Lest we forget that Cinemax’s Warrior is an immigrant story, the third episode of season two, titled “Not How We Do Business,” throws a fresh batch of Chinese immigrants into the mix, including a special new member of the Hop Wei, Hong, played by the effervescent Chen Tang (Mulan).
I loved this episode because it perfectly introduced a brand new, major character into the already stellar cast. It’s not easy to introduce new characters in any series, and it’s certainly not easy for those characters to stand out. When Dustin Nguyen’s Zing was introduced halfway through season 1, the character had the advantage of being played by one of the most iconic Asian-American actors in TV history. This season, we’ve already met a couple of new characters in Vega and Sophie Mercer, and their inclusion has been fairly seamless, but not particularly memorable. I’m still not clear what Sophie’s motivations are three episodes into the season. Hong immediately established himself as one of the most interesting and unique characters on the show and I can’t wait to see more of him.
Ah Sahm and Young Jun‘s scheme to use a cheaper local drug supplier instead of the Chinese pipeline established by Father Jun is in full swing. They’re making such good money that they’re convinced that they can show Father Jun that even though they went behind his back, it’s good business. This sounds either completely naive or just foolish. The whole episode is full of moments where Ah Sahm and Young Jun are given strong hints that what they’re doing is a bad idea (by Father Jun) or flat out told that this is going to blow up (by Chao). Young Jun is particularly spooked when a fresh batch of hatchet-men from China arrive at Father Jun’s request. He’s convinced that his dad either knows or strongly suspects that the two entrepreneurs are up to no good and considers backing out. Ah Sahm however encourages Young Jun to press on, telling him, “You’ve been waiting your whole life to start making moves.” In my interview with Andrew Koji, he mentioned that Ah Sahm plays a bit of an Iago role this season and you can really see that starting to come out this episode. It’s extremely intriguing to see Ah Sahm pull these strings, but it’s still disappointing to me that he’s clearly putting his own secret interests ahead of his friendship with Young Jun. I guess Young Jun did kind of ditch him at the end of last season, before bringing him back randomly at the very end. That whole thing was pretty unclear.
Ah Sahm and Young Jun are joined by Hong, who exudes an unsettling level of joy given the circumstances they’re in. Hong is one of the new recruits from China and he declares that he’s loyal and can scrap. He seems to want to earn Ah Sahm and Young Jun’s acceptance, and when given the opportunity to take on a group of Fung Hai, he lays down a major beating with a smile. Hong can definitely fight and Young Jun realizes the value of this new, bizarrely happy, ally. When Ah Sahm, Young Jun and Hong head to Ah Toy’s brothel, we discover that Hong is also gay. Ah Sahm accidentally interrupts a moment between Hong and a male prostitute, and when Hong asks if Ah Sahm will tell anyone, Ah Sahm responds poignantly, “You’re a Chinese guy in America. Pretty soon you’ll find out you have bigger problems.”
Mai Ling and Li Yong show up at the Fung Hai layer to confront Zing. The Fung Hai are short on payment but Zing says it’s a small fee for his services against the other Tong in the last episode. Mai Ling boldly declares that he has a deadline to pay the money owed, and if he moves against another Tong without her permission again, their agreement is off. Zing agrees, but tries to undermine her with the offer of some kind of thick milky drink that presumably isn’t easy to choke down. The challenge isn’t lost on Mai Ling, who steps up, gulps it down and tosses the ladle on the floor. As she walks out, one of the Fung Hai henchmen decides it’s a good idea to stand in Li Yong’s way. Unsurprisingly, that smart guy is briskly sent crashing to the floor with a chop to throat. The Fung Hai get up to engage, but Zing halts them, saying, “Be thankful for the pain. It means you’re still alive.” It’s not clear to me why anyone would think stepping up to Li Yong would end well, but I guess the Fung Hai aren’t exactly known for their strategery.
