Kung Fu season 2, episode 7 “The Alchemist” features two daring rescues, a lot of rejection, some day-drinking, father/son hijinks, father/son ultimatums, and a brand new eponymous villain to worry about. Read on for our review of “The Alchemist.”
After a week’s hiatus, “The Alchemist” is a surprising and emotional midseason premiere. The midseason finale, “Jyu Sa,” left us with a couple of big cliffhangers. Henry had been kidnapped by his father, who we unexpectedly learn is a part of the newly introduced secret society, the Wan Zai. Nicky and Mia had discovered a part of the Tan plan, but in the course of that also discovered a dangerous new mineral with magical properties that affected Mia’s mind.
“The Alchemist” quickly moves through Henry’s rescue by Nicky to get to some good old fashioned father/son crime. Henry learns more about his dad’s mysterious past and seemingly comes to terms with his father’s behavior. Mia gets pulled into a dream world and Nicky has to beg Ryan’s help to join Mia inside the dream in order to save her. Inside the dream world Nicky is met with a Pei-Ling who is not Pei-Ling, but rather the alchemist, Xiao, who created the Warrior and Guardian bloodlines and who has access to all the memories of all the warriors and guardians, past and present. In spite of warnings that Mia’s hybrid bloodline can only lead to death and destruction, Nicky fights Xiao to find and save Mia.
We’re more than half way through now, and, in the words of Vanessa Kai when we were able to preview this episode with her earlier this week, it looks like the rest of the season is going to be quite a ride.
The official synopsis of The Alchemist reads:
SECRETS AND LIES — As Nicky (Olivia Liang) investigates the secrets behind a mysterious stone that Juliet (guest star Annie Q) is after, Henry (Eddie Liu) uncovers a shocking revelation about his father. Elsewhere, Althea (Shannon Dang) prepares for investor meetings for her app, and Dennis (Tony Chung) receives an ultimatum from his dad. Tzi Ma, Kheng Hua Tan, Jon Prasida, Gavin Stenhouse and Vanessa Kai also star. Richard Speight Jr. directed the episode written by Jon Bring.
Read on for our reactions to Kung Fu season 2, episode 7 “The Alchemist.”
‘Kung Fu’ season 2, episode 7 review in conversation
Natalie: So this week was a bit of a departure from anything we’ve seen on Kung Fu before – for all sorts of reasons. First of all, we open in a dream, a confusing vision that Nicky is having, but we’ll come back to its contents in a little bit, because as soon as she wakes up we’re right back in cliffhanger territory – she still hasn’t heard from Henry! But he’s all good. He’s with his daddy.
Nichole: I’ve got to admit, I was extremely surprised they thought Henry had attacked Eric Han. That’s just bad intel for a secret organization.
Natalie: On the one hand, I agree with you. On the other hand, if the shoe fits. Maybe they aren’t as up to date as all that. They found Henry with the smoking gun.. bleeding head… whatever. I was surprised that Daddy was so cold and ruthless as a first port of call. No like son, I know this looks bad, but can you explain?
Nichole: There’s no in-between with that guy!
Natalie: One good thing: Han is only mostly dead. What was your first thought upon hearing that?
Nichole: Also: big surprise! My first thought was that it immediately takes “killer” off Juliette’s resume. And why might the writers want to do that?
Natalie: YUP. We are the same.
Nichole: So, points in the Juliette is not only evil category. I am ready to peel the Juliette onion. GIVE ME YOUR SECRETS.
Natalie: Not today. I mean the Wan Zai did seem to know plenty about Nicky, and the Tans… but… as it’s revealed as we go on, good or bad motive aren’t of huge interest to them. They really have that amoral “greater good” vibe, they keep power out of people’s hands. That sounds both noble, and ripe for corruption from within, in my opinion.
Nichole: Yes! I was pretty excited they turned out to be exactly what I was hoping on that front. But, yeah, Yuen’s motives/judgement didn’t seem awesome.
Natalie: This is jumping a head a little, but it’s relevant, because when Henry tells Daddy the truth, Daddy angrily screams “stop protecting Nicky!” Like, okay, my guy. Please sit down. It’s a mess of motive – he doesn’t seem to be thinking clearly, so I feel like maybe someone’s in his ear about Nicky as a threat? Someone potentially corrupt.
Nichole: All signs point to Yuen. The hierarchy seemed a bit unclear.
Natalie: It does.
Nichole: Yuen is about to torture Henry, so Yuen has Daniel restrained, but then everyone just sort of agrees to leave when Daniel suddenly sides with Nicky and Henry?
Natalie: Wildcard: is she old enough to be Kerwin’s mother?
Nichole: Your mind.
Natalie: It makes sense that the season could be Tan v Tan.
Nichole: I mean, that would be amazing. She doesn’t look old enough to me, but I guess Kerwin is Henry’s age and Daniel and Yuen don’t seem wildly far apart in ages.
Natalie: But ultimately, if my dad tied me to a chair, screamed erratically, and then told me “we’re the good guys,” I just wouldn’t feel that great about it.
Nichole: Nicky doesn’t feel great about it either, to be fair.
Natalie: I agree. I wasn’t expecting Nicky to bust in so fast, but of course Althea and Evan did their thang. Dennis helped by wearing a tank top.
Nichole: Dennis is there for us in our times of trouble.
Natalie: I feel like Henry should not have stopped Nicky from beating up his dad. Just for a little bit. Just for fun. Am I a bad person? Maybe.
