead the way.” It works! Arbitrary rules be damned. Evan’s on the debate team!

Meanwhile, the other brothers get a lame subplot that culminates in something fun. Emery is entering a comic contest that requires a lot of free labor on his part, so Eddie, seeing a business opportunity, joins forces with his brother. If Garfield’s creator could make enough money to draw that cat on the cover of Yacht Fancy wearing a Rolex at the helm of a yacht, Eddie’s in. Trouble is, Eddie hates doing work. He’s lazy. Also, Emery’s characters are limp and kind of uninspired. No one wants to read about Mr. Niceman or Empathy Girl … but I’m not entirely sure a comic book full of Eddie’s yo’-mama jokes will win any prizes either. The best Eddie can come up with on his own is Spaghetti Dog, a nightmarish Garfield ripoff that is a dog who likes spaghetti. Grandma gently suggests that he stop being a pill and work with his brother. They’re stronger together, anyway, and their actual submission wins the affection of Stan Lee. I would read at least one issue of Persuader and Blazery Boy fighting crime and returning library books any day.

Fresh Off the Boat Recap: Master Debater