Warrior can’t end like this. After a riveting sophomore season, the best action show on TV needs to be renewed. For those who don’t know, it was announced a few months ago that Cinemax would no longer be producing original content. That of course put the future of Warrior in jeopardy, and that future remains murky. Both seasons of the Bruce Lee inspired show will be available on HBO Max soon (speculation right now is sometime in January 2021), and hopefully streaming numbers there will be strong enough to encourage the WarnerMedia platform to renew the show. Until then, let’s get to the incredible season 2 finale title “Man on the Wall.”
Chinatown is trying to literally pick up the pieces after the devastating attack by the Irish thugs and the aftermath of the absurdly spectacular, but bloody battle royale. In honor of Ah Sahm’s superhero-like showing to defend his adopted home, the Chinatown citizens have put up a massive mural in his likeness on one of the buildings. Ah Sahm is truly Bruce Lee now. He’s their hero. Ah Sahm watches awkwardly as the mural is being put up as Ah Toy, still badly injured, walks up. She points out his new status as the people’s champ and again the idea of Ah Sahm taking over the Hop Wei is implied. Ah Sahm helps Ah Toy back to her place and it almost seems like they’re going to share a moment when Davenport shows up. She’d been trying to get through to Ah Toy and she’s determined to stay by Ah Toy’s side. I’d been very skeptical that Davenport was as genuine as she seemed to be and I’m so glad for Ah Toy’s sake that her affection seems true. Ah Sahm’s light bulb goes off as he realizes the nature of their relationship and he excuses himself with the perfect amount of amusement and respect.
Lee resigns from the SFPD, saying it wasn’t what he expected. Bill tries to dissuade him, explaining that it’s not possible for them to do actual good, but that they have to take the small victories. That obviously rings hallow given how compromised Lee knows Bill has been. Later Bill finds Leary and the two have drinks and bond, while Lee goes in search of comfort in the arms of the bartender who earlier aided in his mugging. This part was tough to swallow considering what happened to Lee at this bar and because of this woman specifically. But I guess Lee deserves some love. As for Bill, once the drinks are done, Leary reminds him that all is not forgiven for his serving the Fung Hai.
Father Jun and Young Jun are also dealing with the consequences of the massive brawl and the two reconcile in a nice father-son moment. Young Jun says “it’s good to have you back,” but Father Jun corrects him, “I’m not back.” It’s decidedly Young Jun’s tong now (unless people keep pushing Ah Sahm to stage a coup anyway).
With the Hop Wei leadership established, Mai Ling and Li Yong request a meeting to clear the air about the status of the worst kept peace treaty between the two tongs. Young Jun is dripping with condescension as he knows they have all leverage over the Long Zii now that the Fung Hai are out of the picture. In a last ditch effort to regain some leverage, Mai Ling casually lobs in the bomb that she’s “tired of fighting with her brother” Ah Sahm. I almost forgot that it’s not common knowledge that the two are siblings. Young Jun flips out and ends the meeting.
He turns furiously to Ah Sahm and questions if he’s been a mole this whole time. Hong speaks up and sagely mentions that there really wasn’t a good way for Ah Sahm to handle the situation. Love Hong as the voice of reason. He’s so easy going. It seems like this could be the beginning of the end for our beloved tag team, but fortunately, Young Jun calms down and lays out all the times in the past when Ah Sahm has proven his loyalty. So Ah Sahm isn’t a traitor, but is Ah Sahm ready to watch his sister die? Young Jun isn’t so sure.
Penny Blake tries to undermine Mayor Buckley by going to a reporter to tell Jacob’s true story. But Buckley’s much too politically savvy for that and already has the press in his pocket. After Buckley buys off the reporter and buries the story, Penny charges into his office and confronts him. The two have a heated exchange until Buckley stabs himself in the arm and cries for help, claiming that Penny attacked him. Penny ends up tied down to a bed in what looks to be a mental institution. I didn’t love the resolution of this storyline, but the it didn’t seem like there was a good direction for Penny Blake’s arc all season.
Ah Sahm, reeling from his near death sentence at the hands of Young Jun, is itching for a fight and head straight to Leary’s bar. There, he drinks several Irishmen under the table, until Leary shows up. The two sit down and have a tense drink surrounded WWE style by all the bar patrons. This was such a fun moment to see after two seasons of built up animosity, and even moreso if you know how close Andrew Koji and Dean Jagger are in real life. Eventually, the two have to throw down, and they do so in the alley outside, just as we’ve seen Leary do several times this season. The fight is brutal and eventually deteriorates to little more than punch for punch. Ah Sahm comes out on top and warns Leary and the rest of the Irish to stay out of Chinatown.
