‘Kung Fu’ 1×05, Season 1, Episode 5, “Sanctuary,” Aired May 5, 2021
In this episode of Kung Fu, the quest for Biange is derailed by the shooting of an unarmed 19-year-old Black teenager. A slight generational divide in perspective colors the immediate reactions from the Shens, as Joe leads a peaceful BLM protest. The episode decides not to focus on Nicky’s quest and instead focuses on socio-political and familial tensions.
The Calm Before the Storm: Nicky and Henry
The episode opens up with Nicky and Henry sparring very flirtatiously. Innuendos fly at top speed between the two of them. (I love that Henry doesn’t hold back and that he is super attracted to Nicky’s strength.) They almost kiss but then get interrupted by two teenage girls, and the two of them, red-faced, head to the library to research.
The two of them are researching everything they can about Zhilan and the eight Biange weapons. They’ve created a board that lists out “every fact, fairytale, and internet rumor on the eight mythical weapons and the guardian families” in an attempt to understand the role that the scabbard plays. Maybe the weapons reach ultimate strength when working in tandem with each other?
One of the history books that Nicky looks through says Khan’s army was defeated by a small band of Chinese warriors that had magic weapons, blinded by weapons that glowed green. Nicky remembers the sword in the monastery glowing green, despite being made of obsidian. And while the glowing sword did burn Nicky’s hand, what she remembers is the pulsating energy that emanated from the sword.
The energy reminds Nicky of a time in the monastery when she was compelled out of bed by a hooded figure that was lurking around the grounds. The figure, when she turned to one side, glowed green. Nicky was specifically drawn to the hooded woman because of an energy she was picking up from her. Pei Ling finds Nicky wandering around the monastery and tells her about the history of the monastery. It was built upon sacred ground that women flocked to, promising them a safe place to train and live. To Pei Ling, everyone who lives on the grounds feels some sort of energy. Pei Ling always believed in the unknown. Nicky had always been frustrated at Pei Ling’s mantra that “there are mysteries in the world that are unknown to most people.”
Back in the present, Nicky tilts the scabbard back and forth and both she and Henry see it glow green. They now have a way to authenticate and find any weapons that can possibly be one of the eight.
Henry suggests that they grab a bite to celebrate their discovery. “Oh it’s absolutely a date,” he reassures her.
On their date, they briefly struggle with finding a place to eat, as Nicky, in an attempt to keep to her monastery lifestyle to help keep her head clear, continues not to eat meat or drink liquor. Throughout the date, Nicky can’t help but continue to talk about their quest. Henry gently asks that they table the topic until after their date. But seeing that she’s on the edge of her seat, he changes his mind and suggests going back to the library to continue researching. (He’s so cute, supporting her single-mindedness.)
On their way back to the library, they come across a crime scene. A black kid, Andre Durant, had been skateboarding down the street and a cop shot him. Nicky recognizes him as the sweet teenager who had almost bumped into her on the street. She’s horrified.
The next morning, Nicky is still preoccupied by the shooting. Mei Li, on the other hand, is worried about Mr. Wong, the man who owns the jewelry store that got robbed which led to Andre getting shot. Nicky doesn’t understand Mei Li’s concern and Mei Li doesn’t understand why Nicky is so worried about a stranger, as the family had known Mr. Wong for years.
Henry blows off steam on a punching bag. He had listened to the news that morning and was upset that all the news coverage focused on Andre’s juvie stint instead of his chemical engineering major and part-time job. To make matters worse, Henry gets a notification on his phone: Andre has died from the gunshot.
The Calm Before the Storm: Mei Li and Jin
Mei Li and Jin complain about the rising cost of groceries, and lament about the rising costs everywhere. Mei Li doesn’t want to raise prices in their restaurant and considers doing their grocery shopping elsewhere. Jin reminds her of their friend Eileen who had ventured out of Chinatown, only to get attacked, kicked, and told to “go back to China.” Mei Li sadly comments that nothing has seemed to change since the day they had immigrated to the U.S.
