Kung Fu 1×09 Review: “Isolation”

Isolation Kung Fu

After a bit of a break, Kung Fu returns with “Isolation”, which features Nicky searching for her long-missing aunt. Accompanied by Evan and Henry on the world’s most awkward road trip, she journeys to Canada following clues regarding Mei-Xue’s last-known location.

Using the small box of keepsakes provided by her mother in the last episode, in “Isolation” Nicky attempts to track down her aunt’s whereabouts. Mei-Xue’s last letter is more than 20 years old and came accompanied with a carving of a red panda. Henry does some internet sleuthing, combing message boards and “conspiracy-adjacent” websites for any potential information and discovers that Mei-Xue used the alias “Sandra Yang” while hunting for the sword. Evan uses his resources to learn that “Sandra Yang” was last spotted in Canada.

The three of them travel to Canada following the spare information they have and discover that their only lead, a store that sells wood carvings where Mei-Xue potentially purchased the red panda, is closed. After some extremely unsubtle detective work, they trek over to the reclusive owner’s cabin, where Nicky finds a carving of her aunt’s face.

What follows reminds me very strongly of the trope of a “vision quest“, based on a cultural practice observed by some Native American tribes. I’m largely unfamiliar with most Asian cultures, and therefore unsure if there is something similar in China, but in Western media, a vision quest usually involves a person going off into the woods (or desert, or whatever) on their own and encountering some sort of spirit guide who helps them reach an epiphany about something.

Nicky takes off into the woods without Henry and Evan, following vague directions to where her aunt’s cabin may be. She encounters a wolf and is led to her destination by petals of plum blossoms – her aunt’s favorite tree. (There is a plum tree planted outside the cabin, but with the way the petals were falling, it doesn’t seem to have been a natural phenomenon.) Pei-Ling also visits with Nicky while she’s in the cabin. And when she returns to Henry and Evan and is asked if she found what she was looking for, she replies that she did, despite the fact there wasn’t all that much to find in the cabin.

“Isolation” as an episode does a lot for Nicky’s character growth; she learns more about her aunt and possibly herself, but when it comes down to it we are honestly left with more questions than answers. After everything Nicky goes through to find her aunt, all she finds is an empty cabin and a grave. But if no one knew where she lived, who buried her? Is she even dead?

Isolation Kung Fu

I’ve seen some speculation that perhaps Mei-Xue didn’t die so much as transform. Reincarnation is a tenet of several religions. For much of her journey through the woods in “Isolation”, Nicky is plagued by a wolf. The first time, she injures her ankle while escaping. The second time, the wolf gets caught in a trap, and despite the fact that it had been aggressive towards her, she rescues it. When she wakes up the next morning, she almost immediately finds her aunt’s cabin. Is it possible that the wolf is actually her aunt?

Duke, the recluse shop owner who is probably the last person to have seen Mei-Xue alive, explained to Nicky that the one time he tried to get close to the cabin, Mei-Xue found him, implying that she might have some sort of mystical connection to the land, or some way of sensing when people are near. Wolf attacks are rare, and though the wolf gives chase, it does not actually attack Nicky. It may have simply been herding her in the right direction, and it may have purposely gotten caught in the trap as a test that Nicky passed. It may sound a little ridiculous, but this is a show with magic weapons, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

Then there is what Nicky found in the cabin itself; audio cassettes where her aunt painstakingly detailed her efforts to find the sword and learn about the weapons. On one tape, she says that because of everything she knows, the only course is to isolate herself. But then she declares that the person listening to the tape must continue the search. If Mei-Xue felt that she knew too much about the weapons, why on earth would she encourage anyone else to look into them? The whole situation makes very little sense.

What did Nicky learn about herself? I believe she learned how she fit into the family. In order to convince Duke that she is actually the woman’s niece, Nicky calls her mother and asks her to tell her about Mei-Xue. It’s a request she made earlier in “Isolation” that her mother breezed past without answering, but now she describes her sister a little, talking about how she was kind even when angry, and that she was always risking her own life to save others. Sounds a lot like Nicky, doesn’t it?

The most important lesson that Mei-Xue imparts to Nicky, via the audiotapes, is to not undertake this mission alone. Considering that the shelves in Mei-Xue’s cabin contained an old photo of Mei-Xue and Mei-Li, it’s reasonable to assume that she always regretted how she pulled away from her family and likely felt guilty that they never really knew what happened to her.

I really like what “Isolation” did for Henry and Evan’s relationship, which is an odd thing to say because until this episode, they didn’t really have one. They interact infrequently, and never without Nicky or the other Shen siblings as a buffer. But in this episode, because Nicky heads off on her own to find her aunt, the two are left alone for a while and have perhaps their first real conversation, which of course revolves around Nicky. Though Henry does also thank Evan (sort of) for having his back earlier, when they got into a bar fight with three locals.

Isolation Kung Fu

I appreciated that scene a lot. You all should know by now how much I hate love triangles as a plot device (particularly because they never decide “polyamory” but mostly because it’s just such an overused trope). I was ok with the one in Kung Fu at the beginning of the season because it wasn’t quite as prominent, but now that Evan has broken up with his girlfriend I expect it to ramp up. Still, both men acknowledged that how they think and feel matters little, because in the end, it’s Nicky’s choice.

I really hope that this is a turning point for the two of them, that they stop taking little digs at each other whenever they’re in the same room, and that they maybe develop some sort of professional, civil relationship. 

There is one scene that bothered me. While waiting for Nicky, Evan and Henry sleep in Evan’s car. When she comes back, she opens the trunk and finds them asleep in the back, and Henry’s immediate response is, “It’s not what it looks like.” So, thanks for the “no homo” during Pride Month, Kung Fu, but that was a completely unnecessary comment. They are sleeping head-to-foot, fully clothed, wrapped up in sleeping bags. They were touching incidentally as a result of being crammed in a small space. It was exactly what it looked like, and it looked like absolutely nothing.

“Isolation” is also important for Althea, who opens up to Ryan about what happened with her old boss, Chase, and finally tells Dennis what happened. She does this because she met a young woman named Courtney who approached her for advice about potential job offers she’s received. Althea tries to dissuade her from working at her old company by encouraging her to go somewhere with more creative freedom, but when Courtney takes the offer anyway, she knows that she has to go public about what happened, because she cannot in good conscience stand by while what happened to her happens to someone else.

I am very proud of Althea for deciding to come forward. I understand why she initially backed down and signed the NDA, because it is extremely frightening to be the person who goes public, particularly as a woman accusing a powerful man of sexual assault. We’ve seen all too often what happens to the women who come forward, and we’ve also seen how often these men get away with it. Plus, Althea clearly felt threatened by the, you know, threatening behavior from Chase’s attorney and didn’t want to risk backlash coming for her or Dennis’s families.

What did you think of “Isolation”?

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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