“We’ll be back in the blood and the shit soon.” –Ah Sahm
Ah Sahm and Young Jun are traveling back from Nevada via stagecoach to bring a corpse stuffed with ingots back for Father Jun. Traveling with them are Father Flynn, Shepherd and his wife Nancy and Mason. And the usual racist connotations and remarks are given back and forth by the latter but Flynn is more accepting with the two. The travel back is stopped by Lew the driver doesn’t want to risk going past sun down.
They take shelter in a small saloon run by Billie and Lu, it is a mix of warm welcome for Ah Sahm and Young Jun but more of a forceful entry by Mason. Lu offers Ah Sahm and Young Jun a piece of proper Chinese cooking as they reminisce of the old country. Young Jun falls for Wankeia who works in the saloon as a prostitute.
The small peaceful silence is cut short when Mason threatens to take advantage Wankeia but he is shot by Harlan. After robbing everyone thanks to Lew, Harlan is told about the coffin that Ah Sahm and Young Jun are carrying. They fight back and Harlan plans to bring reinforcements. With their saloon in danger, Billie and Lu try and protect what is theirs as Ah Sahm and Young Jun help them.
This is one episode which feels like a standalone but works in a philosophical ideal of “Where does one belong?” and still is part of the main narrative and character arc as a whole.
Before I get into specific details, I should mention this tidbit as it took me until Season 2 to realize this. When Ah Sahm, Young Jun, Wang Chao and Ah Toy all speak Cantonese or Mandarin together, it is clear what language they’re speaking for the white people around them and for the audience. But when the camera centers on any of the characters, it is spoken in English.
The transition is first shown in the first episode and it didn’t hit me until Season 2 when any of the Chinese characters are speaking to White characters, they speak in an accent while they speak with no accent to other Chinese characters. It is interesting way of showing how all languages are universally understood regardless of race.
This is well handled as Ah Sahm and Young Jun are stuck in the stagecoach with the other passengers and they have to pretend they do not understand what is being said about them. Whereas Father Flynn is more accepting, trying to implement to Shepherd, Nancy and Mason that they are all equal. Sadly Mason doesn’t see it that way.
Mason is a minor antagonist in this episode where he has a huge racist agenda towards Ah Sahm, Young Jun and Wankeia. With how the world has been lately on racism, boy this episode really shows how someone can have racist views on a community. As everyone has been feeling, we want the main characters to beat him to a pulp but as this series does subtle left turns. Mason is killed by Harlan. Well at least our heroes didn’t have to get their hands dirty… never mind.
Lu being a one off character in this episode is what most people would call the “American Dream”. Coming from a Chinese-Filipino Canadian, everybody struggles to make something for themselves. It’s universal. Lu came from Yubei, worked as a coolie long enough to build his own saloon and run it with his wife Billie. A connection is shown when Ah Sahm observes what Lu has built for himself and giving him a guide to find his own sense of purpose and belonging.
This brings us to the main focus of Young Jun. This is the first time we see Young Jun’s vulnerable side come out. Being the son of the leader of the biggest Tong in San Francisco’s Chinatown, prone to violence and a high sex drive. It comes down to him observing Lu and Ah Sahm discussing China and Young Jun feels lost.
Ah Sahm tells Young Jun that they are the same but he still feels out of place. After being with Wankeia, Young Jun feels love for the first time as they understand and connect with each other. Now it can be argued that ‘love at first sight’ doesn’t exist but who are we to argue with clichés and stereotypes. The fact is Young Jun actually has a sense of leaving Ah Sahm, the saloon and the Hop Wei when Wankeia asks to go with her.
He watches her leave and says “Just go with her.” In turn, Ah Sahm and Young Jun stand together as they consider each other brothers not just in the Tong but a sense of belonging and understanding each other.
Now I said from the start of this reviews that this series explores the philosophies of one’s sense of purpose and belonging. The fact this episode plays like a one off, it displays the theme beautifully with Ah Sahm who is still trying to understand his purpose, Young Jun being the one who is still struggling to find his purpose and Lu living his purpose and belonging.
The other sense of watching that some audiences may get from watching this episode is when you see Lu and Ah Sahm talk about Yubei, Foshan and the mountains, take notice of how Young Jun tries to process this conversation. This is not hatred, this is a sense of trying to belonging for those who can’t find commonality with others.
Crazy Rich Asians stated this where the protagonist Rachel may be Chinese but is American Chinese and it is not the same as Hong Kong Chinese/Singaporean/Taiwanese and etc. Young Jun is an example of the North American born Chinese who knows he is Chinese on the outside but doesn’t feel it inside because of where he is born, how he acts and the environment. That sense of belonging is something a lot of people try to strive for not just for acceptation but to be treated equal. Especially within our own cultures.
Episode 5 is feels like a one off but showcases one of Bruce Lee’s philosophical beliefs as three characters exhibit the one theme. The way it also embraces the spaghetti Western in this episode, the whole series is built within the genre but this is the one that embraces and revels in it. And what is great about this episode, it always progresses our characters to their next step.