“Enter the Dragon” evokes Bruce Lee’s most famous movie with a brutal race war in one of the season’s best episodes.
This recap of Warrior season 2, episode 9, “Enter the Dragon”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
If you’re going to name an episode of your Bruce Lee homage after Bruce Lee’s best, most famous, and most significant film, then you’re setting the bar pretty high for yourself. Warrior hasn’t always managed to clear the obstacles it sets for itself with finesse, but when it’s good, it’s really good, and the back half of this second season has been stellar. “Enter the Dragon” is no different, paying off a lot of narrative build-up in a bloody, brutal race war based on 1877’s San Francisco Riot, delivering the season’s most ambitious large-scale action sequence and some of its best individual character beats.
But it’s important we understand the true stakes, so the cold open returns to the Mayor’s death so that we can see it from Jacob’s perspective, first from the moment he kills him to save Penny, and then as he goes on the run, well aware that he’ll hang for what he’s done regardless of the circumstances. Carrying a huge wedge of dough around Chinatown, he gives most of the scratch to his bedbound mother, then takes grim shelter from the police in a filthy basement where he lives on scraps until he’s forced to move on. By the time he ends up with Chao, we’re back where we left things in the previous episode, but Jacob’s misery is far from over.
Chao, always a bit morally grey, makes his most significant compromise yet in “Enter the Dragon” by selling out Jacob after convincing him to hide in a coffin being shipped back to China. Virtually as soon as he gets in, he’s taken out again by O’Hara, who claims to a suspicious Lee that Buckley tipped him off. But we, and Lee, know better. Chao might feel bad about it, but he still sold out his countryman for money. He also sold him out to stop the police from raining hellfire on Chinatown, which only makes the eventual eruption of violence grimmer. He sold Jacob out, essentially, for nothing.
The source of the violence is the Irish. While the SFPD are transporting Jacob in the paddy wagon, Tully leads his countrymen in a riot that sees the police beaten down and Jacob dragged out into the street, where he’s lynched in full view of Sophie, who had woken up with Leary in the Banshee. Having already done this much damage, Tully leads the Irishmen to Chinatown to finish the job, and “Enter the Dragon” is smart to show their raid not as an all-out war, at least not at first, but as butchery, thugs killing innocent men and women who aren’t capable of defending themselves. This isn’t a tit-for-tat gang war, it’s a massacre.
It’s important for us to understand this so that we also understand Ah Sahm and Young Jun’s logic in rallying the Hop Wei and fighting back, despite the potential long-term consequences. As they see it, consequences have already arrived. If they don’t fight, they’ll all die. And the Long Zii obviously realize this too, which is why the tongs put their differences aside in order to fight together against the Irish. Ah Sahm and Li Yong stand side by side, for once on the same team, and it’s a great moment.
It’s framed and shot that way, too. There are a couple of moments designed to play up that feeling of the show’s two most dangerous fighters being on the same page, finally. The choreography is great, and there’s a just-right balance of chaos and longer, clearer shots to give individual characters their moments to shine. Hong has his whip chain. Young Jun has his knives. And Ah Sahm, finally, has his nunchucks. This is great stuff.
But there’s plenty of plot and character development here too. An increasingly conflicted Lee shoots Tully, more times than was strictly necessary, and it’s obvious he’s had quite enough of both the obvious corruption and racial prejudice of the SFPD and the backstabbing ethnic gangs that blight San Francisco. Chao and Mei Ling, meanwhile, head to Ah Toy’s brothel for shelter, where they find the madame seriously injured and protected only by a single, albeit huge, bodyguard. Ah Toy shares a nice moment with Mei Ling as Chao and the giant defend the brothel against the Irish invaders. Elsewhere, Young Jun even gets a cool moment with Father Jun, who saves him from death so that they can set about their enemies together.
Eventually, police reinforcements quell the riots. But the damage has long-since been done, and nothing will be the same in the aftermath of all that violence, least of all the rivalry between the Chinese and Irish. When Ah Sahm, Young Jun, and Hong come to cut down Jacob’s body, Ah Sahm carries it away while locking eyes with Leary. They’re due a showdown.
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