Nichole: One good hit, just to show what a good protector she is. Surely a dad could appreciate that. It did feel like everyone reconciled pretty quickly after that though. I think there could have been more angst there. Or mistrust. But, on the other hand, Daniel’s little shrug and “I’ll make some tea,” was maybe cute enough to smooth things over?
Natalie: I agree that there’s an unexplained power balance at play in the Wan Zai, I guess we have to wait and see. I also agree that the tea thing was stupidly disarming. Okay, I do think Yuen and Daddy are a couple. The whole “we’re not finished with this conversation,” that’s mixing personal with business.
Nichole: “I’m done taking orders from you,” felt pretty aggressive for a couple.
Natalie: It did, but there are other elements that swung it that way for me. It just felt like a personal dynamic, getting heated. And if she IS Kerwin’s mother… That would make Henry and Kerwin…
Nichole: The ultimate bros! I’m ready for the brotherly bonding montage of Henry taking Kerwin to eat street hot dogs while Kerwin takes Henry to get fitted for a suit.
Natalie: I want literally nothing more than this, on repeat, for an entire episode.
Nichole: [jots a note in my season 3 wish list]
Natalie: So, we do hear about the history of the Wan Zai, and I was actually surprised that it was only 100 years ago – started because of the Yuelingcedent. I was imagining an ancient thing, given how far back the other histories go, but I guess it makes sense in one way
Nichole: Same. I was surprised.
Natalie: They’re still new at this 😉
Nichole: I want to make sure you know I am still laughing at Yuelingcedent.
Natalie: Good. But what did you make of the little reveal that they deal with magic from all cultures? Obviously that will play in, slightly, to what comes next…But mythology wise, are you interested in seeing Kung Fu bring in magic from various other lore?
Nichole: I really love that! I think it was smart to introduce that idea. I don’t feel the need to necessarily explore a ton of different lore, although I’m not opposed to it. But I like it out there as a concept. I think the idea of magic as a thing that exists and is shaped by various cultures is cool and has a lot of potential. But, I also like the specificity of this story, so I don’t need more.
Natalie: In this case, it’s a Celtic ritual that they want to get their hands on – a counter tune to the bell, allegedly. Lot of dangerous music flying around.
Nichole: Yeah, my question about that was–if they are trying to strip the magic from the bell, where is the magic stored? I was looking at it more like a recipe, so what is this ritual doing?
Natalie: We really still haven’t looked at the impact of biange, but because originally he wanted the weapons to unleash biange to ring the bell, maybe it’s about that energy – that there’s always a set amount of it, but to draw it to or away, dissipate it.
Nichole: Hmmm. Maybe.
Natalie: I liked that Kung Fu kind of drew Henry’s own history back in, because at first, when his dad explained what they do and Henry was judgey and resistant, I was like, Henry, this sounds like what your friends from season 1 used to do, kind of. And then, lo and behold, who do you call when you’re trying to steal back an item of significance and repatriate it?
Nichole: Henry truly was born for it, I guess! Doing it without even knowing it. I wonder if we are going to get a better sense of the Wan Zai’s depth of knowledge. They obviously know about Tan and all of that, but then, like Razor is the one who knows where the painting is. It seems like that would be prime Wan Zai knowledge territory.
Natalie: Shhhh, Nichole, they’re still new at this. They’re doing their best.
Nichole: 100 years old is only a baby secret society.
Natalie: I mean, I actually do think the sloppiness may be intentional. Look at what Nicky said about the mistake of registering the car to the address of the lair!
Nichole: What do you see as the goal of showing them as not quite as secret and all-knowing as they thing they are? Like, what would be end game with that?
Natalie: I don’t know, impending failure? But I don’t actually know.
Nichole: Or maybe the need to incorporate Nicky and Henry in some way to whip them into shape?
Natalie: God, does Nicky have to do everything herself? I wonder what Evan would make of this.
Nichole: OMG Maybe Evan will find new meaning with the Wan Zai!!!! He needs something to stabilize him and give him purpose.
Natalie: So after Nicky leaves, and we will come back to her arc later, it’s time for some father-son bonding crime. How did you feel about Daniel’s energy, with this?
Nichole: Like I said before, there was no in-between. It was either super menacing and scary or just a little bit goofy. He was cute trying to get Henry to do crime with him and wanting to show off a little bit for him, but I had trouble reconciling that with the guy who zip-tied Henry to a chair and yelled at him. I think I could have used more of Henry’s energy when he was snapping back at him when he accused Henry of lying. I think there’s a lot of interesting angst potential there.
Natalie: I think we can safely say that he doesn’t exactly know how to parent. Both when Daniel’s volatile, and playful, Henry feels like the adult in the room.
Nichole: To be fair, Henry always feels like the adult in the room. I think that’s why, even though I might have liked to see Henry stay mad a little longer, I wasn’t surprised that he was able to process the circumstances and come to terms with it so quickly.
Natalie: That’s a great point.
Nichole: And, not to jump ahead, but that’s why I was glad Henry ultimately refused to join. I think he might be better than the Wan Zai. Maybe we’ll learn more, but we definitely see a potential flaw in their methods and outlook, with the way they treat Nicky as an obstacle and Henry as a threat. Maybe you’re right and the 100 year old age is very purposeful to show that they still have some growing and maturing to do.
Natalie: I mean not that Tan, or Nicky, or Henry, have more than 100 years experience, but like, the Warrior line definitely does. But anyway, the Yan boys are able to pull a fast one over Ramiel from Supernatural and get into this club. The old poison gas trick. That’s a Sam and Dean move if I ever saw one.