After hearing that Black Lives Matter protests will be happening in Chinatown later that day, Mei Li just hopes the protests don’t impact the goings-on in Chinatown. Jin reassures her that everything will be okay, only to walk out into the restaurant to see that the front doors have been tagged “Justice for Andre.”
Mei Li has spoken to other shop owners in Chinatown and they all decided to close as a response to the tagging. Nicky comments that this is the first time the restaurant has closed since she was born. Mei Li tells a shocked Nicky that Harmony Dumplings will be closed until “this all blows over.” Mei Li does not support vandals and looters, and so she will physically board up the restaurant. She shoots down Nicky’s suggestion that the restaurant and the family show their support to the protestors.
The Calm Before the Storm: Althea
We finally get the name of Althea’s former boss: Chase Matheson, CEO and founder of Cloudrush Capital.
She contemplates telling Dennis about what happened to her. But before she can, Dennis giddily tells her that they finally got on the list for a very-hard-to-get boat tour in the Galapagos. Dennis reassures Althea that he got the glamping option and the two hug it out. Unable to bring down his mood, Althea avoids telling Dennis what happened to her.
The next day, Nicky swings by Althea’s apartment to find Althea surrounded by flowers. Althea is stressed about finalizing her wedding plans and is chugging green juice by the liter. Nicky probes Althea if she’s stressed because of the wedding or because of the Chase situation, and whether Althea has told Dennis yet. Althea tries to reassure Nicky that she’s got everything under control. Switching the subject, she asks how their mom took the news about the shooting. She also teases Nicky for not having gotten anywhere with Henry.
The Calm Before the Storm: Ryan and Joe
Both Ryan and Joe are working late into the night. Joe calls Ryan to make lunch plans for the next day.
The next day, Ryan finally has some free time and is excitedly primping, getting ready for his date with Joe. A very somber Joe comes by and tells him he can’t make it to lunch after all. The news of Andre’s shooting has shaken him up profoundly, and since he’s taking part in the BLM protests happening in Chinatown later that day, he has to postpone plans.
A few hours later, Ryan is packing his bag, readying himself for the protest. He had asked Henry for a tent since he’s going to the BLM protest as a medic, and the internet told him a tent will come in handy. While Henry wasn’t able to find a tent for Ryan, he is able to lend a supportive ear as Ryan tries to figure out the status of his relationship with Joe. (By the way, Ryan is Team Henry.)
BLM Movement Wants Justice for Andre Durant
Nicky and Jin hand out water bottles in front of the restaurant to the BLM protesters.
As night falls, Joe gives a “remember his name” speech to the mass of protestors. Ryan makes his way to the front and sees Joe in all of his activist glory. An announcement goes out that curfew will commence in 10 minutes.
At the back of the restaurant, Mei Li watches the protest unfold on TV, and is struck by the plea that Andre’s mother is giving to the press. Andre knew not to resist, to say “no sir, yes sir”, to get harassed instead of shot.
Henry, Nicky, and Jin all crowd into the restaurant just as curfew goes into effect until 5 AM. Immediately, tear gas rounds are activated, and the air fills with tear gas. All of a sudden, Ryan bangs the restaurant door, begging to be let in. With him are protestors who need a safe space. Mei Li is terrified and doesn’t want to let any more protestors in, but Nicky unlocks the door and Jin herds them inside. Police in tactical gear patrol begin to circle outside.
Mei Li is worried that by allowing protestors to stay in the restaurant, they’ll be made a target and blacklisted by the police. Nicky points out that Mei Li barely trusts the police on a good day. Althea goes to make tea to calm Mei Li down, and more juice for herself. Nicky follows her sister to the kitchen and points out that something seems to be worrying Althea. Althea admits to Nicky that she’s going in hard on things she can control, so that she can distract herself from all the bad things in her life.
Then Evan knocks on the back door and asks to speak to Nicky in private. (I was wondering when he would show up!) The police are going to ransack the restaurant, using the excuse that Harmony Dumplings is harboring an aggressive activist: Joseph Harper. He’s going to try to hold the police off as long as he can. Nicky thanks Evan for giving her, Joe, and the group a heads up.
