Kung Fu has yet to pull any punches — both literally and figuratively — when it comes to tackling heavy topics, and this week’s episode is certainly no exception. In a thought-provoking hour that highlights the Black Lives Matter movement, the Stop Asian Hate movement, and the importance of Black-Asian solidarity, the Shen family is forced to grapple with the notion of active allyship in the wake of an officer-involved shooting that sends shockwaves through the community.
After outsmarting Zhilan to recover the missing scabbard, Nicky and Henry — who capped their latest mission with a passionate good-night kiss in Henry’s car — have gained a second wind. Not only have they gotten one step closer to finding one of the eight mythical weapons, but they also can’t seem to get their hands off of each other … because they’re busy training, of course. The episode begins with another early training session at the Chinese Community Center, where the pair trade blows while unabashedly flirting. When Henry teases that Nicky is going easy on him and that she could have ended the fight already, Nicky quips that you “can’t blame a girl for wanting to make this last longer.” Not to be outdone, Henry fires back, “I’m all for a marathon session, but I’m just saying … you don’t have to hold back. I know you can kick my ass. I think it’s hot.” (Remember that chemistry I was talking about last week? It has truly gone through the roof now.)
Nicky pulls off a classic move and ends up on top of Henry, essentially straddling him when she goes in for a kiss. But as fate would have it, they are interrupted by two other gymgoers, who were already scheduled to use the studio space. After awkwardly grabbing their stuff and freshening up, Nicky and Henry take over the library and begin their quest to find one of the magical weapons. When Henry suggests that there was likely a time that all eight weapons were used together, Nicky remembers reading an ancient legend about a small band of Chinese warriors who won a battle with magical, green-glowing weapons. She recalls that the sword that Zhilan stole also glowed green, but beyond that, she also remembers being inexplicably drawn to the sword and a mysterious woman in a hooded robe who disappeared after glowing green at the monastery.
“When you first arrived, you were ruled by logic and order … You want answers about what you think you saw,” Pei-Ling once said. “All I can say is that there are mysteries in the world, Nicky — unknown to most people, energies, presences. Do not look for logic where logic cannot live.”
Taking Pei-Ling’s advice to “open your mind to the unknown,” Nicky realizes that while the handle on the sword might have been smooth, the burn marks on her hand clearly form a pattern. She and Henry deduce that the scabbard is inlaid with obsidian that glows in the light, which is confirmed when it glows in front of their very eyes. Now that they officially have a way to find the other weapons, Henry notifies Randall to help them with the search and convinces Nicky to celebrate their latest breakthrough by grabbing dinner together in Chinatown.
At the restaurant, which Henry has clearly envisioned as an unofficial first date, Nicky can’t seem to stop talking about their latest discovery. They mutually decide to cut the “date” short, despite Nicky’s apologetic nature and insistence that she just wants to get her hands on at least one weapon before Zhilan does. “Hey, you don’t have to explain. It’s your quest … I’m just glad to be part of it,” Henry says, taking Nicky’s hand in another swoon-worthy moment that shows why Eddie Liu is perfect for this role.
Suddenly, they hear another nearby siren and discover that there has been a shooting in Chinatown. The victim, a young skateboarder who was shot by police, almost crashed into Nicky and Henry on the sidewalk earlier that night, which leaves both of them even more shaken. Nicky discovers the next morning on the news that the victim is Andre Durant (Henry C. King), a 19-year-old Black man who was shot following reports of a possible robbery at Wong’s Jewelry. (This episode includes some thinly veiled criticism of how the media reports on police-involved shootings, as we later learn that the media chose to focus on Andre’s short stint in juvie instead of his recent enrollment at a community college. Given the recent conviction of Derek Chauvin, this feels like a timely reminder that police-written accounts should not be taken at face value.)
When Andre dies in the hospital, a number of Black Lives Matter activists in the area — which includes Ryan’s new boyfriend, Joe — organize a peaceful protest in Chinatown. This protest leaves the Shen family, especially matriarch Mei-Li, feeling conflicted. Despite having no idea what to expect, Ryan, who genuinely wants to help Joe, decides to go to the protest as a volunteer medic. While Jin, Nicky, and Althea all want to support the protesters, Mei-Li’s ambivalence is clear when she discovers that someone has spray-painted “JUSTICE 4 ANDRE” on the restaurant’s front window. She decides to close the store without any notice, she wants Jin to board up the front out of fear, and she says that she “can’t support vandals and looters.” But she also can’t help but get emotional when she sees Andre’s mother, Nia, crying on the news. (This contrast resonated deeply with me because these sentiments were echoed by my own family and other Asian friends in the wake of George Floyd’s death last May. Many of us have been told to keep our heads down and to keep to ourselves all our lives, but we simply could not ignore the social movements that happened last year. It was bigger than all of us, and that’s what the Shen family comes to realize by the end of the episode.)