Natalie: I’m not just saying that — this episode was written by John Bring, who came up on Supernatural as a writers assistant, and directed, again, by our friend Richard Speight Jr. The DNA is very real.
Nichole: I mean, the Wan Zai have a touch of the Men of Letters as well.
Natalie: And that actor, Jerry Trimble, was the guest star in a Supernatural ep that Rich directed too. Shout out to Henry just trying to roll with his dad’s performance. A smooth recovery, but the pause on “vents.” Gonna have to check the..”vents..” Eddie Liu is a genius, I swear. It’s the little things
Nichole: Yes. Such good delivery. What was the other funny thing he said about smelling the leak? “That’s the problem, not many people can.”
Natalie: I like that they just tried to walk out of there with the painting. I was like “you got the photo, put it back,” but I guess their morals about it being stolen were too high
Nichole: I loved when they get caught and Henry plays it like he’s the voice of reason, nobody has to get hurt, etc, which is super in line with is character, but it was just a fake out. I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t seem to be in any hurry!
Natalie: Daniel was too busy trying to assuage his bad dad guilt.
Nichole: Right. He was like, “Isn’t this crime fun, son? Let’s just chill with this stolen painting and enjoy ourselves.”
Natalie: I mean, I didn’t massively follow his train of thought. We talked before about like, is this why he left the family? And yes, clearly it is. He has been committed to this higher calling since he was a teenager, and okay, fine. But he’s like “I would have gotten you involved sooner, but I didn’t want to mess you up.” But then he asks him to join. I’m feeling like that whole “the man you would be without me” is more a comment on his actual personality – Daniel’s – rather than the influence of the Wan Zai. More “I suck, and doing this work is all I’m good for” rather than “my secret society will mess up your life”
Nichole: Yeah. I think maybe some part of the “dead-beat” dad persona was real, in the sense that maybe being dedicated to the Wan Zai and never having a choice about it messed him up. Not the Wan Zai itself, but just the life of it. I thought it was weird how casually he’s like, “Yuen and I are heading out on the next flight.” Didn’t you two just have a massive power struggle?
Natalie: They’re together! I am telling you!
Nichole: Even more reason that that fight ought to have some repercussions!
Natalie: The struggle is an issue in their relationship due to their different approaches to the work. Yeah, but I assume the mission does still come first in whatever way
Nichole: I guess so.
Natalie: Daniel was also forced into the Wan Zai by his dad, so he has generational trauma about not having a real life, that he doesn’t want to pass on to Henry, so he just let him have a life. He’s kind of flaky, but he beats John Winchester in terms of not making his duty his kids problem. I assume we will see him again. Rushing in at the last possible moment with the Celtic ritual.
Nichole: Yes. For sure. Or some other magical item in our time of need.
Natalie: I feel like he might be a good character to kill, no offence to him. If they need to kill someone for stakes.
Nichole: That makes some sense. It would make Henry sad though, so I vote no. On the other hand, I would gladly sacrifice him if it would save Mia. I got worried Mia was going to end up dying in some self-sacrificing way.
Natalie: I don’t think Mia will die. I think it would crush Mei-Li, for a start, too badly.
Natalie: But obviously that is now a big threat! It sounds like it’s time for us to circle back and re-trace Nicky’s steps on the main thread of the episode. Saving Henry was just a side quest. As mentioned, it kicks off with this dream of Nicky’s, of a woman giving birth in a snowy forest, on like, a very ritualistic stone table. First impressions?
Nichole: It was a bit visceral from the perspective of someone who has given birth. Like, aside from the sketchy ritual of it all, a stone table??? So uncomfortable. It felt harder to watch than I suspect they intended, lol.
Natalie: Well, from what we learn of the attending physician, I don’t think she cares too much about comfort. But what did you make of Nicky having that dream? Going in cold, where did you think we were headed?
Nichole: I had a sense that we were headed into a dream world somehow fueled by the jyu sa. I’m not going to lie, I was harboring secret hopes that we were going to get a more real Pei-Ling and a possible door to Pei-Ling coming back from the dead. I knew it was unlikely, but a girl can dream. So…those hopes were THOROUGHLY dashed.
Natalie: Oh, poor you. Very not that. But the thing that tears Nicky away from the Wan Zai is the news from Ryan that Mia has crazy vitals. Of course, to Mia, he’s like…. all good! I mean, she is an adult, Ryan, and it is her body. But I guess he didn’t know what to do
Nichole: I did find that weird. You want everyone to believe you’re a doctor, you probably better act like it. Keeping that kind of secret from a patient seems like bad news.
Natalie: I mean, he isn’t a doctor of magical medicine. It’s a tough situation. But yeah, I didn’t love that he wasn’t direct with her first.
Nichole: Kung Fu has tended not to rely on miscommunication to up the drama, so I’m not loving that no one is being honest with Mia.
Natalie: Given the discovery about the threat to Mia at the end of the episode, that could go one of two ways. They might be straight with her after all this, or they may hide THAT fact too.
Nichole: I think they’ll hide it for a little while at least. Nicky seems in over her head a bit. She wants to just make everything ok. She’s already learned this lesson once this season, but I have a feeling she’s going to need to learn it again. She can’t just solve Mia’s problems for her. She needs to be honest and involve Mia in the solution.
Natalie: Aside from the whole withholding medical results thing, what did you think about Ryan and Mia as a duo? This episode had a couple of new dynamics, pairing wise. This wasn’t my favorite of the samples, but still cute.