Nicky and Ryan talk to Joe to figure out next steps. Joe tells Ryan that he needs to turn himself in, because resisting will make things worse for him and everyone in that restaurant. Joe texts his mom “I may not make it home tonight.” The Shen kids offer all of their help, but Joe says they can help after he turns himself in.
The police come into the restaurant, holding their search warrant. Nicky puts herself in his place, saying that she is responsible for inciting the protest. The entire restaurant goes into Spartacus mode (even Mei Li!). This is all a distraction so that Althea has enough time to find proof that Joe was not responsible for inciting the protest. Althea shows the police video proof that Joe was actually compelling a peaceful protest. The police actually fall back and it’s a happy ending.
A Happy Ending
Mei Li admits to her kids that she emotionally distanced herself from the news because it hit too close to home. Years ago, the restaurant got a brick thrown into the window, with a “go home, Chink” note wrapped around it. That event was seared into Mei Li’s memory, but what else remained in her memory was that Jin comforted Mei Li in that moment. They shouldn’t close the restaurant and go home; instead, they should stay and grow roots so deep that nothing could make them falter.
The next day, Mei Li visits and honors Andre at his memorial. She locks eyes with Andre’s mother and they share a moment.
Joe visits Ryan at the clinic. Ryan offers to make life easier for Joe, whether that means backing off or becoming a friend, and Joe kisses Ryan to make sure that he knows what he needs from Ryan is love.
Things go back to normal for Nicky and Henry: they’re studying ancient texts to track down any mention of a Tang dynasty-era obsidian weapon. But Nicky is distracted and preoccupied. Henry tells Nicky that even though it seems like nothing is happening, little bit by bit does make a difference.
Randall texts Henry a video of a dig in South America, from a source about a knife that matches Henry’s description. The knife glows green. The two have discovered another weapon, and even better, it looks like they’ve got the jump on Zhilan!
Henry vs. Evan Week 5
This episode adds another tick in Henry’s column. To be fair, in an episode that has the Black Lives Movement at the forefront, a side cop character isn’t going to get much of a spotlight. Still, the palpable tension between Nicky and Henry is ramping up deliciously.
Good Deed of the Week: BLM Edition
For the second week in a row, Kung Fu does away with its “help the helpless” storyline. But this week, the main storyline isn’t Nicky’s quest to find the rest of the eight Biange weapons. Instead, the Shens all deal with the aftermath of the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager.
Nicky’s Jacket of the Week
A quilted green bomber jacket that’s almost monk-like in fit.
This episode was almost After School Special-y at the end, with tension between POC and police resolving in an almost unrealistic way. The most interesting element of the episode was that Andre Durant, the victim, was shot outside a Chinese-owned jewelry store. Tensions between the Asian and Black communities aren’t new, but it’s become more and more important in recent years to reconcile any biases and prejudices to stand strong together against all violence and injustices against BIPOC.
While “Sanctuary” did briefly hover around that dynamic, it was a blink-and-you-miss-it moment. The end of the episode, when Mei Li haltingly tells her children about her own experience of being attacked purely because of her race, seemed like an attempt by the show to comment on that dynamic as well. Additionally, the show did its best to neutralize the police in a very weird way; a kind of ACAB/villainous cops mashup that only made law enforcement look like outdated caricatures.
I’m happy that Kung Fu took a chance and incorporated BLM, peaceful protests, and the exhaustion of being an Other, into the show. This week’s storyline made it less in-your-face in terms of diversity — two of the main side characters are a white cop and a Black activist — and more enmeshed-in-the-real-world. For the most part, this episode didn’t feel forced or patronizing, and bookending the episode with progress on Nicky’s quest was a good move, though, and was relatively seamless.
Best Quotes of the Episode
- “Do not look for logic where logic cannot live. Open your mind to the unknown.” — Pei Ling
Tune into Kung Fu every Wednesday at 8/7c on The CW.