It’s time for Father Jun to leave. After reconciling with, and formally passing the torch to, his son, his story in Chinatown is seemingly at an end. He packs up early in the morning and walks out. Chao happens to be sitting outside and notices Father Jun’s departure. The two have a beautiful conversation that ends with Father Jun asking Chao to let Young Jun know. And maybe in his father-like way he was telling Chao to keep an eye on his son for him. Perry Yung, who plays Father Jun, and Hoon Lee, who plays Chao, were brilliant in this scene. I can’t fully express the class, elegance and mutual respect that the two actors exuded in that moment.
Finally, the episode and season end with the revelation that Mai Ling has photographic proof that Mayor Buckley fought for the Confederate Army, and blackmails him to use the SFPD against the Hop Wei. Just then, Leary enters and declares that he intends to become involved with city politics. He represents the final push that anti-Chinese legislation needed, and what will undoubtedly result in passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Before the season comes to a complete close, we get a final shot of Zing breaking himself out of prison.
The Warrior cast and crew couldn’t have known just how uncertain the show’s future would be while filming this finale, as reflected by the completely open ended nature of the ending, but they still somehow succeeding in delivering several beautifully satisfying moments. If this is the last we see of the Warrior crew, then the images of Ah Sahm and Leary sharing a drink, Father Jun and Young Jun reconciling, Davenport comforting a badly injured Ah Toy, Big Bill and Leary bonding, and Father Jun’s final conversation with Chao before he leaves, are all worthy farewells.
Ironically, those are all also moments that demand that this show go on. The level of depth that so many of these characters have developed over this second season is impressive, and there’s clearly so much to explore in a third season and beyond. If anything, the cast has been slightly paired down a bit (due to the deaths of Mayor Blake, Jacob, and Vega, and the seeming departures of Penny and Father Jun), which would allow the writers to focus on some of the core characters even more. The subtle power struggle between Young Jun and Ah Sahm is just getting started, Mai Ling has a whole new angle in her war against the Hop Wei, and Leary has opened his eyes to the true path to power in Chinatown. This episode did a great job of laying the foundation for future storylines.
And then of course there’s that brutal final fight between Andrew Koji’s Ah Sahm and Dean Jagger’s Leary. It felt appropriate to follow up last episode’s epic Chinatown battle royale with a one-on-one to determine the great one. In my interview with Andrew Koji, he talked about how challenging it was to film that final fight, and the physical toll it took to complete it. Koji and Jagger are great friends in real life, and I think it’s safe to say that it was their genuine friendship, along with Stunt Director Brett Chan’s amazing team, that enabled them to finish that scene. Finish it they did, and the final product is what a famous announcer might call a “slobber knocker,” where you can almost feel every punch land. There simply isn’t another show that can execute fight scenes like Warrior.
The only “bad” is that we need more Warrior. There are still so many open ended storylines to this show, and while this was an excellent season finale, it’s not enough for a series finale (through no fault of the show’s creators of course). Specifically, we didn’t get enough of Joe Taslim and Dustin Nguyen in the back half of this season. After heavy doses of the Long Zii and the Fung Hai in the first half, culminating in one of the most impressive fight scenes of the entire series (if not all of TV), both characters took a back seat the rest of the way. In the finale, Li Yong doesn’t do much besides stand by Mai Ling during their intense negotiations with the Hop Wei, and we don’t see Zing at all until essentially the epilogue of the episode (it was a good moment though). Beyond those two, even Jason Tobin’s Young Jun was underused this season. Now that he’s finally taken control of the Hop Wei, the ultra talented Tobin would ideally have a chance to really flex his range. There are so many talented actors on Warrior, that two seasons aren’t nearly enough to give them all the room to breathe that they deserve, which is why we need more.
At the end of Ah Sahm’s fight with Leary, finally defeating his adversary on his own turf, Ah Sahm warns Leary and the Irish to stay out of Chinatown. If only the world was so simple. With Leary beat on a physical level, he’s undoubtedly going to more fully pursue his political potential. Between Leary’s political capital and Mayor Buckley now in power, it would seem the two would be natural allies to push anti-Chinese legislation. As I’ve mentioned before, the Chinese Exclusion Act has always been the true villain of this story, and even if we never get another episode of Warrior, the show successfully planted the seeds of its bigoted origin.
On a larger scale for Warrior as a series, if this is really the series finale, then from a representation perspective, it was one of the most successful shows in TV history. Not only is it based off the writings of Bruce Lee, an Asian-American icon, but it centered Asians, and had Asian creatives in front of, and behind the camera, including, directors, producers, writers, choreographers, set designers, and more. Warrior’s diversity also went beyond just Chinese or East Asian creators. The show included Southeast Asian actors in lead roles, and expanded its breadth to include Mexican, Black and LGBTQ+ characters and storylines. For two, 10-episode seasons, that’s an incredible amount of diversity that never once felt forced or shoehorned.
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.