Nichole: It was cute. It had good, slightly awkward getting to know you vibes. But I can 100% guess your favorite and it was mine too.
Natalie: It only lasts for a little minute, because he has to go and Mia gets all “my precious” about the jyu sa. It calls to her and it knocks her out! This is all happening while Nicky is explaining, as we saw, that she felt the stones power when they found them, but not to the level Mia did. I told you that thing was going to go off and take someone out. And YOU told ME that ‘at least they didn’t hide it in their library cabinet!’
Nichole: I cannot understand why both Nicky and Mia do not know where it is all of the time since it is obviously dangerous to Mia in some way! It’s not like Nicky didn’t know that! Pretty casual with the dangerous, magical artifact!
Natalie: What can you do. I mean, shout out to Mei-Li being like “Should we get a doctor?” Poor Ryan.
Nichole: That exchange hit me so hard. I am a touch worried about Ryan. The seeds of his dissatisfaction, feeling like he isn’t contributing enough, maybe, not being taken seriously enough? I don’t know. It’s all little things, but I don’t want Ryan to go down a bad path. I’m pretty sure I’m overthinking it.
Natalie: Oof, I didn’t think of it that way. He’s the baby, too. I still feel weird about getting in a car my brother is driving. Like, “you can’t drive! You are twelve!” He is 32.
Nichole: Ha. Yeah. It’s a hard habit to break.
Natalie: It comes together pretty quickly that Mia is in this lucid dream, or whatever, and that Nicky had the same one. Luckily, this story is all relevant to the jyu sa research they’ve already been doing, and Ryan is able to discover the potion that the alchemist used to enter dreams. This is a very terrible idea, to start with.
Nichole: I did appreciate that Ryan pointed out that it was a very terrible idea.
Natalie: But Ryan, with the research. He says, “She thought she could live forever in their minds.” Regardless of what actually happens in the ep….How did this land for you, regarding, say, our Pei-Ling questions.
Nichole: I honestly didn’t really connect it other than to think that we were gearing up for the jyu sa to be powerful. I didn’t think about it as being a possible explanation for why Pei-Ling continues to be around. Did it ping that way for you?
Natalie: It did. Especially with some of what’s said later. That all the warriors and guardians live in the alchemist. It definitely made me think that this may be why her consciousness is preserved – even with the reveal twist,
Nichole: Interesting. I like that. Sometimes I forget that Pei-Ling was a guardian.
Natalie: She sure was! I wonder if all guardian families are guardians, like in the warrior fam, its just the one. So like is Zhilan an imposter? Or are all guardians equally valid.
Nichole: I’ve been wondering about that with warriors. Because if Mei-Xue was that generation’s warrior and Nicky is this generation’s warrior, what would have been the deal with Mia if she hadn’t had a guardian father? How does it transfer. Like, shouldn’t Mia maybe just be a guardian since she’s not the warrior?
Natalie: I have no idea.
Nichole: But if all guardians are guardians wouldn’t that have spread out to so many people?
Natalie: *throws up hands* Let’s ask Simon Lau.
Nichole: TOO SOON.
Natalie: Oh WAIT. We can’t. I think we need to meet another living, functional guardian, and get to the bottom of this. Back to the tea, I really liked Ryan’s science brain when she asks if he could make it. Like straight to hmmm yes, it is possible, and then “hang on.”
Nichole: So funny. I really loved that.
Natalie: Ryan’s whole reaction, all the reasons why this is very bad, are all correct. So Ryan has to be like, “Okay, guess I’ll poison my sister.”
Nichole: Yeah, I think he has this natural scientific curiosity as well that helps him justify it. I love that he is falling a bit into the Willow role. But that also might be why I started worrying about him.
Natalie: That just knocked me the fuck out. Wow. You are so right.
Nichole: It’s a great way to make him more indispensable to the group. It works well with his medical knowledge. But, I’ve said this before, he’s the least confident and self-aware of the group. He doesn’t have his head on quite as straight (pun not intended) as, say, Henry or Evan. He doesn’t have the confidence of Althea. So, I just worry there’s room for him to make more missteps.
Natalie: Good lord. You are right, but arrrrgh. Well, at least his poison works. But before we get into the dream, Nicky has an argument with Pei-Ling about her actions, and I need to know your every thought on this, incorporating everything we’ve spoken about, and your chat with Vanessa. Because have we ever seen Pei be like “do not do this” before? Sure, that could still be Nicky’s conscious but…
Nichole: No! It was weirding me out! I was absolutely like, “What is wrong with Pei-Ling?” And yet I still didn’t see the twist coming. My bad. I was trying to justify Pei-Ling’s conversation with her, like maybe she was just really worried about her? But it did not sit right with me. I mean it wasn’t Pei-Ling at all this episode. Nicky doesn’t seem suspicious at that point, but did you see the script snippet Olivia posted on Twitter? Pei-Ling trying to dissuade her from drinking the tea is part of what she’s thinking about when she realizes the switch!
Natalie: Really???? So that chat, in the bedroom, is also the Alchemist?
Natalie: Okay, explain it to me then. You take over. Talk me through this whole switcheroo.
Nichole: Ok, so once Mia and Nicky have contact with the jyu sa, it makes it possible for the alchemist to touch their consciousness. So, I guess on the Mia end, maybe she is part of the reason Mia can’t stay away from the dumb gem, because the alchemist is urging her on in order to trap her. That’s just conjecture. But for Nicky she’s able to see that taking Pei-Ling’s form is the easiest way to gain her trust. Once she’s got Mia trapped, she wants to keep Nicky from coming after her, so she uses Pei-Ling’s form to try to convince her. In some ways, this is a point in the Pei-Ling is Nicky’s own manifestation column, because you have to assume the alchemist is using Nicky’s mind to create her. Although there is also the element that the alchemist must know Pei-Ling’s mind as well.
