*This article contains spoilers for the entirely of Warrior Season 1, and Season 2, Eps. 1-7*
Cliffhangers are an essential part of serialized storytelling – how to handle them being a frequent topic on my personal go-to writing podcast. A couple of my favorite creators all share the wise philosophy that one should always aim to avoid, “They opened the door, and…”
It’s a cheap device – one dependent on reader expectation and prone to always deflate the excitement of some. A better narrative hook device. “They opened the door and… [insert reveal that makes story more complex],” then end the chapter. Last week’s episode of “Warrior” left things hanging in a precarious place, and the ending of this week’s hour shocks with the most intense final image the show has ended on to date. The opening of “If You Wait By The River Long Enough” is a good example of why “They opened the door, and…” is lazy and ineffective, its ending – Jacob’s (Kenneth Fok) in-home killing of Mayor Samuel Blake (Christian McKay); which I must admit, seriously concerned me upon first viewing – is a layered implementation of the second tactic, concluding with an event that throws a number of conflict wrenches into most every narrative thread, the fallout no doubt setting the stage for the War over San Francisco’s soul.
Returning home to Chinatown after winning the “Django Unchained” prize money, Father Jun (Perry Yung) has put a few pieces together in their absence, “You have some serious fucking explaining to do!” concluding the previous episode. This inevitable showdown is something the show has been setting up for some time, and, rather than dive into the potential nuances of this father/son schism, the series essentially wraps the issue up in a single dialog scene, nullifying the impact of the previous episode’s “DUN DUN DUN!” With Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) on his side, more of the Hop Wei stand with Young Jun (Jason Tobin) than the head of the family ever expected. In an over-tired relationship trope, we get one fallout scene in which Father Jun tells his son he must end his life, so as to not be perceived as weak. Young Jun believes he’d be foolish to throw away such leadership experience, informing him he’s only ever sought his father’s respect.
The other Tong clans are currently busy cleaning up a much bloodier mess, Zing (Dustin Nguyen) having been successfully framed for Ah Toy’s (Oliva Cheng) sword-killer crimes. He is referred to as “John Chinaman,” a.k.a. “The Swordsman,” a.k.a. “Ching,” by the judge (believe it or not, this is historically accurate). Considering the “overwhelming evidence” plus the “heinous nature of the crimes” Zing is sentenced to death by hanging, the verdict taking an enormous load off Sergeant Big Bill’s (Kieran Bew) shoulders. Of course, Dylan Leary (Dean Jagger) has his arms crossed at the back of the courtroom, pointing out how conveniently all this shook out for the Chinatown cop.
Cashing in on the button pushing potential of the entire situation, Mayor Blake gives a rousing speech, lauding San Francisco’s police force for their noble efforts in bringing such a monstrous animal to justice. Big Bill is gifted the key to the city and Leary spits in the street from afar. Deputy Mayor Buckley starts chatting him up, pointing out all the spheres of influence he holds control over, not so subtly suggesting that rallying voters to his cause could spell a political future.
Buckley’s shifty tactics finally appear as if they might be coming back to to haunt the master manipulator, Mai Ling (Dianne Doan) having procured a mysterious obscured photo that she appears to be planning on blackmailing the Deputy Mayor with. She also continues to assert her power by tightening her hold (literally) around Li Yong (Joe Taslim), throwing a collar and leash around his neck during this week’s second Skinemax scene. The way the bedroom roughhousing plays, its left unclear whether or not this is purely a sexual fetish, or some sort of lethal punishment (probably a bit of both). The episode’s other titillating pillow talk bit forcibly rushing Ah Toy and Nellie Davenport’s (Miranda Raison) blossoming relationship/partnership.
It really is a shame that the show couldn’t have threaded both these characters’ developmental arcs better – neither had much of consequence to do in the first half of the season, and now they’re left carrying the hottest thematic torch of the series, yet most all their scenes together play like the writers are at once aiming for LGBTQ progress points, throwing in some “Blue Is The Warmest Color” action for their base audience to drool at. Ah Toy shares the tragic story of how the captain of the ship that brought her to America turned her into his personal concubine, after his crew murdered her husband and threw him overboard. This blunt approach is like making a holocaust movie that thinks gas chamber monologues are the only way to convey such drama.
Despite the gaping holes in storytelling subtlety, Ah Toy’s portion of the episode is actually the strongest material she’s been given this season. After Nellie learns that her new lover has been using a white business man to help her procure land, she offers her husband’s name and estate as another solution. That means pulling out of her current arrangement, which her partner informs her might be complicated (more on this next week). Ah Toy also learns the location of a number of immigrant women being enslaved as sex workers, and, in a powerful sequence that illustrates the stakes of Chinese migrant’s circumstances better than a sad backstory monologue ever could, she and her employee Lai (Jenny Umbhau) liberate a group of caged prostitutes with their blade skills, safely harboring them in Sonoma. When Ah Toy insists that Lai stay and work as a farmer, her reaction is one of the most guttural moments the series has put to screen.
“Warrior’s” other well-meaning, rich white lady, Penny, is only featured in a few scenes in the hour, but, boy, do they shake up the status quo. Having been backed into a seemingly unsolvable business corner by her husband Samuel, Penny makes an arrangement with one of the Mayor’s constituents, Merriweather (André Jacobs), selling his company steel from her factory with decreased Chinese labor costs. When Mayor Blake learns about this from the lips of his political colleague, he does not take the news well, storming home to confront his wife in a drunken rage. He strikes her in the heat of the moment, and, when she retaliates, he attempts to strangle the life out of her. But the Mayor’s wife is saved, first by Sophie (Celine Buckens) – who has a falling out with Penny, after her older sister learns of her troubling relationship with Leary (about time this went somewhere) – and, ultimately, by Jacob, her trusted valet. Clearly, someone is going to take the fall for the sudden death of San Francisco’s mayor, and if history is any indicator, self-defense isn’t going to hold up in court. While the climactic assault sequence at first reads as trying too hard to shake the tree, the dramatic potential of its fallout should be fascinating to watch unfold.
My boy Chao (Hoon Lee) was fairly absent from all the action this week, but, being the character with the most connections to all the various Chinatown players, I think its safe to assume that all the relationships he’s juggling may be coming home to roost once the rioting in the streets starts.
*NEW EPISODES OF WARRIOR AIR FRIDAYS @ 10 PM EST ON CINEMAX*