In the course of Eddie and Alison’s teenage romance over season 2/the seventh grade, Eddie has been the one who’s erred 98 percent of the time. The conflicts presented in their relationship have been almost his entirely his doing, out of naivety and trying to do the best thing to keep the status quo. For once, the tables have turned when they face the tall task of impressing Jessica.
School is finally about to end for the year, ending an eventful first full year in Orlando. Emery is graduating elementary school as valedictorian and set for middle school. As a reward, the kids receive a familiar sight from Chinese New Year: red envelopes. But there’s no cash fitted in there. It’s an invite to a graduation gala at Cattleman’s. Despite the name Rib-Eye On The Future, it’s all chicken — “the steak of the future,” Louis insists. The big key to the gala is Eddie, Emery, and Evan’s rights to a plus-one.
Eddie’s natural pick is his “boo,” Alison, but the existence of his girlfriend shocks Jessica. After he tells Alison about the buffet and that she’s not invited, Eddie reveals Jessica has lobbied for him to date a Chinese girl since he was tiny, attempting to brainwash him in between goo-goo ga-ga baby talk. Alison understandably does not want her first meeting with her boy’s mom to be at such a big celebration. So they’ll have a casual meeting before.
Even as Louis tries to dampen Jessica’s expectations for Alison, Mrs. Huang’s wildest dreams come true when a Chinese girl shows up and introduces herself…as Alison. She’s actually Audrey, a member of Alison’s orchestra cohort and the titular Manchurian Dinner Date. She’s everything Jessica thinks she wants out of her son’s girlfriend: smart, respectful, kind, and Chinese. “I almost lost my balance from joy,” a near-swooning Jessica says.
Eddie tells Alison this situation is untenable — a word learned from Audrey’s post-dinner flash-card session. That night, they’ll come clean and try to defuse the situation with a bonding viewing of Malcolm X. To both Eddie’s and Alison’s shock, Jessica had invited Audrey for mahjong. Eddie, caught in the moment, lies and dismisses Alison as a Girl Scout Cookie peddler; this didn’t go over well later that night when Eddie sneaked out of the bathroom window to head to her house and personally apologize. They agree to pretend neither exists during Emery’s graduation.
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Something ideal happens, though: neither Jessica nor Eddie can keep up their respective lies. He tells the truth about Audrey while Jessica cops to not being able to stand her. Audrey is without a personality to match Eddie’s. “She’s like tofu,” Jessica explains, “she absorbs flavor, got none of her own.” It makes it that much easier for Eddie to point to Alison, playing 2Pac as first-chair piccolo. Of course, Jessica immediately takes to Alison at the gala after learning she took up the instrument to nab an unclaimed scholarship (sounds familiar).
NEXT: Louis, speech-writing expert
This is the rare week every Huang family had a story arc. In the valedictorian’s world, Emery seeks help in composing the perfect speech to sum up his elementary tenure. Enter Louis. “I am known for my inspirational speeches,” he asserts, paired with flashbacks that included a his meek address to Eddie’s basketball team in season 1 and to Jessica before an intimate night. He told Emery to jerk with the audience’s emotions, tear up a fake speech, and read an “impromptu” heartfelt one off his hand to sound as genuine as possible. Emery exercises only the second piece of advice and genuinely thanks his family for shaping him into the person he is and making it to the next stage of school. The result is a heartfelt moment and better than the next valedictorian —a.k.a. paledictorian — who begins her speech talking into a lamp. Good effort!
What’s there to say about Evan and Grandma Huang? She ended up cutting a great suit for the kid, even if she starts by measuring with Bubble Tape. Speaking of Bubble Tape…
Now it’s time for the weekly dose of nostalgia in these recaps, the ’90s moments, ranked:
8. Bubble Tape: Did the gum dissolve into mush quickly? Yes. Was it really gum? Debatable. Do its flavor and the fun had while playing with it dismiss the other concerns? Absolutely.
7. Bechdel test: Alison and Nicole are talking about it after learning it in class; their unheard conversation passes. Ranked low because it’s not super ’90s, and we’ve gotten somewhat better.
5. Denzel movies as a salve: Last week, Jessica expressed her love of Denzel legal dramas. Malcolm X doesn’t fulfill the latter, but it’s all about Denzel. There’s another nod to the episode’s title: Denzel would later star in The Manchurian Candidate in the 2000s.
4. Jordans: Eddie wants a new pair of kicks for finishing off the school year. Jessica refuses to buy another pair of “basketball heels.” I never heard them referred to that way, but now it all makes sense.
3. Eddie’s words of affection: “I said you were my boo, my fly girl, my fine shorty. I don’t know how much clearer I could have been!” Fair.
2. Multiple valedictorians: A corollary of many soccer trophies being awarded left and right. This makes less than that.
1. “California Love” by 2Pac ft. Dr. Dre: Anyone who’s read these recaps shouldn’t be surprised. This took home top prize. It’s one of the best ’90s pop songs. Alison slayed her woodwind cover. GIMME LOVE.