Natalie: I think what I need is a Vanessa vs Vanessa fight where their conscious spirits battle it out.
Nichole: GALAXY BRAIN. So, Nicky wakes up in the dream world and witnesses the creation of the warrior and guardian line. (I was a little fuzzy on creating the bloodlines before the actual roles of warrior and guardians). ‘Pei-Ling’ appears to Nicky inside this dream and talks her through the history of that, including the cautionary tale of the only other warrior/guardian hybrid. An interesting point from talking to Vanessa, though, was that she said she used the line, “Xiao’s design was for a better world,” when she was creating the alchemist. So, like, what is the history there? What was happening at that time, that this seemed like the only solution? I’m curious if the women she experimented on were there willingly. Like, in spite of the brutality and death it caused, were those women there volunteering because they too saw the need for a better world?
Natalie: Yeah, I mean. That whole better world line never goes well. That’s what the Nazis said.
Nichole: Right. I mean, she seems pretty evil! I’m just trying to keep my mind open, lol. And I’m not sure if those are answers we’ll ever get, but it’s interesting to think about. Anyway-Evidently the bloodlines were never meant to mix and the combination wreaks havoc on the person until they are a violent monster. And we get to see that play out with the first hybrid Suyin, who goes crazy and murders a bunch of warriors and guardians.
Natalie: That was interesting. The presentation of the conflict is obviously SO biased. I want more perspective on what actually went down. Who the bad guy is or whatever.
Nichole: Yeah, she says, “her parents died shortly after she was born.” And I was like, “did they? Or were the murdered by someone to gain control over her.” It was vague enough to make me wonder. But ‘Pei-Ling’ is hoping this will be enough to convince Nicky to leave Mia behind. When Nicky refuses, she says, “Mia is beyond saving!” And we see the truth dawn on Nicky. That Pei-Ling has been saying things that the real Pei-Ling would never have said. And then we get that great transition where the camera pans behind Nicky and Vanessa changes from Pei-Ling to Xiao. IT WAS SO GOOD!!! Did you expect it by that point?
Natalie: I really didn’t. With Suyin, it is hard to tell. A lot of these stories are like, oh terrible powered person did bad things, and I am like, did they? Or did you all decide that she was evil, attack her, and she was forced to defend? When the reveal about Xiao came, it obviously coloured the tale totally differently. So I had to go back over it, really, and start not taking it in good faith. I knew something was up when she was like we have to kill Mia, though. At that point I was like … yikes.
Nichole: Yeah, since I was going into this episode really expecting/hoping for a Pei-Ling centric storyline, I was like, “WHY IS MY BELOVED BEING SO UNBELOVED!”
Natalie: You know that is the headline, right? Of this article.
Nichole: Ha. What did you think of Xiao’s attitude toward Nicky? How she was like, “you can leave whenever you want, just leave the abomination here.”
Natalie: I think she does love all her pure warrior and guardian babies, just not the mutt. I think she respects and cherishes Nicky as a powerful warrior like she wanted.
Nichole: There was also a coldness to it though. Like, she appreciates her as a tool, but I wouldn’t say she has warm feelings.
Natalie: True. She is hitting Xiao’s KPIs (key performance indicators). So I wanted to ask a bit about power. Kung Fu is talking about power a lot. Magic power inherent to a person. That Nicky has a little of and Mia has allegedly a large, corruptible amount of. What do you think this power actually is? Extra-good fighting, or more? They’re telling me a lot about power, but I don’t feel I have a great grasp of what that actually manifests as. Any thoughts on this, looking back at the series, or here?
Nichole: Yeah, what we’ve seen it seems to be better fighting skills, better stamina, maybe faster healing? But it seemed like Nicky leveled-up post-biange, so how much does just being a warrior get you? Because Mia matches Nicky post-power up. I think it is not entirely clear and I wonder if that is on purpose because they need some flexibility to adapt as the story goes along. But I am curious what Nicky’s “power” would look like if she had never gone to the monastery to train. Would she be accidentally crushing coke cans or kicking through doors she meant to toe open with her foot? Or without the connection to biange, could a person theoretically never realize they were ‘different.’
Natalie: Again, we’ve heard a lot about it, but we just haven’t seen it in action to the fullest. Of course, I now feel confident that Mia will survive and thrive, because the bad lady says she has to die. This is a clear marker that she must defy the odds of fate, no?
Nichole: I do think she has to defy the odds of fate, but deciding to sacrifice herself to save Nicky or any of the Shens, for example, would be defying her monstrous fate. I’m definitely not saying I want that, I just feel like it could be a really impactful conclusion. I’m a real bummer this episode. Mia is dying, Ryan is going dark. Real “Women will obsessively watch TV instead of going to therapy” vibes.
Natalie: Thanks for those new fears. Go to therapy.
Nichole: Therapy sounds hard. I’ll stick with over-investing in television. Shout out to people going to therapy, though. You’re the real ones.
Natalie: Season 3, every episode at least one act that is just Kerwin in therapy. Also Dennis.
Nichole: And maybe Ryan.
Natalie: Men will do literally ANYTHING instead of going to therapy. But okay, this marker for me — Mia is past saving — that was like, well OBVIOUSLY this is not Pei-Ling, and that is when we get the Vanessa shift into the Alchemist, the new costume and styling, and honestly, an unrecognizable face just due to expression and the set of her mouth and eyes. What even is acting? How?
