Election season has a way of intensifying and changing relationships. Previously peaceful and delightful friendships can shift on a dime after a political stance or controversial opinion is revealed. During the 1996 race between President Bill Clinton and Bob Dole — yep, even before social media! — the Huangs weren’t exempt from this tendency.
Louis threw his whole family into the fray by volunteering Cattleman’s as a polling place. And everybody has their own opinion. He’s in for Clinton. Emery wants the nice old man in Dole. Jessica wants to stay away. Evan goes full Nate Silver and tracks the winner. Eddie wants everybody to focus on the real news of Tupac’s assassination a month prior.
It doesn’t take long for her to be sucked into politics after closing a mini-mansion and its weird four-bedroom, 10-bathroom layout. The sale moves the family into a higher tax bracket and increases their tax burden, snuffing out her joyous reaction to sealing a commission. Jessica feels even more annoyed when she learns Hector, an on-staff cook at Cattleman’s, avoids paying taxes by learning the nuances of the tax code (thanks to a business seminar by Wesley Snipes) and being incorporated. It takes a timely and, in Louis’ words, “fear-mongering” PSA for Jessica to go political and support border-patrol shore agents.
This immediately turns Cattleman’s into a contentious work environment. Not only is Hector turned off by Jessica’s actions, but all the signs for Prop 187 constitute a polling violation! Hector’s car club shows up to protest, but is snuffed out by Jessica calling the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service to question and apprehend the protesters. An effective, mean-spirited move…
…that backfires on her. Hector is illegal, but so is Jessica. She never renewed her green card because she believed it sufficed, and the citizen test is too intrusive and expensive. It also causes Hector — who was undocumented because his parents moved from Mexico when he was a baby to seek a better life — to quit. “His parents brought him here, he was raised in this country, he loves America, he has a family. What if they were you?” Louis tells Jessica. That inspires her to seek out a lawyer to help resolve his immigration situation. While the polling station is barely frequented, the Huangs still made the political machine work for them.
Meanwhile, Eddie has his own debate to deal with. “Why are we talking about stuff no one cares about? Tupac is dead!” he exclaims. Tupac Shakur was killed a month ago in the FotB timeline, and Eddie and his pals are still reeling. They can’t even agree who did the deed. Eddie blames Death Row Records impresario Suge Knight and Trent wants him to cut it out: “Don’t say his name, fool. He’s like a hip-hop Candyman.” He cites The Source for why he believes Tony Danza is the culprit. Walter picks Courtney Love. Brian believes Faith Evans and Lil’ Kim teamed up. Dave has no idea who Tupac is. This is the biggest fight they’ve ever had.
The eighth-graders are heated. Fortunately, Grandma Huang drops by to set Eddie straight and preach civil discourse: “Don’t let your disagreement turn into a rap war.” The friends end up bonding over analyzing — with a Zapruder film-like intensity — the posthumous Tupac video “Toss It Up” and determining ‘Pac is alive. The only downside is their prime lunchroom table has now been taken over by the solo Morrissey-loving Ned.
Oh, and poor Emery, who’s crushed by Dole’s performance in Florida. Though encouraged when Dole wins one district, Evan swiftly snuffs out his happiness.
It’s time for the weekly dose of nostalgia in these recaps, the ’90s moments, ranked:
4. Ross Perot: The third-party Reform Party candidate didn’t get a single shout-out from anyone, even though he received more than 8 percent of the vote in 1996.
3. Rock The Vote: Eddie cites the name of the nonprofit group when preaching for Clinton. Before “Toss It Up” comes up, Eddie sees an ad with Coolio as a spokesperson. Oh, Coolio.
2. Tupac conspiracy theories: No culprit in Tupac’s murder was ever fingered in a court of law. Brian’s theory on Tony Danza definitely seems wrong. The key piece of evidence Eddie points to — the anachronistic Penny Hardaway sneakers — is very much a popular piece of “proof” indicating the West Coast rapper is still alive.
1. Prescient election commentary: Because of the Electoral College, Evan shoots down the idea that America is a true democracy. He even predicts the craziness of the 2000 presidential election, during which Al Gore took the popular vote, but George W. Bush won the Electoral College.
Episode grade: B+