A lot can happen in a day — just ask Nicky Shen, San Francisco’s newest vigilante. In a span of 24 hours, she goes from saving a young girl and her badly injured mother to uncovering a shocking secret about the mysterious woman who killed her shifu, all while attempting to reconnect with her estranged family.
While the second episode of Kung Fu is a slight tonal shift from the family-centric pilot, Olivia Liang’s Nicky does a solid job of navigating the complexities of reentering a difficult family environment and wanting to find her own voice after the earth-shattering loss of her beloved mentor. But as we can see in various sequences throughout “Silence,” Nicky’s quest for justice and path to reconciliation with her loved ones will be fraught with difficulty.
In the opening scene, Nicky has a couple of unsettling dreams, the first being an eerily nice welcome-home breakfast with her family — where even her tiger mother respects her decision to not attend law school — and the second an alternate reality where Zhilan kills her and Pei-Ling at the same time. Unable to go back to sleep, Nicky decides to sit on a specific bench in the park in hopes of catching Evan during his regular morning run. But trust her: She’s not, as she puts it, “a creepy stalker ex-girlfriend.” She just wants to get an update about his legal search for Zhilan, even if it might be at 6 a.m. After saying that he has yet to make any headway on that case, Evan suggests that Nicky spend more time with her family instead of dedicating all of her free time to her (secret) search for Zhilan. “They might not admit it, but they missed you — we all did. Go talk to them, Nicky,” he tells her.
But when she returns home, she finds herself in the middle of a storm that feels all too similar to most intergenerational households. Her parents, Jin and Mei-Li, are in a desperate hurry to get to work at their family restaurant in Chinatown. Her sister Althea is also in a busy morning rush and tells Nicky in passing to meet her later for wedding preparations. However, the thing that makes that scene so unmistakably Asian is Jin’s refusal to see a doctor for a routine check-up, even after his brain surgery, despite the pleas of Nicky’s medical-student brother, Ryan. (Asian immigrant parents might want their children to go into medicine, but they are also, for one reason or another, some of the last people that you can convince to see a doctor.)
With everyone out of the house, Nicky goes to her room and has her first vision of that fateful night at the monastery, where she remembers a pendant that Zhilan was wearing. Using her seemingly photographic memory, she draws the piece of jewelry and heads straight to the Chinese Community Center, where Henry has just finished teaching a tai chi class. Recognizing the crane in the drawing, Henry offers to help Nicky with the identification after he finishes his work for the day as a teaching assistant at the University of California San Francisco.
In their first non-Zhilan conversation since meeting at the community center in the pilot, Henry finds out that Nicky hasn’t even stretched, let alone trained, since she returned from China. When Nicky says that she is struggling “to find the quiet within” that her shifu always mentioned, Henry empathizes with her and reveals that he trained at a 武术 (wǔ shù) academy in Beijing for two years and struggled to resume his normal routine after returning home. He also encourages her to start training again, but before Nicky can even think about using the empty studio, she has to run to a bridesmaid-dress fitting with Althea.
There, we get the first real glimpse of the dynamic between Nicky and Althea. After Althea jokes that Nicky cannot pull a Pippa Middleton and upstage her at her own wedding, she is shocked to discover that there is more to Nicky’s story about the monastery than just a catastrophic fire. The two sisters have a moving heart-to-heart in the middle of the fitting, but Nicky immediately gets defensive after Althea questions her latest plans. “You’re trying to track her? The crazy, sword-wielding psychopath who shish-kabobed you, threw you over a cliff, and torched the monastery?” Althea asks. (Shannon Dang delivers this line absolutely brilliantly, and the chemistry between her and Liang is really convincing.)
In response, Nicky lashes out, insisting that Althea lives in a “bridal fairytale” and has no idea what she has been through. But Althea, who seems to have secrets of her own, hits back by insisting that “a lot has happened since you’ve been gone” and that her life is definitely no fairy tale, before storming away to blow off some steam.
With nothing left to do, Nicky goes to a local park and, after finding out that Henry won’t be available for another few hours, decides to start practicing martial arts alone in the middle of the public space. Her mind begins to drift back to the monastery, signaling that she is still struggling to find the clarity that she desperately needs. Serendipitously, she sees a girl in trouble with a man who is armed with a gun. After stepping in and forcing the guy to run away, Nicky is puzzled to find that the distressed girl has run away with the discarded gun, leaving only a small pouch of her belongings on the ground.
Nicky makes a pit stop at her parents’ restaurant and finds Evan sitting at a table, waiting for his regular Friday takeout order. Apparently, things have gotten better between Evan and Mei-Li since Nicky ran away. (Who could have seen that coming?) When Nicky tells Evan about the mysterious girl, Evan offers to contact his friend at the police department to conduct an investigation, but Nicky is discouraged to discover that the young woman could likely go straight into “the system” instead of getting the help that she needs.