Nichole: God. It was so great. I love how there’s like this slight smile even when she’s saying the meanest things. She’s like, I am so above everything I don’t even mind watching you try to beat me.
Natalie: Now, you talked to Vanessa about the performance and especially the fight scene, but what was your takeaway?
Nichole: My takeaway was that there’s more to learn about Xiao. I don’t really see her becoming a quasi-villain like Zhilan. That’s not really based on what Vanessa said, that’s just my own reading. I think she’ll stay firmly opposed to Mia, for example, but I do think we’ll be uncovering more layers. Vanessa talked about all of the well written characters and how there is always more than you see at first. So I’m looking forward to that. But I don’t really have an idea of what that is going to look like, which I’m happy with, to be honest. I’m ready to be surprised. As for the fight scene. I really loved everything about it. I love the costuming for Xiao–everything is so gorgeous and Vanessa is so gorgeous, so it’s fun to see her glammed up. In some ways, I’m a very simple creature–Big fight. Very Pretty.
Natalie: The fight is to prevent Nicky going to find Mia, and you’d think that Xiao would have the high ground due to like… owning the world they’re in. But apparently that isn’t how it works, and Nicky is able to actually harness the control instead.
Nichole: Yes. I loved Nicky taking that power. She’s like, you get your power through my life, therefore I’m in control. It feels like there’s some deep metaphor there, but I don’t know exactly what it is, lol. Xiao is obviously not defeated, because we see her again, but she disappears long enough for Nicky to get to Mia. I was wondering what that means. Is it that Nicky is in control of her own consciousness, so in that dream world Xiao can’t take control? Or was it more just a temporary push back? Again–possibly overthinking this.
Natalie: Maybe Xiao is less in control of that realm than she thinks? Maybe it is not her that makes it exist, but the magic itself.
Nichole: The fact that she’s been squirreled away so long, thinking that she’s ‘living forever’ but actually not living at all–just watching. I wonder if that is going to be part of the arc–actually being in connection with real, living people for the first time in a long time.
Natalie: Well, she is certainly out and about in the real world by the end of this episode. Before Nicky breaks away to reach Mia though, we get quite an unexpected moment of her witnessing a memory of her mother, leading up to her death. First of all, I thought the set was amazing here, like the skeleton of the cabin? Really unusual. Dreamscapes are so varied and strange in TV, sometimes tacky or repetitive, and the red and snow here was okay, but the cabin, I loved.
Nichole: Amazing. It was quite striking in its abstraction. Like a play.
Natalie: Yeah, that’s exactly what it was, like a theatre set.
Nichole: I think with Mia and then Mia and Nicky watching it from the ‘outside’ heightened that feeling too.
Natalie: I also want to talk about the nature of what happened, not in terms of what happened, but in terms of Mia being able to see it in this place. Obviously this is not Mia’s memory. It did not come from her. I assume it is Xiao’s creation, but also that it is meant to be accurate. So does this place contain the memories or lives of every guardian and warrior? Or did Xiao throw this up as like, a Mia special? Why would seeing this trap her in?
Nichole: I think it does contain all the memories! I think she’s like a super-computer of the life of every warrior and guardian. I think it is a consciousness created by Xiao but connected to everyone in the bloodlines.
Natalie: In that case, I assume we are going here again.
Nichole: I think it would be cool if get to see it again, especially to learn more about other warriors or guardians. Oh! Maybe even Pei-Ling and Zhilan’s mom!
Natalie: It definitely opens up a catalogue of characters to choose from. Ultimately, you trust what we saw with Mei-Xue and Russell Tan was true.
Nichole: I do, for sure. And it explains the burial.
Natalie: And do you think this was shown to Mia with an aim of trapping her, or just something going on in the database that she was pulled to for obvious reasons? How would this trap her? It isn’t like it’s a fake Mom like we saw a fake Pei-Ling
Nichole: I think Xiao showed it to her specifically to demoralize her and trap her there. I think she thought she would be so devastated by it that she wouldn’t be able to leave, I guess? And to be fair, it was pretty traumatic.
Natalie: True. Break her spirit.
Natalie: Would you interpret what we saw as Tan and Mei-Xue having history? Like this was not their first meeting.
Nichole: Yes. There seemed to be a lot going on there.
Natalie: What did you think of Mei-Xue?
Nichole: This was the first time I was like, “Oh man, I want to know more about her.” It’s not like it was a lot of screen time, but I really felt like it made her character click for me in a new way. I mean, honestly, it’s probably the mother/daughter stuff. Like, her believing in Mia even though Mia ran away. Her still loving and missing her, and not being angry she left. I think I’m at a vulnerable time for mother/daughter issues since I have a teenager becoming an adult. But I feel like there were a lot of ways for a person to be vulnerable to that scene. It was really brutal. Surprisingly brutal, if I’m honest.
Natalie: If we can come back here, I would like to speak to her directly, like her active consciousness, if it’s in here. But it was a very hard scene. And obviously a loaded one, with a lot of information that both parties in it know about that we don’t still.
Nichole: I wonder if Mei-Xue is how Tan discovered the warriors and guardians. Did we speculate on that before?
Natalie: I don’t think so! If that’s so, I don’t get why he killed her. Like, she doesn’t have the sword or Mia. Killing her serves no purpose and she could give him more intel. I don’t really understand why he shot her, actually.
