*This article contains spoilers for the entirely of Warrior Season 1, and Season 2, Eps. 1-5*
“Warrior,” is a show about fighting back in tough times. Most anyone who’s been involved in martial arts will recognize terms such as “perseverance,” or “indominable spirit,” as essential mantras to studying such disciplines. Obviously, the series has its fair share of punch and kick exchanges, but the simple act of standing back up, resituating your stance, and finding a way to improve upon your flaws, has gradually extended itself to nearly every aspect of the show. In many regards, this kind of thematic focus adds complex layers to the show’s different narrative branches, and in numerous ways, but in others, this kind of repeat fighting pose has started to feel like its sloppily going through the motions in select story threads.
We’ve now reached the halfway point of (what will likely be) the final season of “Warrior” and hour five, entitled, “Not for a Drink, a F*ck, or a G**damn Prayer,” finds most every storyline’s proverbial shit hitting the fan. Six major character arcs converge in a tense Chinatown raid sequence that was set up last week. Sergeant Bill (Kieran Bew) O’Hara and Chao (Hoon Lee) put their sword-sting plan into motion, aiming to catch the venomous Zing (Dustin Nguyen) and kill several birds with the same stone by doing so – tempering the rising threat of his bloodthirsty grip, while framing him for the killings enraging a majority of the city’s population.
With the exception of an escapade to Sonoma Valley, and a couple of scenes following up Sophie (Celine Buckens) and Leary’s (Dean Jagger) botched stealth-bombing of Mercer Steel, the episode mainly revolves around the Fung Hai raid operation, crosscutting action as Chao goes undercover to bring Zing down. The hour begins with Penny (Joanna Vanderham) walking amongst the rubble of what remains of her factory, half the place blown to splintered smithereens. Her valet and helping hand, Jacob (Kenneth Fok, whom I wished the series utilized more), informing her that a plethora of destroyed opium crates has been discovered. Realizing Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) has been using her to further the gains of the Hop Wei, on top of their agreement, a relationship that seemed to be mending blows up in the faces of both parties. This turn of events is very fortunate for Mayor Blake (Christian McKay), however, who, having sought legal council of his own, gloats to his wife over her inability to meet the terms of a brokered arrangement, the act of terrorism having immediate impact on the mill’s operational capacity.
The man who lit the fuse, Leary, our outraged Irishman, only gets a brief scene-sequel to the trickle-down explosion he caused last week, Chief Flanagan (David Butler) confronting the resistance fighter in his place of business. Neither man needs to say much to concede that they understand each other – Flanagan expressing trepidation over Leary’s violent acts. His response frighteningly evokes many modern right-wing groups with extremist 2nd Amendment beliefs, Leary insisting that displaced citizens, such as himself, have a God-given right to fight back against a bureaucracy that’s cast them aside. Mercifully (at least in this writer’s eyes), Sophie is entirely absent from this episode after all the focus on her last week (minor spoilers for the following hour: she’s not in episode 6 either, further making me question why the writers opted to feature her so prominently, especially compared to characters like Ay Toy (Olivia Cheng).
“Not for a Drink, a F*ck, or a G**damn Prayer,” packs a hell of an action wallop, but otherwise, unfortunately, has one of the weaker scripts the series has produced. I was greatly looking forward to Ah Toy’s trip to Sonoma, but the scenes between her and Nellie Davenport (Miranda Raison) sway between vapidly underwritten and hanging lanterns all over its heavy handed material. The sentiment behind this segment is admirable, but Nellie’s tragic tale of a girl who gnawed at her own flesh, in order to become undesirable, lest she live a life in enslavement, is distractingly specific. If this were more fluidly embedded into a series of conversations addressing such issues, the story would feel less like its going for shock points. Nellie’s sentiment, that her goal is to bring hope to those in America without it, is a noble one, but when the subject matter involves little more than a Chinese brothel owner becoming astonished that women like her are able to eat meals like a civilized family somewhere in the world, it doesn’t aid the lack of subtlety. That goes double for Ah Toy’s emotional breakdown over the random memory of her grandmother’s tomato garden, and the forced romantic fallout between the two women that follows; I don’t see how this late development can possibly come to fruition in the remaining episodes. If the series was going to go this route, this all should have been seeded sooner.
Sonoma Valley disappointment aside, back in the Bay Area, Bill rallies the troops for Chao’s secret sting-op, Officer Lee (Tom Weston-Jones) asking his superior if he thinks the department would be in such a hurry to crack Chinese skulls were they to learn the reason his family was attacked. Bill’s comeback is to call out the young officers addiction problems, instructing Lee to show up at the raid sober. He doesn’t, and Chao’s plan hastily falls apart after Zing attempt to buy his loyalty via an overly generous payment for the stolen daggers. The Fung Hai then torture and humiliate the back alley businessman with their white liquid concoction, while Li Yong (Joe Taslim) sneaks in the back door to plant Ah Toy’s sword. But the Fung Hai discover a couple of undercover Long Zi, and Chao ends up fighting for his life when the bulls bust in, a pair of revolvers up his sleeves.
An independent survivor in his own right, Chao is no fighting slouch himself, but even his slick ways cant take on half a gang. Episode five really belongs to Chao and Zing (Dustin Nguyen also having directed the episode). The adeptly made set-piece truly feels like a mid-season climax. While its cross cutting between the cops and Chinatown gangs doesn’t flow as seamlessly as a feature film likely would, it is, nonetheless, very impressive for the scale of the series. This hour marked the first time I actively found myself wishing the show was shot in scope to better capture the 1 on 1 staging prowess and stunt work. Watching Taslim and Nguyen go toe-to-toe has been a long time coming, and it doesn’t disappoint… up until the point when its supposed to.
Lee pops Zing in the shoulder during the raid, cutting the bout short. Bill quickly points out a planted pocket-watch as belonging to one of the beheaded victims, Zing also being caught trying to take Li Yong’s head off with the planted blade. “Seems like a case of dumb f*ckin’ luck,” Chief Flanagan says, which clicks Lee’s thinking bulb back on, the wheels in his head start turning and seeing all the holes in Bill’s story. While the cops squabble over their supposed victory, Mai Ling (Dianne Doan) realizes her right hand man took action without her consent, Li Yong telling his lover that he did what was necessary to protect the Tong from racial retaliation. She then pays a visit to Ah Sahm’s regular fight gig, and the two have a charged moment together. Ah Sahm claiming he will destroy everything she cares about and everything she has built for herself, for causing him so much pain and ordering his death last season. This central conflict needed addressing but I wish the show would better thread, you know, subtext into its dialog, also tacking on an ending for Chao that the show rushes through in one exchange (which I’ll discuss more in hour 7’s recap). Rosalita Vega (Maria Elena Laas) makes her return in the hour’s final moments. Now that Ah Sahm’s opium scheme has bitten the bullet, he suddenly needs that prize money a lot more desperately; we’ll find out next week whether his training has been enough…
*NEW EPISODES OF WARRIOR AIR FRIDAYS @ 10 PM EST ON CINEMAX*