When she is in the library of the community center with Henry later that afternoon, Nicky declines a phone call from a detective. And when Henry finds a paper wristband from a homeless shelter in the pouch that belonged to the girl, Nicky decides to take matters into her own hands. She finds the evasive woman in line near the shelter and chases her down when she tries to flee. After using some masterful de-escalation techniques to stop the girl from shooting her, Nicky learns that her name is Ronda and that she was planning to use the gun to scare her mother Carmen’s emotionally abusive boyfriend, Derek.
Carmen was injured in a workplace accident a couple of years ago, and she and Ronda were forced to move in with Derek after being unable to afford the rent at their old apartment. Derek soon began to take control of all of their finances, and he threw Ronda out onto the streets when she confronted him about stealing money. Wanting to help in any way she can, Nicky, who channels some of the wisdom that her shifu imparted to her, tells Ronda, “Right action can’t flow from fear. When you’re going through a lot, it’s hard to see things clearly. You just have to find a way to move forward without fear.”
Nicky takes Ronda back to the Shen house and offers her something to eat while she, Ryan, and Althea are in the next room taste-testing potential wedding cakes. During the tasting, Nicky discovers that Althea told Ryan about her search for an “international assassin” (she was not happy about that!), but she is encouraged by her siblings to look into transitional housing for Ronda and Carmen and to use her studies in pre-law to get back at Derek.
Nicky and Ronda go back to Ronda’s building, where Ronda has a tearful reunion with her ailing mother and says that Nicky has a plan to get them away from Derek. Even when Derek returns to the apartment earlier than anticipated, Nicky is not fazed in the slightest, pinning Derek against the couch and threatening to take legal action if he does not leave temporarily and let Ronda and Carmen revoke his power of attorney and file a restraining order. But before the mother-daughter duo can move out or sign any legal documents, Derek drains Carmen’s bank account and uses that money for one last night of gambling. Nicky, using a combination of her own resourcefulness and Althea’s knowledge of cybersecurity, manages to hack into Derek’s laptop and finds out where he’s playing. (The man’s password was “thedman71,” which is just a whole new level of awful.)
With the intention of reclaiming Ronda and Carmen’s money, Nicky forces her way into an exclusive backroom poker game with Derek and a lot of nicely dressed people. When Nicky accuses Derek of stealing, the man running the game says with a smug look, “Well, [Derek] says you’re lying. And as the host of this game, I say: The hand plays. House rules, darling.” (Big mistake there, buddy.)
Nicky then launches into her big action sequence of the episode, beating up the two men who are attempting to escort her out. (There is already a noticeable improvement in the quality of this sequence; hopefully it will only get better from here.) When one of them tries to run back into the room behind her, Nicky masterfully flips him straight into a poker table, causing most of the chips to fall on the floor. “Like I said, that money is stolen and I’m taking it back. My rules, darling,” she says to Derek and the embarrassed leader of the group before walking out like Angela Bassett in Waiting to Exhale, money in hand.
But while she was busy saving the day for another family, Nicky failed to show up for her own father. After making plans to resume a game of 围棋 (wéi qí), which is better known as the board game Go, Nicky was so preoccupied with saving Ronda and Carmen that she forgot to cancel plans with Jin. Later that night, Mei-Li tells Nicky that Jin had kept the wéi qí board out for months when Nicky went to China, but “one day, he just packed it up. Didn’t say a word. Maybe it hurt too much.” (This is one of things that the show highlights really well about a lot of Chinese parents: They go through more than their kids can ever imagine, but they are usually reluctant to voice most of their pain.)
In order to right this wrong, Nicky offers to start a brand new game of wéi qí with Jin the following morning to signify the start of a new chapter in her life. “I’m not going anywhere,” she reassures her father, who eventually agrees to make a trip to the clinic.
With the newfound clarity that she feels after saving someone in need, Nicky makes a major connection with the separate help of Evan and Henry: Zhilan and Pei-Ling were sisters, and Zhilan has flown from Beijing to Singapore to track down Winston Chau, a professor who has dedicated his life to uncovering the mysteries behind the eight mythological weapons that were mentioned in the pilot. The episode ends with Zhilan, dressed menacingly in all black, approaching professor Chau in Singapore and saying, “我相信你可以” (wǒ xiāng xìn nǐ kě yǐ), or “I trust that you can [help me].”
• During Nicky’s bridesmaid-dress fitting, Althea receives a call from a mysterious person. “I told you to stop calling me. This conversation is over,” she says before hanging up. Althea might have brushed it off as “a wedding vendor who is trying to gouge me on favors,” but could there be trouble in paradise for her and Dennis?
• According to Henry, the pattern that corresponds to the crane on Zhilan’s pendant is a symbol for “one of eight.” Since Zhilan and Pei-Ling were related, they were members of one of the eight bloodlines who were selected to “protect” the mythological weapons, known as 守護家族 (shǒu hù jiā zú), or “the guardian families.” This raises a whole new set of questions about Zhilan’s motives to steal the sword …
• I have heard from the cast that next week’s episode is easily one of their favorites, and Gavin Stenhouse even teased that we will see the first meeting of Evan and Henry, Nicky’s two potential love interests.