Nichole: Maybe because she knows about his nefarious plans and is a threat in that way? Like she actively wants to keep both the sword and Mia away from him. But I can see your point. The murder felt pretty gratuitous with her just standing there.
Natalie: Yeah, maybe he “respects” her too much as a threat to let her live. Even though she doesn’t have what he wants, like “I know how good you are, you’ll be a pain in my ass.”
Nichole: That was my initial feeling. She was too dangerous to keep alive.
Natalie: The part that really fucked me up was Nicky making Mia look away, and promising to bear witness for both of them. That whole premise is 100% guaranteed to fuck me up. It’s something that really gets to me in historical fiction that features any sort of like, execution? Like doing someone the honor or courtesy of actually facing their death, like it is all left you can do. There’s also a Supernatural moment where this happens that messes me up too.
Nichole: It was so brutal. I did cry.
Natalie: The Supernatural moment was in a Bob episode, obviously. So like, thanks again.
Nichole: Which one was it?
Natalie: It was actually more the other half – Nicky saying for Mia to look away, that it could only hurt her. Jody killing Alex’s mother. Her vamp mother, that is.
Nichole: Right. Yes, Nicky telling Mia to look away. I was just…it was so emotional and it’s so true. I think when anyone you love dies under traumatic circumstances there is this desire to relive it with them? To somehow try to fix it? But, really, truly, living like that can only hurt you.
Natalie: I think part of it is feeling like you do have to onboard as much pain as possible. And feel the worst you possibly can. Like you owe it to them to go that far–to be hurt by them/what happened.
Nichole: As if somehow feeling the pain makes it more fair. Yes. And Mia’s guilt of having left her mom there to face that alone. Ugh. I don’t have another word to describe it besides brutal.
Natalie: But the girls wake up after this, and honestly the Vanessas were having a MOMENT on Kung Fu this week, because Mia’s little face twitch when crying, like basically like, “you saw all that, what just happened, i am really upset, i am feeling a lot right now, just in that little, like, cheek flex nose wrinkle communication when she woke and looked at Nicky.
Nichole: Powerful episode for the Vanessas.
Natalie: I feel a bit like… well… Xiao still exists, the Red Realm still exists, the jyu sa still exists… Mia’s been stabilised, but who’s to say it won’t happen every time that rock glows?
Nichole: Right, is Mia in danger every time she’s near the gem or is she inoculated at this point? They better find a safer spot for that gem, for sure.
Natalie: So the final moments, setting up an ancestral altar for Mei-Xue in the Shen house, that really got to me, again, Vanessa Yao’s silent performance.
Nichole: It was another one of those moments that Kung Fu is so good at which is making something feel extremely universal through very detailed specificity. Like, that’s not my cultural experience, but I felt it on every level.
Natalie: That’s exactly right. That concept that is something I might have mentioned before – the more specific something is, the more universal it is.
Nichole: Yes, exactly. Not to bring another property into this, but I felt that way watching Everything Everywhere all at Once, too. It’s very obviously told through a very specific lens, but the way it just reaches in and grabs you and pulls you into everything that is happening in such a full-body movie-going experience. Unparalleled, really.
Natalie: Something being hand waved as “general” usually doesn’t make an impact. In writing, too. Like if someone says like… you know, “He turns and grabs a bottle of something or other out of the cabinet,” vs “He turns and grabs a bottle of soy sauce out of the cabinet.” The second is just a better sentence and grounds you more in the moment. But in terms of creating an emotional experience…. why do you think that is?
Nichole: It’s like you said, that specificity is grounding. It gives the story more meaning, I guess? Helps you really be in the moment, even if that’s not your daily experience? So for people who see themselves in that moment, there’s one deep reaction and for people who don’t there’s a slightly different, but still connected reaction. I had an experience recently, where we had to get our tire fixed under slightly desperate circumstances, so we were at this tiny tire shack. And the guy who worked there was friendly and knowledgeable, but he also was like, whew, the micro-aggressions were flying! And, like, we’re white, so they weren’t flying directly at us, but it was still like-dodge and weave, dodge and weave, we need to get this tire fixed.
Natalie: Can’t wait to see where this is going.
So, Sylvia was eating her lunch from Bibibop and he was like, “Why are you eating that weird food? How can you use chopsticks?” And it was just really clear to me how having broader culture experiences can shape you as a person. Sylvia was so confused by his confusion, because nothing about what she was doing seemed unusual to her. And this guy was, well, I hesitate to use the word nice, but I don’t think he had a conception that he was being racist? It was just outside his experience and he didn’t have any desire to step outside this very specific worldview. Here’s where I come back to my point, lol, I think experiencing that specificity in art, allowing yourself to be the outsider, but to feel the impactfulness of it anyway, changes you as a person for the better. I have no idea if that made sense.
Natalie: It did, and, no offense, I think that’s particularly crucial for America.
Nichole: No offense taken!
Natalie: Americans can be so, so insular about not even being aware that certain things… not even cultural differences due to ethnicity, just like… the most random things. Not knowing the rest of the world doesn’t have yellow school buses. Like this lack of engaging in the thought that people and customs are different everywhere. Whereas everyone else who engages with western media starts out knowing this… there’s what we do, and what America does on TV. We are more aware that our experiences are not universal, and that concept is normalised. I’ve heard some real shocking assumptions, with things like this. But it’s always been something I’ve felt relatively tuned in to, customs and differences and things. Sydney is a very multicultural city, so there’s plenty of awareness of holidays like Eid and Lunar New Year and things here. But yeah, storytelling is about teaching empathy, at its core. Making you follow along and feel for a story not your own.
