Fresh Off the Boat
At the end of last week’s episode, the Huangs shed the trappings of their comfortable middle-class existence for the antiseptic grandeur of a McMansion in a gated community. Evan is headed to private school, aided by the rich man Jessica bought the McMansion from, using the money Louis got from selling part of Cattleman’s Ranch to Michael Bolton. (Yes, that Michael Bolton.) Eddie isn’t happy, and Emery and Grandma have yet to weigh in. Having achieved the first level of the American dream, the Huangs are homeowners — clearly, there is nowhere to go but up. Let’s see how it shakes out.
As the family finishes packing, each Huang is dealing with the very sudden change in their own ways. Eddie seems resigned to his fate, but is desperate to keep his same friends. Evan and his private-school blazer are in love. Jessica is nipping any nostalgia in the bud by restoring the house to the condition they found it in, painting over the height chart in the door frame (security deposit, hello!) and insisting to her family that everything in the new big house will be the same.
Except it’s not. For starters, the house is big enough to have its own intercom system, which will make Jessica’s preferred method of communication, shouting, somewhat more difficult. There’s also a double oven, nicer squirrels, and a hot tub. But none of these things will be used because electricity costs money. Gas costs money. Everything costs money, and guess what, kids? They don’t have it. At the house meeting, Jessica lays it out. Poverty, the silent killer, lurks everywhere. It’s waiting outside their door, because the Huangs are house poor. All of their savings went into the house, and now, with increased property taxes, a bigger mortgage, and the general maintenance required for a mansion’s upkeep, things are a little different. What was once comfortable is now tight quarters.
Each member of the family handles this transition in a very different way, but what is most remarkable about this season finale is how it addresses class and the anxieties of upward mobility in immigrant families. It does so explicitly, and not just through the eyes of the children. Let’s discuss them first: Upon the discovery that Evan’s prep-school blazer bears a label that says “Made in China,” Evan and Emery are on a mission to uncover what might be an alleged child-labor scheme. They take it to the headmaster, who assures them that he’ll look into it. When they follow up, they catch him on the way to the country club for a round of golf. Of course he’s going to follow up … but after his summer vacation.
The headmaster knows that Emery is a public-school kid, and with that knowledge in mind, he gives Evan a crash course in class. Private school means that you’re better. Public-school kids smell like school lunch and two-in-one shampoo, and often frequent the public bus wearing flip-flops and a towel. The headmaster has clearly underestimated Evan Huang. After an impassioned speech about the seriousness of these allegations and the fact that he should never, ever speak about his brother like that again, the headmaster gives him brownie points for erudition, but revokes his admission to the school. If you can’t support what your school is doing, why on Earth would you attend?
As for Eddie, he and his friends are having some growing pains. Frankly, moving to a new school sucks. Eddie’s insistence that he and his boys will be together forever manifests in the idea of tattoos — a pizza slice for each kid, because when they’re together, they’ll make a pie. What seems like the best idea is eventually shot down by Eddie’s friends, who are surprisingly reasonable. The trouble is, Eddie didn’t learn about that decision — or any of the general inanities and comfortable banter a group of friends enjoy — because he lives too far away. No longer in comfortable shouting distance, Eddie’s friends made the decision for themselves and only told him after the fact. Reacting perhaps not only to this slight, but to the fact that he’s panicking about starting over for a second time in three years, Eddie lashes out. Friendship revoked, for now.
Meanwhile, Jessica is handling the transition as best she can, which is to say, not well at all. While she and Honey go to the grocery store to return the lightbulbs she had Honey remove from the old house, Marvin convinces Louis to break in the hot tub. If you’re going to have all these nice things around, why not enjoy them? They were almost safe from scrutiny, but Louis’s decision to put white jeans over his soaking-wet bathing suit gives him away to his wife when she returns from her grocery-store scam. He used the hot tub. The heated floors are on. This is not how they should be spending their money! Remember, they’re house poor. They have no money.
But not for long. With Michael Bolton signing on as partner, things have changed at Cattleman’s Ranch, much to Louis’s surprise. There’s merch and a quiet rebrand, so as to compete with Kenny Rogers’s chicken empire. Louis is taken aback at the changes, but is mollified by a giant check for his cut of the merchandising fee. Clearly it’s enough for him to finally buy a riding lawnmower, which he rides in joy around the golf course that is their new home. Jessica won’t have this and here’s why: She was lying about being house poor. They’re actually doing fine. The house represents an uncomfortable change in their status: They’re rich now, or at least they look like it, but if they get too comfortable, they’ll stop striving to be better. The reality of the American dream has hit her square in the gut, and she’s reconciling what it means to have truly achieved. What do you do when it looks like there’s nothing else to work toward? Louis assures his wife that it’s okay to enjoy what they have. She deserves it.
Jessica’s enjoyment of the house and its wonders only goes as far as the heated stone floors, before she’s interrupted by an emergency family meeting called by Evan. Emery confesses that his allegations of child labor against Saint Orlando’s were not only false (the blazers were actually made in Wisconsin, if anyone had thought to read the whole tag), but they also got Evan kicked out of private school. Fearing the wrath of Jessica, they brace for impact, but she’s a step ahead, as always. They can move back to their old house and their old life, because, as Grandma has been insisting the whole time, their new house is haunted. The previous owner didn’t disclose this fun fact, and so they can essentially return the house.
Everyone wins, even though no one’s really happy. Thankfully, the key still works … but it looks like someone else has moved in. Jessica Huang’s worst nightmare has come true. They’re homeless!
Can’t wait to see how they get outta this one. See you in the fall!