Zing and the Fung Hai are truly the agents of chaos on this show and it’s thoroughly enjoyable. First, Big Bill O’Hara tries to quit being their debt collector. Zing laughs him off and Bill angrily warns that if the Fung Hai don’t back off, he’ll bring the police force down on them. Later, Zing shows up at Chao’s place and menacingly demands weapons that he ordered (they were taken by the police last episode). Zing mocks Chao’s efforts to stay neutral and warns that anyone who does business with him ends up working for only him. He reminds Chao that he remembers well that his predecessor’s assassination at the hands of Mai Ling was facilitated by Chao.
Bill and Lee are still trying to figure out the Chinatown murders while still struggling with their own demons. Beyond Bill’s entanglements with the Fung Hai, Lee returns to the bar where he was last mugged and takes down several of the thugs until he gets his money back. It’s a nice reminder that Lee is quite formidable. Later, Lee is having dinner with Bill’s family when their wholesome moment is interrupted by Fung Hai assassins sent to put Bill in his place. A bloody brawl ensues but the duo are able to overcome the assassins. The message is sent though and Bill’s family is properly terrified. There clearly must be a reckoning. The Fung Hai are incredibly reckless with this move. Going to war with the other Tongs is one thing, but trying to murder a police officer’s family is another level.
Chao, disturbed by Zing’s visit, goes to Mai Ling to plead his case. He wouldn’t even accept Zing’s business if not for his relationship with the Long Zii and he ask Mai Ling to intervene. Mai Ling dismissively repeats Zing’s own line to Chao, “Be thankful for the pain. It means you’re still alive.” This raises Li Yong’s eyebrows and lots of red flags. Li Yong privately tells Mai Ling that Chao has been a long time associate and Long Zii believed in loyalty, but Mai Ling is unmoved. Later, Chao finds Li Yong eating by himself and offers his own solution. We’ll have to wait to find out exactly what that solution is, but things don’t look good for our favorite Tong power couple.
To round out the episode, Leary and Sophie Mercer get together. It’s really not clear why. Mayor Blake and Penny are at odds over Penny’s hiring of Chinese muscle to protect her factory. There’s a super bizarre scene where Deputy Mayor Buckley is giving a prostitute a bath. I have no idea where that’s going.
This episode was very light on martial arts action, save Hong’s stellar debut. But Bill and Lee got a fair amount of action to make up for it and overall the story was very strong and entertaining.
Hong Shines – Hong is already one of my favorite characters. He’s hilarious and unique and actor Chen Tang’s comedic timing and overall enthusiastic personality are a wonderful addition to the show. There’s also a clearly dark streak to Hong’s character that I’ll be interested in seeing peeled back some more. From the cast chemistry perspective, Tang seems to fit like a glove and I really love the new dynamic he brings to the already stellar duo of Andrew Koji and Jason Tobin. The Hop Wei have loaded up and the Long Zii and Fung Hai will need to respond.
The Confusing Buckley Storyline – Maybe this will play out more clearly by the end, but I find myself more and more uninterested in any storyline that has to do with Deputy Mayor Buckley and Mayor Blake. I realize that Buckley exists to represent the larger threat of the Chinese Exclusion Act that is ultimately the greatest villain in the story, but the path to get there is at best confusing, and at worst distracting. This week’s bizarre scene of Buckley giving a bath to the prostitute felt shoe-horned into the episode. There’s quite obviously a larger plan for Buckley but I hope they either get to the point faster or put Buckley on the bench. We don’t need to see his smug face every episode.
Another layer of representation was introduced this episode with Hong being the first major character on the show who is openly gay. I appreciated that they made Hong’s sexuality clear early on, and that the show’s protagonist, Ah Sahm, was accepting of it. While it’s not like Ah Sahm was celebrating Hong’s sexuality, it would have been out of character for Ah Sahm to be effusive about it. He hasn’t been effusive about anything thus far. Some shows or movies dance around a character’s sexuality, hoping to earn diversity cookies with innuendo. Warrior smartly went the other direction, establishing without question that Hong is gay.
RATING – 4.5/5 Pocky
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.