This Warrior review contains spoilers.
Warrior Season 2 Episode 1
Now that the Warrior world is established, the season 2 premiere concerns itself with more character development and the interweaving of story arcs. The action, however, is even more promising as the season premiere opens with (what else?) a fight scene.
When we rejoin Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), he’s getting beaten and bloodied again, locked in combat in a new no-holds-barred arena, the Barbary Coast Fight Pit, and flashing back to his brutal defeat by at the hands of Li Yong (Joe Taslim) last season. It’s a decent fight scene that shows off Koji’s intensity. His manager (and new cast addition), Rosalita Vega (Maria-Elena Laas) senses that he’s working out some issues since Ah Sahm is back with the Hop Wei and doesn’t need to earn money in the pit. He’s got something to prove and it may take all of season 2 to prove it. And as the show catches up with the rest of the cast, it’s clear that Ah Sahm isn’t the only one starting anew.
While bringing flowers to the graves of his wife and two boys, Dylan Leary (Dean Jagger) crosses paths with another new addition, Sophie Mercer (Celine Buckens). Despite their class differences, they spark an immediate chemistry, teasing of things to come. Sophie is a promising addition to this season. She’s a fresh young face that brings a new spunk to the show. Unfortunately, her personal values come from a position of naive entitlement, which will surely backfire in the world of Warrior. Later, tensions grow over breakfast between Mayor Samuel Blake (Christian McKay) and Penelope Blake (Joanna Vanderham) about her hiring of coolies in her metal factory, Mercer Steel, an action that opposes his political platform. When Sophie joins them, she proves to be another thorn in Samuel’s side. The sisters have their own tension with Sophie being young and idealist while Penelope is jaded and pragmatic.
Meanwhile, back at the brothel, Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng) makes a sexy entrance down a spiral staircase in a resplendent cheongsam dress, showing off how season 2 is prepared to elaborate on its costumes. Until now, the fashion in Warrior has been strictly period. This season, Ah Toy’s outfits and makeup have gone overboard with outrageously baroque fantasy outfits. Ah Toy’s mascara looks more like something from a modern day rave than the late 19th century, but it’s still San Francisco, after all. The fantastic costume design echoes the precedent martial arts series, Into the Badlands, which was a fantasy where all the attire was dazzling. Warrior also imitates Into the Badlands with its guitar riff soundtrack but will have to step up its fight choreography to reach their level.
As she tends to Ah Sahm’s post-fight injuries, they discuss a new gang that he saw at the Barbary Coast, the Teddy Boys, who wear cut off queue trophies on their jackets like scalps. Ah Sahm wants revenge but Ah Toy has reservations. They’ve been too active lately and she doesn’t want to draw more attention from the Bulls (the SFPD). But Ah Sahm is resolute and Ah Toy concedes to help him. The relationship between Ah Sahm and Ah Toy is developing. They are more like siblings than Ah Sahm and Mai Ling and it’ll be interesting to see how that progresses in Season 2. It’s refreshing to see them not fall into a sexual relationship, as most of the other couples on this show do in typical soap opera fashion.
Bill O’Hara (Kieran Biew) is still working as a debt collector for Zing (Dustin Nguyen) to settle accounts from season 1. Later, O’Hara tries to escape his service to the Fung Hai Tong, but takes money from Zing anyway. O’Hara uses it to buy steak for his family, but his wife Lucy (Emily Child) grows suspicious about where he’s getting it. O’Hara knows being a Tong-controlled cop won’t end well.
While walking about Chinatown, Mai Ling (Dianne Doan) and Li Yong meet a lemon vendor. Like Ah Toy, Mai Ling’s costumes are also leveling up. While Ah Toy’s dresses are becoming more sexy (befitting of a brothel madame), Mai LIng’s outfits are now leaning more towards a fantasy warrior princess. The exaggerated costumes are anachronisms but serve to distance the fiction from history. And the exotic clothing is easy on the eyes. Seeing that the vendor’s wife is sick, Mai Ling shows some compassion and buys their entire stock of fruit. Then they cross paths with Ah Sahm and Young Jun (Jason Tobin) and more tensions percolate.
