Many immigrants’ introduction to America (or any place, really) comes in the form of pop culture—they often see a Hollywood blockbuster or hear a top-40 hit before ever stepping foot in the country itself. And that’s a beautiful thing. Film, television, music, and books all have the power to shape our worldview, and while we don’t always analyze why we like the entertainment we do, we’re drawn to certain types of high and low art for very specific reasons.

I’m glad that “Showdown At The Golden Saddle” doesn’t shy away from this. I’ve always wanted to see young Eddie’s love of hip-hop further explored, and tonight, it finally became justified in a way that didn’t feel forced or overly expository. Following a disastrous “date” with Nicole that’s actually a babysitting session while their parents were out together, Ice Cube’s The Predator becomes a source of bonding between the two adolescents.

Granted, Nicole “borrows” Eddie’s CD for selfish reasons when he’s in the bathroom fighting a nasty bout of indigestion. And yet heir exchange on the school bus at the end of the episode (a simple “Hey” and a smile from her while listening to her Discman) shows that their connection has deepened. It may not blossom into anything romantic (in fact, I kind of hope it doesn’t), but it’s a subtle display of why rap music means so much to Eddie. Where as his streetwise swagger reeks of bullshit after he tries to impress Nicole by smothering his dinner in hot sauce despite a sensitive stomach, his love of hip-hop is genuine. Artists like Ice Cube, Notorious B.I.G., and Wu-Tang Clan help him connect with people—something that, as we’ve seen thus far, isn’t always easy for him.

We also got to see how American pop culture plays into the lives of Louis and Jessica. I totally bought that the latter would love Stephen King a few episodes ago, and appreciated that it subverted what we’ve come to expect from the suburban TV housewife. But here, we get some insight as to why she’s obsessed with a certain film not rooted in horror. Of course she loves Caddyshack for its aggressive characters who manage to be hilarious even when they’re yelling. That’s Jessica in a nutshell. Of course she loves that many of them are trying to infiltrate the highbrow society of a country club without sacrificing who they are. That’s her, too, especially in tonight’s episode, where her and Louis are invited by Marvin and Honey to a fancy dinner at their own country club.

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And what kind of cinema is Louis drawn to? Surprisingly, gangster movies. Even more surprising is that his fondness for The Godfather, Goodfellas, and Scarface comes from a darker place than you would think. The real-life Eddie Huang has noted how the show’s toned down some of the shrewder, perhaps more troubled aspects of his father, but we get to see that side of him here. Him stealing the idea of a Western-themed restaurant from the Golden Saddle steakhouse (owned by Stevie Janowski! I mean Finnegan!) isn’t exactly grand larceny, but it’s definitely the most unethical thing we’ve seen him do on the show. It also makes complete sense; gangster movies have taught him to protect his family no matter the cost, even if it means ripping someone off.

The episode’s final stroke of genius is that we’re never told that Louis’ actions are outright wrong. Sure, he feels somewhat ashamed when he tells Jessica what he did, but, in true Jessica fashion, she praises him for his ruthlessness. After all, Finnegan wronged Louis when he unfairly asked for the entire payment on a Golden Saddle franchise upfront. And later on, he defaced a billboard for Cattleman’s Ranch with the word “thief” and several crudely drawn drops of milk squirting out of a cow’s udders and onto Louis’ dopily grinning face.

When Jessica and Louis decide to deface Finnegan’s own billboard with equally sophomoric but equally funny “I am a butt” graffiti, I kept waiting for the cops to arrive on the scene. Surely the couple would get arrested and have to explain to their children why what they did was wrong, not to mention illegal. There would be a lesson learned. But the fuzz never show up and the Huangs get away scot-free, having pulled off an adrenaline-laced feat of familial protection and cold-blooded revenge. And what’s more American than that?

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Stray Observations

  • Apologies for posting this so late. I had some technical difficulties with the DVR and had to wait until the wee small hours when the episode was up on ABC’s website to start writing.
  • Did anyone else think that Mitch leaving Cattleman’s Ranch for the Golden Saddle camp felt a bit out of character? I know that Finnegan raised his pay, but it clashed with the fiscally unrelated loyalty he and Nancy displayed in “Success Perm.” If he really is gone, I’m sure it’s because of Paul Scheer’s busy schedule. Hopefully that isn’t the case though.
  • The iconic Janet Jackson issue of Rolling Stone came out in 1993. It’s totally believable that the bus driver was flipping through a back issue or found an old copy somewhere in 1995, but it still felt a little untimely.
  • At first, I was irked that a song from The Predator wasn’t playing when Nicole stepped on the bus at the end. But “One More Chance/Stay With Me Remix” really is the perfect imaginary love song for the times, and is exactly what would be going off in Eddie’s head every time he sees the girl he’s got a crush on.
  • Hudson Yuang’s comic timing is getting better with each episode. Him sitting on the couch, asking “Where were we?” then immediately saying “Nope” and fleeing back to the bathroom was perfect.
  • “A bush kid!”
  • “I want to see the billboard glistening in the morning dew.”

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