In the penultimate episode of Season 1, the “Warrior” will find out just who he is after a death match of “Chinese Boxing.” Ah Sahm’s relationship with the mayor’s wife, Penelope (Joanna Vanderham), will become something of an open secret and Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) will begin to find purpose as hallucinatory flashbacks reveal Ah Sahm and Mai Ling’s (Dianne Doan) past.
The episode begins with Penelope’s father, Byron Mercer (Jacques Bessenger) making a deal with the thuggish Irish labor leader Dylan Leary (Dean Jagger). Mercer wants eight men per shift for three shifts of a certain job; Leary insists on 12. They agree on 10. That means six more people than Mercer actually budgeted for.
Another businessman, Wang Chao (Hoon Lee) is setting up a venue for fighting. Without electrical lights in that era, he’ll be using a ring of fire hung above a boxing platform. At opposite ends of the boxing ring are raised platforms for the tong leaders of the Hop Wei and the Long Zii.
In the last episode, the Hop Wei and the Long Zi tongs were convinced to settle their differences by having a death match between their chosen representatives. Mai Ling’s lover, Li Yong (Joe Taslim), will be representing the Long Zii. A broken-hearted Ah Sahm will be representing the Hop Wei. Both men are briefly seen practicing their fighting skills before the credits.
Although Penelope (Joanna Vanderham) broke up with Ah Sahm, Penelope’s heart isn’t totally free from Ah Sahm. Her man servant Jacob (Kenneth Fok) returns late that evening and shows her the flier. Penelope ventures into the streets of Chinatown alone.
In Chinatown, Sergeant Bill O’Hara (Kieran Bew) and Richard Lee (Tom Weston-Jones) are patrolling the empty streets of Chinatown, wondering where everyone is. They see a single man scurrying through the streets and, following him, they find vendors set up in.a “street fair of some kind” near a building.
O’Hara asks Lee, “I suppose you think we should go in?”
Lee replies, “No I’m thinking we definitely should go in.”
O’Hara thinks that “God is punishing me” through Lee, but Lee isn’t so sure.
As Ah Sahm awaits the match, Young Jun (Jason Tobin) comes to see him and asks, “You ready for this?” He adds, “You didn’t have to do this,” but Ah Sahm knows he had no choice. Young Jun replies, “I’m grabbing a moment here, man. Don’t fuck it up with the truth.”
In another area, Li Yong questions Mai Ling (Dianne Doan), “Are you sure about this? He’s your brother. Only one of us is going to walk out of there.” That doesn’t seem to trouble Mai Ling.
O’Hara and Lee go down some stairs and find themselves in a large room lit by torches and that cool ring of fire. Wang Chao quickly goes to greet them, assuring them that this is “just some neighborhood entertainment.” It is just a “prize fight” and “everything peaceful” because “people want to have a good time.”
Not only are all the tongs there, including the Fung Hai, but Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng) enters with her retinue.
O’Hara sees some other officers and asks them, “Shouldn’t you guys be on your beat”? But they tell him the “streets are empty.”
Opening up the fight, one of the business leaders of Chinatown begins in English (but in their reality Chinese), reminding his audience, “This is a sacred ritual of our ancestors” meant for the tongs to “settle their disputes while maintaining peace in the region.” After this, the dialogue switches to Chinese and we go back to the police officers and their perspective.
Ah Sahm and Yong Li enter the ring. Priests give their blessing, but only Yong Li presses his hands together in respect. Wang Chao explains to Lee that the sashes being tied on to the waist of Ah Sahm and Yong Li are the means of showing victory. One fighter must remove the sash from the other to win.
O’Hara recognizes Ah Sahm and asks Lee, “Hey, isn’t this our boy?”
Lee confirms, “Yes, it is.”
O’Hara responds with “Well, this should be interesting,” but also can’t resist betting “five bills on the tall one.” Yet when the fighting starts, O’Hara tells Lee, “I don’t know what the hell kind of boxing this is but if they can all fight like this we’re in some deep shit.” Then he notices that Penelope is in the crowd.
Just as it looks like Ah Sahm will win, Ah Sahm waits too long to take the sash and a wounded Yong Li recovers, gets up and hits Ah Sahm, leaving him concussed. Yong Li looks to Mai Ling as he prepares to break Ah Sahm’s neck, but Lee and O’Hara realize what is happening. Lee rushes the ring, but O’Hara shoots his gun in the air. The fight stops and the crowd panics. Penelope falls to the ground and O’Hara protects her from being trampled.
O’Hara walks Penelope out into the streets and let’s her know that he recognizes Ah Sahm as the man who helped Penelope. He tells her that Chinatown isn’t a place for the mayor’s wife. She asks for his discretion, preferring that her husband doesn’t know and O’Hara replies, “That’s fine. I didn’t vote for him anyway.”
Back at the Hop Wei headquarters, Father Jun (Perry Yung) disagrees with Young Jun. Young Jun wants to fight the Long Zii, but Father Jun gave his word. Father Jun wants to wait for Mai Ling to make a mistake and when asked about Ah Sahm, Father Jun says, “We have no use for him any more.”
Ah Toy has taken Ah Sahm to her private quarters and with Lai (Jenny Umbhau), helps nurse him back to health, sometimes using opium (as was the general practice of the time) to relieve him of pain.
Back at the Mercer factory, Mercer gets a visit from Walter Buckley (Langley Kirkwood) who says he needs to talk about “economics.”
“How come when you say that It sounds like a disease?” Mercer asks.