Ah Sahm and Mai Ling cross at a temple where she is offering lemons to the altar for their deceased parents. Warrior takes some liberties with Chinese culture here because lemons aren’t common funerary offerings. They are usually only used when certain rituals call for five fruits. The five fruits represent the five elements and are colored green, yellow, red, white, and black, and lemons would be used for the yellow. The most common fruits for offering are oranges, which stands outside the five element color scheme. However, while California is a major orange producer now, those might not have gotten to San Francisco as readily back in the 19th century. Lemons are commonly grown throughout the area so perhaps the writers are accurate here. Afterwards, Li Yong and Ah Sahm stare each other down, teasing an inevitable rematch.
The Teddy Boys cut the queue off a Chinese man, accusing him of stealing jobs, raping their women, and bringing disease. Sound familiar? Warrior has become uncomfortably timely in regards to modern day politics. The Teddy Boys start to lynch the man, but Ah Sahm, Ah Toy and Lai (Jenny Umbhau) come to his rescue and kill all the gangsters in a bloody act of vengeance. It’s a sanguineous fight scene with throat slitting, dismemberment, and lots of gratuitous sword stabbing. Most of the fight sequences here are one action to one take where it is simple to swap in stunt people. Koji delivers some nice more complex combos that show off his martial arts background and Umbhau demonstrates her acrobatic skill.
Umbhau is a stuntwoman by trade and perfectly cast in Warrior. While many of the cast have come to Warrior with minimal martial arts background, Umbhau stands alongside Koji, Nguyen and Taslim, all of whom have practiced martial arts long before they joined the show. She came to the U.S. to be part of Cirque du Soleil, but the show was unfortunately shut down and she’s been stuck in the states due to the pandemic ever since. Hopefully, her exposure on Warrior will bring her more opportunities to move on.
O’Hara and Lee confiscate Wang Chao’s (Hoon Lee) illegal weapon cache to pressure him into giving up the swordsman. Chao deflects O’Hara by implying he knows about his connections to Zing. Merriweather (Andre Jacobs) continues to pressure Penelope to buy Mercer Steel, when the injured coolies arrive. Back at the brothel, Ah Sahm tries to buy a lead on an alternate molasses source from Chao, but he denies him. Chao tells Ah Toy to cool it with the vengeance because it’s affecting his business. Ah Toy serves Chao tea, which he accepts casually with one hand, a Chinese faux pas because tea is always accepted with both hands, even when poured by a whorehouse madam. Chao says he’ll see his secret, but that’s left for a future episode.
At the Barbary Coast Fight Pit, Ah Sahm beats down another challenger and then taps Vega for information. As a typical writing device, the Fight Pit bookends this episode, which was directed by writer Jonathan Tropper. Given that this is Bruce Lee inspired, the fight choreography is a key element. This season opener brings the fight focus on Koji as the lead, but fails to deliver anything that inspiring. With so many martial arts based television series recently like Cobra Kai, Wu Assassins, Warrior Nun, the aforementioned Into the Badlands (although this was cancelled), and the upcoming reboot of Kung Fu, Warrior must really up their fight game if they want to stay ahead of the pack.
The final scenes of the season opener feel more like an epilogue. It would’ve been more elegant to leave it with the bookend fights, and then the final teaser for the next episode. There’s a scene of Walter Buckley (Langley Kirkwood) picking up a prostitute that’s superfluous. It’s a nod to his depravity but his manipulations of the Mayor have already betrayed his villainy. Then in bed, Li Yong and Mai Ling discuss Ah Sahm with some gratuitous nudity. The episode ends with an explosion as Leary lights a cigar, igniting the possibilities of the next episode.