REVIEW: ‘Warrior,’ Season 2 Episode 1 – “Learn to Endure, or Hire a Bodyguard”

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Warrior Season 2

Cinemax’s Warrior is an Original series that was over 40-years in the making. Based on Bruce Lee’s treatment for a television series centered around a Chinese immigrant in the American West titled “The Warrior,” Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee, Justin Lin, and Jonathan Tropper brought Warrior to screen last year.  Now with Warrior Season 2, the series stands as an ever-important commentary not just on 19th century San Francisco but on the United States today. Last season, we followed Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) as he adapted to his new life in San Francisco and watched as he attempted to save his sister, only to be pushed away and into a life of a gangster. While Warrior is Ah Sahm’s story, we were also given a cast of characters we watched grow while highlighting different elements of the immigrant experience.

In Young Jun, we watched how a new generation existed in a liminal space, not feeling Chinese enough but denied by the American culture he knew. With Ah Toy, we saw a woman who holds power in her community but loses it when she enters the space ruled by white men. Then there is Mai Ling, a woman who used her feminity to rise to power in one of the ruling Tongs of Chinatown but is still questioned at every turn. Last season, she chooses to sacrifice her fraternal bond with Ah Sahm to retain her hard-won status. Every character in Warrior carries a different element of storytelling that immerses viewers in both the immigrant experience and Asian American history. This continues with Episode 1 of Warrior Season 2, “Learn to Endure, or Hire a Bodyguard.”

While this episode features heart-pounding fights with beautiful and brutal combat sequences, it also takes time to answer the questions set up with the season one finale. In “Learn to Endure, or Hire a Bodyguard,” Warrior Season 2 opens with Ah Sahm fighting in a fight pit for money. The catch is that he doesn’t have to. Last season ended with Ah Sahm in his Hop Wei hatchetman suit, and now, he’s back with them. While he works enforcing their territory, he also focuses on fighting the anti-Chinese group, known as Teddy’s Boys, walking down the path of justice that Ah Toy inspired him to last season. That said, Ah Toy isn’t in favor of the constant fighting in the pit nor the attention he is drawing to Chinatown with his acts. Meanwhile, we also get to see an empowered Mai Ling planning her next move and worrying about her brother’s next steps.

As the start to Warrior Season 2, “Learn to Endure, or Hire a Bodyguard” is everything I loved about the first season of the show packed into a one-hour episode. Koji is an action star, with the choreographers still managing to offer homage to the iconic Bruce Lee without crossing into gimmick territory. But this season, there is a determination that resonates through Ah Sahm’s character, as he moves through the world. Additionally, Ah Toy’s power is center stage this episode, both through how she commands the room in her high fashion couture, and how Olivia Cheng brings the character’s regal and assertive nature not through just her dialogue, but through her facial expressions as well.

Warrior Season 2

But while “Learn to Endure, or Hire a Bodyguard” is an action-packed episode that showcases the extreme physical talents of the actors, it is also one that showcases anti-Chinese racism in all its vitriol. From watching a Chinese laborer almost be lynched to the way the Irish continue to target and use racist language, it all stings. But there is one moment in which a Teddy Boy says that the Chinese “bring disease” right before he attempts to lynch the laborer he is speaking to, that just chills you as a viewer. It shakes you as you watch because this venom and hatred isn’t something that lives in the 19th century, but is here today, now, and is on the rise.

Warrior is entertaining. It blends the best parts of martial arts films and Westerns. And, the series is also important. Episode one of Warrior Season 2 reaffirms that the series aims and succeeds in decentering whiteness in the American West and does so by showcasing history. While the series is fiction, it is based in history and now, we’re seeing it repeat itself.

There is a power that comes with a series like Warrior, one that hits harder than any punch. With “Learn to Endure, or Hire a Bodyguard,” Warrior Season 2 is off to a strong start that sets the expectations for episodes to come by telling audiences exactly where it stands.

Warrior Season 2 Episode 1 - "Learn to Endure, or Hire a Bodyguard"
10/10

TL;DR

There is a power that comes with a series like Warrior, one that hits harder than any punch. With “Learn to Endure, or Hire a Bodyguard,” Warrior Season 2 is off to a strong start that sets the expectations for episodes to come by telling audiences exactly where it stands.