The penultimate episode of Kung Fu season 1, “Sacrifice”, sees both Nicky and Zhilan having to make difficult choices in their personal quests.
I will admit that the titular sacrifice for both characters isn’t quite the same. After all, Nicky’s sacrifice is missing Althea’s wedding, and Zhilan literally sacrificed Kerwin. They’re not exactly comparable. Still, the symbolism of both of these acts is very important.
Nicky has been slowly and painstakingly rebuilding the shattered remnants of her familial relationships since she returned at the start of the season. If I recall correctly, she didn’t even know that Althea was engaged when she first got back to America. And especially with her acting as Althea’s maid of honor, it was extremely important for her to be there for the wedding. Having to miss it affects not just her, but her relationship with her family. She is clearly gutted at having to leave.
But this may have actually strengthened the Shen family bond. Everyone in the family is tying themselves in knots over the arrival of Po Po, who at first seems to be the traditional, strict Chinese grandmother. Nothing is good enough for her. At one point she even rips up Althea’s dress. (She sews it back together! But I’ll admit that scene made me so angry.) Then Nicky finds a photo of her with the sword and realizes that her grandmother may know something that can help.
Confronting her grandmother about the photo reveals a family secret – that her grandmother had indeed wielded the sword and was so terrified of its power that she vowed no one else in her family would be a part of it. This piece of knowledge ties Nicky’s destiny to the sword even more than it already was, especially since her grandmother was trained by Pei-Ling’s mother. I know a lot of people have been scoffing at Nicky’s “destiny”, but in a show about magical weapons, I’ll allow it.
This conversation in “Sacrifice” is a stepping stone for multiple generations of the family. I love how it gave Mei-Li the opportunity to talk to her mother about how she felt about Mei-Xue being driven away, as well as how proud she was of Nicky. That is huge development in their relationship, as Nicky has been most at odds and strained with her mother.
I feel like this can only be a good thing. Throughout the season, I’ve been concerned that Nicky’s obsession with the weapons would drive her away from her family, but all it has done is bring them closer together. They are all being honest with each other in ways they weren’t before. It even led to Althea, Mei-Li, and Po Po being relaxed and happy together, which judging from Jin’s and Ryan’s reactions, is a rarity.
Nicky almost had another sacrifice – her burgeoning relationship with Henry. After last week’s episode, I was so happy that they didn’t pull the stereotypical “I’m breaking up with you for your own good” move where she ended their relationship to protect him. However, it almost happened in this episode, and I was extremely upset for a good five minutes until it turns out she changed her mind.
Things like this are a perfect example of why Kung Fu is such a great show. Some tropes are so ingrained in our collective consciousness that they’re expected, so it’s always a pleasant surprise when they don’t happen. Henry has no qualms about going on this dangerous mission with Nicky; he’s been helping her the whole time, he’s fought alongside her, he’s been injured. He knows what he’s risking.
I understand Nicky’s point but at the same time, her saying, “It’s my choice [to go alone],” completely dismisses the fact it’s Henry’s choice to accompany her. So often sacrificial moments like these are portrayed as noble, when they’re really selfish. That’s why I love when Henry throws it back in her face. She may not be able to stand to see him hurt, but what will it be like for him, in another country, with no way of knowing if she’s safe or not? Why do her wants outweigh his?
And I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting a love confession quite this early – they’ve only been officially dating for, what, two episodes? – but I’ll take it. However, it does have me concerned that something will happen to Henry in the season finale. I’m hoping that Kung Fu will continue subverting my expectations and have the two of them come through things unscathed. (Take note, TV people: this is how you do it properly.)
Zhilan has never shied away from taking a life. She’s been killing her way through various countries in her pursuit of the weapons since the first episode. But killing Kerwin is completely different. Zhilan has been on her own for a very long time; Kerwin seems to be the first person she truly let into her life, and she did seem to have actual feelings for him. But in the end, her quest for vengeance, which went deeper than first believed, outweighed everything else. I legitimately gasped when she killed him.
This leads me to wonder just how long Zhilan has been planning this. Did she purposely seek out Kerwin with this intent, or did she simply take advantage of the opportunity presented to her? It seems as though her ultimate goal for hunting down the weapons and bringing about Biange is to punish Russell Tan for ruining her family, but I can’t help feeling that there has to be more to it than that.
The more we learn about Zhilan, the more questions I have. How long has she been planning this? How does she know the things that she knows? Who trained her? Has it always been about revenge against Russell Tan, or revenge against Pei-Ling?
I also wonder about Russell Tan. In that entire conversation he had with Kerwin, just before Zhilan killed him, we never saw his entire face – just the lower half. And he seemed to know a lot about Zhilan, which makes me think they have a more personal connection than previously stated. She was adamant that Kerwin understand the true nature of his father’s business (an interesting request of someone you’re about to kill), which just reinforces that belief.
Where does Kung Fu go from here? Everything in season 1 has been leading up to a final confrontation between Nicky and Zhilan at the Forge (which, surprise, was the monastery all along). Nicky has lost every fight with Zhilan so far, and with next week being the season finale, I suspect she’ll finally be victorious, because they’ve been hinting all season that Nicky has some serious power but we’ve yet to see it.
I probably shouldn’t speculate too much until after the finale, but it’s hard not to. This plot seems to have been very much designed with one season in mind, as though they weren’t counting on getting renewed. But since Kung Fu will get a second season, it’s only natural to think about what will happen next.
What did you think of “Sacrifice”?
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.
Read our before commenting.
Do not copy our content in whole to other websites. Linkbacks are encouraged.
Copyright © The Geekiary