Natalie: So engaging with story, in general, and understanding the feelings of another story, and why it matters. That certainly makes you a better person.
Nichole: Hard agree.
Natalie: But I digress. All this nice crying is interrupted by Evil Vanessa.
Nichole: OH MY GOD. Sincerely the scariest delivery up to this point in the entirety of Kung Fu. I loved everything about that exchange, but the last line made my jaw drop. “Once this is all over, warrior, you’re going to wish I’d killed her.” CHILLING.
Natalie: Lovely. I assume she’s been buzzing around since they got back.. Nicky seems well aware that she’s there, and is bracing to keep her out of her mind or something
Nichole: This has me worried about Nicky the same way I was when Mei-li told her to keep Mia safe. Nicky is very much in her own head about this and cannot do this alone. But I worry that she’s so scared by it that she’s not going to get the support she needs and that is going to be a catastrophic mistake.
Natalie: We can assume that this Xiao vision is real and autonomous, I suppose.
Nichole: I think we have to.
Natalie: This seems like a cool way to go crazy, fast.
Nichole: I hadn’t thought about it like that, but you have a point.
Natalie: A dark figure following you around pressuring you? Oh yeah.
Nichole: Oh boy. Maybe it’s time for us to move back to the slightly less menacing, but still worrisome developments around Althea and Dennis.
Natalie: The best we can say is that they are real-world, non magic worries.
Nichole: I guess we have to start at the beginning, which is that Althea is all dressed up and ready to pitch her app to a bunch of VCs. But she is rejected over and over in a very well-done montage. Did you have a sense of why she was being rejected?
Natalie: Honestly, not anything more than it’s a really tough market and the app is basically kind of anti capitalism.
Natalie: like she is promoting a product that is meant to make the world smaller not bigger. It may not be a great sell for like capitalism, but even if it WAS commercially viable, I still didn’t think the turn downs were nefarious.
Nichole: No, they seemed to like her.
Natalie: Luckily, she finds an old friend to complain to about it.
Nichole: That little wave. I really love drunk Evan.
Natalie: This is the best he has ever been. And that is not meant as shade.
Nichole: Yeah, he was really stripped down.
Natalie: I liked the dynamic because these two have never had a one on one scene, right but they’ve basically been family for what, 12 years or more? The comfort level is really good, for me
Nichole: They were so cute. I mean, quote of the episode? “I was forced to resign under a cloud of suspicion, and sure, you caught me day-drinking. Alone.”
Natalie: No shame, Evan. No shame. Anyway, their slightly boozy bitchfest seems to tell us that Althea suspects she was blacklisted, which, like, as I said, I wasn’t expecting. I had assumed she was just generally not quite succeeding. Sorry for doubting you, Althea, it’s a tough business is all
Nichole: It’s true, but I’m obviously biased to Althea, so I was glad to realize it was Chase sabotaging her.
Natalie: I’d like to see Evan get in with Dennis and Althea on this. He obviously knew them both in school too, and it could be a cool friendship.
Nichole: Yes, I love it.
Natalie: Drinky Evan is also like – as I have been saying – get that Soong cash, baby.
Nichole: Yes. I thought of you!
Natalie: He’d be right – except…Things are now not looking good in that department.
Nichole: No. Things are not looking good at all.
Natalie: I really wasn’t expecting things to go in this direction. What did you make of his father showing up? Last season it was the mom who seemed like the problem.
Nichole: Well, I feel like we got a shaky start with the mom, but then we evened out and she was fine. A little high-strung, but fine. I think mom is going to be mad about this whole Dennis situation. I can’t see her okaying this.
Natalie: I agree, maybe a divorce is in the cards. He was pretty, like, sinister! And callous.
Nichole: He was so sinister!! I think it will definitely cause a family rift.
Natalie: Again, Dennis is so… broken by it.
Nichole: He’s got such a good sad face.
Natalie: And they now, I assume, have very little money, if he has no salary or trust. Though if his mother was independently wealthy, you’d think she would put some aside.
Nichole: I mean, I can’t figure this out. He is a grown up from a very rich family. He must have money saved?
Natalie: But yeah, you would hope so.
Nichole: Like, he must have already come into some money from them? But he made it sound like they are destitute now.
Natalie: Like if he has been given money, or even had a high paying job for a decade, that is his money. So… we shall see
Nichole: Yeah, I wonder how hard things are going to be for them, financially. I also wonder if Chase’s little ventures or whatever that Ms. Soong kept on, might be sketchy. Could this blow up into a bigger problem that might bring down Dennis’ dad?
Natalie: Yeah, playing with fire and all. I don’t see things ending well for Dennis’s dad!
Nichole: Nope. He was disrespectful to Althea and he hurt Dennis’ feelings and now the narrative must punish him.
Natalie: PUNISH HIM. What do you see Dennis do next?
Nichole: I think you’re going to get your Dennis depression arc. He’ll have to go through a period of mourning losing this huge part of his identity, won’t he? I sort of want to see him going full nerd for comfort in trying times. But, ultimately he’s a smart guy with solid business skills, so I’m sure he’ll bounce back. Maybe he’ll be a part of Althea’s business? She’s the tech wizard he’s the business guy?
Natalie: Her boy secretary.
Natalie: Dennis, Evan, Kerwin: The Loose Ends. My favorite boyband.
Nichole: There is so much going on. I think the rest of this season is going to have to pack a lot in!
Natalie: We’re over half way now!