By the time Ryan arrives at the protest, he sees Joe leading an impassioned crowd. “We remember Alex Nieto. We remember Oscar Grant. We remember Andre Durant,” he says, adding that there have been over 100 deaths and not one conviction. The protest, however, is cut short when San Francisco police enforce a curfew until 5 a.m. and begin to fire tear gas to disperse the protesters. Mei-Li, Jin, Nicky, Althea, and Henry — who were all at the family restaurant when they heard the first round of tear gas — are alarmed when they realize that Ryan has led a large group of protesters to take shelter at the restaurant. When her parents are hesitant to open the door to more protesters, Nicky successfully pleads with Jin: “爸爸 (bà ba), if we don’t let them in, they could be arrested — or worse — just for being on the street.”
With everyone stuck together until the end of the curfew, the Shens try to make everyone as comfortable as possible (which is definitely the most Chinese thing to do), but things get complicated when Evan sneaks in and informs Nicky that the police are getting a warrant to arrest Joe for “inciting a crowd to riot.” In a private conversation with Nicky and Ryan, Joe says that he knows he could face jail time and that he would rather turn himself in because he thinks resisting could make things worse for everybody, especially for the entire Shen family.
When the police do show up to arrest Joe, what starts off as a potentially corny scene turns out to be one of the more powerful (albeit unrealistic) moments of the hour. Taking inspiration from Ryan’s comment that he wishes he could take Joe’s place, Nicky volunteers to get arrested instead, but it is actually a ploy to buy Althea and Henry more time as they try to find online evidence that would exonerate Joe. Following Nicky’s example, everyone else in the restaurant, including Jin and Mei-Li, decides to make the same declaration. And when the main police officer threatens to arrest everyone for real, Althea swoops in with an online video of Joe’s speech. “We are here for justice. This will be a peaceful protest. We will not allow the press or the police to use violence to distort what we are here for, or who we are here for,” Joe says in the video, essentially ruining any case that the police tried to make. (In real life, the officer would have likely arrested Joe anyway, but I’m selfishly glad that we didn’t have to see that trauma.)
Once everyone has left in the morning, the Shen family shares a really nice moment in the back room of the restaurant, which is actually the scene that resonated the most with me. Earlier in the episode, Mei-Li and Jin are walking back from a grocery store and talk about how their friend, Eileen, was attacked at another market and told to go back to China. “Twenty years later, and it seems like nothing has changed,” Mei-Li says. While COVID-19 does not exist in this show, the fact that the writers have chosen to dedicate an entire hour to two concurrent social movements is a sobering reminder that systemic issues, which disproportionately affect people of color, have existed for far longer than the pandemic.
After the protests, Mei-Li and Jin decide to tell their children about how the protests reopened an old wound from their past. In June 2004, a man threw a brick with a note that read, “GO HOME, CH*NK,” through the front window of the family restaurant. While she was hurt and scared enough to close the restaurant, Mei-Li explains, “[Jin] said, ‘Don’t give them the satisfaction of giving up,’ that we should stay and put in roots so deep no one could tear them out. We wanted to spare you for as long as we could, knowing that people can hate you for just being Chinese.” (This quote hit me hard because I recently had this conversation with my own Chinese parents. My parents and I never openly talked about race growing up, and while I know that they were trying to protect me in a way, I think the lack of open dialogue contributed to my early struggles with cultural identity. I just felt so seen and so understood in this scene.)
Later that day, Ryan and Joe finally get a moment to themselves in the clinic to talk about their relationship. “Whatever you need from me — if you need my support, I’ll support you. If you need me to back off, I’ll —” Ryan says before Joe cuts him off with a big kiss and tells him, “This is what I need.” (Jon Prasida and Bradley Gibson make a magical onscreen pairing, and I can’t wait to see the development of Ryan and Joe’s relationship.)
Meanwhile, in the library, Henry and Nicky are both still a little shaken by the protests, but they get their first lead from one of Randall’s sources, who has sent a video confirming the existence of an unidentified weapon in South America that also glows green. Now, they just have to figure out how to retrieve it …
• There’s a scene near the end of the episode where Mei-Li places a flower at Andre’s memorial and makes eye contact with Andre’s mother, with H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe” playing in the background. They may not have exchanged any words in that moment, but there is so much said in that one glance — so much heartache and yet so much understanding. Seeing Black-Asian solidarity was extremely moving because at the end of the day, no one wins if we’re trying to compare who has it worse.
• After telling Nicky about the sexual violence that she suffered at the hands of her former boss, Althea reads one night that the same boss, whose name is Chase Matheson, recorded higher earnings than expected in the last quarter. She then tries to come clean to Dennis, but she ultimately loses her nerve. In a separate conversation with Nicky, Althea also admits that she has been busy with wedding planning because that is the one thing that she has full control over right now, implying that she still needs time to tell their loved ones.
• Before the protests, there is a really nice scene between Ryan and Henry where they talk about not knowing how to define their respective romantic relationships. Now that Ryan and Joe have had that conversation, I can’t help but wonder when we might see Nicky and Henry talk about their feelings, especially with Evan still lurking around the corner …