I thought I knew what I was getting into with Netflix’s newly released show. Partner Tracking– The same tired rom-com trope of a woman having to choose between her love life and her law career, only this time, the lead was a Korean American. I thought it would be a minimum of brain cells needed, Friday night watch for any young woman of color who ever wished she could see herself more fully at Elle Woods. But as the series progressed, rather than portraying the struggles of a girlboss, the protagonist Ingrid also explored the complex moral pitfalls of the myth of the model minority.
Based on novel by Helen Wan Partner Tracking stars Ardon Cho as Ingrid, a sixth-year M&A attorney trying to become a partner at her firm Parsons Valentine & Hunt alongside her two best lawyers, Tyler (Bradley Gibson) and Rachel (Alexandra Turshen). but enterSerious about his climb to the top of the corporate law ladder (we’re talking streaming legal podcasts in his sleep), id takes a few rungs back when a transfer from the firm’s UK office turns out to be Jeff Murphy. (Dominic Sherwood), a dream wedding from years ago. So far, standard foe fare of his in the workplace, but there is considerable sexual tension.
While Murphy’s arrival is framed as the biggest roadblock to Ingrid’s career goals, for most of the show, the British heartthrob is nothing more than forbidden fruit at hand. No, Ingrid’s shit comes from a much deeper place: a lack of a moral compass. More often than not, at ethical forks in the road, she picks the wrong one, her sense of right and wrong leaning toward the approval of her boss, Marty Adler (Matthew Rauch), who has the power to name her partner. Sexual tension has very little to do with it. But the relentless force that propels many Asian Americans toward excellence does.
Some might say they get it; this is the price women have to pay to get to the top, especially in boy club settings like a corporate law firm. But there is more. I read Cathy Park Hong’s books Minor feelings: An Asian-American reckoning in the summer of 2020 during the global George Floyd protests, in which few Asian-American communities participated. The reason? Some were nervous about ruining their model minority status. Others were complacent about where they ranked in the American racial hierarchy (closer to the top than other POCs).
As Hong writes, the figure of the model minority emerged after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 It was passed. At the time, only “the most educated and highly trained Asians” were welcome in the US. This white-collar excellence thus became the only avenue for Asian-Americans to prove themselves in white America and to be respected by their white counterparts, an ambition so non-negotiable that they were even willing to take a backseat in the fight for racial justice for African Americans.
For Ingrid, this same conflict comes when golden boy Dan (Nolan Gerard Funk), Ingrid’s biggest competitor for partner and longtime frat brother, performs a racist skit at the company’s annual retreat. [Spoilers ahead.] The comedy routine pokes fun at the concept of “white frailty” and is a direct jab at Tyler (who is black) for calling out Dan about his own white frailty at the office. Clearly fed up, Tyler storms out of the retreat. Ingrid makes a half-hearted attempt to comfort him, before asking Marty to do something. What follows the next week at work is an embarrassing act of hot air: Marty orders an HR investigation into the incident, in which several people recommend that Dan be put on probation, only for Dan to be freed for him. can remain in the membership candidacy.
Then, anticipating Tyler’s resignation, Marty orders Ingrid to offer Tyler $500,000 in secret money to keep the racist debacle a secret. Breaking pacts of all kinds, of friendship, of solidarity, Ingrid chooses to remain in Marty’s good graces even if it means being the only one responsible for perfuming the stench of the company. To make matters worse, Marty hangs the promise on Ingrid to preside over a Diversity Gala, at which he surprises her with an Outstanding Achievement Award. She is then forced to deliver a pre-written speech about Parsons being a great place to work as a “proud Asian-American attorney.” In the same speech, she also calls Tyler a “bad apple” whose actions (like bad-mouthing the company on Instagram Live) don’t “spoil the group.” Phew.
While Ingrid deserves empathy for experiencing textbook examples of microaggressions in the workplace, it’s hard not to consider her complicity. Ingrid deludes herself into believing that if she aligns with whiteness, in her actions, in the company that she owns, she will not only move up the corporate ladder, but the racial ladder as well. Ingrid falls into the very trap of the model minority myth that Hong warns us about, in which Asian Americans are “ignored by whites, unless [they’re] being used by the whites to keep the black man down.” At the Diversity Gala (whose entire existence is pathetically performative), Ingrid is not only the messenger keeping other people of color in line, but also the vessel of oppression, a white man’s words flowing from her mouth. to paint an illusion (or perhaps a delusion) of racial harmony.
Ingrid’s predicaments throughout Partner Tracking they were not extravagant in any way. In fact, her mundanity made it all the more infuriating to watch her go through one PR nightmare after another, but I was pleasantly surprised at how the show willingly leaned into racial tension in a series of work ostensibly about sexual tension. If only Ingrid had been able to remove the blindfolds from her partner long enough to realize that she was charging straight toward self-destruction.
And while Ingrid’s entire redemption arc is up for debate – she orchestrates the overthrow of a white oil tycoon and replaces him with a young Asian-American environmentalist – but only after she doesn’t make a couplePartner Tracking takes a clear stance on whether or not being a model minority is really worth it in the season finale. As Marty criticizes her for her betrayal, Ingrid learns that aside from the blatant sexism and racism, she didn’t get the promotion because she didn’t “put the company first” when she was arrested (on false charges) and didn’t report the incident to them. but you know who made tell marty? None other than her literal love interest Jeff (remember, non-threatening British eye candy?), who used this information against Ingrid to get a date.
Usually, the heartbreaking deception of a male lead comes somewhere in the middle of a romantic comedy. But in this case, Murphy’s actions are used to confront harsher truths about racism in corporate America to the bitter end, allowing Partner Tracking to do more than float just the shallowest notes of pop feminism over her final twist. That, while also getting enough hookup scenes in the office to keep him down. It’s a strange combination, I know.