Buckley claims that the contract award is only for the “first purchase order” and that a “dark horse” candidate has provided a bid that is 15 percent lower. Buckley won’t tell Mercer who it is nor how the costs are being cut despite proposing to use the same quality steel.
Mercer asks, “How are they cutting down on their cost?” He surmises the other person must be thinking of “using Chinese labor.”
Back in the feverish, drugged mind of Ah Sahm, we journey into the past. A young Ah Sahm (Kieran Tamondong) with half-shaved head and long queue has been beaten up by a larger boy. His father says, “Ever since your grandfather died, you’ve been getting into trouble.”
His sister, Xiaolin (Nicole Law), brings a fighting monk, Sifu Li Qiang (James Lew), who gives Ah Sahm a green jade bi–the same one we saw Mai Ling with earlier in the series.
The Sifu tells young Ah Sahm, “You can’t fight if you can’t breathe.” Ah Sahm begins to train with the Sifu and eventually leaves his family farm with the Sifu. Xiaolin openly regrets bringing the Sifu, but Ah Sahm promises to come back once a month and gives her the jade bi.
Back at the victorious Long Zii headquarters, Mai Ling leads a meeting with the council, but finds that Zhang (Ash Lee) deeply opposes her. Zhang reminds the council that “This is absurd. She single handedly started a war with the Hop Wei and endangered every single person in this tong.” While Mai Ling claims that all was done with the approval of Long Zii, Zhang replies, “You manipulated him. Long Zii lost his senses when she climbed into his bed and yours (Yong Li).”
Mai Ling slyly replies, “I understand you’re angry” and questions if the Long Zii members are having problems taking orders from a woman. She understands “what I need is a demonstration” or “some kind of proof that I won’t allow someone to disrespect me in my own house.” She uses the gun rigged to her arm to suddenly shoot Zhang in the forehead. She then coolly continues, “I see a great and prosperous future for the Long Zii so I ask this council, do I have your support.”
At Ah Toy’s, Ah Sahm has no one’s support, but Penelope further endangers her social position by visiting Ah Toy to make sure that Ah Sahm will recover.
Back at the halls of white power, an angry mayor confronts Buckley who admits, “There was no lower bidder.” The mayor sputters, “I think you misunderstand your job, Mr. Buckley.”
Buckley replies that his job is to cover up Mayor Blake’s outings to the Chinese brothel and oversee his administrative budget which has a short fall. Buckley judges Blake’s political capital is on the decline and that if the streetcar project comes in over-budget, that will spell political doom for Blake.
Blake insists, “You still should have talked to me first” because “I don’t like feeling like an idiot.”
Although Buckley says, “I understand;I apologize,” one feels the apology isn’t sincere but made through necessity.
At Ah Toy’s, Ah Sahm struggles to stand and “breathe” in a martial arts way but is helped back to bed by Ah Toy who tells Ah Sahm the difference between Yong Li and Ah Sahm was Yong Li “was fighting for something he believed in. He had purpose. You didn’t. There are 25 thousand Chinese living in this city and More coming every day. We’re promised a better life; we’re treated like dogs. Someone has to start fighting back”
Ah Sahm asks, “How are you fighting back?”
Ah Toy replies, “One day I’ll show you.”
Ah Sahm notes, “It’s a fight you can’t win.”
Ah Toy replies, “Of course, we can’t win, but we can inspire others.”
Ah Sahm asks, “For what? We don’t belong here.”
Ah Toy replies, “No one belongs here. This is a country of foreigners. Why should we be any different? One day Chinese people will own land here and be citizens. Why are you still here?”
Ah Sahm replies, “I have my reasons.”
Ah Toy doesn’t mention Penelope, but asks, “Mai Ling? You know, the tongs were at peace for a long time before Mai Ling married Long Zii” and she reminds Ah Sahm, “She was prepared to let you die. You need to accept she’s not the sister you came to save any more. Who she is is dangerous for Chinatown and for you.”
Elsewhere in Chinatown, as part of their investigation into the deaths of the two Irishman and the two white real estate investors, O’Hara and Lee are questioning Wang Chao, trying to discover who has swords in Chinatown, but Wang Chao says, “I sell guns, knives, hatchets” and as a business man, there is no reasons to sell swords. “No one sells swords.”
Speaking with Wang Chao alone, O’Hara tells him, “This isn’t a problem that goes away–not for me, not for you.”
Still, O’Hara and Lee leave with no leads.
Back at the brothel, Young Jun visits Ah Sahm and admits, “I didn’t see things going this way” and when Ah Sahm wonders, “What happens now,” Young Jun tells him, “If you go to work for another tong, there’ll be a price on your head; this is the last time I can talk to you.” Before he leaves, Young Jun says he thinks about their time in Grass Valley. “We never should have come back.”
Back in the streets of Chinatown O’Hara and Lee part ways after speaking with Wang Chao. When asked for a piece of Southern wisdom, Lee says, “A guilty fox hunts its own hole.” Lee professes not to understand what that means but it’s similar to saying a suspect returns to the scene of a crime.
O’Hara advises Lee to “Stay sharp” before they part. Once alone, Lee is attacked by three men from the Fung Hai led by Zing (Dustin Nguyen) who then flips a tile (tian or sky/heaven) on the inert body of Lee who is not dead, but badly beaten up.
Before we were asked to discern the foxes from the tigers. Now the fox seems to be Bill O’Hara, although so many of our characters are guilty of something.